The Doors of Perception
Updated: Dec 7, 2018
November 9, 2018
In early morning, we resumed our way south on the ICW in intermittent rain, and variable winds. We were able to put up sail in the Albermarle Sound and sail on a blissful broad reach for a couple of hours at 6-7 kts. The moment we turn off the engine and proceed under sail, I experience a deep sense of relief. The wind takes over, and my breath deepens as the sails fill; one breath of life animates the natural world, of which I am an integral part.
I joined my Friday morning class on Kabbalah, by Skype, using the cell-based internet network that Christoph had set up. Considering that we were sailing through the North Carolina coastal outback, I was impressed that we received a cellular signal, and delighted to join Jeffrey, my learned teacher, and my three study partners, at the table, to study ancient Jewish mystical texts. We were completing a month-long foray into a text by Moshe Cordevero, a 17th Century Kabbalist, that expounded on the intention with which the Friday night blessing over wine should be recited. The text was an exegesis on the embodiment of spirit through lovemaking, and the equivalence of physical and spiritual ecstasy. In Jewish symbology, Shabbat is a Bride joining with God, her Groom, and their union brings redemption to the world. In Kabbalistic description, Shechinah, a feminine manifestation of Divine Energy, joins with Tiferet, a masculine emanation, in sacred union.
I am attracted to the study of Jewish and other mystical traditions precisely because I share their conviction there is no real separation between the material and physical realms—one is a gateway to the other, and the veil between them is permeable. I intuited this from a very young age, beneath my grandfather’s prayer shawl, protected by his murmured prayers, mysterious incantations in ancient Hebrew. Wrapped in his yearning, we stood together by the Torah in his synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Since my eldest son Jonah died in 2013, at the age of 29, I have no doubt that there are pathways from the visible world to other realms. As William Blake said, it is a matter of cleansing the doors of perception.
We put in a long day of motoring past desolate looking swamps, with thin, bare tree stumps, the waterway fed by dark, twisting tributaries. In order to make it to Beaufort in three days, we needed to travel 70 miles today. The only potential obstacle was the Wilkerson Bridge. The sun was out, and we were in fine moods, taking turns at the helm, careful to avoid the shoals, stumps and floating logs.
At 4:30 p.m, the sun began to sink as we traveled west. We sang along with Neil Young and David Bowie in the waning sunshine as we motored down the narrowing channel, when the Wilkerson came into view. We realized that we would be passing under the bridge at dusk, if we made it through, and anchoring in the dark. If we didn’t make it under, there would be no option but to turn around and back-track for 20 miles to a safe anchorage behind us.
We were the last boat coming through this stretch of the Intracoastal. The water fell silent behind us as dusk settled, dimming our vision. There were 2 vessels ahead of us––a motor cruiser and a sailing vessel, both of which had been our traveling companions for the past several hours. The motor vessel churned forward confidently, leaving a small wake, and the sailing vessel motored up behind him. We hailed the sailing vessel and inquired about the tide board reading at the base of the bridge, a rickety wooden sign with numbers that we hoped would show sufficient clearance. The skipper answered, reporting that their mast measured 56 feet, and they had passed right through. But that didn’t answer our question. The motoring vessel radioed us, and said that the tide board had read more than 64 feet; if that reading was accurate, we would make it under.
We motored toward the bridge slowly, waiting for the last ripples of wake to subside. By now the sun had set, and the interspersed lights suspended from the arch of the bridge glowed bright green in the dark. I shone a spotlight on the tide board at the foot of the bridge while Owen peered through the binoculars. The water level just reached the cross on the 4 of “64” feet. That meant that the clearance was only 63+––our exact mast height.
The forecast warned of thunderstorms, which might mean several hours of motoring back and anchoring in severe weather. Not a great option. Christoph decided to try backing Delfina under the bridge. If the antenna on top of the mast hit, he could drive forward and avoid a serious mishap. If we made it through, we would be anchored within the hour.
Christoph turned Delfina around in the narrow canal, avoiding a small island of tall marsh grasses, and lined up her mast to avoid the hanging green lights. Owen stood on the rear deck, his eyes trained on the mast, while I watched from the cockpit. Christoph shifted into reverse and slowly backed up. There was no traffic on the bridge above us. The only sounds were the low thrum of Delfina's engine and the water parting quietly behind us. We heard the antenna scrape lightly as it dragged across the first girder. Christoph continued as slowly as possible. The antenna scraped across each of the six girders, and we cringed as if hearing fingernails scratch across a chalkboard, and then, we were through! We let out wild whoops of relief. Christoph has nerves of steel; I have never seen him crack under pressure.We motored another two miles to a nearby anchorage on the Pungo River. There were several other vessels there, and we anchored easily in 8 feet of water.
After years of practice, Christoph and I have mastered our own particular method of anchoring Delfina. As with many other aspects of sailing, we have developed complementary roles based on our respective needs and strengths. Christoph likes to pick the exact spot where we will anchor, to ensure sufficient depth and swing room. I head below to turn on the two windlass breakers. If it’s dark, I put on a headlamp, and holding onto the life lines, go forward and crouch on the bow to untie the sturdy Rockna anchor from the safety lines that attach it to the port and starboard toe rails. Christoph motors slowly to his desired location and depth. Although we had carefully measured out various lengths along the 200 feet of anchor chain, marking them with different colored plastic ties; we reversed the entire chain in Deltaville, and the colored ties no longer correspond to the measured lengths. But it’s really not a problem; by now, I can estimate the length of chain by the time it takes the windlass to pay it out. I step on the electric windlass, letting out the chain, approximately five feet of chain for each foot of water depth. Then we switch positions––I go to the helm and put the engine in reverse at 1,000 rpm’s, while Christoph checks the chain to be sure there is no skipping, and the anchor is set to his satisfaction When he signals, I cut the engine, and he attaches a snubber line to a cleat to deflect force from the anchor chain.
We poured out shot glasses of Hibiki, Christoph’s favorite Japanese scotch, to toast our safe passage under the bridge. I said blessings over candles for Shabbat and watched them burn in the galley sink for a short while; then blew them out. Open flame is not advisable on a boat. Lightning flashed occasionally in the southern sky, but the thunderstorms never came near. We were in bed by 9, and though we could hear the wind picking up and the rain falling steadily, we slept soundly.