Hello, I'm Henry.  

Welcome aboard my blog's home. 

If you come along with me, you'll become acquainted with my motley mates and faithful crew:

Experiences, Sightings, Observations, Impressions, Ideas, Reflections, Remembrances, Insights and Commentary.

They, after all, have accompanied me for as long as I can recall. Their tenure has helped me turn my tiller, fill my sails, and transport me over seas to distant lands. Maybe if you take the time to get to know them, a few will do the same for you.

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Birds Fascinate

Reindeer's 1976 Transatlantic Crossing
June 15-27, 1976
Blog Entry #14 

In Samuel Coleridge's classic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the crew of a stranded ship views the albatross as harbinger of good fortune until one of the crew members shoots it down. When subsequently the ship's favorable conditions change, the mariner is punished for his decision by having the bird's carcass hung around his neck. In Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller, The Birds, the citizens of a small seaside village are besieged by blackbirds. Why these birds inexplicably prowl against humans is kept intentionally unclear to add suspense and intrigue to the story. Maybe nature couldn't tolerate human behavior any more and decided to send birds to reek havoc on us just for the heck of it. Maybe the protagonist had accumulated bad karma or hadn't paid her debt to society. Nature maybe had to set things right. Whatever the reason(s) conjured up in the imagination of a director or a storyteller, the bird is always fascinating for its mysterious behaviors, instincts and flying abilities. Even in the more fantastical 1939 tale of The Wizard of Oz when the Wicked Witch of the West orders her minions of flying monkeys to attack Oz, viewers are fascinated with these flying creatures for almost the same reasons. However in the biblical tale when the dove returns to the ark with an olive branch, Noah realizes that land is now nearby. Here the bird is portrayed as mankind's messenger, guide and ally. Whether friend or foe, birds definitely have captured and intrigued man's imagination.

It is common knowledge that sailors always look for indicators that terra firma isn't too far away. "Land Ho!" is music to any salt who has been at sea for any extended length of time. Whether positioned high above in a masthead crowsnest or closer to sea level on the bow pulpit, crew members assigned as lookouts listen for the sounds of shoals or reefs and pay particular attention to distant, dark ominous clouds, floating branches, seaweed, shallow water, whitewater as well as the increased presence of birds. 

Granted Reindeer hadn't been at sea for forty days and nights (even though it felt like it). Granted we didn't have any land birds on board our ark (unless you count some crew members attempts at humor). Granted we had not shot any birds for our unfavorable conditions either. And, of course, Reindeer wasn't ever mistakened for a fairy tale, myth or metaphor...a little out of place, unfamiliar and odd, maybe, but not something from a poet's, director's or devout Christian's imagination. While Reindeer was real, it is sometimes humans' limited perspective coupled with superstition, fantasy or imagination that creates their "reality."

It didn't matter that Reindeer felt seaworthy; it had been a week since we had disembarked from St. John's, Newfoundland. Even though the crew had to be eager for landfall after so much rough weather, the crew always looked for signs of life and land.  I know I found some solace in signs of sea life everywhere out in the ocean. Especially in the winged variety that frequented our skies. Fulmars, kittiwakes, skuas, petrels, gulls, gannets, terns, pomarine jaegers, puffins, black guillemots, razorbills and shearwaters often appeared performing acrobatic, gravity-defying maneuvers over the waves, floating in rafts or nesting in the seaside cliffs. Newbold frequently referred to the various and abundant bird life in the ship's log and in his book Down Denmark Strait. I even quoted his fascination with the gannet in my second blog entry about this transatlantic voyage.

What I found most fascinating was sea birds' tendency to stay with our boat and surround us for most of our voyage even though they were hundreds of miles from any land or shore protection. They certainly weren't scared of us. Sometimes I thought they were actually fascinated in us almost as much as we were in them. In the storms, I watched birds tirelessly and joyfully fly between, over and around mountainous waves. I discovered thousands floating together in rafts. Many times especially during the nights, Reindeer would unintentionally ambush and surprise flocks with its intrusion into their floating masses and water beds.

While today flocks of birds can be blamed for downing jets, scavenging crops or defacing public artifices with their droppings, humans can probably hold them responsible for global warming. As I have attempted to show, humans can judge and evaluate birds's behavior to fit whatever image they desire. Of course, choosing to see them as foe, food or folly depends on the viewer's perspective.

As seafarers, we discover birds often provide valuable information and inspiration. For me, more often than not, birds were and still remain to this day, a fascinating and a welcome distraction.

Maybe it is because I wish I could fly....and fly as effortlessly. After all, birds look like they are such fun gliding and soaring even in the midst of stormy winds.

A cliff a few hundred feet high, home to hundreds of puffins, at the entrance to
Heimaey's harbor off the southern coast of Iceland.

Storm Headsail Changes

Le Mans Style - Log Canoe Racing