Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
So I got an email from my mad South Pacific amigo Mike. I wrote about him in The Missing Cashbox and the Nguru Patrol, and he’s still going strong. His email, sent to a few of his saltier friends, said he was thinking about buying a sailboat that was up “on the hard”, meaning hauled out of the water, in Fiji.
Being a compassionate man, I moved quickly to forestall such abject lunacy as buying a boat. I wrote back and said I was duty bound to remind him of the first rule of swabby sailors the world over, men and women alike, which is:
If it floats, flies, or f-f-f-fornicates, rent it, don’t buy it!
But that felt unfinished, so to cover other eventualities I added:
However, as your friend I also have to consider the second rule of swabbies, which says
The best boat is your good buddy’s boat …
So although in good conscience I have to advise you not to buy it under any circumstances … in better conscience I also have to say that if you did buy it, I’d be glad to help sail it anywhere you care to name …
Alas, my earnest importunings were in vain, and despite my best efforts the fool went ahead and bought it. So as these things happen, I’m leaving my home in the hills where foxes walk across our yard towing their floating tails behind them and the deer keep our garden hedge trimmed … and I’m on my way to Fiji to help sail the ICE to Brisbane by way of New Caledonia. Hey, don’t blame me, the boat won’t sail itself! And since I’m going, let me invite you to join me in spirit on a South Pacific adventure, because in my experience they are among the best adventures this miraculous world has to offer.
Now, as you may have noticed above, I use a variety of Rules of Thumb in my life. They help keep me from going too far off the rails. My rule of thumb for oceanic passages is quite simple:
Expect the best, and plan for the worst.
One way that rule of thumb plays out for me is that I like to take my sextant along with me. GPS is nice and all, but I’ve been in storms where all the electronics died … like I said above, I’m not expecting that, but I sleep better with a sextant on board. I have to choose between two precision measurement tools. One is my Tamiya sextant in its venerable wooden box …
Either of them is capable of measuring visible angles to the nearest minute. A minute of angle in measuring the height of the sun is equal to a nautical mile on the surface, that’s 1.9 km … and a sextant fix is generally only good to the nearest five nautical miles or so, call it ten kilometres, due to various errors in the taking of the measurement. So the sextant is generally more accurate than our ability to take measurements from the pitching and rolling deck of a small boat.
I also got the current nautical almanac, along with the other needed books, Publication HO249 Vols. I (Selected Stars) and II (Latitude 0° – 40°). My friend Wally had a theory that a man should subtract his age from 90 degrees, and never sail further from the Equator than that … so I don’t plan to need Volume III.
I think I’ll have to figure out how to take the big sextant, though. It’s really hard to do star sights with the lifeboat sextant, because it has tiny mirrors. The sun is fairly easy to find in the sky with a sextant, because as you approach it in the mirror the sky gets brighter and brighter until you finally cross paths with it. The stars, on the other hand, float in unvarying velvet-black, so you need a big mirror to track them down. So I guess I’m looking at some work on the wooden box … the beat goes on.
Anyhow, that’s enough for Monday. I fly on Wednesday and arrive on Friday because of the International Date Line.
Tuesday evening … well, I got the sextant box all glued back together, and fixed the latch. And it wasn’t until after I took off the clamps that I realized that the delamination extended halfway round the top. Murphy never sleeps. So I did another round of gluing. It’s done now, as are most of the challenges that I wanted to finish before leaving. For me, oceanic passages are held together with endless lists, with things added to each list nearly as fast as they get knocked off. Yesterday I fired up the string trimmer and cut about a half-acre of grass around the house. Today I emptied the storage room and stowed the stuff away. I still have to vacuum the house and scrub the toilet, and track down and pack some long zip ties. And I need to beat the weight of my suitcase back down below the fifty pound limit, and some other things, but the list is getting shorter.
I’m immensely fortunate in that my gorgeous ex-fiancee has been totally supportive in my latest lunacy, just as she always has been. She knows that for most men worth their salt, somewhere inside there’s a rat that lives on adrenaline alone … and that from time to time a man’s gotta feed the rat, or it dies of boredom. And that’s a very ugly sight.
And besides which, she’s already sailed in a small sailboat from Fiji to New Caledonia and I haven’t even been to New Caledonia, much less sailed there, so it’s old news to her. I take my hat off to that good lady, she’s been a wonderful lifetime companion. I couldn’t begin to list the adventures we’ve had on the ocean, we’ve been in some rough weather, and we’ve sailed some tranquil seas. She’s been a hardy, upbeat, hard-working and adventurous shipmate in all climes, plus being a true sweetheart … how much more good fortune could a man have?
Nighttime. It’s been clouding up all day, another front coming in. They say that tomorrow the storm will blow through before the evening when I’m supposed to take off … it does feel like it’s rolling fast.
Wednesday … the storm front blew through early the morning and dumped a bit of rain. Now, it’s gone past and the air is washed sparkling. Here’s the view from the porch:
Every time I set out awandering like this, there’s always a point where I look around at my beloved hills and forest, and my own warm house and sweet bed, and that dear good lady, and I wonder why I’m going. Happened this morning, like clockwork. However, fortunately the fit usually doesn’t last too long, and I find that a session with the vacuum cleaner restores a man’s sanity remarkably fast …
In going through my book of lists this morning, I found something tucked into the back that I’d printed up thirty years ago, and that I’ve carried ever since, entitled “Tom O’Bedlam’s Song”. “Bedlam” is a corruption of “Bethlehem”, and refers to the hospital St. Mary of Bethlehem, an early insane asylum in London. So Tom O’Bedlam is Tom Of The Nuthouse … and having spent time in the nuthouse myself, I’ve always felt a great kinship with Tom. Here’s his song, at least as I heard it long hence:
With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander
With a sword of fire and a steed of air
Through the universe I wander
By a ghost of rags and patches
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world’s end
Methinks it is no journey
So that’s the plan—laid out by a madman, and impelled by a rat … what’s not to like? The toilet is scrubbed, the vacuum is stowed away. The sink is scoured, the spiderwebs gone from the corners of the rooms. I fly this evening. It’s early afternoon now with the Giants baseball game on, I’m doing final errands, so I’ll be online for a few hours. There’s wifi in LAX, I may be online later. If not … well, welcome aboard, we’re off to see what the poet called the “orderly clouds of the Trades, the ridged, roaring sapphire thereunder”.
Further reports from yr. ob’t correspondent to follow as time and the tides allow …