I Was Never a Sailor

Nov 16, 2019 | Our Authors | 0 comments

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!