Flashback: Fairport Harbor, Ohio

Karin Gafvelin

Karin Gafvelin

Dear people! I have escaped the ship momentarily and gone on a two week vacation. I do care about you, however, and have biked for 8 miles to get to the General Store that has coffee and WiFi to bring you this. (Actually the store is only 4 miles away, but I got carried away and biked too far. Anyways.) Here is a post from Fairport Harbor, Ohio.

We are in Fairport Harbor, and have no idea where we’ll go next. Everything seems to be up in the air due to the ongoing issue with pilot fees in the Great Lakes. We spend the days walking the long highway in search for things to do, walk an hour to a coffee shop that Google suggested only to discover it’s a Starbucks inside a Target store. There isn’t too much to do for kicks around here, apart from a nice beach and the bar in which we have become temporary regulars. There is no air conditioning in the rooms where we’re staying, but in the evenings when everything starts to cool down you can lay on your back, perfectly still, and feel the breeze through the screen window. It’s a luxury, to be able to be comfortable with just a cotton sheet on your body. And later in the night, if you’re lucky, you will wake up just chilly enough to put a blanket over you and then go back to sleep. But the best part still, about this little spot of Flatlands Ohio, is hearing the freight trains pass by in the night. Trains are like cargo ships on land. There is a relentlessness about them that I like. In Brockville I went for a run one morning and crossed some tracks, and coming back I could hear a train approaching and sped up and crossed the tracks just as the barriers started to close. I had watched the tracks earlier, smelled the warm creosote, watching them go on forever until they disappeared in the shimmering heat of the horizon. Just like open water. I stopped to watch the train, and it came, double box cars, and it just kept on coming. I stayed for a good five or so minutes until it became ridiculous, and running back up the slow steeping road I kept turning my head and every time I did so that thing was still going.

The longest train that I ever saw, it was nintey coaches long
And the only man that I ever did love, he was on that train and gone.

We are here in the second port of the Tall Ships Races, which means long hours of open ship under a blistering sun in the daytime, and a summer camp for twenty-to-forty-something year old sailors in the evenings. We run over to Pride of Baltimore II and drink beer and admire her excellent lines and immaculate varnish work, or they come over and look at our little tent in wonder and disbelief, laughing at the section marked PILOT in which no pilot has yet wanted to sleep (they don’t understand the luxury in getting a berth with the daymen, obviously, and prefer to curl up with a blanket somewhere on deck.)

It is a surreal feeling, the open ship business. Here is the ship you sailed across the North Sea, where you stood at the bow, cursing the spray that soked you or trying to figure out if that is white foam on the waves or in fact a piece of ice, or watching the skies thinking of how you are such a meaningless, isolated fraction of a dot there in the vast seas in the night, and meanwhile there were literally thousands of strangers following your journey, and they all have their own grand ideas of what and why it is you are doing while you mostly dream of the half hour to be over and your replacement to come so that you can go raid the nightwatch box which hopefully still has some of that chocolate left in it. And now those strangers are standing here in front of you and they want to know what it was like, and you repeat the same 2-minute speach about icebergs and the dragon’s head, but really, what was it like? It was grand and small at the same time. It was the beauty of the vastness and the dangers and the thrills and the toil, but it was also your own micro cosmos and your watch. It was who gets the best spot in the tent, and Jesus Christ why can’t people learn to close the head properly when no one is there, and there was Pelayo’s coffee that he meticulously brewed for you on night watch and your stupid jokes about dolphins that you shared with Woody and how do you convey all of this to people? That this is your home, at least for a little while. People stand on the key side taking photos of you as you brush your teeth, and to them it is something else, and to you it’s just brushing your teeth. They want you to tell them a story of grandeur and I don’t think I can tell them that exact story, but maybe there is another one, that might be a pretty good one in its own way.