Wednesday, December 30, 2015
A foggy day here. Doesn’t matter. I love it all.
A couple of days ago Alan sent me a video from California showing a large shark approaching a small boat whose occupants became, shall we say, agitated.
By chance I had seen an article online earlier that day about cows killing more people than sharks.
In trying to locate it again, I came across a piece listing eleven species that kill more of us than sharks, who are responsible for fewer than six deaths world wide a year.
Yet I somehow think a movie called, MOOS or CUD is not likely to be as successful as JAWS.
Less, despite the evening news, you still suffer from the delusion we are an intelligent species, a congresswoman who denies climate change was asked what information could cause her to change her mind. Her reply: “No information could cause me to change my mind.”
About a week ago Larry sent me a link to inelegantly named Bookbud.com which sends a daily email of ebooks on sale. The service is free, so I signed up and have since obtained four books that I otherwise would not have; today a novel, THE WINEMAKER. None cost more than $1.99 and one, a biography of Mary Shelley, the wife of the poet and the author of FRANKENSTEIN, was free.
If you read ebooks, you might want to check out Bookbud.
I think we can safely say it was a very good year.
I wish Steve and you many more very good years.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
We arrived at Kill Devil Hills just before sunset Sunday after spending an enjoyable Christmas with Carol’s family near Charlotte. We are in the same ocean front condo complex we stayed in last June, but on the second rather than the first floor.
After dark that evening we shared a bottle of wine on the balcony watching an almost full moon rise, white lines of surf form and vanish in darkness, the running lights of a ship heading south. A small cluster of blue and white lights on the beach were inexplicable until the next morning when we walked on the beach and found that someone has stuck the above in the sand. Two small waterproof battery packs power LEDs.
Temperatures here have been setting records. Today was in the high 70sF/mid 20sC, light wind. Shorts and t-shirts weather. Perfect.
I read online that the Outer Banks have about 60,000 permanent residents and 6,000,000 annual visitors, the vast majority in the summer. There are other people around now, more even than I expected, but the beaches and roads are much less crowded.
There is an immediate experience of the sea in this condo. I’m writing at 8 p.m. and can hear the sound of surf and feel and smell a light sea breeze through the open balcony door. I like being out here on an island on the edge of the continent. We are on and off the balcony a dozen times a day, watching waves, sea birds—pelicans, gulls, and all the cormorants in the world, or so it seemed, flew past yesterday in a single file line hundreds long, dolphin swimming just beyond the surf line. It is beautiful and wonderful.
Monday, December 28, 2015
Friday, December 25, 2015
Photo by Nico Martinez via Sailing Anarchy.
THERE seems to be a regulation that I spend holidays repairing the mainsail: first Thanksgiving; now Christmas. The sun is shining and the storm is blowing itself out, but there is still enough wind so that we sailed at 5 knots under bare poles while I worked away this morning with needle and thread.
At dawn the fitting broke which holds one of the blocks through which the line passes from the self-steering vane to the tiller. The violence of the resulting accidental jibe left a four foot tear in the mainsail and broke the upper batten. Replacing the shackles along the luff with ties in Papeete proved invaluable. If the sail had not come down smoothly, the damage would have been much worse.
I am not entirely satisfied with the patch I put on, but after sewing for five hours, I declared a holiday.
We have lost a winch handle and the top slat of the three which served to close the companionway. I saw them being carried overboard by a wave which broke on deck while I was wrestling with the mainsail, but had enough trouble preventing myself from being swept away and could not reach them in time. I have two more winch handles and have fitted a half-inch thick piece of Plexiglas I had cut to cover the companionway in heavy weather. Business as usual.
THIS extreme South Atlantic is a miserable place. I can never before remember experiencing such a prolonged unpleasant sail, and it has not been due to great storms. Often I have wished for the wind to be stronger rather than weaker, and always I have wished for it to be more constant. Misery has come from the persistent fog, the daily freezing rain, the featureless grey gloom.
Christmas Day 1975 finds us as nearly in the middle of that gloom as possible—49°South 25°West. Surprisingly, I was able to get a sun sight, before my regular morning bail.
Bailing has become a methodical routine. Dip the bucket into the bilge, one step up the companionway ladder, balance there waiting for the roll of the boat, then up and over the side with the water and back down for another bucketful. A gallon of water weighs about 8.2 pounds, and bucketful by bucketful, I lift and return to the sea more than a ton of its contents each day.
My hands continue to be red and raw, but with the somewhat warmer temperature—I would estimate most days are now in the low 40° Fahrenheit range—the painful tingling has gone, as it has from my feet, although I continue to walk in place several hundred steps each day to improve my circulation.
Several people gave me small presents to open: a tin of cookies, a photograph, some books, and a bookmark. I made immediate use of the cookies, one of the books and the bookmark before attempting to prepare my Christmas dinner.
In the late afternoon, wearing the same clothes that I had worn for more days and nights than I cared to recall—that in fact I could recall, although had someone been with me I suspect they would have gladly recalled for me—I began working on the ever-more-recalcitrant stove. After almost a full hour, it finally condescended to light.
The menu consisted of chicken, rice, almonds, cranberry sauce, carrots, and plum pudding. Naturally, all were served with appropriate flourishes by the doting steward.
“Some vintage port with dinner, sir?”
“Yes. That will be fine, James.”
“And afterwards, a liqueur?”
“Well . . .”
“Grand Marnier would seem appropriate; after all, who deserves it more?” “A taste, perhaps.”
Because it is a holiday, I actually did consider trying to eat off a plate. But we were rolling so much that a plate would never have stayed on the table, or food on the plate, so I wedged myself as always in a corner of the galley and ate standing there from the various pots in which the food had been cooked.
Naturally, my thoughts return to those I have left behind, but they are very distant. Months of solitude, six time zones, and almost 10,000 sea miles separate us. I know they think of me, but they do not even know if I am still alive. I have sailed from the land completely.
And my thoughts reach forward in a continuance of the premonition that there is someone unknown before me. I try to picture her, but I cannot. I do not know if she is in Cape Town, or perhaps Australia or New Zealand. What is she doing at this very moment? It is futile. I cannot possibly imagine.
As the day’s grayness becomes night’s blackness, I go to bed and lie there listening to the radio. A little more than a year ago, I heard “White Christmas” being sung in French in Papeete. Tonight I hear Christmas carols and parts of Handel’s Messiah from the BBC, Voice of America, Radio South Africa, and various stations in Argentina and Brazil that I cannot identify.
I also catch bits of newscasts, and without repeating the all-too-familiar and all-too-dreary details, it does not seem that the carols, the violence, and my solitary, silent life have anything in common. How odd that truly they are all one.
Christmas never seemed very important to me when I lived ashore. Yet here the day seems special in this barren ocean. Nothing spectacular happened—for which I am grateful because something spectacular out here usually means something disastrous—yet because of Christmas, I feel closer to those I care for, closer to mankind. I am not lonely or homesick—home has become wherever Egregious is—I am living the great adventure of my life; but on Christmas Day 1975, as I go to sleep thousands of miles alone at sea, I wish that all men could know the peace that enfolds me as Egregious races east into the night.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is a new Amazon streaming series based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick. Last week Carol and I watched all ten episodes of the first season which ends ambiguously—a second season is coming—and I was curious enough then to read the novel.
The premise of both is the same: Germany and Japan won WWII and have occupied most of the United States, Germany the eastern three/fifths, Japan the west coast, leaving a narrow neutral Rocky Mountain zone in between. There is scattered resistance to the occupation and an alternate history that in fact the United States won the war, in the television series shown in prohibited news reel films, in the novel a clandestine book. Both the streaming series and the novel are entertaining and well executed.
I was surprised to learn that the novel was written in 1962. Philip K. Dick was a well known science fiction writer who also wrote “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, the basis for the movie BLADE RUNNER.
There is more science fiction in the novel than the streaming series. I’m not giving anything significant away when I note that in 1962 Dick had the Germans in possession of the hydrogen bomb and commercial aircraft that could fly from Berlin to Los Angeles in one hour. They had also drained the Mediterranean to create farm land, landed on Mars and depopulated Africa. All that is secondary to the drama of the human characters living in a conquered United States.
Whenever the second series is made, I’ll watch it.
I have been claiming for decades to be 6’1” tall. That loses something when expressed as 185.42 centimeters, which doesn’t really matter because though I once was, I’m not any longer. A few days ago when ordering a dry suit I had Carol measure me for the first time in many years. I’ve shrunk, as is perhaps inevitable at my advanced age, and am now only 6’ tall. 182.88 centimeters.
On the bright side, being shorter is an advantage on GANNET. Were I taller I’d hit my head in the Great Cabin even more.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Hugh, who lives 150 miles south of Chicago, routinely sails in winter, but usually on ice. Yesterday he sailed his Tanzer 22 on still liquid Clinton Lake. A windy day requiring two reefs in the main sail and only a tiny jib.
Hugh wrote that the wind decreased some near sunset and he was able to shake out one reef. Still heeled well over in the photo above. I thank Hugh for permission to use it.
I thank Art for this link to dramatic photographs of winter waves on Lake Erie. I am very glad not to be sailing in them.
Jim regularly checks the weather off Cape Horn as I do and wrote that this week looks to be favorable for rounding from the east. He is correct.
This is the Windfinder Pro forecast for today and tomorrow. No winds of gale force are expected through at least December 26, and only about thirty-six hours of more than twenty knots. Unfortunately GANNET is 13,000 miles out of position or I’d have the new gennaker set and we’d be roaring west.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
In the last few months I have reread most of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s books: SOUTHERN MAIL; NIGHT FLIGHT; WIND, SAND AND STARS. I just finished one I had not read before: WARTIME WRITINGS: 1939-1944. Presumably you know that the war lasted until 1945. Saint-Exupéry did not. He was shot down on a photo reconnaissance mission over southern France on July 31, 1944, at age 44, far beyond the age permitted for such flying. Being famous, he used his connections to abrogate the rules.
WARTIME WRITINGS is a book that was never intended to be a book. It consists mostly of letters Saint-Exupéry wrote during the war; the texts of a few speeches; introductions to two books, one his own THE LITTLE PRINCE, the second LISTEN, THE WIND by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, which caused me to order a copy of the book as well as another of her’s, NORTH TO THE ORIENT, both about flights she made with her husband examining possible commercial air routes; and some observations from those who knew him during the war. Not all of this is interesting, but most of it is.
I flatter myself that I have some things in common with Saint-Exupéry. We are both writers: he famous; I not; and we both have a trade other than writing at which we are skilled: he flying; I sailing boats alone across oceans. At one point he notes that he has 6,500 hours flying time which made me wonder how many hours I have sailing. Considering that there are 8760 hours in a year and that I have spent at least eight or nine years total at sea, I have 70,000 or 80,000 sea hours. We both also have a need for purity of experience: he frequently expressed the desire to retire to a monastery after the war; I frequently enter the monastery of the sea.
A few passages in the book particularly impressed me.
Saint-Exupéry is quoted as having said that danger and solitude are the two factors that go to form a man’s character.
I don’t think there is much solitude in most people’s lives.
We are an odd species: herd animals who know that we are truly alone and most fear being so.
In a letter dated December 1, 1940 he wrote:
Guillaumet is dead and tonight I feel I have no friends left.
Age overtakes us so speedily! I’m the only member of the old Casablanca-Dakar team (from early days flying the mail) remaining alive.
He then names thirteen of his fellow pilots. He, the only survivor, was only age forty.
An incident described by Jean Israel:
Taking advantage of a beautiful starless night, the squadron leader of Group 2/33 decided that the evening of January 12,1940 would be used to practice night landings. The pilots had to land without floodlights, with the sole aid of restricted ground lights showing a landing axis.
Saint-Exupéry was one of the pilots taking part in this training. An error of interpretation of the line of ground lights made him follow a flight-path that brought him head-on into the path of a truck carrying a spare floodlight. A few feet from the ground, seeing the ground lights disappear, he realized there was a dark obstacle straight in front of him.
To stop a plane’s descent, you have to maneuver by pulling on the stick; the descent tails off and is followed by ascent. Saint-Exupéry instead pushed the stick forward. The plane nose-dived, its wheels hitting the ground hard, and it rebounded over the obstacle, while the pilot revved the engine to gain altitude and circle the field once more.
Any other maneuver would have been useless; the plane was too near the ground and would have crashed into the truck.
Saint-Exupéry did not have to “invent” this maneuver. He had merely applied—with incredible presence of mind—a lesson learned in his days with Aéropostale. At the time he was flying single-engine planes of delicate construction, and forced landings in the countryside were quite frequent. If the landing site chosen turned out—at the last moment—to be traversed by a ditch, you had to hit the ground hard with the wheels to bounce over the ditch.
Let no one tell me that Saint-Exupéry was not a good pilot. I was sitting in the front seat of the plane that night!
A sailor wrote asking about gennakers and furling gear. I told him about my experience with asymmetricals and Facnor gennaker furling gear and of the ProFurl Spinex that should be awaiting my return to New Zealand. Part of his next email contained: “Expensive, but seems a must for a single-hander crossing oceans.” I thought about that for a while and then wrote:
Furling gear and even spinnakers are not a 'must'. You can cross oceans with no more than a jib and a mainsail and I mostly do. On the passage from San Diego to Hilo, Hawaii, the head of my asymmetrical blew out early on due to poor workmanship by the sailmaker. I still made a good passage under jib and mainsail.
At my age my sailing budget is ample. If I were young and had more limited resources, I'd sail without off wind sails and furling gear if necessary.
Though certain sails and equipment make life easier, there are very few 'musts'. Far fewer than most people believe. My boats have long been three sail boats: fully battened main, small furling jib and an asymmetrical. But far more than 90% of the time I sail under just main and jib. It is better to go to sea with less than wait too long or not go at all.
Friends named Tim send me links to Laphroaig commercials. This one of the Laphroaig Whisky Christmas Choir came from Tim the Rigger. I thank him and wish all of you a happy and peaty holiday and a splendid 2016.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
I came across a collection of photographs by Robert Capa.
The one above taken in France in 1939 is captioned: Former member of the Barcelona Philharmonic at a concentration camp for Spanish refugees.
Here is probably his most famous image.
The photos cover a little over twenty years from the 1930s until Capa’s death at age forty when he stepped on a land mine during the French Indochina War.
Robert Capa was known mostly as a war photographer. There are powerful images of the Spanish Civil War, Japan’s invasion of China, WWII, Indochina. But you will also find Trotsky giving a speech in Denmark in 1932 and various artists and celebrities: Picasso, Matisse, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Gary Cooper, Bogart.
The images are best seen by clicking on ‘view image only’.
The passage did not end at Cape Horn. It would be three more months before I climbed up the pilings of Auckland’s King’s Wharf and stepped onto land.
So much of life is subjective and ambiguous. Rounding a cape is not. It is simple and direct. You either do it or you don’t. Forty years ago today no one else in the world knew that I had rounded Cape Horn; but I knew and that made all the difference.
If you read yesterday’s entry you know that I ate a can of beef stew for dinner and I did not even have a sip of brandy to celebrate. I had yet to discover Laphroaig.
Last evening Carol and I shared a bottle of good wine with a wonderful salmon and grilled vegetable pasta she made. Carol is a great cook when she has time. And of course I poured some Laphroaig into a crystal glass.
A friend wrote wondering if I have been reliving this experience to prepare myself for attempting to round Cape Horn from the east in GANNET or to prove that once is enough. He had forgotten that I passed Cape Horn a second time, although not solo.
I do worry about the cold. Even in what has so far been a mild winter, my shoulder bothers me when the temperature drops.
But if you were to open iNavX on the iPad mini I use as a chartplotter you would find a waypoint off Horn Island. The bearing from where I sit is 169º. The distance 5,972 nautical miles.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
December 12, 1975
AT 5:00 A.M., we were 70 miles due south of Cape Horn. Those are the finest words I have ever written. How many times my thoughts have sailed here while I stood on Point Loma or walked along Mission Beach and now I have, too.
To say we rounded the Horn would be presumptuous and inaccurate. We merely continued to be blown ahead of a gale, which came up suddenly after midnight.
Ashore, I had imagined I would have a glass of my best brandy and pour one for the sea; but I felt no desire to honor in victory the gods I steadfastly denied in defeat. Now as always, the sea is indifferent to me. And in the event, I did not even want a drink myself. It was a day not for contemplation, but survival.
There was one inescapable debt, though, and that was to Bach. The “Little Fugue” was finally heard, a small but triumphant sound at 57° South.
The Horn has lived up to its reputation, making me glad I gave Horn Island a wide berth. It is an overwhelming storm. By dawn the wind was blowing above fifty knots and, of course, had ripped the mainsail, which I repaired but did not attempt the by-then-impossible task of resetting.
The waves were no higher than others I have known, averaging about 20 feet—which is quite high enough, thank you—but there were two sets of them: one coming from the southwest, driven before the wind; the other from the northwest, rebounding off the land. Both sets were breaking.
For the first time, I tied myself in the cockpit during daylight hours, leaving only sufficient slack in the lines so I could move to steer. Countless waves broke over the cockpit. Without being tied securely, I could have been washed away dozens of times.
Egregious was rolled onto her beam ends regularly, and in those cross seas sometimes she would go over to port, sometimes to starboard. Even though it was not in operation, the servo-rudder for the self-steering remained in the water and as we surfed down some of the larger waves, a rooster tail rose from it, as from a hydroplane. The strain on the tiller was immense, often forcing me to brace myself with my legs and use both hands to keep us on course. There was no time to look back and see on which quarter the next dangerous wave loomed, but after a while I could tell by feel and sound. And though I caught only momentary glimpses of them as they swooped across my field of vision, even in the very strongest wind albatrosses and petrels soared about as usual. At such moments you know that no matter how well you adapt, they belong here and you do not. Determination, skill, and luck give you nothing more than a temporary dispensation to trespass.
Throughout what became a very long, frightening, fatiguing day, I steered. To have left the tiller even momentarily would have been impossible. Finally, at 7:00 p.m., the wind decreased to 30 knots, and stiff and cold and tired and hungry, I stumbled into the cabin.
Since then I have cooked my victory banquet of stew, gone back on deck and set the storm jib, and written this. My hands and feet are frostbitten, and a glance in the mirror just revealed dead skin dangling from my ears in bloody strips.
The first man to sail around the world alone—an American, Joshua Slocum, before the turn of the century—went through the Straits of Magellan. As far as I know, I am the first of my countrymen to pass the Horn alone. But now that I have survived the day, I can believe that even if I were not the first, the struggle would be worthwhile and that the day should have been as it was. A smashed hand, frostbite, piercing cold, fatigue are all made endurable. The water I bailed from the bilge into the Atlantic this morning came from the Pacific last night. Cape Horn, which a year ago seemed so impossibly remote, is behind us.
Friday, December 11, 2015
THIS morning I decided to make biscuit-shaped biscuits instead of dropping lumps of dough onto the pan as I usually do. So I carefully took a cookie cutter and formed six beautiful biscuits. However, no sooner had I put them on to bake, then I realized something extraordinary was occurring outside—the sun was casting shadows.
Without taking the time for foul-weather gear, I grabbed the stopwatch and sextant and dashed on deck, climbing to the stern where I could sometimes see the sun from behind the mainsail and through the clouds. But we were rolling so much, the horizon so irregular, the sun so dim, that I could not manage a useful sight.
After fifteen minutes of futile effort, the fragrance of something on the verge of burning reached me. My perfect biscuits! As I started forward, a wave gave me a freezing bath.
I rescued the biscuits and set them on a countertop, while I tried to dry myself and the sextant. Naturally, another wave struck us abeam, and all but one of my beautiful biscuits gleefully dove into the bilge. At that moment, I found it very difficult to maintain silence.
NOON. Between three snow-sleet storms, I have been able to get good sights. Unless I am completely lost, the Diego Ramirez should be in view in a few hours.
LANDFALL! 4:46 p.m. local time. Diego Ramirez Islands directly ahead. The first land since Guadalupe Island more than 6,000 miles ago. You sail without sight of land for weeks, the weather changes, the days grow colder, you plot positions on charts, you tell yourself you are nearing Cape Horn, but you have dreamed and struggled for so long that it does not seem real. Or rather it did not until I saw those desolate rocks ahead. We do not have to go any farther south, and even if the mast falls down, we will be blown past the Horn tomorrow.
From this distance—ten or fifteen miles—the islands are grey silhouettes with no sign of foliage. The Sailing Directions say they are uninhabited for most of the year. I cannot imagine why they are inhabited at all.
At 7:00 p.m. we passed south of the southernmost rock of the Diego Ramirez. As we sailed closer, I could distinguish some green on the cliff sides, but no sign of man. I had been wondering why so many birds down here are chocolate-brown and white when this ocean is usually grey. I had forgotten about land. They would blend in well on the Diego Ramirez, and presumably many must nest there because the sky was full of them as night fell.
The wind is only about 25 knots, but the surf against the cliffs was impressive. In storms it must be awesome. One rock reminded me very much of Cypress Rock near Carmel, California.
Just before dark, a seal followed us for almost an hour.
Cape Horn tomorrow. Incredible. I can hardly believe it. But it is true.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
December 10, 1975
DURING the night, the wind swung back to the southwest. I checked the course several times and deliberately let us reach to the southeast, even though that carries us away from the direct course to the Cape. I believe a lone sailor ought to maintain if possible a position which allows a margin of error to either side of his course. Then if the boat takes off 50° or so while he is asleep, it is not an immediate disaster. The rhumb line course to Cape Horn from our position yesterday was 100°, but it carried us too close to the islands west of the Horn.
At present we are still steering south of that direct course, but no longer by choice. We would have to go on a dead run to do so, and an accidental jibe would be inevitable. A front is moving through, which spins us even farther south in gusts. Horn Island is about 200 miles ahead. I doubt very much that we will see it.
While writing this, sitting at the chart table and wearing foul-weather gear, I noticed that the barometer is falling.
A wave just justified wearing foul-weather gear while writing at the chart table.
The essential characteristic of this wind is inconstancy; inconstancy of force and direction. There is no way to establish effective self-steering when the wind blows 15 then 30, 15 then 30, changing perhaps every minute. And there is no precise way to calculate a DR position when with each of these gusts the compass swings from 110° to 175° and then back to 90°, and the desired course is 100°.
Although it has been very cold for several days, today is colder. The cabin ports are fogged on the inside, presumably from what we may laughingly consider as body heat because the stove has not been on. For many days I have been able to amuse myself by watching the steam of my breath here in the cabin, but this morning, when it froze into one solid lump as I exhaled, the joke ceased to be funny.
I spend many hours standing braced in the galley, looking out through the starboard ports, which I must frequently wipe clear of fog, at the oncoming black waves. From that vantage, I can see the compass at the chart table and consider our relationship to those waves and if there is anything I need do to improve our handling the seas.
No sun sights again today and I increasingly doubt that I will see the Cape. We are already south of it, heading toward the Diego Ramirez Islands, a clump of rocks 60 miles southwest of Horn Island. If we get a good position fix tomorrow, or if we sight the Diego Ramirez before nightfall, and if the wind permits, I will change course for Horn Island. But if these conditions are not met, we will have to sail southeast tomorrow night to be safe.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
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.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
December 8, 1975
THERE is a real question as to whether we will make Cape Horn before the chart gives out. Every wave that breaks over us—and they are many—manages to find its way onto the chart table. Perhaps the Naval Oceanographic Service should produce heavy-duty charts for such conditions; but then charts carved in granite might be a bit awkward to work with, and even they wouldn’t survive more than a single passage round the Horn.
Speaking of charts made me think of pilot charts, one of which I consulted this morning to see what lies it might tell me about the currents here. I have long known that pilot charts have no statistical relevance to a single voyage. None whatsoever. But I thought I would look anyway. This was just after we had a shower of sleet. Sleet in midsummer! Then I noticed at the foot of the pilot chart a red-dotted line that marks the extreme limit of pack ice. It is only a few hundred miles south of us, so I suppose it can sleet anytime it cares to.
Yesterday I removed the jib from the foredeck after leaving it lashed there for the past week in the vain expectation that I would re-raise it when conditions improved. My present thinking is that conditions are never going to improve—or at least not in the foreseeable future—and that when I have the double-reefed main and storm jib set, we are under full canvas.
I have pulled or twisted something in my back, which makes sleeping difficult, as it eliminates one of the few possible positions in which I am comfortable. Also, from the all-too-regular exposure to the water in the bilge, which I believe to be just above freezing temperature, my hands and feet have become swollen. Removing my sea boots is excruciatingly painful.
A flock of petrels follows us, more than a hundred of them darting about in our wake. An albatross comes over at intervals to see what the commotion is about, but apparently he can tell no more than I.
Because with these west winds the ironbound Chilean coast is a lee shore—the most formidable lee shore in the world—we dare not approach it closely until we are almost as far south as Horn Island itself, which is 56° South 67° West. At noon today, by dead reckoning, we were 55°South and 80°West. Under a solid grey sky, I changed course. We sail east directly for the Horn.
The significance—momentous significance to me—of that turn to the east a few hours ago just struck me. It is one of the two great turning points of the voyage. So far our course has been basically south. Now it is east. East to the Horn. East, east, east, with the soaring albatrosses and the petrels and the shearwaters and prions. East fleeing before the shrieking gales, running with the foaming waves. East across the South Atlantic, across the Southern Ocean. East past Africa. Past Australia. East past Tasmania and the Tasman Sea. East with the hissing, driving spray. East toward the rising sun. East, east, east past New Zealand. East halfway across the Pacific. East for 12,000 miles. East for days and weeks and months. East until finally at long last we can turn north, we can leave the Forties behind and perhaps be warm again.
(In later years I offered sailing directions for rounding Cape Horn from San Diego: Sail south until the rigging freezes over, then turn left.)
I wrote a few days ago that the maxi-tri SPINDRIFT 2 reminded me of a space ship. The U.S. Navy’s newest destroyer, the USS ZUMWALT does even more.
She also reminds me of Civil War ironclads. This is the USS ESSEX.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
December 6, 1975
A seam opened up near the head of the main, which I clawed down to repair. When we continued to make 7 knots under bare poles, I left it down. That seems quite fast enough. The waves are now so high that when we are on a crest, I see albatrosses gliding below me.
Saturday, December 5, 2015
December 5, 1975
THE sea has never seemed so alive, a symphony of violence. The barometer dropped almost an inch, but is slowly making its way back up. Although the wind is at gale force, we have bright sunshine. Wave crests are being blown off; spindrift everywhere.
While I was on the foredeck this morning lowering the staysail, I happened to find myself staring directly into a twenty foot drop beneath the port bow as a wave passed under us. It is very much a sensation of looking over the falls. A long way down.
The three biggest waves I have ever seen just came through. Judgments of their size are difficult to make, but I have certainly never seen their equal. The average wave out there now is between 10 and 15 feet, and I would estimate these were over 30. The sight of those immense curling crests speeding toward us was immobilizing. I stood in the companionway—which was hardly a good idea in retrospect, but I didn’t think to close it at the time—having just lifted a bucket full of ice water from the bilge and was mesmerized. The crest of the last giant toppled over 10 yards to windward, and I thought we would surely be inundated; but Egregious turned her hip into it and rose gracefully through the foam.
Through years and waves and women and wanton storms that rage without, within, I am coming at you, Cape Horn. And at long last I am very near.
Wayfarer dinghies have made some great voyages. One I did not know about until Hugh sent me the link to a forty-four minute video was 4,000 miles in the eastern Mediterranean and up and down the Nile River in the early 1990s. I thoroughly enjoyed this. A great way to start my morning. Thank you, Hugh.
Friday, December 4, 2015
December 4, 1975
ONE of the regular events of recent days is the 9:00 P.M. gale. Last night I decided by 9:30 p.m. that it was not going to put in an appearance and went to bed, but it was just outwaiting me. At about 10:45—I estimate the time because I lay in my bunk for half an hour hoping it would go away—I was awakened by a series of waves breaking over us, and finally I got up and found Egregious dashing south at 9 knots. In near-total darkness, I reefed and then went back to bed; but by the time I got there, I was so cold that it took another hour to get to sleep.
In other oceans, you can trim for the average conditions and live through the gusts. In these high southern latitudes— 49°44’South
9l°30’West at noon—you have to trim for the gusts and be content to let the boat sail less than optimally in the average. The gusts are too strong, too dangerous, and too frequent.
Some of you will recognize this entry and the one on November 30 from STORM PASSAGE. They were originally written in pencil on a steno notepad. In those long ago pre-computer days, there was a typewriter on board, a small portable Olivetti Lettera 32, but I did not use it at sea.
I didn’t rewrite much between log and book, only evened out a few rough places and laboriously corrected spelling.
I don’t usually live in the past, but forty years ago I was near one of the ultimate moments of my life, and so for the next week I will be in a condo in Evanston, Illinois, and I will be on EGREGIOUS in the Southern Ocean approaching Cape Horn.
You are invited to sail with me.
The photo, cloudfeather, was taken from THE HAWKE OF TUONELA on her Opua mooring in 2010.