Sunday, October 4, 2009

Of Pelicans and Cormorants

A vanguard of giant white pelicans flew over the marina Saturday morning. As I stood in the parking lot and watched them glide by I had to smile, even though their arrival means that our second season on Nomad is coming to a close. Of course anyone who doesn't smile at such a sight is a sad, sad excuse for a human being, but I had another reason as well. Deep inside the aviation community, hidden in a place mostly closed to outsiders, is a bit of slang. (I think this bit was popularized by Ernest K. Gann - perhaps the best aviation story teller of all time.) It is a name given to the grayest of graybeards, the survivors, those more at home in the sky than they are anywhere else - "Pelicans."

No one ever claims to be a "pelican." (To do so would mark the claimer as an utter fraud.) It is a term one uses in describing the best...Pappy Schaum was a pelican; WWII B25 pilot, shot at and shot up but never shot down, he taught me more about staying alive in the sky than any 10 "instructors". I have known one or two others in my life, but they are a rare breed. Anyway, I stood looking up this past weekend and smiled, reminded of the pelicans I have known. And then I got to thinking, I am so new to the sailing world that I don't even know the slang sailors have for their "pelicans." There must be one, a term of respect used only for those who have long braved the sea, whose years and miles covered, knowledge, expertise and just plain skill, loft them into a league joined by the very few. I suspect though, as I have come so late to this new game, that I will probably never meet such a one. Even if I did I would probably remain unaware. A thing about pelicans, they are so far advanced that is takes a bit of expertise just to spot one.

Later that day, as Deb and I worked our way down the lake, tacking endlessly against the southwest wind, we were enveloped by a huge gaggle of cormorants. Cormorants have an air about them, not as majestic as giant white pelicans, but a kind of gritty, blue-collar sort of bird. I envision cormorants as being expert enough to spot the pelicans for what they are, but not being overly impressed. After all, there is much to be said for being expert enough to get to the end of each day.

For all my musing the best part of the weekend was that Deb and I simply went sailing. Saturday was cool, with blustery winds that made getting where we wanted to go tricky and getting back to the slip simple. (Adding to the tricky part was various races taking place around the lake. Lots of people asked if we were racing but Nomad went her own way this weekend. Good choice. In one race two boats tried to occupy the same bit of lake at the same time - and a bit of damage was done to each.) Sunday morning dawned clear and calm. After some hemming and hawing around we decided to go out anyway. We were far from alone. All over the north end of the lake boats were flying full sails but barely moving. After a couple of hours of enjoying being on the water, Deb reading a book and me catching too much sun on the foredeck, the wind filled in just enough to fill Nomad's big drifter. Soon we were making a bow wake, then added some bubbles, and next thing you know we were doing close to 3 knots on an almost utterly flat lake. It was a pretty nice way to finish out a weekend.

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