I Was Never a Sailor

Diana Hayes, author of Labyrinth of Green, was one of 10 authors who read at the Salt Spring Library as part of a group reading and celebration of the anthology Love of the Salish Sea Islands: New Essays, Memoirs and Poems by 40 Island Writers. Diana’s poem “I Was Never a Sailor,” from Labyrinth of Green (Plumleaf Press, 2019), is included in the Love of the Salish Sea Islands anthology.



Midway to Clallam Bay and well along

Swiftsure’s first leg of the race

tetchy wind rising up Juan de Fuca

stationed barefoot on the foredecks

proprioceptive with soft gaze

horizon east between swells

wishing to be finned or waterproof

not two-legged upright and swerving

with no still point to embrace

calling my luck my Queequeg

the helmsman sculling the waves

skipper below tracing graphs

and charts to ply the invisible

stretch that falls before us

watching the paler cast of the crew’s

stony faces how the quiet

becomes silence in the receding

calm eerie in the light of day

everyone craving ginger pastilles

only Picante’s skipper in his element

dancing the galley solo

with an appetite for ten

our yacht’s master in the V-berth

trying to harness his sea legs and me

gripping the cold with tattooed feet

I was never a sailor but fixed

on the silent Morse I beamed

from my temples saying

this is the life it will lift me

stir an appetite for more weather less sail

fly me up the strait on a seasoned ketch

I’ll come back for more

as we toss and point deeper

into night hours dark and moonless

I was never a sailor

the sky revealing Orion’s Belt

our faithful compass

no fuzzy logic required

running in a following sea

I lay my head to rest

lurch and tumble in the cabin

a kind of glee to be at ease now

turning back in this sea of jostle

dolphins skipping in our wake

all smiles and whistles

while Thrasher Reef turns on the gale

and the race fixed surely for home.

(From Labyrinth of Green, p. 36)

From the poet DIANA HAYES:

When I first moved to Salt Spring Island in the Salish Sea in 1981, I thought it should be a required skill of an islander to navigate these local waters. I had very little boat experience other than easy going summer runabouts in skiffs and other light craft. My sister introduced me to the world of sailing in these Gulf Islands waters, and I spent a few summers joining her on friends’ sloops. My sailing assignment in those days was simply to relax and enjoy the ride.

Some years later, I met a round the world sailor, Dr. Charles Gould, who worked part-time at Lady Minto Hospital as a semi-retired neurologist and also taught navigation courses, in particular, celestial navigation. He wrote many wonderful stories of his voyages with his wife Ruth aboard their 50-foot yacht, The Astrocyte. In 1966, they began a five-year global circumnavigation to Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, Seychelles, Brazil, and Hawaii, before coming home, living aboard until 1980. When presented with the opportunity to learn this ancient navigation practice through Dr. Gould’s course, I jumped at it. I was determined to understand navigation beyond the typical power squadron courses. I signed up and was the only female in the class. I loved it and passed the course with flying colours!

Little did I know that, almost 30 years later, I would go on to meet my husband, Peter, who was a navigator and taught many celestial navigation courses during his career in the Navy. He once navigated HMCS Saguenay across the Atlantic using only a sextant as the ship’s electronic navigation equipment had been damaged in a storm.

Well, that is another story, and our meeting has many other strange and synchronous turns, but today I will read a poem that was inspired by a sailing race — The Swiftsure — which takes place in Victoria each spring. I was a novice and the only woman aboard. I had just become the first Salt Spring Seal the previous year, and I have to say that I would much rather be in the Salish Sea than on it in a sailing race!


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