Monday, April 20, 2020

Contemplating Life from Newport Amid a Pandemic

(Newport, RI)- As we all continue to experience yet another week of "home sheltering" to hopefully stem the expansion of the pandemic, we continue to see and hear about various ways in which our sailing friends are coping with "close encounters of the home-kind"; for nearly a month-plus in some places.

Here in Rhode Island, Newport life has ground to a halt, as it has in many other places around the world. It is strange to see the emptiness on America' Cup Avenue and Thames Street, normally packed with weekend warriors enjoying the beautiful springs days we have been experiencing recently. It is downright eerie, as if some apocalyptic movie became reality and a neutron bomb wiped everyone off the face of Planet Earth. One is reminded of our friends at The Black Pearl, "Ricky" (Five-O) at the Candy Store/ Clarke Cooke House, Zelda's, and good Lord knows how many other famous and wonderful restaurants that sailors from around the world have enjoyed in Newport for generations.

Even more bizarre is driving across the Newport Bridge on a spectacular sunny day, southwest 10-15 kts breeze blowing, a near perfect 60 F degrees, and not a soul on the water. No signs of any sails glistening on the sunlight seas, carving a languid course across the water, enjoying yet another gorgeous late afternoon, sunset sail across Narragansett Bay.

Yet, the heartbeat of Newport is still alive and kicking. Family and friends persevering against an unseen enemy that is perverse in its treatment of human-kind, sadly having an adverse effect on some of our older veterans of offshore battles and one-design "mano-a-mano" battles around-the-cans. We will miss them.

One imagines how our sailing friends miss such experiences on the Solent/ Cowes, the Baltic, Baie de Morbihan, Porto Cervo, Punta del Este, San Francisco Bay, Lago di Garda, Chesapeake Bay, St Moritz, Valle de Bravo, Lago Panguipulli, the Great Lakes, Biscayne Bay, Puget Sound, Penobscot Bay, the Caribbean, and all of our many favorite places to enjoy a fresh breeze on our face, and the sound of waves lapping against the topsides at sunset.... someday.....hopefully, soon.

John F Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy sailing offshore
President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie sailing offshore on his beloved Wianno Sr- "Victura"

The scenario we live in today reminds me of another poem regarding our collective journey over the past few weeks.... one from another famous American poet, Robert Frost. Many sailors share Frost’s perspective; including one of the most famous sailing families in America- the Kennedy's.

President John F. Kennedy sailing Biscayne Bay, Florida
President John F. Kennedy practicing "social distancing" in 1963- sailing singlehanded on Biscayne Bay!

In October 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. “In honoring Robert Frost,” the President said, “we therefore can pay honor to the deepest source of our national strength. That strength takes many forms and the most obvious forms are not always the most significant. ... Our national strength matters; but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost.”

Robert Frost- The Road Not Taken 
     The Road Not Taken
     Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
     And sorry I could not travel both
     And be one traveler, long I stood
     And looked down one as far as I could
     To where it bent in the undergrowth;

     Then took the other, as just as fair,
     And having perhaps the better claim,
     Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
     Though as for that the passing there
     Had worn them really about the same,

     And both that morning equally lay
     In leaves no step had trodden black.
     Oh, I kept the first for another day!
     Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
     I doubted if I should ever come back.

     I shall be telling this with a sigh
     Somewhere ages and ages hence:
     Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
     I took the one less traveled by,
     And that has made all the difference.

Learn more about Frost's impact on the world of poetry in a crossing of generations and centuries in his time.

Pablo Neruda sailing in proper gentleman's dresss
Similarly, the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, was famously credited for motivating the Chilean people themselves to take their own "road not taken", to overthrow the oppressive military regime and fulfill their hope for dreams of national self-determination.

Pablo Neruda's Isla Negra house
President John F. Kennedy's love for sailing and the sea was also shared by Neruda. As a young man, Neruda wrote "In Veinte Poemas" (Twenty Poems), an imaginary journey across the sea, symbolically in search of an ideal port. In 1927, he embarked on a real journey, when he sailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina for Lisbon, Portugal, ultimately bound for Rangoon. Later in life, Neruda made his way back to Chile in 1937 to settle in Isla Negra on a beautiful, famously rugged section of the Chilean coastline south of Algarrobo. There, he continued to walk the coastline, watching the enormous swells crashing on the shoreline from massive Roaring Forties storms swirling around the bottom of the world... inspired by the raw power of nature... dreaming... wondering.... writing.

Pablo Neruda's sailboat at Isla Negra, Chile
Neruda's house in Isla Negra features an open sailboat parked in front, facing symbolically towards the sea.

"His poetry of love, equated women with nature. He raised that comparison to a cosmic level, making women into a veritable force of the universe," commented Rene de Costa. Visit Neruda's beautiful, wildly fun, eclectic home, full of nautical treasures that would delight any sailor on the shores of Chile's Isla Negra. It is well-worth the trip...a soulful journey back into time.   Learn more about Neruda as one of Chile's most influential poet/philosophers.