Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

Honorary Members of the Makah Tribe

Neah Bay reeks of rotten fish and the carbon afterburn of diesel engines. But it’s not the smell that’s driving me insane. Neither is the problem the size of the town. It’s a single street on a dry reservation, and its activities consist of walking between the terrible diner and the mediocre pizza place. But having grown up in Lyle (a town of comparable size) the ambling tempo and the persistent local cheer are familiar. While the constant drizzle contributes, it’s not the root of the problem. The dark wet is a Pacific Northwest staple and only serves as a reminder that I’m still in Washington State, my home. Nor is it the constant murmur of sail-speak. As more and more sailboats arrive in Neah Bay to outwait the weather, the marina is abuzz with the exchange of Sailing Lessons. The twenty or so small-craft captains take refuge from the rain in each other’s bimini-shaded cockpits, talking sail trim, dangerous ports and proper engine maintenance. Though they’re unavoidable when walking up the dock, Velella’s watertight hatches protect us from their self-aggrandizing yarns.

It’s the teetering that’s the problem. Here we are, poised at the edge of world, looking down at the churning froth of our great adventure. But we are trapped, unable to move. We’ve lined ourselves up at the top of a rapid, only to become stuck on a rock. The unexpected immobility removes the tension. Suddenly, we have been extracted from the experience, staring at our fate not as a participant but as an observer. The longer we sit, the greater our chance for reflection. Disconnected from the thrill of tumbling whitewater yet left staring into its impartial jaws, a startling normalcy returns. Thoughts of home surge; of unattended errands, of untended momentum, of a future laid out in fractured tributaries. The notion of adventure seems silly, even futile.

Then time becomes unstuck and the ride springs into motion. Yet, perplexingly, the delight is gone. Objective study begets tedious familiarity. Out of context the rapid is no joyride, but a jolting drop. With the sudden halt the wild ride has vanished, becoming something frightening and incomprehensible. Normalcy is not easily shaken, and even the water’s ecstatically unpredictable flow may not erase it.

That is the worst of Neah Bay. For a week it has held us from the adventure we imagined. Enough time for cabin fever and doubts to set in. We begin to view the trip’s future as an extension of its past: Hemmed into our messy cabin, staving off the rain and boredom, and counting down the hours until we can rationalize an early bedtime. The bad weather is a continual presence, cold fronts barraging our escape into open sea. I know that the rest of the trip will be unthinkably different from Neah Bay, yet I can only imagine more of the same.

Amazingly, we’ve adapted well to the small space we share. The V-birth has become the entertainment center, where movies play off of the home theater of our laptops. The ‘dates’ Meghan and I go on consist of little more than a coin-operated shower and then an episode of ‘Freaks and Geeks’. Like the knocking of a thousand tiny fists, the persistent rain on the window above us threatens to overpower our laptop speakers. But it also reminds us of the safety Velella affords. Trivial as it seems, this small realization feels more romantic and satisfying than the fanciest Seattle restaurant.

We are banking on the fact that the weather will clear, and we’ll be able to continue our adventure tomorrow. The terrifying thrill of the open ocean is our savior, because here our cyclical daily routine whitewashes our enthusiasm. If we were forced to stay here another week, the trip would disintegrate.

I await the horizon behind the clouds. May it be blue and gold and clear. May it drive us perpetually onward. May it appear soon.



  kathy wrote @

it is always darkest just before the dawn..i think meghan has heard that one..

  kathy cleary wrote @

it is always darkest just before dawn..meghan is familiar with that saying..and truth..

  webecomeus wrote @

Enjoy the ride over the waterfall today! I hope the horizon is blue, gold clear…anything but red! (Supposedly it goes ‘red sky in morning, sailors take warning’!)

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