Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Evanston: A Fraternity of Fools; strident; the fastest point of sail; The Solent in music and paintings

        I visited the CRUISING WORLD site recently to see if they had posted any articles of mine I had forgotten and came upon the following, which I had.  It was an entry in this journal so many years ago that I think it can bear repetition.
For the record the caption to the photo is wrong.  The capsize was halfway between Fiji and what is now Vanuatu, and it occurred in 1980.

A Fraternity of "Fools"

I seldom read sailing books any more; but recently a small boat sailor and
reader of this journal generously sent me a copy of A Voyage of Pleasure:
The Log of Bernard Gilboy's Transpacific Cruise in the Boat, "Pacific" 1882-1883.
I had read this slight volume of only 64 pages several decades ago. Naturally I had
forgotten many details and found interest and pleasure in rereading it, particularly from
the perspective of greater years and experience.
In 1876 Alfred Johnson made the first solo Atlantic crossing in a 20-foot dory, sailing
from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Abercastle, Wales, in just under two months, with
 a brief stop in Nova Scotia. Johnson named his boat, Centennial, and said his voyage
was to commemorate the nation's first hundred years.
When I completed my first circumnavigation in 1976, a journalist wanted me to claim
that I had done so to honor the Bicentennial. As readers of Storm Passage: Alone
Around Cape Horn know, this was not true and I refused.

Inspired by Johnson, Bernard Gilboy, a professional seaman, had an 18-foot schooner built in San Francisco
specifically for his voyage, at a cost of $400. He considered this the smallest boat
capable of holding provisions for the five months he thought his non-stop passage
would take.
Her length of 18 feet and beam of 6 feet were almost identical to those of my open boat,
 Chidiock Tichborne, but the Pacific had a keel and a draft of 2 feet, 6 inches, as
opposed to unballasted Chidiock Tichborne's 12-inch draft with her centerboard up
and 4 feet with it down.
Gilboy writes that he somehow squeezed into his craft: "14 ten-gallon casks, filled with
water; 165 pounds of bread, in 15-pound tin cans (air tight); two dozen roast beef in two
and-a-half-pound cans; two dozen roast chicken, in one-pound cans; two dozen roast
 salmon, in one-pound cans; two dozen one-pound cans of boneless pigs-feet; two
dozen cans of peaches; two dozen cans of milk; one box containing 25 pounds of
cube sugar; one gross of matches, packed in a half dozen glass jars; one half gallon
of alcohol, in a druggist's glass jar; four cans of nut oil-two and a half gallons in a can;
five-gallon can of kerosene oil; one bar of Castille soap; three pounds of nails; one
wooden pump; 12 feet of half-inch hose, which I used as a siphon to fill the kegs, or
get water out of them; one grains (a fish spear), a hammer, and hatchet; paper, copper
tacks; kerosene oil stove; alcohol pocket stove; two lamps; one pound of paraffin
candles; two compasses, barometer and sextant; patent taff-rail log; double barreled
shot gun, powder and shot, revolver and cartridges; clock and watch; nine knives;
 anchor and sea drogue, with about forty fathoms of 1½" rope; some spare marline
amber-line, and marline-spike; navigation books, sheet chart of the South Pacific; an
 American flag; clothing necessary for the voyage; two pounds of lard; one pair of
12-foot oars; and an umbrella, which I found very handy when the wind was light and
the sun strong."
He needlessly notes that the boat was deep in the water.
And I note one bar of soap for five months.
After obtaining his customs clearance for what was listed as "a voyage of pleasure,"
Bernard Gilboy called, "All aboard for Australia," and shoved off. He made very good
time his first week, covering 510 miles, particularly considering that he stopped to
 sleep, either heaving to or letting the small schooner swing to a sea anchor drogue.
However progress came to a stop when he reached 9 degrees North, and he made
only 237 miles in the next 29 days. Finally at 5 degrees North, he started moving again.
In describing conditions, Gilboy often uses charming expressions with which I was not
familiar, such as "baffling wind" and "mizzling rain."
Ninety days out of San Francisco he was near Tahiti.
Although San Francisco is 500 miles north of San Diego, in Chidiock Tichborne I was
within six miles of Tahiti in 39 sailing days. I was, of course, not carrying provisions for
five months.
Disaster struck with the passing of a single wave, which capsized the Pacific south of
Fiji on December 12, his 116th at sea, only a few hundred miles southeast of where
another single wave flipped Chidiock Tichborne 98 years later.
Gilboy lost a mast, the rudder, his sextant and compass, and almost all of his provisions.
Steering with an oar until he made a seamanlike substitute rudder with a jury rig, he
struggled on, starving, until on January 29, he was seen and picked up, boat and all,
by a passing schooner. At the time he was 200 miles off the Australian Queensland
Gilboy's almost successful attempt to make the first solo voyage across the Pacific
Ocean surely ranks among the greatest almost unknown voyages.
When late in life, Alfred Johnson was asked why he had sailed across the Atlantic alone,
 he replied, "I made that trip because I was a damned fool, just as they said I was."
In the March 24, 1883, issue of the San Francisco Daily Alta California newspaper
appeared: "The dory Pacific is reported as arrived safely at Australia. Her only occupant
gives a thrilling account of his perilous trip. He arrived, as above, and the fools are not
all dead yet."
To which I offer the very last words in Storm Passage: "The fool smiles and sails on."


        I have spent much of my adult life outside the United States.  Now I am away only
 six or seven months at a time.  In the past I was often gone for years.  
        Each time I return I find some new young person I have never heard of is famous 
and presumably wealthy.  
        When I returned to Evanston last month I was particularly struck by how strident is 
        It was not just the politicians, but everyone, from the talking heads who speak rapidly
 what poses as news in tones of near hysteria, pausing only to emphasize, as they
must be taught in school because they all do it, words that heighten fear; to almost all 
advertising, which essentially is exaggerated lies; to excessively analyzing sports 
commentators.  Nature may abhor a vacuum.  Television and modern America abhors 
        I can turn all this off and I usually do.  I watch almost no news on television, except
 local, and I often watch sports with the volume muted while listening to music on 
        During last Saturday’s football games there were two commercials that were 
exceptions to the advertising rule:  one by Apple, one by GE, both advocating being 
kind to those who are different, which of course is all of us, rather than shrilly pitching
 their own products.
        I am enjoying being with Carol, but I long for the silence of the sea.


        From James comes a link to an article that seems to confirm my subjective 
observation that just forward of a beam reach is the fastest point of sail, though on 
GANNET I would rather have the wind just aft.
        I thank him.


        And from Tim comes a link to a YouTube video of “The Solent”, an early 
composition by Ralph Vaughan Williams, accompanied by some lovely paintings. 
 An antidote to the strident.
        I thank him and wish you serenity.