A Harbor in Harmony
|~ Don and Trisha Singing ~ |
When the sun began to sink into the horizon, the low bellowing of conch horns filled
the air in honor of Triton calming the sea. Once the last spark of daylight was extinguished, the haunting resonance
of bagpipes began to drift across the water. Under a star speckled sky, sounds of soothing strumming, hollow drum
beats and harmonious voices mingled with the breeze. Music was omnipresent in Book Key Harbor.
many wonderful songs had been written that capture the spirit and essence of sailing. There was something about
the natural rhythms and poetic beauty of a sleek wooden hull bedecked with billowing canvas, drifting unbounded
over the vast blue ocean toward some distant harbor that inspired music. But I believed there was a much
deeper connection between seafarer and song. Upon reflection, I began to understand the intrinsic significance
of music in our cruising life.
Don and I started our sailing adventures while living in Northeast Ohio. From
May to October, we would end each work week with a drive along the southern shores of Lake Erie to
Sandusky where our Morgan, Points Unknown was docked amongst thousands of other vessels. We always began to shed the weekly stress with a stop at Mon Ami, where we joined the throng of weekend boaters dancing to the evening’s live entertainment. Whenever the
band started a rendering of ‘Mustang Sally’ (and inevitably they would as we came to discover
that apparently, all bar bands were required to play this song) we took it as indication that it was time
for us to depart.
we often sailed to Catawba, Kellys Island, or Put-In-Bay. A population stuck in latitudes with prolonged, frigid, sunless winters often would, in summer,
flock to their local islands via sail, motor or ferry boat where they were encouraged to behave like drunken sailors
in a fabricated nautical atmosphere. Live music poured out of the plethora of bars and sticking to the ‘Mustang
Sally’ departure rule, we heard a lot of bands perform. These artists were hired to maintain the
maritime theme; however, they were also ambitious musicians who took their music very seriously, striving
to be discovered, to be worthy of Ohio’s reputation for being the center of Rock and Roll, to be the next,
|~ Chuck on the Guitar ~ |
The following year we moved aboard Re Metau on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The live
entertainment we encountered in those southern latitudes was – shall we say – far
more relaxed. The artists most often performed as duos or soloist; former bands dwindled down to the few who
had retreated from higher ambitions and found the end of the road in a relaxed, tropical climate. There were
no more prospects for musical fame or fortune, but they seemed content to make a few bucks off the
weekly rotation of tourists wanting to escape in the beachy lyrics of Jimmy Buffett and dance to
the provocative beat of ‘Mustang Sally’. (Apparently this was a federal requirement, not just
a state regulation.)
Don and I had acquired a sizeable collection of music recorded by professional artists.
Having one speaker for every three feet of boat length signified music’s integral part
in our lives. Throughout our cruising years, we’d bought tickets and attended a few big production music
festivals. We’d purchased several CDs from some extraordinarily talented bar bands. We’d contribute
a buck or two at a time to many gifted street musicians playing everything from sophisticated
sitars to empty buckets. We’d even pity-tipped some very awkward armatures for their comical (albeit
unintentional) entertainment. (Our favorite was a solo guitarist with a karaoke machine who murmured each
song’s lyrics with a very prominent Asian accent, often forgot the words, and appeared to suffer from
severe stage fright. We definitely had to leave before his rendition of ‘Moustain Sawwy’
sent us into uncontrollable fits of laughter.)
behind the music of our time had many facets. To some, it was used as a vehicle for acquiring fame and fortune.
Combining talent and a carefully crafted persona produced a commodity that could generate a lot of money. To others,
it was used as a medium for a message. Uniting powerful lyrics to rousing rhythms influenced the masses
and had the ability to make significant changes to ideas and behaviors. To others still, it was simply the expression
of one’s art; the opportunity to take the stage and be noticed. But to the majority of modern musicians,
no matter their level of ambition or intention, it was an occupation with financial gain at its core.
Music had evolved into a profession.
|~ Diana on the Djembe ~ |
But once we arrived at Boot Key Harbor, music took on a more ancient objective.
Prior to modern times, music throughout the world had been a communal activity; all members
participated in a unique cultural harmony to recount their history, connect to their spirits, and heighten
their survival advantages through tribal bonds and rituals. We discovered many of the boats in our aquatic
haven had gifted acoustic guitarists, djembe drummers, and harmonica players onboard. They gathered together
in a neighbor’s cockpit or assembled for impromptu concerts at a Chiki hut on shore, and always
invited everyone to join in no matter what their talent or ability.
the sailing songs we all loved, because those melodies were a reflection of our experiences, dreams
and goals. They sang the stories of mariners who had crossed that vast blue sea before, conveyed
the devotion we held for our ocean home and for the vessels with which we relied upon to carry us as we wandered.
Each measure charted a course to future voyages and distant harbors, the rhythms mirrored the
waves that swayed our souls, each note like a knot bound us together in our watery sanctuary.
|~ Jam Session at Burdines ~ |
Music is a uniquely human trait. It is a phenomenon that has occurred throughout the world
and has a great deal of cultural value to our species. But to a sailor, music has remained as ancient as traveling
by wind. Don and I heard the harmony in Boot Key Harbor, we recognized the melodies, we were moved by the
rhythms, and we were encouraged to reconnect with our nomadic tribe. We opted to remain for a
little while – even when some sailor played ‘Mustang Sally’.