Monday, February 1, 2016

Evanston: finished; Cape Horn and technology; two mystical experiences

        Although I may still do some minor rewriting and I need to write a preface to the e-edition, I have finished retyping A SINGLE WAVE.

A link to the updated PDF is found here.

        I changed a word here and there, but most of the rewriting was cutting.  You may recall Saint-Exupéry saying that perfection in airplane design does not come when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to eliminate.  I think that is true of writing, too.  The e-version of A SINGLE WAVE is 8,000 words shorter than the paper book.  Many of those words were removed when I completely dropped one chapter, ‘Perfection’, and significantly cut the epilogue; but throughout the book I simplified and reduced wherever I could.


        In working on A SINGLE WAVE I noticed that when I was off Cape Horn in 1975 I played Bach on a cassette player.  When I rounded in 1991, I played Bach from a compact disc.  If I am off Cape Horn next year, I will play Bach from an iPhone or an iTouch  streamed to Bluetooth speakers.


        Sometimes I forget in which book something I’ve written can be found.
        I am far from a mystic, but I have had two mystical experiences.  Both are related in A SINGLE WAVE.
        The first came aboard EGREGIOUS in early January 1975 on my second attempt at Cape Horn.

‘I believe that I am an articulate man, but this is not an experience to be articulated.  No nouns, no verbs suffice.  There is the sea, but it is unremarkable just now.  There is the wind, light and backing toward the north.  There is the sky, covered by a layer of low, fuzzy clouds.  There is the cutter sailing smoothly southeast.  Nothing is exceptional other than the overwhelming sense of peace, which has increased day by day and is now absolute.  I have never been so calm and content.  I am always hungry, yet that only renders my senses more acute.  A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind.  But now I feel the wind more sensitively than ever before.  It touches my face, blows over my skin, enters my body, more essential than blood.  At this moment I want for nothing.  I am whole, complete, one, transcendent.  Yet I am also transcended and do not exist except as a part of the beauty around me.  The sea is steel blue and the sky light gray.  On the western horizon, a single pale yellow band lingers behind the already set sun.  This is a view of Eden, of what the world must have been like the first day after creation.’

The next morning I awoke to a storm—the light backing wind had been a warning—that soon broke the tangs and bolts replaced in Tahiti.  The mystical state was replaced by depression.  Cape Horn, instead of being less than a month ahead, receded to the infinite perspective of the unassailable.
        The second occurred in early August 1985 on the fringing reef at Suvarow Island to which we had sailed in RESURGAM.

We rowed ashore to a patch of sand and brush, frequented by frigate birds and boobies, and walked out onto the reef.  At Suvarow, one of the few deserted islands in the South Pacific with a usable anchorage, the reef is more volcanic than coral.  Those parts washed by the tides have been smoothed through the ages, but near the shore lava spikes remain almost as jagged as when they first exploded into air.  The black reef becomes salmon pink as it is uncovered by the outgoing tide.  Brightly colored fish are often trapped in tidal pools, trying to hide from soaring birds until they are released by the returning ocean.

I rose from studying a tide pool and turned to see Jill standing with her back to me, looking out at the sea.  I felt as though we were on the edge of the world, a primitive world of great beauty in which there were no other people.  A vast blue sky and sea, a white turmoil of waves breaking on the outer edge of the reef a few steps away, just beyond which the reef fell off to a hundred fathoms.  The lush green vegetation on the islets; a narrow band of white sand; black lava; salmon pink lava; fish; scuttling crabs; the bright sun and the shadows of circling birds; the elegant lines of Jill’s nearly naked body.  It was a perfect, timeless moment, a rare moment when I felt at peace, a moment I knew even as it was happening that I would remember as long as I live.
        Two mystical experiences at sea in forty years.  Not many.  But two more than I’ve had on land.