26 January 2010

161. Wind and stars (4)

When I sailed across the south pacific in 1997 (do I repeat myself, d'you think?)... cat's pee? you sailed to the moon?... ah!

Anyway, one night as I was on watch... I know, you've heard that one before... so one night, somewhere between Bora-Bora and Rarotonga... a nice stretch of blue water. You can't fathom how big the Pacific Ocean is until you've been on it. Anyway, one night, I was at the helm on my own and the other 3 adults and the little boy were all asleep. The wheel on that yacht was very tall and, as I am only 5 foot nothing (1m50), I had a hard time holding the damn thing. I was not on automatic. I was actually steering. The weather was splendid, a million stars above my head, some fast moving clouds, and the swish-swish of the hull cutting the waves was a lovely sound. We were doing 12 knots. I know. I should'nt have. There was a baby on board and we were not supposed to speed. But the feeling was total elation. The boat slightly on its side. The sails all out on a beam wind... No, don't expect any drama, Alice, nobody fell in the water!

As I was standing there, my feet wide apart to hold on and my arms like a X on the top of the wheel humming the wind in total bliss, here comes the captain out of his den, shouts: what are we doing? So, I say something like, easterly winds, 12 knots speed, on the rhumb line to Rarotonga... or something to that effect. What? he said. Give me the instruments reading? So, I turned the lights on, got my glasses out and eventually gave a list of numbers to my angry captain. Alright then. He just didn't want to have any of my 'feelings' about it. He wanted facts.

The next day we had an argument about this. I explained that I liked sailing with my senses, humming the wind, checking the clouds and the top of the waves and the sounds of the boat and... And then I realized I was actually living through the end of an era. This captain had been taught sailing with instruments alone. He relied totally and thoroughly upon the data sent by some intelligent machine telling him what to do. I was a dodo. That species of sailors going to sea and crossing oceans with a minimum of instruments was on its way out...

This was 13 years ago. Who nowadays sails across the Pacific WITHOUT a gps, a complicated windvein, a radar, 2 computers... and a French cook?

You can see where this happened if you click on the stated 'location' here underneath. A google map will pop up.


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