Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff


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We left our berth under full power, Regatta’s prop wash, wake and the ocean’s swells melding into an angry, foaming, swirling mass behind us. It looked like we were leaving a trail for someone to follow.

I was surprised at the speed of our cruise ship. Usually, the Captain left Port gently, slowly, slipping away on little cat’s feet. This was a curious change in his pattern. Why would he be in such a hurry?

From our window table in the grand dining room aft, we watched Astoria, Oregon disappear into the oncoming mist. Under my feet I could feel the vibration of the huge diesel engines straining to drive us forward.

As the sun set the horizon burned with an equally angry red glow matching the mood of the sea. Tiny white fishing boats boldly slipped into our wake bouncing like bobs on the end of a fishing line. A large trawler cut across our stern fearlessly challenging our churning wake. Pelicans darted by, big and brown, their strong, long wingspan carrying them effortlessly forward.

Chasing us a yellow Pilot Boat jumped the swells and soon sprinted along side. Regatta cut one engine, settled into a deep trough and began to roll with the motion of the sea. We were approaching The Bar and a Columbia River Bar Pilot was coming aboard to lead us out.

At the mouth of the Columbia River there is a system of bars and shoals about 4.8 km wide and 9.7 km long. This is where the river’s current dissipates into the Pacific Ocean, often as large standing waves. These waves, the wind, and current are hazardous for vessels of all sizes. The Columbia current is focused “like a fire hose” and varies from 4 to 7 knots westward. The predominantly westerly winds, ocean swells and strong outgoing tides create conditions that can change from calm to life-threatening in as little as five minutes due to changes in wind direction and ocean swell.

Behind us we could see big breakers crashing on the rocks of Cape Disappointment. The Pacific was churning like boiling water as the Columbia River brazenly emptied itself into her waters. We were in that danger zone that has earned these Pilots their vaunted reputation. No big ship enters or exits this channel without one of them guiding her.

Our big ship seemed to be moving cautiously, slowly forward now. She was in the safe hands of the Pilot who has memorize every inch of sea bottom, wave pattern, shoreline, rock formations, sand bars, weather patterns, winds, tides and currents. He was taking us out to the safety of the open sea from memory.

How he got on board I have no idea. The first open deck of the Regatta is 25 feet above the water line. I’m told they basically tie themselves in and climb the ship’s ladder. Sometimes they rappel down from a helicopter. These Pilots and their crew are clearly cowboys – daredevils – brave men who meet the challenge of the Bar no matter when or what the weather.

Suddenly, it felt as though Regatta was dead in the water. From my vantage point directly at the stern I could feel the ship shutter as waves hit her broadside. I could see the sea swells and troughs, their every motion shifting the horizon to unsettling angles. Dinner was going on all around me but I was transfixed by the scene unfolding beyond the glass. Then I felt the engines kick in.

The propellers hummed confidently as they pushed us out to open ocean.

A flash of yellow darted by. The Pilot boat skipped forward over the waves, slowed, turned to face us, watched and waited as we sailed away…like a mother watches a school bus carrying her child away from her. She hung back a while, then, satisfied that we were well past the Bar, she turned her head and sailed shoreward into the gathering fog.

(With notes from Wikipedia and

A NOTE TO MY READERS: We’ve just returned from a 14 day cruise from San Francisco to Alaska and back to San Francisco. I’ll be blogging about my impressions of the trip over the next couple of weeks. I’ll try to keep it interesting and not a travelogue. Thanks for reading.

Mountains above Skagway Alaska

One Response

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  1. Of course, I had information from your comment on our e-mail exchange, so I enjoyed my reading within the context of your trip. The description is of such a finely developed calibre that it far escels what I would expect to read in a travelogue. Rather, I would expect to find it in a highly developed work of fiction. The central thing, of course, is that it is based on life experience. I’ve had some trouble on our -get-together-e-mails exchanges in understanding, because I have not had the experience in life to be deeply familiar with the ’empirical evidence’ garnered from the popular culture and individual experience. I don’t know whether it is fortunate or not, that the life I have spent in my head, comes out in my writing, rather than the recounting of facts which I have to recognize is what people really want to read in fiction, and non fiction, and particularly blogs and e-mails But in a way I write to learn, and am fortunate in having feedback from WEbook. I am also wondering about the possibility, with freely written material such as Wikkipedia and all, as well as the wonderful writing on blogs, and even the free availability of my writing, that it is not a science fiction scenario to anticipate that the ideas we associate with the arts will soon become freely exchanged, generally. Although drawbacks will be put forward by many on this development, looking into the future, I anticipate that it may prove to have greater benefit than the tradiitional exchange of ‘knowledge’ through money exchange. I may sound far out here, but it is one of the reasons why I do not feel the need for publication. The best. Loreen.


    September 17, 2011 at 3:48 PM

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