Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Hilton Head Island: 48 years ago; final word

Hilton Head Island is returning to normal.  50ºF/10C today.  Thursday should see us back in the 60sF/16 or 17C.  Sunny.  Spanish Moss hanging limp.  Skull Creek glassy and golden in the setting sun.  Two ducks have taken up residence between the marina and our shore.  I look up and see them diving to forage for whatever it is they find to eat on the bottom.  Carol and I biked to Dolphin Point on Port Royal Sound today and I did my weight workout.

For whatever reason I found myself wondering where I was on EGREGIOUS forty-eight years ago.  I knew roughly that I had left Papeete, Tahiti, just before Christmas after receiving bolts from Ericson to replace those that had sheered off, and almost lost the boat when becalmed in Papeete Pass.

Here is the entry from STORM PASSAGE for December 27, 1974,

   December 27

THE island of Raivavae is a mountainous grey silhouette off the port bow. Late yesterday afternoon I calculated that if the wind remained steady, we would pass near the island between 8:00 and 10:00 this morning. At dawn it was clearly visible on the horizon and is abeam now at 9:45 a.m.

Ever since I entered this part of the Pacific a month ago and knew that the Marquesas and Tuamotus were within a few days’ sail, I have felt as though all these island groups were a snare designed to keep me from the open sea. Now at last I am escaping from that trap. Should I be forced to the southeast, there are other islands in the way, but directly south there is no land until Antarctica. I am free.

Yesterday should become a world holiday. Parades and pageants should be presented; young girls should sing songs of joy and young boys recite the great deeds they will perform when they become men. The cause for such celebration: during the twenty-four hours of December 26, 1974, nothing broke aboard the cutter Egregious.

However, on December 27,1 am again the foil of the gods, the prankster gods, the fun-loving gods of bibulous humor, the schoolboy gods who delight in tying tin cans to cats’ tails and tormenting me with breakage. I am a vain man made vainly vaneless.

At 1:30 this afternoon, Egregious came up into the wind and quietly hove to. Which would have been fine if I had wanted to heave to. But I didn’t. The breakaway coupling I installed in Tahiti is well named and has, for reasons of its own, broken away. It is designed to break if the servo-rudder should hit something such as a partially submerged log, but I am certain we hit nothing.

Because this happened while we were sailing on the wind in the full light of midday, I began to think the gods were becoming sloppy with their jests. It took only a minute for me to tie the tiller a bit to windward and have the boat steering itself south again.

Two hours later, however, I regained my confidence in the maliciousness of the powers that be. They had only been setting me up the first time. At 3:30 the wind died and we jibed. I had to go on deck and rebalance everything. In heavy rain.

The sun and I passed one another today, heading, alas, in opposite directions. Although it seems to be directly overhead, the sun is now actually north of me. I wonder when I will be beneath it again.

The late afternoon is delightful. The clouds have burned away and the cutter is sailing easily south. I sit in the cockpit, enjoying the sail and the open ocean spreading before me like an empty canvas. With the regained illusion that we are making progress, I have fully enjoyed these last two days.

EVENING. Raivavae is lost in the haze to the north. As I sailed closer to it, a tern flew out to welcome me. The island became green with foliage, and I could smell the unfamiliar odor of land. Because it is so isolated and unknown, Raivavae appeals to my imagination much more than did Tahiti. The Sailing Directions claim that about 800 people live there, but I saw no sign of man. I wonder if those who do live there, literally at one of the ends of the earth, appreciate their remote home, or do they long for the bright lights of Papeete or Chicago. I wonder what the view is like from the highest mountaintop and whether the wooded islets inside the reef are as peaceful as they seem.

Almost certainly I was seen from the island. Few boats pass this way, so I imagine that many Raivavaens are speculating this evening on who I am, where I came from, and where I am going. They are all good questions. I often speculate about them myself.

Of the final questions, they are good and I still speculate about them.

By chance I finished MOUNTAIN HOME:  The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China and Thomas Hardy's last book of poetry, WINTER WORDS IN VARIOUS MOODS AND METRES on the same day.  WINTER WORDS was published posthumously in 1928, the year Hardy died at age 87.  Here is the very last poem in the book.  I do not know that it is the last poem he wrote, but is is certainly his final word.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Hilton Head Island: Machado de Assis; wimp; two views of Christmas

I have had the Kindle edition of 26 STORIES by Machado de Assis on my iPad Mini, which is my primary e-book reader, for a long time I suppose because I did not know who Machado de Assis was.  My ignorance.  My loss.  I finally got around to reading it and was barely into the book before I came upon ‘The Alienist’, by far the longest of the stories included, when I realized I was in the presence of an exceptional writer.  I did some research which revealed that de Assis is considered the greatest Brazilian writer of the Nineteenth Century.  I immediately bought two of what are reputed to be his three best novels.  The third is not available in English in a Kindle edition.  I will probably end up buying  a paperback copy.

De Assis is original, ironic, widely self-educated, and writes with clarity.  His paternal grandparents were slaves.  His mother a washer woman.  He made his own way from age seventeen.

The stories are mostly set in Rio de Janeiro and vary widely.  One is about a man who takes part in a Brazilian civil war to kill the estranged husband of a woman he is in love with so he can marry her.  One about a man who learns the language of spiders and creates a society among them based on the Venetian Republic.  Another about The Devil founding his own religion on Earth.  One, advice from a father to his son on how to become a bigwig.

All are good.  ‘The Alienist’ is a masterpiece.

‘Alienist’ was an early name for a psychiatrist.

In a town west of Rio an alienist convinces the officials to let him establish a lunatic asylum.  I know the tern is politically incorrect now, but that’s what they called it then.  As the story develops, the definition of who is and is not insane is turned tipsy-turvy.  Not wanting to spoil it for you, I say no more.

Coming across a writer as good as Machado de Assis is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Everyone in the United States is aware than unusual Arctic cold is sagging over more than half this country.  Starting Friday Hilton Head Island will have lows below freezing for five consecutive days.  On Saturday the low will be around 20F/-6.6C and the wind chill 9F/-13C.  This is by far the coldest it has been here since we bought this condo five years ago.  The normal December temperatures on Hilton Head are highs of 62F/17C and lows of 42F/5.5F.  It has been cloudy, rainy and raw here for several days.  Planned tennis for Carol has been cancelled three days in a row.  Everyone is complaining about the weather, including us.  We have, of course, all become wimps.  Carol checked the weather for Lake Forest.  Tomorrow the high will be 0F and the low -8F.  Wind chill will be -23 to -34.  

I donate to the Netherland’s Bach Society and just received from them a Christmas gift which I would like to share with you.


A few days ago I came across a somewhat different view of Christmas in a poem written by Thomas Hardy six years after what was then still known as The Great War.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Hilton Head Island; guardian angels; feel; wakes

 I doubt you ever expected to see guardian angels in this journal, and your expectations were correct.  I do not believe in angels of any variety, and even if they existed, I do not believe I am deserving of a guardian one.

Yet when I consider my life, a strong case could be made that I have had a guardian angel.  I have come so close to dying so many times.   Sometimes of my own doing,  But often not.  

I am not going to repeat the survival stories that appear in my other writings, but there were countless other instants of which I have not written in which I came close to dying.  As I have written:  Almost dying is a hard way to make a living.  In truth I did not push limits to make a living, but to be myself. 

And there is the timing that brought Carol and me together in the only narrow window in which we could have met and for months feasted on one another.

I don’t have any conclusion to reach from this.

I have through whatever strength and intelligence I was given at birth, and chance, grown old, which presents problems I never anticipated.

I very much need to go to sea.  To enter the monastery of the sea.

You would think not having had a ‘real job’ for almost fifty years, that would be easy, but it isn’t. 

In this part of the world the hurricane season blocks many months and there are holidays to spend with Carol, and deliveries, and other mundane interruptions.  I have hopes for March of next year.  

That I re-enter the monastery of the sea  is of great importance to me.  I must.

I read that the Internet does great harm in amplifying false information.  I have no social media accounts or experiences myself, so my knowledge is only second hand.  An example is the report that after the Saudi Arabia upset of Argentina in the group stage of the World Cup each Saudi player was going to be given a Rolls Royce worth $450,000.  This was picked up and published by many newspapers and “news services”.  I put news services in quotes because the only basis for this was social media posts.  No Saudi official ever said this was true, and it was not.

On the other side of the Internet I am grateful that it enables me to know you, most of whom I will never meet in person.  I hope I enrich your lives.  I know that many of you enrich mine.  An example being that Kent, of his and Audrey’s Armada, mentioning a book by Nathaniel Philbrick, SECOND WIND.

I have read and enjoyed many of Philbrick’s books, but did not know of this one, which is about his returning to racing Sunfish in what he considers his middle age.  He was a former North American champion in the class. 

I have no interest in racing.  Often I get emails that have a variation of, “I sail, but of course I have not done anything comparable to you.”  And a couple of days ago, after at a request to relate my experiences while adrift when CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE was pitchpoled in the South Pacific, a woman friend who is leading an usual life said, “I feel like a wimp.”

This might be the most egotistical statement that you will ever hear, but I am not competing with any of you or anyone else on this planet.  I have ever only competed against myself.  And I don’t know whether I have won or lost.  And I never will.

To go back to Nathaniel Philbrick, he is good at the sailing he does, which is very different from the sailing I do.  Here is an excellent passage from the book about feel.


 I hope to meet Kent and Audrey sometime.  It is unlikely I will ever met Victor who lives in Chile, though I would like to.  He is a sailor and has made me aware of Spanish language poets I did not know.  I thank him for that.  I wish I spoke and could read Spanish.  Growing uo in the Midwest when I did, Spanish was not even thought of.  I took Latin in high school and French in college.  Yet now Spanish is the second language in the United States, and the first in parts, and I like a lot of Spanish music and wish I understood the words.

Victor sent me a link to a music video of a song based on a poem by Antonio Machado, “Caminante, no hay camino”.  I think Victor is a kindred spirit.

Here is a link to the video:  https://youtu.be/RyZZ1ZFUuvM 

And here is a translation of the lyrics in English.

Countless times I have looked back at the vanishing wake of my boat and thought how quickly I have passed without a trace.

A poem written forty-one years ago:

I like to believe that I am more than a once pretty face.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Hilton Head Island: celebrity and Pitcairn Island; two poems

The recent Senate race in neighboring Georgia caused me to consider the all-powerful place of celebrity in our society.  A video about Pitcairn Island suggested to me by James, for which I thank him, has too,

Mark Twain said that there is not native criminal class in the United States--except Congress, so it is difficult to say with certainty that one of the candidates in the Georgia race was the least qualified person ever to run for Senate election, but surely he is a contender.  A member of his own party said they would have done better to have run a child.  He had nothing going for him except that he was once an exceptional football player, and still he got almost half the votes.

Pitcairn Island is also noteworthy only because it is a celebrity, made famous by the mutiny on the BOUNTY and subsequent books and movies about it.  There is nothing intrinsically significant about the island.

James asked if I had ever been there.  I have not.  As you can see in the video there is no harbor and no anchorage.  Ships hover offshore and the locals go out in longboats and bring supplies and people in.  Sailing alone I could not go ashore.  This is also true of Easter Island which does have a very marginal tiny harbor into which I would not try to enter even with a boat as small and as maneuverable as GANNET.

I enjoyed the video, although it is an incomplete portrayal of life on the island.  Among other things it does not mention that all but one of the mutineers died within a few years of arriving on the island or the conviction in recent years of several of their male descendants for sexual offenses against underage girls.

Polynesians reached the island as seemingly they did every speck of land in the Pacific Ocean more than a thousand years before the BOUNTY mutineers.  The video shows rock art dating back then.  Wisely the Polynesians decided Pitcairn was not viable.

After I wrote of Han Shan writing his poems on rocks and trees, Pat in Australia emailed about the Aboriginal rock art on that continent dating back millennia.  Such art is found many places in the world and may be the earliest and longest surviving art of all.

There are now about fifty permanent residents on Pitcairn.  Their administrative headquarters are in Auckland, New Zealand.  I don't think they should be forced to leave, but I also think they should receive no subsidies.  I am not impressed by celebrity. 

Here is a link to the video:  watch

I had enough Walt Whitman and switched to Thomas Hardy, whose collected works, including all his novels and poems cost me many years ago all of $2.99 in a Kindle edition.  Hardy was as far as I know the only writer in the English language to have been both a great novelist and a great poet.  I am reading the last book of poetry he published, WINTER WORDS IN VARIOUS MOODS AND METERS.  Here are two, one ironic, one saddening.

The photo was taken at sea during the GANNET voyage, bur I don't remember in what ocean.

Friday, December 9, 2022


The greatest day in history is, of course, my birthday, oddly celebrated with unusual perspicacity twenty-three years before I was born.  It also happens to be the title of an excellent book by Nicolas Best about the final week of what we now call World War 1.

Best understands, as some academics do not, that history is the story of individuals, not trends or labels or movements artificially imposed on often chaotic events, and he relates that final week of madness through individuals, both in the trenches and at home in many parts of the world, some then famous, some who would become famous, and some who were not.  

I found the book fascinating throughout and learned a great deal I did not know.  That Belgian civilians castrated German stragglers as their army disintegrated at the end.  That many, including General Pershing in command of the American forces, were against the armistice because he and they believed the war should be continued until unconditional surrender which was only days away, otherwise Germans would be told their army had never been defeated in the field, but had been betrayed by politicians, and another war would have to be fought.  That many careerist army officers who wanted their records to show how aggressive they were ordered senseless attacks up to the very last minute.  The Western Front saw 10,944 casualties on November 11, including 2,738 dead.  What ironic tragedy to have died in those last eleven hours.

An email from Alan has resulted in my watch now displaying latitude and longitude in degrees, minutes and seconds.  He wrote that in two photos he has seen of Apple Watch Ultras latitude and longitude were shown that way.  This caused me again to search the settings.  When I did I found under Compass Grid System a cryptic list:  DMS; Decimal Degrees; MGRS/USNG; UTM.  There was a check mark beside Decimal Degrees making it the default.  Alan’s acute observation led me to decipher DMS to stand for Degrees, Minutes, Seconds.  I checked that and it does.  

Curious about the other choices, I googled and discovered as those of you who were in the military already know, MGRS stands for Military Grid Reference System.  USNG is United States National Grid; and UTM is Universal Transverse Mercator.  I am happy with DMS. Thank you, Alan.

Monday, December 5, 2022

vbi: the new sextant: the Race to Alaska


I take some satisfaction in being among the last to have navigated with a sextant.  I still have one on GANNET—actually it is at present in the dock box—and I think it probably a good idea to know how to take a noon sight for latitude before going offshore.  But I don’t recall when I last took a sight.  Almost certainly it was more than thirty years ago.

Kent, of Audrey’s Armada, once asked how I would prepare a Drascombe Lugger for ocean passages differently now than I did in 1978.  An interesting question, at least to me.  Among other things I would not now have any paper charts on board or the Air Sight Reduction tables or a sack of books and I would be able to listen to music.  All thanks to technology.

I taught myself celestial navigation from books, just as I taught myself how to sail from books and then buying a boat and going out on San Francisco Bay and making mistakes—obviously none too serious—and correcting them.

I navigated by sextant for my first two circumnavigations, from 1974 to about 1985 when I bought what was called a Sat-Nav unit.  If I remember correctly there were not many satellites and they provided a position only every hour or so.  

I bought my first GPS unit in 1991 for my fiftieth birthday as Jill and I were preparing to sail RESURGAM from Auckland around Cape Horn to Punta del Este, Uruguay.  It was a handheld unit made by Sony and cost $2000.  I checked the inflation calculator and find that would now be $4,376.  My word!

As many of you know on the GANNET circumnavigation I navigated by iPhone.  Now, with the exception of displaying electronic charts, I can navigate by glancing at my wrist.

Above is an Apple Watch Ultra.  More rugged than the standard Apple watches, it also has more precise GPS.  It is highly customizable.  The face I use Apple calls Wayfinder.  In addition to the time—how prosaic—it has eight of what Apple calls complications.  I have configured the four outer ones starting in the upper left:  day and date; battery life; start an activity; wind speed and direction.  This last is not measured by the watch, but comes via cellular from the watch itself or a nearby iPhone.  The first ring is a compass.  By default this displays magnetic, but you can change that to true, which I have done.  As you can see the inner ring, which Apple calls the bezel, displays latitude and longitude.  That can be switched to altitude.  Inside the bezel, from the top mine shows heading, to the right air temperature which is not measured by the watch but comes over cellular, touching the icon at the bottom brings up the list of waypoints, and touching the one to the left starts a measurement of heart beat.  Mine remains satisfactorily in the 40s at rest as it long has been.  During workouts I sometimes see numbers in the 120s and rarely 130.  At my age an optimum maximum heart beat is 139.  

On the right side of the watch, not visible in this photo, is what Apple calls the Activity Button.  I have mine programmed to create a waypoint.  Thus I could press the button at noon creating a waypoint, give it a name, and then the following noon check the waypoint list and see the day’s run.  However, the watch is set up with hikers in mind not sailors and gives distances in statute miles.

Apple has an input page and I have suggested that they create a sailing activity which offers the option to show latitude and longitude in degrees and minutes rather than degrees and decimals as it now does; an option to display speed and distances in nautical miles; and a page that displays COG and SOG.  iSailor has an Apple watch app that does display these, but it only works when the iSailor app is open on the iPhone.  That is not necessary.  The watch has the sensors itself.

The Apple Watch Ultra is relatively expensive.  Compared to my first handheld GPS it is a huge bargain.

At Sailing Anarchy I saw a link to the trailer for a film about the Race to Alaska.


I rented it from Amazon Prime.  I found it an interesting and entertaining view of a different part of the sailing world than mine.  You might, too.