San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts begins the Moby Dick Marathon Reading on the poop deck of the Star of India.
The Star of India is the world’s oldest ship that sails. It’s docked in San Diego Bay. Yesterday, from the barque’s 150 year old deck, a rare white whale was glimpsed like a snowy hill in the air, far, far away. The whale was just visible, a dim revelation, at the edge of human sight.
Mysterious and sublime, the elusive Moby Dick was seen by a fortunate few in the imagination’s eye, as readers took turns speaking words on pages that were written over a century ago by the great American author Herman Melville.
The wonderful Moby Dick Marathon Reading commenced at noon, and continued far into the dark night. The event was put on by the Maritime Museum of San Diego and Write Out Loud. I swung on by a few times, breathed in the mood, the salt air. I love the novel. It might be my favorite. I love the idea of reading atop the swelling sea, about a bright phantom moving darkly below, down in the unfathomable depths.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego and Write Out Loud created a cool event that hopefully becomes a yearly tradition.
Diagram of Bark Star of India, launched as Euterpe on November 14, 1863 at Ramsey, Isle of Man. The world’s oldest active sailing ship and oldest merchantman afloat.
An ageless volume of classic literature, published in 1851, shortly before the construction of this ship, was brought to life by many readers.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail…
Listeners follow Melville’s words with their own beloved books, or gaze out at the water on a fine summer day on San Diego’s Embarcadero.
Kids walk up onto Star of India’s high poop deck. Perhaps the eyes of youth, probing the horizon, can discern the strange wonder of Moby Dick.
Or age with its collected wisdom, staring into thin pages, might glimpse the white whale.
White sails, yards, shrouds, ropes and open blue sky.
Illustration on plaque found on main deck, showing a Pull on the Lee ForeBraces. The sails must be kept to the wind.
Passionate reader turns the pages of Moby Dick. Melville describes many large cetaceans in the oceans of the world, but only one great white whale, nemesis of Captain Ahab.
Painting of Star of India under sail by marine artist Frederick Wetzel. The historic three-masted bark is shown clearing Point Loma during a festive event back in 1984.
Steering wheel and binnacle, instruments of navigation used by generations of restless, active seafaring men.
The stern of our beautiful Star of India. A gigantic American flag billows in the sea breeze.
A reader awaits his turn. Ishmael recalls his strange voyage side by side with varied characters, representatives of the human race, including a humane cannibal and a tyrannical captain.
The sun’s horizontal rays splash sails with gold as another day nears an end.
Ahab addresses Starbuck and crew: …it was Moby Dick that dismasted me…I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn..and round perdition’s flames before I give him up…
Vengeance on a dumb brute! cried Starbuck, that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous…
Photo taken from wooden bench, over a skylight which provides filtered daylight for the ship’s elegant cabin below.
Reading on into the twilight. Once begun, the great novel drives forward, pulling readers into its tragic quest for an unpredictable, dangerous unknown.
Shadow moves across the deep.
As the sun sets, by sheer chance it seems, Chapter 37 of Moby Dick is begun, titled Sunset.
Light shines from behind the figurehead of the beautiful Star of India, a favorite attraction on San Diego Bay.
Is that lone bird an albatross flown from Melville’s great novel? No, just a common gull in the dying light.
The sky through ship’s rigging is tinged orange, red, purple and gold.
Night comes on. Melville has already referenced the blackness of darkness. He now speaks about the whiteness of the whale, and the majestic, pure, terrifying color white.
It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me.
Before inevitable night falls and stars emerge, glowing color paints the world.
Masts of tall ship Californian, of the Maritime Museum of San Diego, and a brilliant sunset. Unlike a fictional whale, these profoundly beautiful things are quite easily seen.
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