Misty Swirling Sea

‘Lost Sailor’ is a Grateful Dead song that has lyrics written by John Barlow and the music was composed by Bob Weir and it was first recorded on Oct 27, 1979.  This recording came out on the 4CD compilation box set issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead 30 Trips Around The Sun: The Definitive Live Story 1965-1995 which was released on October 7, 2015.  ‘Lost Sailor’ and ‘Saint of Circumstance’ were written in Mill Valley in July 1979.  They both mention sails and navigation, and reference the Dog Star, and they were both released on the Grateful Dead’s eleventh studio album Go to Heaven.  ‘Lost Sailor’ was performed 145 times, with 112 of these occurring during the song’s first three years in rotation.  ‘Lost Sailor’ was performed only four times as a solo song before being paired with ‘Saint of Circumstance’.  That pairing was first performed on August 31, 1979, and lasted seven years until ‘Lost Sailor’ was dropped from the repertoire for good.  ‘Lost Sailor’s’ last performance was on March 24, 1986.  After that, the Dead continued to play ‘Saint of Circumstance’ as a separate song until the end of their run in 1995.

This song is a conversation between two sailors, where one of them is completely lost and the other is not helping matters much.  In this song one sailor seems unsure where he may be going, but he also seems willing to keep going.  Odysseus was a lost sailor on his journey and a line in this song says, “Ooh, lash the mast”, which makes me think about Odysseus having himself bound by his crew before his encounter with the sirens, so he would not succumb to their call.  The ocean beckons some of us, because of the freedom that you get from being out there, but there’s always price for being free.  ‘Lost Sailor’ is a song for those who are adventurers, those who are continually searching for that next great thing.  Some of us have been tethered to a world which we do not fit in and we yearn for new horizons.  These are the explorers, the ones who will wanderer the sea to escape.  But when you hear the call, you must be ready, “Till the chains of your dreams are broken.  No place in this world you can be.”

It must have been frightening for the early sailors, not knowing where they were going, or when, or if they would return and they might end up drifting and dreaming.  Around 3000 BC, early Polynesians sailed thousands of miles for exploration and trade.  These vast ocean voyages between Hawaii and Tahiti show that the early Polynesians were skillful sailors and explorers.  Using an open ocean navigation called “wayfinding”, which is based on sea and sky observations, they crossed the vast Pacific on their trans-ocean voyages.  Wayfinding navigation involved an intricate knowledge of the stars, such as memorizing a 32-point star compass by Micronesian navigators, knowing where stars rose and fell over the horizon, reading ocean swells, cloud formations and bird flight patterns.  Charts were made of sticks that recorded ocean swells and attached sea shells depicted islands, allowing a navigator to judge the distance he had sailed.  The Polynesians went to Taiwan and many Pacific Islands through the Philippines, Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island.

Unlike the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere currently doesn’t have a bright pole star not even a moderately bright star to mark the south celestial pole.  This point in the sky is directly over the Earth’s South Pole, where the entire southern sky turns around it, like a great wheel.  However, Sirius the “Dog Star” is moving in the sky and some 60 thousand years from now, it will become our South Pole Star.  Sirius is in the Canis Major constellation which is close to Orion’s belt and it is also the single brightest star in the night sky and the fifth closest star system to Earth.  The Ancient Polynesians used this for navigation.  Later, around 675 BC, Phoenician sailors conquered the eastern Mediterranean and they used the pole star Polaris, which is also called the North Star, as a navigational aid because its position in the sky was so close to the northern end of the Earth’s axis that it appeared static throughout each night and became a reliable indication of due north.

Compass card is spinning
Helm is swingin’ to and fro
Ooh where’s the dog star
Ooh where’s the moon
You’re lost sailor
You’ve been too long at sea
Some days the gales are howling
Some days the sea is still as glass
Ooh reef the mainsail
Ooh lash the mast
You’re lost sailor
You’ve been too long at sea

Now the shore-lights beckon
Yeah there’s a price for being free

Yeah the sea birds cry
There’s a ghost wind blowin’
It’s calling you to that misty swirling sea
Till the chains of your dreams are broken
No place in this world you can be

You’re lost sailor
You’ve been way too long at sea
Now the shore-lights beckon
Yeah there’s a price for being free

Drifting yeah drifting
Yeah drifting and dreaming

‘Cause there’s a place you’ve never been

Maybe a place you’ve never seen
You can hear her calling on the wind
Go on and drift your life away
Yeah just drifting and dreaming
Maybe drift your life away
Drifting and dreaming
Yes I’m going on a dream
Maybe going on a dream
Maybe going on a dream
Maybe going on a dream

Written for Eugi’s Weekly Prompt – Swirling.

9 thoughts on “Misty Swirling Sea

  1. What a fascinating story and love the song and The Grateful Dead. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for the sailors. I love your approach to the prompt!

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    1. Thanks Eugenia for hosting and taking time to read my post. I know that I used a different approach for this prompt, but that is what makes prompts so much fun as you never know where they will take you. I know a tiny bit about sailing, well more about the history aspect of it because of my first book and I find stories about Odysseus fascinating and I also know about the dog star from my third book, so this may not be the best song that the Grateful Dead ever played, but I find that most songs are interesting if you spend enough time trying to figure them out.

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