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.

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