Dreaming of the High Seas

All my life, I’ve dreamed of going to sea. There are probably any of several reasons for this. Growing up in Denmark, so close to the ocean. Growing up with tales of Vikings so ubiquitous they’re in your blood. Seeing the still-graceful lines of the remains of a Viking ship in museums and deeply connected to the mythology — both my sister and I wear a silver Thor’s hammer more often than other necklaces. There are the fishing boats cheek by jowl in any of our harbours and the scent of salt everywhere, except the inner-most interior of any of the larger islands.


I remember being lost in books about Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian who crossed the Pacific in a boat made of traditional materials. I remember reading books written by people who sailed around the world in a modern sailboat and I read them over and over again. My biggest love, though, was saved for the tall ships. I still read stories about those — Horatio Hornblower, Sharpe, the Aubrey-Maturin novels, the books upon which the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is based. A movie which I have watched over and over again, not so much for the pleasure of watching Russell Crowe — although there is that — but for the ship and the voyage.


Ever since the first time I heard of a school ship, I've wanted to sail on one. Not to go to school on one temporarily, but to sail permanently on one. Years ago Mark Burnett tried to start a new show called PirateMaster and the contest part wasn't very good, but the scenes on board the ship? I could have watched those daily and ignored the contestants.

Years ago, my mother, sister and I went to Ottawa for a long weekend around July 1 (a.k.a. Canada Day). While there, we went to the Museum of Civilization — and if you're ever in Ottawa, make sure to lose yourself there for several hours. It is beautiful inside and out. Part of the exhibits is a history of Canada, taking you through several tableaux as an illustration of different times in the country's history. One of those is the inside of a sailing ship, filled with settlers. It was dark and you're surrounded by wood, but best of all was the sounds: the slap of water against the hull, the groan of wood as the ship breathed and the creak of rigging. I could've stayed there all day, just listening.

This weekend was the Toronto kickoff to the summer-long Tall ShipsFestival and the whole family went. When I perused the website, gazed photos of ships on the sale, I saw there were tours. Rather immediately thereafter, I spent some time sulking because tall ships aren't accessible. I wanted to go on one. I wanted to sail on one, but in the absence of that, I'd settle for a tour.


A couple of days before we were due to head towards the waterfront, I had a dream that we were there. The ships were beautiful and the weather gorgeous, warm and sunny. Somehow, The Boy managed to get me on board one of the biggest, the US Brig Niagara and we went for a sail. Brilliant man that he is, The Boy managed to snag a spot in the very front of the deck, right by the bow before the wood of the hull closes in front of you and becomes the bowsprit. And then she flew out of the harbor and into the open water and I remember being surprised at how fast the sails carried such a large ship. What had been warm onshore was now a wonderfully brisk weather, enough that the speed vreated a spray of water as she plowed through. It felt like we were on the open Atlantic. I remember taking photographs in motion (because I frequently bring my camera in my dreams), many of them blurred and at odd angles and I remember one in particular, pointing the camera backwards and catching the grinning face of my love, full sails behind him. And then I looked forward again, feeling the wind in my hair and the spray of water in my face.

I woke up not sad that it hadn't been true, but exhilarated, still connected to the deck heaving underneath me, the sounds of the sails whipping in the wind, the smells of open water, wood and rope and the feel of wind and water in my face. 

Sometimes, dreams come true in the strangest ways. 



AlisonH said…
Roped us in masterfully and commandingly and then left us dangling over the water like that.
Cathryn said…
Oddly enough, the Niagara was built in Erie, Pennsylvania, which is where I live now! I also took a few photos of it the weekend my husband proposed, just hours before he did. Weird coincidence, huh?
k said…
I wonder if the tall ships could come here? We had the replica Niña stop here. I had to talk long fast and hard to not abandon my life and sail away.