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Afloat in Time

Island Life

I hadn’t really thought about it until I sat down to write this, but it was a year ago (possibly to the weekend) that my sister informed me that she had gotten tickets for a lake cruise and I was being asked to tag along on that Sunday afternoon with her, my brother-in-law and his two sisters who were visiting. Things had not yet begun to fly apart between us, but my rejection of the offer in favor of staying in place to do the clean-up work on my parent’s house that I had come to accomplish was perhaps the first shot fired in the conflict that has gone only spiraling downward and outward ever since. There is a certain irony to her follow-up accusations of my wasting her money on a non-refundable ticket in the light of her family fortune squanderings that have surfaced over the past year. Just today I received a few emails with attachments relating my sister’s misguided  attempts at flaunting the powers of her trusteeship and showed her having drained an account that was gathering all of my father’s social security earnings over the last two years of his life. The money for the aforementioned cruise tickets may have even come from this very gleaning, although it would be nearly impossible to know the true source of my wasted ticket money, as she was draining and pillaging on many fronts.

In truth, I had a history of not wanting to go on family cruises, so I’m not sure why she was surprised when I declined the offer. There is no way she could have forgotten my disdain for my enforced situation aboard a Disney vessel over four days at sea somewhere off the Florida coast so that the entire family could celebrate my parent’s fiftieth anniversary. In some ways I partly believe that she may have totally remembered my misery at that time and made this booking as a bit of knife-twisting. As the weeks now roll by and the emails roll in from my lawyers, nothing that my sister might conceive of doing would surprise me any more, besides maybe acting like a civil sibling.

I have not always hated cruises and am more than willing to make exceptions. One of my early favorite times at sea was aboard one of the boats in the Circle Line fleet that made a complete and guided circuit around the island of Manhattan. I often wonder what happened to the diminutive, metal statuette of the Empire State building that I brought home as a souvenir, along with several blurry black and white pictures I took on my Kodak Brownie camera. And then there was the family cruise that wasn’t on the Alaska ferry out of Bellingham. As I recall it was my sister who apparently totally pissed off my mother (by doing what, I have no idea) and completely decimated plans for all of us to ride the ferry to Haines. In the end, it was just myself and my partner at the time who ventured forth, counting innumerable eagles, touring the Russian Orthodox churches of Sitka during a 2a.m. stop there, and finding a friend’s artwork by chance in a small shop in Juneau. As we all should know by now, a ferry ride is not a cruise, but we hope you enjoyed your trip.

And so it was that I was a bit surprised when my statement to a small number of friends that I was going on the Virginia V cruise around the Island was greeted with a certain degree of mockery- “You, going on a cruise?” I just shrugged and went because I had been wanting to do this for a long time. I saw it not as an idol pastime or artificial entertainment but as the chance to at least partially relive a bit of Island history, even if for only an afternoon. As it was, even before we shoved off, a couple who had had their wedding party aboard  the Virginia V years before were there to celebrate their 25th anniversary, so we were already reliving history on a couple of levels. Not long after we left the north end dock, Island historian Bruce Haulman began doing random narratives relating to specific spots of significance along the shore. As I had been tasked to make photographs of the trip, I wandered fore and aft, up and down, both recording the activities and marveling at the craftsmanship of the craft. Everything had new white paint or clear marine varnish over natural grained wood. The thing that gave me the greatest pause was the exposed workings of the ship’s drive system on the lower deck. There was something hypnotic about watching the drive arms move up and down in well-lubed unison.

    I had heard that we might not go far up into the outer harbor, depending on what kind of progress we were making on our time-limited voyage. I was expecting just a brief turn in and out at the Manzanita buoy, but instead we proceeded north past a white-sailed, single file, one class regatta that was heading south on its last leg of the day. There was actually quite a bit of activity out on the water that day and as we made the long, slow loop past Dockton and Burton peninsula, the historical narrative coming out of the ship’s public address system was non-stop. At that point, I did stop and listen and imagine as Bruce’s tales of Vashon in its heyday with ship yards and fishing docks and brickyards and the college all seemed to come to life for me as if the surrounding rise of land that encircled us could just for a moment allow us to see what once had been there, until the bright sun of a perfect August afternoon shone a light on what is, instead of what was.

We made it back to the dock with a bit more Island history and a north wind in our faces. As I was leaving the dock, I was greeted by another group of friends who questioned my presence on a cruise. I looked around half expecting that a carnival cruise ship had materialized in place of the Virginia V, but only saw the piece of history I had just disembarked from preparing to head back to a port that had more than likely changed a lot more than the shoreline we had just sailed by. I did not think too much more of the travels until today, when I had a talk with a friend who said that this was the first Heritage Museum cruise that she had missed. I believe she could be excused this time, since she had indeed grown up on the Island and had been here when the Virginia V was THE way Islanders got to Seattle and back again. She told of how sometimes one shared steerage with horses or cattle or goats and I imagined that this was a time when history was not dispensed over loud speakers, but rather just drifted by like wisps of smoke from the stack or a bit of sea foam in the wake. Again, I began to think of how it all had been, and thought that perhaps we need to call this boat ride something other than just a cruise.