Thursday, January 18, 2018

England Journal - 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011
      Hartsfield Airport, Atlanta is a city unto itself, figuratively if not literally. Its Concourses A through E analogous to busy streets, with shops, restaurants, and news stands lining the sides, scurrying pedestrians crowding the thoroughfares, all of them intent on getting to somewhere else as quickly as possible.

    Boarding the big Boeing 767 that will carry us across the ocean, we shuffle slow-motion down the long narrow aisles and install ourselves in the small spaces where we'll spend the next nine hours.

    I love the beginning of any flight. Rolling down the taxiway, watching other planes ahead, the glimpse down the length of the runway as the pilot swings the plane into position for takeoff. I like the sounds, the mechanical whir as the flaps are extended, and the whistling, wailing sound of the engine turbines climbing through octaves toward full power.

    Our flight path takes us northeast across corners of Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. By the time we are winging across Vermont and New Hampshire the sun, falling toward the western horizon bounces firey orange sun-glint up toward us from lakes and rivers far below. At 35,000 feet the sky is always clear, with delicate gradations of color for sunset that fade rapidly as we race on eastward.

    Flying across the Atlantic we will pass through five time zones, and although we will land at London's Gatwick airport around 7:30 in the morning in England, our internal clocks will still think it is only 2:30 a.m.

    Although this great circle route doesn't take us near Greenland or Iceland, there are some observable indications that we are flying a northerly path. I look at my watch, which tells me it's midnight, although the plane is rumbling on through some more easterly time zone, and already there is an ember-red glow in the north east as if that whole quadrant of the horizon was awaiting some celestial wind to fan it into flames. Craning my neck and spreading my hands to block the reflections of lights inside the airplane I can just make out the lopsided W shape of Cassiopeia, its center point aiming vaguely in the direction of Polaris. By contorting a bit more I can just barely see it at the upper edge of the window high above the tip of the wing.

    As we float eastward at almost 600 mph the sky continues its evolving light show, an infinitely delicate gradation of color from melted-glass orange though daffodil yellow and even a faint spring leaf green to robin's egg blue, mauve, and finally a rich purple high up.
    Long before the Sun actually puts in an appearance the scattered light begins to reveal a vast expanse of faintly pink cotton-ball clouds stretched out below us, showing subtle variations in local wind currents that create swirls and eddies in the overall texture of the cloud layer.

Tuesday, May 10
    The Sun has already jumped up from the eastern horizon, although my watch, still on Virginia time indicates that it is not yet 1:00 a.m. The cabin light comes on, and people stir and stretch, seeking relief from the cramped contortions of semi-sleep that afflicts most overnight air travelers. The flock of flight attendants emerges from hidden nests, pushing carts of juice and coffee down the aisles.
    By the time we have nibbled our way through mini-muffins with egg, a small banana, and a cup of some strange fluid masquerading as orange juice, we are over land. The random shapes of the fields below, sharply delineated by hedgerows, look almost like stained glass, done all in brilliant green. The pitch of the engines changes subtly and the ground begins to creep nearer as we begin the long glide to Gatwick.
    As we exit from the long lines of the immigration and passport checks Hugh and Barbara are waiting for us with smiles and hugs, and the intervening five years since we've last seen them evaporate like mist under a warm Sun.
    It doesn't take a lot of mental adjustment to accommodate to hurtling down the left multiple lanes of traffic on the M23 Motorway south, but Hugh soon exits onto one of the A roads, heading south and east toward their home in Heathfield. The motorways in England are similar to U.S. interstate highways, with broad multiple lanes. The main thoroughfares, all prefixed with the letter A before the route number are a different matter. All the A roads we've experienced so far are sinuous, with narrow lanes. There seem to be no road shoulders, and trees and bushes crowd to the very edges of the pavement. Speeding cars and trucks break off any encroaching young shoots, trimming the vegetation into perfect vertical walls that frequently make right angle bends at truck-top height to form dark green tunnels. Neither do there seem to be many restrictions on parking, and where roads pass through villages and towns there are often places where parked cars reduce the width of the road to somewhat less than one and a half lanes. It becomes a test of driving skill and bravery to determine whether you will brake for the oncoming car or speed toward the single lane opening with hope that you will be able to cut back into your own lane before you have a head-on collision. Roads with a B designation are like the A roads, except that they are generally narrower, with perhaps more twists and turns. Of course there are more of these than A roads.
    We arrived in Heathfield unscathed, and after being shown around Hugh and Barbara's beautiful house and spectacular garden, were invited to take a walk in the nearby woods. There are miles of woodlands within a few hundred yards of the house, and we quickly leave the bright sunshine behind, immersed in that wonderful slightly yellowish Spring green of newly leafed forest.
    The breezes that dance through the treetops continuously opened and closed gaps in the overhead canopy, sending bright shafts of sunlight down toward the forest floor, spotlighting crowds of bluebells. Misty the dog was delighted to run free, hurrying ahead to investigate wondrous odors that our less sensitive nostrils could not detect. There is no underbrush, and one could almost imagine long-ago bowmen walking stealthily among the old tree trunks, stalking deer.
    We wandered for awhile through open farm fields that stretched in rolling grassy folds off to the village of Mayfield a few miles distant, then plunged back into the cool liquid green of the woods. A short distance downhill we came to a steep embankment. We climbed the few yards to the top, and were standing on the bed of an old branch railroad that was closed and stripped of rails and cross-ties almost 50 years ago. Following the rail bed for a way we came to an old arched brick bridge that once carried a road across the tracks below. We scrambled up the slope, crossed the bridge, and headed back to the house as the sun slid toward the western horizon.
    The back of the house has large windows facing almost due west, looking out over a green wooded valley and more distant fields all the way to the horizon. The evening was cloudless, and we stood on the back porch watching as the Sun, now orange and fading, touched the horizon and seemed to sag, melting itself into a stair-stepped rounded pyramid, shrinking to a red mound, and finally a glowing sliver before sinking out of sight. We stayed for a few minutes more, watching the shadow of the Earth begin to creep up from the eastern horizon through the misty atmosphere toward night.

Wednesday, May 11
    I had staggered off to bed at 9:30 pm. and fallen asleep right away. After about four hours, my body and brain, acting in concert said," OK, you've had a nice, long nap, and it's time to wake up!" Unfortunately, my half-open scratchy eyeballs confirmed that it was only 1:30 a.m. in Heathfield. I lay awake for some time, lying in bed and looking out the window at the setting first-quarter moon. I finally drifted off again, waking to the coo-COO-coo, co-COO-coo of wood pigeons in the tree outside the window.
    After a leisurely breakfast the four of us climbed into the Vauxhall, a medium size British car made by Ford, and with Hugh navigating we set off for the town of Tenterden and a rendezvous with the Kent and East Sussex Railway. Partly funded by The National Trust's lottery dollars, and manned by a multitude of volunteers, a ten and a half mile section of old branch railway has been restored to working condition, complete with a large collection of steam and diesel engines, a variety of passenger cars, village stations, switches, and road crossings.
    Nine vintage passenger cars were already hooked to the coal-fired steam engine which sat on the station tracks, softly hissing its steamy breath into the cool morning air. The stubby little locomotive getting ready for the day's work was an American made switch-yard engine, shipped to England in 1943 for duty moving strategic materials and supplies during World War II.
    We found seats facing each other across a table in one of the cars. The steam whistle gave high-pitched too-whoot, and with a surprisingly soft huff-chuff, huff-chuff and scarcely a lurch, the train glided out of the station.
    The scenery was pastoral, the tracks at some points being bounded by willows and in others opening to vistas of fields with silly sheep, some of which stood gazing at the passing train while others bolted in panic from the mechanical monster that seemed to be pursuing them.
    The track wound alongside a shallow, flat valley that showed evidence of being channeled long ago in parallel water-filled ditches where reeds were cultivated for use in thatching the roofs of houses. In other places there were expanses of flat flooded areas where we saw ducks and gracefully elegant swans paddling about. In fields that were dryer we frequently spotted brilliantly colored male pheasants strutting about, keeping watchful eyes on their drab mates.
    There were green fields, highlighted with patches of yellow buttercups, and fields with acres of brilliant yellow mustard flowers, and off in the distance on the low rolling hills on the far side of the valley vast sky-colored slopes covered with blue flax.
    Not being a trunk line railroad, each time we came to a road the train slowed and stopped, the way barred by a gate. The train man would hop out, trot over to the gate, wait until there was a break in the stream of passing cars and trucks, and then swing the gate across the road, opening the way for the train to pass through the intersection. Once across, the train would stop again and the process reversed, the train man opening the road to vehicular traffic while closing the gates across the train tracks. Boarding again, and with another shrill too-whoot!, we would be off again.
    A forty-five minute ride through the countryside found us leaving Kent and back in East Sussex, pulling in to the Bodiam train station. We walked down the platform to watch the engine disconnect, back up a ways, and then switch to a parallel track to move forward again, pass the standing rail cars, switch once again and reattach to the opposite end of the train for the return trip to Tenterden.
    Only about four hundred yards away down a narrow, high-crowned road and across a small bridge we saw the towers and ramparts of Bodiam Castle casting reflections of themselves in the wide surrounding moat. A short walk, and soon we were crossing the bridge over the moat, passing under the massive portcullis and into the open grassy center of the castle. Now mostly roofless and floorless, with some walls crumbling, Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, characterized as "a soldier of fortune".
    We spent several hours exploring the ruins. We scrambled into small outer defensive rooms with narrow slots for firing arrows. We wound our way up high, steep tower staircases that all spiraled to the right, designed to prevent invaders from drawing swords as they might make their way upward. We looked out across the green valley from the highest ramparts, trying to imagine what it must have been like to live here in a castle in the twelfth century or in a thatched hut in 500 B.C. when people were already here.
Thursday, May 12
    Twenty miles north of Heathfield in Sussex, almost an hour's drive on lovely but narrow and winding English roads is Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill and his wife for over forty years. The oldest part of the house dates back to the 1086, and Henry the Eighth is reputed to have stayed there while courting Ann Bolyen in the 1500's. Sir Winston had the existing house and added onto it in the 1920's.
    The house is interesting, kept furnished as it was when Churchill lived there, but the gardens were spectacular. A long, high brick wall built by Churchill himself encloses an extensive vegetable garden, still well tended by gardeners of the National Trust.
    There is an oval walled pond with steps leading into it that Churchill used as a swimming pool. Today there are a few cattails sticking out of the water on one side, and the only swimmers are a pair of ducks.
    In the evening after dinner we accompanied Barbara to the Heathfield community center to hear her direct the local choir practice.
    Shining a light out the window at the house later that evening we watched a badger nodding its black and white striped head in approval as he gobbled up the peanuts that had been set out for him.

Friday, May 13
    It has been a lucky day. Once again the weather is clear and sunny with just a couple of small fluffy low floating cotton ball cumulus clouds to punctuate the blue skies. A leisurely breakfast overlooking the garden, and then off down winding roads of Sussex, stopping first at the waterside town of Rye. Its residents were known in the past as fishermen with a talent for smuggling on the side.
    In the heart of town bumpy narrow cobblestone streets wind uphill from the old harbor.  Many of the houses are half timbered structures, the gaps between filled with wattle-and-daub covered with plaster and whitewash. At the roof peak of an old pub I see 1762 carved into the beam. Another building has a small plaque reading "rebuilt in 1686". Opposite the Mermaid Pub is a house named "The House Opposite". A block over the street running down the hill is just as narrow, lined with shops and houses just as old, but somehow looking more modern with its asphalt pavement.
    The old harbor, really nothing more than bulkheads on either side of a small river no more than sixty feet wide is no longer a point of commerce. Slightly frumpy looking round bottom pleasure boats or those with retractable centerboards sit in the mud twenty feet below the quay waiting for the incoming tide to float them again. The active harbor is about three miles downstream where the water is consistently a bit deeper and the river a bit wider.
    A short drive from Rye is the town of Iklesham overlooking soft green fields that roll down to the sea. Hidden from the main road, down a side street at the edge of town is "The Queen's Head", an old English Pub built in the early 15th Century. Dried hops hang in bunches from old hand hewn beams that angle up to a peaked ceiling. A dark wooden bar angles across one corner of the main room, and bulls-eye windows transmit a distorted view of the world outside. We step down into a side room where small dark oak beams support a low flat ceiling and take a table next to a wide fireplace. Each of us orders a different mid-day dinner from the menu and a pint of nice dark ale to wash it down.
    It is another short drive from Iklesham to the town of Hastings. There is still an active fishing fleet here, the only place in England where the clinker-built lapstrake round bottomed boats run directly up onto the gravel beach instead of docking. All was calm on the waterfront today, but when the surf is up it must be cause for considerable tension as  each boat runs toward the beach, maintaining enough speed so that the waves will not swing the stern around, resulting in swamping or capsizing. As the bow crunches onto the gravel strand a crewman leaps off the bow with a line that is attached quickly to a cable that leads to the winch that will complete the landing. In order to launch again, a bulldozer with a special padded blade will push against the bow until the boat is re-floated.
    A multitude of narrow black net-drying houses perhaps twelve feet on a side and two stories tall crowd close together along the beach. There is room for a single road along the beachfront, and directly behind that eroded sandstone cliffs rise up sharply. A steep funicular railway car climbs at a forty-five degree angle up to the top of the cliff, balanced by a second car on the way down. At the top, a broad grassy ridge provides a sweeping view of the coastline to the west, past Bexhill and Eastbourne all the way to the silhouetted promontory of Beachy Head jutting out into the English Channel.
    Our mid-day meal had been so filling that this evening we skipped a regular dinner, opting instead for tea and a raspberry dessert.

Saturday, May 14
    Seven miles east of Heathfield is the village of Burwash, the place where Rudyard Kipling lived for thirty four years at the house he called "Batemans". His widow gave the house and thirty-three acres to the National Trust after Kipling's death in 1936.
    We toured the house, built in 1634. It is furnished as it was in the early 1900's when Kipling lived there. The grounds are kept in beautiful condition. Ten foot tall hedges in front are kept trimmed so precisely that they look like solid green walls surrounding grass that looks smooth enough to be a putting green.
    A formal walk at the back of the house leads past a large, shallow rectangular pond where bright orange goldfish swim in lazy random patterns. The surface of the water reflects nearby trees and the brilliant yellow and deep blue iris that grow along its edges.
    Passing through a wrought iron gate in the stone wall at the back of the garden, the path follows the bank of a meandering stream a short distance, crosses a wooden footbridge, and ends at an old gristmill that is also part of the property.
    The mill pond and the mill are kept in working order and operated by volunteers, and as we approached we could hear the water splashing onto the mill wheel, which squeaked faintly as it slowly rotated, and the rhythmic rumbling of the wooden gears inside, turning the big stone wheels of the mill. There was a steady quick-marching cadence clack-clacking coming from the second floor as we entered. That turned out to be wooden cams on the drive shaft that operated a lever designed to vibrate the screen where the corn was placed, shaking the individual kernels through and down between the mill wheels at just the right amount to keep everything grinding at the right speed.
    The afternoon was cool and sunny, but pleasant enough that we enjoyed hiking several miles through buttercup-filled meadows near Heathfield.

Sunday, May 15
    Hugh preached the Sunday service at a very small church near Heathfield, accompanied by jackdaws chirping in the attic. The sanctuary provides most of the space in the church, with only a tiny room behind the alter and pulpit. There is no "fellowship hall", so after the service everyone simply stayed more or less in place while a few scurried to the tiny other room to prepare trays of tea and cookies, which they call bisquits. After a pleasant half hour spent sipping and nibbling and chatting the twenty or so people who make up the entire congregation drifted away by twos and threes, and Hugh and Barbara and Jane and I drove a short distance to the "Runt-In-Tun" pub for our main meal of the day. The place was crowded with extended families and friends, infants, toddlers, young adults, middle aged men and women, and a few 90 year olds, everyone happily chatting, eating, and drinking.
    After a big meal a walk seemed like just the thing.  A short drive took us to the public paths of Ashdown Forest. Actually there is very little forest.  There is gently rolling countryside with vistas off into the distance. At first I thought that the hills were covered with green grass, but as we walked along the wide path I realized that I was looking at fields of low growing ferns. In some places there were low patches of heather and and the prickly gorse that always seems to grow in the same places. There were a few sprinkles of light intermittent rain - the first we'd had. In the distance we could see several people riding the trails on horseback. Here and there were wandering clusters of sheep, and several cattle raised their heads to watch as we strolled by.

Monday, May 16
    It is an hour's drive from Heathfield in Sussex to Leeds Castle in Kent. There is an historic connection between Leeds Castle and Virginia. In the 1600's the Culpeper family owned Leeds Castle, and John, the 1st Lord Culpeper was granted all the land bounded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers in Virginia; more than five million acres of land in reward for assisting the escape of the Prince of Wales during the English Civil War.
    Thomas Fairfax, the 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and son of Thomas and Catherine Culpeper, was born at Leeds Castle in 1693, and later settled permanently in the Virginia Colony to oversee the Culpeper estates. Virginia's Culpeper County and Fairfax County owe their names to the link to Leeds Castle. In fact there is a commemorative sundial at Leeds Castle telling the time in Belvoir, VA and a corresponding sundial in Belvoir telling the time at Leeds Castle.
        The earliest construction of the present castle was begun in the early 1100's, although a manor house occupied the same site as far back as the 9th century. Eventually the castle was bought in 1926 by an Anglo-American woman who became Lady Baillie. In her will she left the castle and grounds to the National Trust, and it was opened to the public in 1976.
    We enjoyed the touring the castle, and the grounds and gardens outside the moat. I had fun walking through the maze that was built in 1988 using 2,400 yew trees to form the impenetrable ten foot high walls of the labyrinth.

Tuesday, May 17
    The South Downs National Park, covering 628 square miles and stretching a hundred miles from Beachy Head west all the way to Winchester is England's newest, having been officially opened on April 1, 2011.
     From Heathfield we drove to the Cuckmere Valley along country roads. As we approached the ocean I began to notice that most of the stone in the buildings we passed and in the  numerous walls along the roads was flint. I picked up a few pieces of flint and put them in my pocket so that I could try making sparks by stricking them with a piece of steel.
    Driving through the rolling hills near the village of Wilmington we came on an amazing sight, the white chalk figure of a long man over 200 feet tall etched into the green grass slopes of Windover Hill. Although various archeological studies may disagree on its age it surely dates back at least as far as the 1500's.
    A few miles farther we spotted another hillside chalk figure, The White Horse of Litlington. This one is relatively recent. Created in the 1920's, it was painted over with green paint during World War II, as was the Long Man, to prevent these landmarks being used as navigation waypoints by German bombers. Both were scrubbed clean again in 1945.
    We parked in a public wayside to hike across the across flat land meadows that lie on either side of the winding oxbow Cuckmere River. It was only a mile or two past flocks of sheep grazing in fields of birght yellow buttercups to the shingle beach at the mouth of the river where the waves coming off the Englash Channel made a faintly rumbling sound as they crashed on the shore. Three sturdy looking stone houses with white walls perched on the cliffs on the right, and off to the left were towering chalk cliffs of "The Seven Sisters", seven headlands in the chalk cliffs which plunge dramatically from high bluffs straight into the sea.
    By the time we had returned to the car along the winding banks of the Cuckmere we had worked up quite an appetite. It was only a few minutes drive to the Beachy Head Pub. We ate and sipped a pint by the windows that overlooked the expanse of the Cuckmere Valley and the chalk cliffs all the way to Beachy Head itself.
    Comfortably refueled, we proceeded down to the seaside resort town of Eastbourne, where we found blocks and blocks of walkways paralleling the beach. Next to the paths were rows of wrought iron benches, all fully occupied with people, young and old, all bundled against the slightly chilly air, chatting with each other or just sitting and soaking up a bit of welcome afternoon sunshine.
    The Eastbourne Pier is a magnificent, anachronistic Victorian construction that juts out nine hundred feet over the grey water. It is everything you would imagine: electronic arcades with strange machines, a tea room, souvenir shops, a restaurant, and a fishing venue at the very end. there were only two hardy fishermen huddled against the wind and hopefully watching their lines, but no evidence of any catch they could take home with them at the end of the day. The west side of the pier buffeted by the gusty winds off the channel was empty but we saw a few people sunning themselves on the other side, sheltered by the buildings that stretched along the center.

Wednesday, May 18
    Sheffield Park manor house, four lakes, amazing rhododendrons of all shades, Giant Sequoia trees 10 ft in diameter. Dinner at the Mark Cross Inn in the village of Mark Cross, Crowborough 128 pounds.

Thursday, May 19
    To Gatwick pick up car, negotiate the M23, M25, & M4 west 3.5 hours to Batheaston, had to stop for directions in town to Old Mill Hotel on the edge of the Avon River. Room on first floor overlooking the private toll bridge and the weir across the river to impound water for the mill. Mill wheel still turning but no longer used for milling. Second mill on the opposite side of the bridge. Ferry boat about three miles down the Avon to Bath. Tour Roman baths and Bath Abbey. Missed the first bus back by less than half a looked at us waving and then pretended he didn't see, driving off. Next bus in 25 minutes. Other people running down the block as the bus started to pull out and this driver stopped and waited. Got off in town found Waggon and Horses Pub for dinner. Joined at next table by couple from Edmonton, Alberta.  or

Friday, May 20
    Breakfast overlooking the turning mill wheel, then drive to Bristol, and lunch with Cunningham-Burleys. Visit to church to see the stained glass window they did and on down the M-4 to Exeter and into Cornwall region. Staying the night at the Royal Inn in Par. not so royal, but pleasant enough, with good food and a nice pub where we drank a pint after dinner . We  watched as people  began to come in, filling the place to crowded by 9:00 pm, coming mainly for drink and discourse, but also to listen to a local band that was loud and enthusiastic and actually pretty good.

Saturday, May 21
    After a leisurely breakfast we left Par to visit an outpost on another planet. At least that's what it seemed like. The Eden Project, an enormous research/educational undertaking has constructed two three-lobed biodomes in an old china clay quarry. Today its hundreds of  twenty-foot-wide six-sided plastic panels have been formed into huge bubbles a hundred and fifty feet high, each enclosing a separate ecosystem. One holds the warm, humid atmosphere of a tropical rain forest, with thousands of plants from all over the world growing in wild profusion. The second dome incorporates plants from all over the world that thrive in a Mediterranean climate. The two domes, set in their sunken garden of plants that now fill the old quarry are evocative of a futuristic science-fiction city built on some distant hostile planet.
        In the afternoon we drove to the little coastal village of Charlestown, a single cobblestone street plunging down to the tiny harbor. There were fewer than a hundred houses, built of stone,  and at least three pubs. Halfway down the hill the street split left and right, one going down one side of the harbor and one down the other. The harbor itself is a bit less than thirty yards wide and perhaps a hundred yards long, with vertical stone walls that drop fifty feet to the surface of the upper harbor. There is also a lower harbor, separated from the upper by a sea gate that can be opened at high tide, and closed so that the water doesn't fall in the upper harbor when the tide goes out, dropping the sea level in the lower harbor by almost fifteen feet. The lower harbor, itself not much wider than fifty yards, is almost completely surrounded by a thirty foot high sea wall, curving around until there is only a small opening where boats can exit parallel to the shingle beach, dodging the half submerged stone barrier to the port side while swinging to starboard as quickly as possible to head into the waves that come heaving in from open water. Getting either in or out of this tiny walled sheltering harbor in anything but the calmest of weather must have tested the skill and bravery of those steering the ships.
         Although almost deserted today, there was a time when ten or fifteen tall masted steamer/sailing ships would crowd in at the same time, rail to rail, waiting to be loaded with the high grade Cornwall clay that was shipped to makers of fine china and porcelain.
     A short drive on good roads brought us finally to the town of Truro. Tomorrow is the music festival at Mount Saint Michael.

Sunday, May 22
    It rained during the night, but by breakfast time the clouds were clearing, and by 9:30 we looked out on a bright, windy, chilly, but sunshiny day. We drove along the A-30 highway, hunting The Lizard. The southernmost cape of land in England is called, for some mysterious reason, "The Lizard". It is most probably a corruption of the Cornish name "Lys Ardh", meaning "high court".
    A short walk to the point meanders along high, jagged, almost vertical cliffs that drop about 200 feet to jagged rocks awash in the rolling breakers. Fat, succulent three-cornered leaves of iceplant cradle scattered large pale yellow flowers, and ragged carpets of brilliant magenta flowers cascade down the steep slopes as if a mad artist had flung buckets of day-glo paint over the edges of the cliffs.
    A wide cobblestone path too steep to be called a road curves down sharply to a rocky spot at sea level where brave souls can launch small boats across surging mats of slippery seaweed to make their way through breaking surf between jagged rocks to open water.
    Heading almost due north, we backtracked 10 miles to the town of Helston.  Ten miles west brought us to Marazion and a long line of vehicles creeping through the narrow streets of town competing for parking places. After our own unsuccessful reconnaissance we paid the five-pound fee to squeeze into an already jammed parking lot next to the sea wall. A very broad, flat beach sloped gently to the white-capped waters of Mount's Bay where wind surfers and kite boarders swooped across the surface at unbelievable speeds. We joined the general drift of hundreds of other people along the hard sands in the opposite direction, toward the lumpy cobblestone causeway that curved out, barely a foot above water to Saint Michaels Mount a quarter of a mile from the shore.
    Saint Michael's Mount like its larger Normandy namesake Mont Saint Michele is a triangular mini-mountain that juts up several hundred feet not far from the shore of a very shallow bay where low tides retreat far from the shore, but come rushing in as high tide approaches, turning them into islands.
    Saint Michael's Mount was the site of an abbey as early as the eighth century, and was given to the Benedictines of the Norman abbey of Mont Saint Michel in the 1200's which seems to be how it got its name. The old Cornish name for the place was Karrek Loos y'n Koos meaning "grey rock in the woods". It may have been exactly that, for in November of 1099 it is recorded that a huge storm swept the ocean far inland. The backwash may have carried away the woods and the land, leaving only the solid grey rock outcropping remaining close to the new shoreline.
    The small walled harbor of Saint Michaels Mount faces away from the sea. As we reached the island end of the causeway and entered the gate to the town we could see a number of boats tilted to the right or tilted to the left, their hulls resting on the sandy bottom of the drained harbor. If we stayed too long the boats, re-floated, would be our only way back to the mainland, since at high tide the causeway is under water.
    There was a music festival going on, and we stopped several times on the steep climb up the rough cobblestone path to the castle to listen to different groups. A group of Morris dancers was performing on the roof of the castle itself.
    Although part of the castle is under the administration of the National Trust and is open to the public, the island and the castle have been owned by the same family since 1659 when it was sold to Colonel John St Aubyn. His descendants are still resident on five private floors of the castle.
    We found our way back across the causeway long before the incoming tide, navigated our way out of the crowded car park, and turning left headed toward the town of Penzance.
    The harbor there, like the beach at Marazion slopes very gently toward the sea. All of the water drains out of the basin at low tide, leaving all the moored boats sitting on the mud. Consequently many of the boats have two keels, one on each side instead of a single keel, providing a solid two-legged base when the tide is out. Other boats simply prop up each side of the boat with sticks to keep them from tipping over when the tide goes out.
    Navigating toward Lands End without consulting a map, by keeping the ocean on my left and selecting roads that ran close to the shore, I next found my way to the delightful village of Mousehole. It was aptly named, for the twisting, steep streets between the crowding houses were so narrow that at times there were only inches to spare on both sides of the car, making me feel as if I were climbing through a mouse's burrow. When I mentioned to the barman at the inn where we stayed on Sunday night that we'd driven through Mousehole he looked puzzled for a few seconds and then said, "Oh! You mean MOE-zul!". That made me think of the tale the Livermons have enjoyed telling about their travels in England many years ago. They were looking for a town with the very French spelling of Beaulieu, and asked for directions, using the French pronunciation bo-leeYUH. After some confusion on the part of the listeners, the reply was, "Oh! You must mean BYOO-lee!"
    Leaving Mousehole behind did not mean that the roads suddenly got wider. As I hugged the right side of the road close enough that leaves and stems and the blossoms of small wildflowers tickled that side of the car I could also hear the other side of the car being gently caressed from that side as well. Not as romantic an image as one might think, for directly behind the encroaching greenery was the solid Cornish stone of five foot high walls.
    A lucky missed turn brought us along a similar road etched into the side of a steep wooded hill to Lamorna Cove where the few stone houses seemed to blend into the stoney background of rocks surrounding the tiny harbor.
        I backtracked, took another turn, and found that the pavement had disappeared, to be replaced with gravel tracks separated with a high crowned green swale down the middle. It seemed to be going in the right direction, so I followed it between the clutching green walls that were beginning to crowd even closer until the point where even the gravel faded away beneath the green overgrowth. Although I could see that the now almost invisible track pointed toward the tops of chimneys only a few hundred yards away, I was concerned that I would actually scratch the sides of the brand-new rental car or get stuck. I backed to the last place wide enough and turned around.
    Now on a paved road that was at least wide enough for one and a half cars, it seemed like a proper highway, although it was still narrow enough that meeting a car traveling the opposite direction would occasion one or the other backing up until a wider passing spot was found.
    I had seen on the map a very tiny, barely noticeable symbol that designated a prehistoric site. Several cars by the side of the road indicated to me that there was something of interest, and on investigation I found a small stone marker labeled "The Merry Maidens". That sounded promising! I inserted, rather than parked the car in the tiny bit of space remaining, and climbing over a stone stile, we walked up a path across a meadow where long grass rippled in the strong wind like waves on a stormy sea.
    Less than three hundred yards from the road we found a circle of ancient standing stones. Each of the nineteen stones had rough edges, hewn in prehistoric times into blocks perhaps two and a half feet wide and about a foot thick. I couldn't tell the length, since the blocks that must have weighed a couple of tons each had been transported to this site and then tipped up into holes that were filled in to hold them upright. Each was about twelve feet from its neighboring stones on either side, all of them arranged into a perfect circle. Nobody knows who erected this arrangement of stones nor when, though it had to have been several thousand years ago.
    The headland at Land's End has all the dubious charm of Myrtle Beach or Gatlinburg, with arcades, 3D movie screens, trinket-filled shops, and a slightly seedy-looking hotel. Land's End for those interested in geology and geography is more interesting. The westernmost point of land in Great Britain, its dark rocky cliffs and jagged dark outcroppings of rock farther out plunge down into white waves crashing in from the Atlantic Ocean. A quarter mile offshore the Land's End Lighthouse clutches the outermost black rocky reef and flashes a warning to heavy laden ships ploughing west and east though big seas that once in awhile send tons of water splashing over their bows.
    It was quite late in the afternoon by the time we left Land's End and headed back up the peninsula. We stopped to inquire at several bed and breakfast guest houses before we were successful at finding a place to stay for the night in the village of Lelant near St. Ives. We settled in to the Badger Inn and pub for dinner just after sunset a little before 9:00 pm, and then made our way upstairs for a good last night's sleep in Cornwall before starting the long drive back across southern England to Gatwick.

The best part is the moment when the brakes are released and the aircraft surges forward, accelerating down the runway, watching the nose lift in the moment before the sudden surge at the instant the wheels leave the ground and we leap into the air, watching in fascination as the ground falls away.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tales of Old Samoa - The Diver and the Shark

    My only venture into free-diving 60 feet deep was when we were living on the island of Aunu'u, in American Samoa One weekend the Pago Pago Dive Club chartered a small boat to bring them out to "my" island. They tied up to the Aunu'u mooring buoy just offshore.
     I brought my mask, fins, and snorkel down to the beach to join them. Most of the club members had SCUBA gear, and soon they were splashing by ones and twos over the side of the motor launch "FiaFia". Within minutes several divers surfaced with remarks that they'd spotted black coral about 60 feet down off the edge of the reef.
     From the surface I could spot far below the black smudge that they were talking about. I was determined to get some for myself.  I floated quietly, face down, breathing through my snorkel and hyperventilating for almost a minute. Putting my head down, I kicked for the bottom. I could feel the pressure compressing my chest and lungs. The negative buoyancy slightly accelerated my descent as I glided down.
     I planted my feet on the sandy bottom, 60 feet from the surface, grasped the black coral firmly, and pulled hard. It wiggled a bit.
     I twisted it, hoping to separate it from its base. It yielded only slightly.
     I was beginning to feel the carbon dioxide building in my bloodstream, urging me to breath.  Releasing my grip, I headed leisurely toward the surface.
     Floating face down on the gentle waves, breathing again through my snorkel, I could heard admiring remarks from those with SCUBA gear, pointing out to others, "Hey! Did you see Hastings diving? He went all the way to the bottom out here!"
    After a few minutes of recovery, I drew extra deep breaths again, getting ready to head down. I was determined to surface with that piece of black coral. Kicking hard, I raced straight down. I leveled out two feet from the bottom, and found myself staring head on at the face of a large shark not more than three feet away!

    All thoughts of black coral vanished as I planted a foot on the bottom, pushed hard, and took off toward the distant surface as fast as my fins could propel me. I shot halfway out of the water like a Polaris missile, spitting out my mouthpiece and yelling "SHARK"!!!!!!
     To my amazement and consternation, as I took a deep breath I realized that my friends, my fellow divers, were all laughing! I was miffed!
     "There's a large shark down there!" I repeated, thinking that perhaps they hadn't heard my warning.
     "We watched the whole thing!", someone replied.
     "We saw the shark at just about the same moment that you headed for the bottom. There was no way we could warn you! You were heading straight down, and the shark was swimming along the bottom. It looked like you were going to collide with each other.
      You leveled out and stopped suddenly. The shark saw you and stopped just as abruptly. You both froze, staring at each other for about two seconds, and then you both flipped around and shot off in opposite directions!
     If we could have heard shark-frequencies and understood shark-talk, that big fellow was probably screaming "PALAGI!!! I'm being chased by a palagi!!!"

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Morning Run

     With the end of Daylight Savings Time it should be easier to get out of bed, since it gets light an hour earlier. However, the temperature has dropped overnight into the mid 30's so it's hard to convince myself that it is a good idea to put on running clothes, pull a ski cap over my ears, slip on gloves, and go for a morning run.
     Once I was actually up and out the door, I went for a slow-paced 5 miler along Riverside Drive, across the Huguenot Bridge over the James River and back again.
     The air was cooler than the water, and sinuous tendrils of morning mist did slow gyrations just above the still river, their movements mirrored on the smooth water.

  A couple of mallards came whirring down, back-flapping their wings to slow down just before extending their webbed toes to water-ski the last couple of feet before settling contentedly, gabbling to each other as they paddled off in search of submerged breakfast.

      The still surface of the river in the morning sun was a pallet of color, reflecting sky blue and brilliant shades of orange and red and green from the trees on the far bank. At the edge of the low Bosher's Dam the plunging water sparkled like cascading diamonds in the sunlight.

     I'll try to hold those images the next morning when I'm considering pulling the covers up around my neck and going back to sleep!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Another tale of old Samoa - Pago Pago i le Po - Pago Pago Harbor at Night

Tropical Night Magic
      The perfume of night-blooming jasmine slipped through the corroded copper wire window screens of the house by the bay. Its sweet aroma almost masked the combined stink of sour mud and fish oil wafting across from the cannery less than half a mile away across the water.
      Perched several feet in the air on sturdy posts, the house had a rocky front yard just six feet wide, ending suddenly at a stone wall that dropped a few feet to the waters of the harbor at Pago Pago. The kitchen window faced away from the bay, only inches from the paved road that skirted the deep, L-shaped harbor.

      Directly across the road stood an old two story building known in the 1960's as the Max Haleck General Store. Many years earlier it had been the Haleck Hotel. Somerset Maugham had tarried there for several days, watching torrents of water sheeting down from low-hanging clouds, inspiring him to write a tropical tale of Sadie Thompson and rain.
The night was warm and humid. Unlike the stifling hot summer nights of a big city, soft tropical breezes flowed into the harbor from the southeast tradewinds of the open ocean, gently caressing moist skin.
      Lights from across the across the bay bounced shimmering reflections through the open front of the house, dancing across the ceiling of the darkened living room. Just outside the door on the side of the house, standing in the small grassy yard, I could watch a slow-moving light soaring away from the low hill on the side of the bay, gaining altitude as it hummed along a thick steel cable. The small hanging gondola swayed slightly from side to side as it began the steep caternary swoop toward the towering black wall of Mount Alava and its red-winking transmitter tower. From that high point TV programs beamed out across the island of Tutuila and over the 75 miles of open ocean to the islands of Ofu, Olosega, and Ta'u, a day's journey by boat toward the east.

      Retrieving a long, pointed Samoan paddle from under the low steps where I had stashed it, I stepped barefoot across the rocks. Reaching under the house, I grabbed the curved bow of my paopao, a fourteen foot long outrigger canoe. I lowered myself over the edge of the stone wall into the shallow water of the bay, moving cautiously in my flip-flops so that I wouldn't cut my feet on the jagged oyster shells that covered the bottom. A quick tug, and the narrow wooden canoe slapped down onto the water.
      Hewn from a single log, the paopao hull was perhaps a foot and a half deep, but too narrow to sit inside. A short board set atop the gunwales served as a seat. I dipped the paddle into the water, and found the shallow bottom just a few inches below. A couple of shoves with the tip of the paddle sent the canoe gliding out across the coral shoal and into deeper water.

      I paddled along the waterfront past the boat shed and the main dock where freighters unloaded goods and occasional cruise liners disgorged hoards of silver-haired tourists intent on bargaining for carved wood souvenirs and shell leis in the few hours ashore before heading off again toward some other south seas port. The lights from the government housing along Centipede Row cast sparkling paths across the black water. Passing the oil dock, I could smell a pungent mixture of diesel oil mingled with the sweet smell of the blossoms of the pua trees that grew on the grounds of the Rainmaker Hotel.

      Looking south, away from the lights of Fagatogo on this moonless night, I could see the black silhouette of Rainmaker Mountain against a brilliant background of thousands of stars and the faint double smudge of the Magellanic Clouds. The five stars of the Southern Cross pointed toward the mouth of the harbor and the ocean beyond.
As I turned again, I could feel the long ocean swells raising, then lowering me, gently urging me back the way I had come. I glided along the eastern side of the bay, skimming the surface of the smooth ink-black waters.
      The tip of the outrigger began to glow with a faint eery blue-green light. It pulsed each time the paopao surged forward, suddenly leaping around the paddle with each stroke. Now it brightened, sparkling like thousands of bright watery stars, swirling galaxies of light suddenly flashing into being and fading away in the glowing wake.
The phosphorescence stayed with me for most of the return trip, escorting me back to my starting point, leaving me with a lingering sense of connection with the whole Universe.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Adventures In Belize - Day Ten

     The rain came and went several times during the night, rattling close overhead loudly enough to wake me. I went out on deck as the warm, damp air was beginning to get light. I could hear the calls of birds in the dense vegetation near the marina, accompanied by a frog chorus. Water dripped from the edges of the Bimini top overhead. It dribbled over the edges of the boat onto the surface of the slip. It splashed in the undergrowth, and water vapor twisted in lazy tendrils from the coral sand and gravel up into the still morning air.

     Off in the distance I could hear the faintest whisper of sound in the back ground. It gradually got louder. Looking in that direction I could see a low hanging dark grey cloud moving slowly in my direction. Beneath the cloud was a veil of dark streamers reaching to the ground, dumping a tropical downpour on the jungle as it swept along. The millions upon millions of large raindrops splattering on leaves, splashing into puddles marked its coming with a whispering roar that got louder and louder as it got closer. 
      Billions of raindrops, rushing toward the ground, pushing the air ahead of them, created a warm humid wind blowing out in all directions, carrying the scent of sweet blossoms and decaying vegetation. So dense that the cascading rain obscured the landscape behind it, the storm swept across the marina with an enveloping roar of falling water that lasted only a few minutes and was gone.
     Soon the sun appeared from behind the tattered clouds, just in time to heat the already steamy air as we packed up and lugged dufflebags to the marina office for checkout and to await the arrival of the van to the tiny Placencia Airport.
     We’ve been here a week or so. Now it’s finally time to go; I can’t believe how quickly time has flown. Packing up the bathing suits…that’s a sign we must be going home. When we get back home, and they ask us what we miss most, we’ll shrug our shoulders and we’ll smile…

If you would like to see a twenty-five minute video of 
these ten days of adventure,click on the hotlink below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adventures In Belize - Day Nine

Friday, October 19, 2012
      The wind was blowing out of the northeast when we went to bed. I was a bit worried that it would shift during the night as it had other nights. If that happened, there was not enough room on the other side of the spot where we had dropped anchor, and we would drift into the mangrove roots. It didn't happen.
   Instead, the wind died completely and the night was hot and sticky. To add to the discomfort the still air next to the mangrove swamp on Lark Cay was populated by those tiny little gnats that people call "no-see-'ems". Small enough to squeeze through a regular window screen, they have a hearty appetite, and sleep was frequently interrupted with sharp little pinprick bites. 
   The lagoon where we were anchored behind Lark Cay was mirror-still in the early morning twilight, reflecting tall dark cumulus clouds with bright edges, back lit by the rising sun.
The others on board were still too sleepy to go adventuring, so I took the inflatable dinghy by myself to explore the shoreline. Actually there was very little shore visible. 
     Dense mangrove thickets crowded right down the edge of the lagoon, creating an impenetrable barricade of aerial roots all the way out into water. They plunge down a foot, two feet into the muddy or sandy bottom, holding the land in place against all but the fiercest of hurricane-driven wind and waves, and create a labyrinthine refuge and nursery for all sorts of sea life.
      Beyond the reach of the roots, colonies of coral grow in the clear, sunlit water. Seemingly infinite in variety, composed of uncountable billions of tiny sea-creatures living in symbiosis. These polyps eat microscopic plankton and floating organic debris, but also are nourished by the photosynthesis of specialized cells of plant algae that live inside the coral's tissue. Each individual coral polyp is capable of sharing the nutrition with all of the members of the colony. Their supporting calcium carbonate skeletal material, accumulated over countless generations builds the massive coral reefs of Belize.
    As I skimmed along the surface I was fascinated by the constantly changing contours of the bottom beneath the Zodiac. One moment the water would be that infinite deep cobalt blue of the tropic ocean. As I sped over different depths the color would change to a lighter, shadowy blue, then emerald, then apple-green, dependent on how close the coral heads were to the underside of the dinghy. By the time I got back to the "Lovely Cruise" the rest of the crew was almost ready to haul up the anchor.
    There is a long coral and sand bank that stretches a long distance out from the shore of Lark Cay, and we were not eager to repeat the previous day's tense moments of crossing that shallow water. 

   John set a course south toward Bugle Cay, and I stationed myself on the forward deck to watch for shoaling water. As soon as we were certain that there was deep water to starboard John set a new course directly toward the town of Placencia. We dropped anchor in twenty feet of water a hundred yards or so off the town waterfront, joining several other cruising sailboats already there.
    A shouted conversation with the captain of the closest boat indicated that the new town dock was still under construction, and that we should tie up to that rickety-looking low wooden dock that stretched out a couple of hundred feet from the beach. 
  As we motored in on the dinghy we could see that the outermost section of the dock consisted of nothing more than pilings, the decking having been carried away in some storm. We tied up the dinghy midway on the dock, walked cautiously toward land, stepping over loose planks and missing pieces.
     A long panga fishing boat with a high, rounded bow rested on the beach, and people sitting in the shade just beyond the sand enjoyed the gentle late morning breezes. We were enticed by the delicious odors of cooking food coming from a vendor's hut at the edge of the beach, and stopped to talk with the owner for a few minutes, promising that we would come back to try some of her edible wares after we explored the town a bit.
    Placencia is spread out for several miles along a very thin spit of sandy land with the ocean on one side and a vast salt water lagoon on the other..There is one dirt road that winds from the waterfront up the peninsula toward connections with the other largely unpaved roads that pass for highways in Belize. We strolled past a Shell gas station, and were a bit puzzled that there were no cars getting gas until we read the hand lettered sign taped to the front of the pump!

     The Guiness Book of World Records lists Placencia's Main Street as the world's narrowest main street. It is really nothing more than a cement sidewalk that reaches for over a mile through the long skinny center of the town, raised a few inches above the loose sand. We walked along it for a bit.

    Scattered along the main street are small shops selling clothing, shops selling touristy souvenirs, guest houses and bed-and-breakfast establishments, beach cabanas, an elementary school, brightly painted houses with metal roofs and gutters to catch rainwater in cisterns, well-kept gardens, and sandy vacant lots. No place in town is more than a few blocks from the water. We walked out toward the ocean side and found a beautiful narrow beach where the three-inch-high waves broke in small ripples against golden yellow sand. 
   On a side "street" we found a charming little open air bar, and stopped for some lunch. The couple who own the Pickled Parrot were recent arrivals fro New Jersey. He had been a truck driver, and when his wife retired from a teaching job and suggested that they move to Belize, he eagerly had embraced the idea. He runs the bar and she does the cooking in the kitchen of the adjacent house wherwe they live. They have been in Placencia less than a year, and are loving it. We stopped by the beachside food vendor's spot to buy some home made candy on the way back to the boat.
    By late afternoon we had navigated the thirteen waypoints on the GPS that marked the shallow channel back to the Sunsail Marina. Two marina workers came out to meet us as we approached, pulling alongside to let the pilot come aboard to steer the big catamaran back into the tight quarters between the boat slips. 
     With a practiced flourish, one hand advancing the port engine and the other hand reversing the starboard engine, he pivoted that clumsy square boat with ease, sliding it backwards smoothly in between the pilings into the slip. Someone else tossed the mooring lines. They were cleated in place, and with that final nautical action our voyage was over.
    It did feel wonderful to take a long, hot shower, to put on clean clothes, and to walk with the others down the road to Robert's Grove for a delicious dinner on the deck overlooking the water, but I was already feeling nostalgic for the time we had spent on this Lovely Cruise.

Adventures In Belize - Day Eight

Thursday, October 18, 2012 - Day Eight
This morning the sun rose directly behind Laughing Bird Cay, silhouetting the coconut palms, the figure of a ranger raking the sand, and the thatched palapa. 

     A deep orange sun peeped through the palm fronds, turning the still water near the beach a rippling gold and laying a shimmering colorful path out across the water toward the boat. A flock of gray and pick parrots flapped past, close to the surface of the ocean. A manatee raised its large round head above the surface for a look around and vanished again beneath the surface.

    I thought I saw someone swimming over the reef in the distance, but realized that there was no snorkel sticking up. I had seen an old water soaked log gently bobbing in the swells, appearing and disappearing as if someone were diving.....I guessed. 
I watched the dark spot for at least 15 minutes before seeing an oar-shaped fin lift out of the water and go under again, revealing that I had been watching a sea turtle foraging for its breakfast in the shallow waters over the reef.
    I also observed a tiny finch flutter past and dip into the water a hundred yards away between the boat and shore. It beat its wings with a brief flurry of motion, propelling itself several feet closer to shore, but not breaking free of the water. It rested perhaps fifteen seconds and repeated its fluttering lurch ahead. I expected at any moment that some large fish would suddenly appear and gobble the struggling bird, but it kept on fluttering, resting fluttering, and resting, each time a shorter distance and with obviously fading strength. At last it fluttered no more. All motion stopped, and the small lifeless body floated off slowly on the current.
    An after-breakfast swim was agreeable to everyone, so off in the dinghy again. As we were pulling away a dive-charter launch out of Placencia came roaring into the beach, and a dozen eager visitors clambered ashore. 
     John immediately changed course and headed away from the spot where we had planned to land, in favor of a more isolated bit of shore near the end of the island.
    John, Sheila, and Mary Ann headed for the edge of the reef with their gear, and Jane, Ruth and I opted to swim parallel to the shore down toward the beach where the dive boat had landed. We swam along very slowly mostly over white coral sand, and saw lots of smaller colorful fish and scattered small corals.
    Approaching landing beach I saw a dark cloud of something in the shallows. As I got closer the cloud resolved itself into millions two inch long dark little fish, swimming and darting as one amorphous mass, constantly changing shape and direction first one way and then the opposite, then swirling briefly into a tight vortex before become amoeba-like once again. 

     By the time we came ashore the rest of our party was resting in the shade of the palapa, and eager to start back to the boat. They waited patiently for another twenty minutes while I splashed contentedly in the shallows along the four foot wide beach to the end of the cay and back, taking pictures along the way.
    It was almost lunchtime, but we saw that our next anchorage at South Long Coca Cays was only about an hour's motoring time, and decided to have lunch once we got there. I was at the helm, and several times posted lookouts in the bow to warn of shallow water. We skirted several reefs, swinging wide around the privately owned Mosquito Cay. As we approached the mooring ball at our destination we saw thirty and forty-foot mounds of coral sand and rock piled in huge heaps in several spots on the cay, and a large area that had been excavated and smoothed and leveled to create an artificial harbor. 
      We were told that a large Japanese firm was able to get around the strict environmental laws of Belize (rumor has it that there was a lot of paying off of the right people), and were in the process of building a large resort. In the meantime the whole place is an atrocious eyesore. Large plumes of coral silt drift in the water down the current, totally clouding any view in the water. We opted to cast off from the mooring ball and head for Lark Key instead.
    I set a course almost due west toward Logger Cay, passing between it and the northernmost of the Lark Cays.  Instead of trying to thread our way through this challenging and potentially dangerous area, I took us north of the main Lark Cay, and turning southwest skirted along a very long bank of sand and coral, heading toward Bugle Cays. 
     On reaching the recommended distance to the south and west, and giving it a bit more, I turned due south to cross the bank, and watched with increasing apprehension as the depth gauge went from sixty to forty to twenty to ten in rapid succession. Going forward at a snail's pace, my hand on the throttle in case of a sudden need to rev the engines full astern, the depth reading progressed to eight, then five, then three, then one-point-eight before starting to drop to deeper depths, and I began to breathe again.
    We ran up to the north east again, paralleling a line of small mangrove-covered cays. Reaching the spot indicated as an anchorage on the charts, the depth forty feet from the edge of the mangroves still read fifty-five feet. With John in the bow giving directions, we edged very slowly into a sheltered lagoon, decided that it was too narrow for good anchorage, and backed out again. John dropped the anchor on the muddy bottom as close to shore as we dared, and let out a hundred feet of anchor chain, finally coming to a stop in the deep water again. 
     We will be fine this evening unless the wind changes. In that case the first thing that wakes us may be the scraping of mangrove branches against the side of the boat.