Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Evanston: sleet and snow
December 9, 1975
ALTHOUGH I wear gloves, my hands turn blue each time I bail—usually three times daily at present. Even while sleeping I now wear long underwear, wool pants, four shirts, two pairs of socks, and a watch cap, and I am still cold. My hands and feet tingle as they did when I was a child and came inside after playing in the snow. Storms I expected, but never to be this cold in December, when the sun is about as far south as it will ever get. For the third successive day, we had some snow or sleet. Today snow.
Last night I went to bed at 11:00. I got up at 11:15 and didn’t make it back until 2:30 A.M. First we were becalmed, and I went out to see what I could do to reduce the slatting of the sails. I was too late. About twelve inches of a seam had opened up on the main, so I lowered the sail and started restitching it. By the time I had finished, the wind was blowing hard from the east. Because I did not believe it would last, I stayed awake while it backed southeast, until we could settle on an easterly course.
During the night, the wind continued to build, and we were leaping off some fairly big waves. At dawn I went on deck to reduce sail and saw that the seam above the one I repaired last night had opened a few inches. I lowered the sail, but in this wind—almost a gale—it ripped wide before I could get it under control. So I spent the morning resewing it, hoping the wind would go back west before I completed the repairs. It did not. And still hasn’t.
AFTERNOON. In some respects, today is quite beautiful. Between the ice and snow-laden squalls, there is bright sunshine on a hard blue sea of wild waves. We sail close-hauled on a course of 100°, making 3 knots. I will not drive Egregious harder into these head seas. Yesterday I thought Cape Horn to be three days away, but today it is still at least three days away. We are too close to risk more hull damage now; and even moving as we are, we have taken blows sufficiently hard to make me wonder each time I go to empty the bilge whether the water will go down, and for me to know that yesterday’s fanciful song of the east will be interrupted by a stop somewhere for repairs.
I know that there are those ashore who wonder from time to time what I am doing. If they guess either that I am repairing the mainsail or bailing the bilge, they have a ninety per cent chance of being right. The other ten percent I sleep or try to get the stove to light.
I’ve read about half the books on the list, including all the top fifteen, except number fourteen, CLARISSA, and the top two, Virginia Woolf’s TO THE LIGHTHOUSE and George Eliot’s MIDDLEMARCH.
I have read several of Virginia Woolf’s novels and admire them, but MIDDLEMARCH comes as a surprise.
There are two books on the list that I consider terrible, UNDER THE VOLCANO and THE SEA, THE SEA.
Critics often consider NOSTROMO Joseph’s Conrad’s finest novel. I didn’t when I read it a long time ago. Perhaps I’ll give it another try.
I am pleased to see Joyce Cary’s THE HORSE’S MOUTH, the best novel I’ve ever read about an artist, included. It was also made into an entertaining movie starring Sir Alex Guinness. Just last week I searched for a Kindle edition, but there isn’t one.
I have read few of the novels published in the last twenty years and am skeptical that many will stand the test of time.
Such lists are subjective and contentious. They are meant to be. But sometimes they cause me to read something I otherwise would not have. Since reading this one I’ve downloaded Kindle editions of TO THE LIGHTHOUSE and MIDDLEMARCH.
No sleet and snow in the flatlands where it is sunny and 50ºF/10ºC.
The photograph has nothing to do with this entry. I just feel like looking at a gannet.