Sailing On

Wednesday July 28 2010

There is no rest sailing into the night in high latitudes. Only a moment or two of catnap before the overwhelming urge to look overtakes me and I’m up peering into the darkness. It’s a different darkness, to my relief. It’s not the stark blackness of so many mid-watches I’ve spent staring into out the bridge windows of so many ships. Tonight there is a full moon and the near arctic twilight that will last all night. I search the horizon for ice bergs. Ice bergs I can avoid, but they give birth to bergy bits, hard, old and very low in the water. I avoid the icebergs to avoid their progeny. The wind is building from the south and I’m sailing 3 kts faster than I would like even with the headsail only a handkerchief and the mainsail at half mast. Worry about other vessels is the last thing on my mind but I look for them anyway. I look and look and look and when I can’t stand looking any longer, slip below, reset the alarm for 15 minutes and close my eyes. The process is repeated until the sun reveals the secrets of the sea and I can close my eyes for 30 minutes.
But with the rising sun comes the rising wind, 20 kts and higher in gust. Oh, but it’s from the South! By afternoon the seas are bent on proving the CAP’N LEM a better boat than I am sailor. I concede. First, we surf down the face of the wave but still it overtakes us and lifts the vessel to the crest, breaks around her, then stalls her on the back side to set her up for the next. 6 kts to 10 kts to 5 kts, 5 kts to 7 kts to 4 kts to 7 kts to 3.5 kts, the GPS is too accurate to give me true speed as we slip forward and slide back. I watch the position and figure the mile made against the time it took and it appears we are making 5.5 over the ground. That’s good with such small amount of sail presented to the wind.

Long ago I was privileged to read an original letter by Joseph Conrad on display at the Seaman’s Church Institute located in Lower Manhattan. In the letter Joseph Conrad wrote to a friend, “Any man can shorten sail after the gale starts to blow, but the master mariner shortens sail before!” (May not be the exact words but you get the point) I may never be known as a true Master Mariner, licenses be damned. I don’t care, I only wish to be remembered as a Cautious Mariner!

For a long time we make a lot of miles but there are currents to be dealt with on the north coast of Labrador and what had helped us in the morning now slowed us and stack the waves into 15′ mountains. (Mountains being a relative term to the size of vessel one finds themselves in). Still the CAP’N preformed admirably and the little auto pilot is a “Guitar Hero” never missing a lick these long sea-miles.

I think about the waves to come. Not the ones coming behind us, no, they just need to be accepted each in its turn. Its tomorrow’s waves! There is a gale coming. And coming from the wrong direction. I cry “Uncle” and start the search for an anchorage. I think I found one only 17 miles away in the fog… through lots of rocks and shoals…in bear country. Perfect!

Comments are closed.