29 June 2017

Twenty-first century sailing books

You will have noticed that I'm an old fogey: behind the times, out of date, on a different planet, even.  Maybe I always have been.

I ranted recently about Laura Dekka, but in fact she came right and finally stopped racing herself.  Good for her.  But why is this apparently so difficult?  The book I'm reading at the moment is by a bloke I actually know, and he's a great bloke with lots of Right Ideas.  However, I'm getting very irritated with him.  He's always wanted to do a long passage on his own.  Right?  He knows he will probably never do it again.  Right?  He is aware that the time is fleeting and that he should savour every minute of it.  Right?  Wrong.  At the moment, he is suffering temper tantrums and raving because there's not enough wind.  Worse - it's too hot and he has too little fuel to motor!  And his computer has died on him so he can't get his GRIB files!!  Horror of horrors.  He's in the Trade Wind zone: if he could get a forecast there would be nothing he could do about it, apart, perhaps, from having another breakdown.

And now he's worrying about his gas running out, so life has become, as he says, 'frugal' and he is measuring his water into the kettle to heat exactly what is required.  You mean he didn't do that before?  Surely every offshore sailor does this - if only to keep track of the water, let alone save fuel.  Isn't being frugal the watchword of the ocean sailor?

It's a while since I crossed an ocean, but I have done so many times and it was always a 'rule' that we didn't use our engine at sea.  Apart from anything else, the amount of fuel we carried was so little that the progress made would be negligible: just noise and heat for very little.  But much more to the point, the object of the exercise was to sail from A to B.  And, perhaps foolishly, I can think of no other reason to go on a sailing vessel from A to B unless you want to go sailing.  So I am totally bewildered.

What is wrong with these people?  You're on a sailing boat for heaven's sake, not a huge launch, not a ship.  You don't have a schedule: that's the whole point of undertaking great, long ocean crossings.  You are there to get from A to B under sail, using your wits, your skills and, above all, your patience, without which a sailor is nothing.  What's wrong with a quiet day on the ocean, going nowhere?  (Well of course the poor bugger has a bermudian rig, which is thrashing about whereas if he had a nice, junk rig, the sail would sit quietly, stopping the boat from rolling and ready and waiting for when the wind arrives.)  It gives you time to clean the galley properly; to go through the fresh supplies carefully; to (in his case) transfer fuel from the jerricans that he carries lashed to the guard rails in lubberly fashion; to have a leisurely sponge bath; to cook something a bit special; to lean over the side and watch the myriad tiny creatures in the sea (and mourn the plastic that comes past every few seconds); to sit in the cockpit with a glass of wine or beer and admire the clouds reflected in the sea and to reflect yourself, on the near-impossibilty that you are on this small boat, all alone in the middle of a vast ocean.

But does our hero do any of this?  No, he rants, he raves, he frets that he's not making any progress.  Well, buddy, some of the progress you could make is inside your head and this is being completely lost to this puerile obsession with needing to get there.  You have, quite simply, lost the plot.  And the tragedy of all this is that when you finally arrive at your destination, when you realise that it's all over, you will look back and want to weep at the opportunities you wasted, the energy you squandered on anger and frustration, the incredibly rare time for peace and contemplation you were offered and threw away.  Back in the futilely busy world of the twenty-first century, tweeting here and Facebooking there, complaining that you have no time you will regret for ever that when it was handed to you, dressed up in warmth, sunshine and quiet, you rejected it.

So sad.  So different from the books I read as a young woman, where people from (supposedly) far less busy lives and times, could relish the gift of being still and going nowhere.

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