St George

by Guest Blogger

August 21, 2007

Two days ago we arrived at St. George, an island populated by 108 people and a heck of a lot of fur seals and birds such as the Red- Leg Kittywake and Thick-Billed Murre. Imagine cliffs teeming with birds and their offspring, gulls squawking overhead and the grunts of fur seals and surf pounding the shore.
We arrived in the afternoon, after a morning where Stoweaway found the "Nausicalm" didn’t. Even more ignominious, we were only in five foot swells.
After awhile, I fell into the sleep I hadn’t had much of the night before. When I woke up it was afternoon and there was this sound like marbles the size of giant satelite dishes tumbling out of a closet. Holy s, had we hit something?
I staggered to the foredeck to find Ruurd, the super-blond, super-organic-food-educator, was ringing a bell. "What’s that noise?" "We’re dropping anchor".
Ruurd calls to Penney, who is turning a giant winch. "Is that five yet?" "Four." Ruurd pulls the bellcord again and Penney turnes the winch and the "marbles" roll, link after link, into the ocean until Cap’n Pete, standing outside the bridge? calls "Stopping" and the sun comes out rather cooperatively and things began to look slightly less bleak.

Blessed George, whose blog you may be reading, appears at that moment , takes one look at moi and knows just what to say. "I threw up before lunch." "Thank you, George," I say, hugging him. Willem, who has captained Greenpeace boats, can’t repress a slight smirk. Strangely, this is equally comforting, a relief to get even a hint of the ribbing I’ve expected, a kind of challenge. Ha, Stoweaway will toughen up!
Rumour goes around of a zodiac going into town shortly. But I signed up to clean the mess after breakfast, and Kelly said she’d do it instead when I was down for the count, but she had to whale watch, so Ruurd was going to, but now I’ve taken over from him, and…"Just go!" everyone says. I’m beginning to see how things work around here. Ta, mates!
Next comes the Cirque de Soleil aspect of life on the Espy. The swells are certainly higher than five feet now. The zodiac rises up near the wet room door, where we’re waiting to climb on, then abruptly drops down, oh, looks like six or seven feet. Up and down, up and down. "You have to step very surely." Yeah, right. Or end up in the drink. But hey, we all make it okay and off we zoom.
The harbour is shrouded in fog, and circuitous, a snaky route in created by mound of boulders the residents of St. George have piled up all around the shore. A sign warns "No Rat Infested Ships", and in case you don’t read English, there’s a handy-dandy picture of a rat with the red "no" circle around and through it. Irresistibly, jokes about who on board this zodiac constitutes a "rat" ensue.
A small boy runs along the shore. "George!" he shouts. "George!" He trips over a rope, falls, picks himself up and keeps running towards us. George waves and the kid’s face breaks into a huge grin. A smaller toddler eyes sea urchins by the dock with his mother. After we strip off our lifejackets and climb into a pickup truck with the two boys and Mum, the older one says, "Hey! I want that sea urchin for my crab trap!" and I get an intimation of the life of these islanders, who have subsisted on seal, sea urchin and other native foodstuffs for centuries.
George points out the house where he grew up, and the Russian Orthodox church where he was the island’s parish priest for two years, and then we tramp through long, wet grass and wildflowers to a fur-seal viewing blind that warns visitors to assume their presence is disturbing the animals and leave immediately if they see: head-raising, increased agression, etc. If visitors don’t leave after seeing these things, mothers and pups may get hurt, the sign warns. Hmn. Just like humans. The seals are brown and golden and some are fighting and one…a parent?…responds to a young one’s cries with what looks like a kiss on the mouth. We’d like to stay longer but are cold and wet and happy to get back to the boat and dinner…broth and a bit of rice for Stoweaway. The boat was really swaying, seen from the shore, just how big are the swells now? "Oh, ten feet," says Cap’n Pete. Ten feet, and I’m in the mess, eating? I want to give him a high five, even more so when he says the sea should be like glass the next three days coming up.
Next time, a much more serious side of our voyage: "Is our culture ending?" A young St. George boy asks us to help save his people’s way of life.

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