A map that everyone can understand

Marquesas Islands

French Polynesia’s Marquesas Islands in the Pacific Ocean.  An island group so small, in relation to the bigger picture, that when you zoom in to see the islands, their relation to the rest of the world disappears, and they sit surrounded by a screen of blue…

This delightful image reminds me of this excerpt from Lewis Carrol’s The Hunting of The Snark (a poem that every sailor should read and possess a copy of, on board):

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best–
A perfect and absolute blank!”

On a bigger map, these islands of myth and legend, beloved of sailors, dreamers, and an ailing, suffering Paul Gauguin, apparently sit—wonderfully, unimaginably—isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At this scale, they disappear—words, shapes, everything—from the map, completely, and we have to rely on Google’s red balloon to determine their existence.

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In the poetic imagination, The Marquesas are so remote from the rest of the world, that when Paul Gauguin—plagued by all sorts of illnesses, going blind, abandoned by his vahines, and dependent on laudanum and morphine to ease his suffering—told his art-collector friend (and, later, biographer), George Daniel de Monfreid, that he wished to return to Europe, Monfreid dissuaded him:

In returning you will risk damaging that process of incubation which is taking place in the public’s appreciation of you. At present you are a unique and legendary artist, sending to us from the remote South Seas disconcerting and inimitable works which are the definitive creations of a great man who, in a way, has already gone from this world. Your enemies – and like all who upset the mediocrities you have many enemies – are silent; but they dare not attack you, do not even think of it. You are so far away. You should not return… You are already as unassailable as all the great dead; you already belong to the history of art.

 — George Daniel Monfreid, Letter to Paul Gauguin circa October 1902

Kris finally got through the Panama Canal on the 17th of September, after countless leads, agents, options, fly-by-night freight carriers and whatnot… and he did not even spend a whole day on the other side…

Eager to finally make his way back home, he weighed anchor the same evening. His first stop, The Marquesas…

As remote as they are, The Marquesas signify, happily for me, the slow but dogged approach of my Beloved.

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Shipwrecks and Sand Shoals

Wreck of The MazaruniSome snapshots of the M/V Mazaruni wreck along the banks of the Essequibo…
Wreck of The Mazaruni

And the creek behind the shipwreck, a quiet, shady winding waterway where we spotted boa constrictors in the water, and powder blue morpho butterflies.
Gabriel's Creek
Gabriel's Creek
Gabriel's Creek
Gabriel's Creek

We nearly became a shipwreck, ourselves, entering the Essequibo…we hit a sandy shoal as the tide was going out, and had to sit leaning onto our side for 7 hours, waiting for the tide to come back in and float us free.
Guyana April12 In just two feet of fresh river water, we had the brilliant idea of jumping into the river and making use of the time having a wash, rinsing the accumulated salt from our deck, our dishes…I very nearly did the laundry, but the tide was coming back in by then.

It was a bizarre sight, this sailboat in the middle of that wide river, surrounded by water, walking around their boat, heads crowned with shampoo bubbles…

DSC_0489

Sextant navigation made simple(r)

manual titleJust before we left South Africa I asked Kris to teach me how to navigate using a sextant. We have a distrust of electronics on the boat (salt water and electronics do not love each other) because we have seen too many people rely on these gadgets, and then flounder when the gadgets malfunctioned.

Besides, there is romance in navigating using an old-fashioned sextant that modern-day GPS’s don’t seem to possess. As one sailor we met put it, what is these days referred to as “the science of astronavigation” was, once upon a time, called “the art of atronavigation”. We’ll take the art over the technology, anytime.

Kris has only ever navigated using a sextant and an accurate timepiece, and when we are sailing he uses it every day, so he’s got the operation of this beautiful piece of equipment down to a simple and functional process. When he was trying to teach me how to use it he wrote a short manual, because lots of other people have expressed the desire to learn from him, and he hasn’t got the time to sit with them all. So we’ve fixed this file up, added a few diagrams and some (admittedly poor photographs of) pages of a nautical almanac to assist with the equations, and it’s up for sale as a PDF file in my ETSY shop.

fig 1 sextant schem

A lot of people ask me to teach them sextant navigation. While the actual process is simple and easy, to become a confident navigator requires time and practice. I’ve seen so many people discouraged by the technical jargon used to explain celestial mechanics, that I have decided to write a simple how-to manual, leaving out anything that is not essential. You do not really need to understand the underlying spherical geometry to become a proficient navigator. If it takes your fancy, you can fill in the gaps later, but in the 1970ies when I learned the sextant myself, most skippers just did the trick without bothering about the theory, and it still worked.

The only mathematics involved in this manual are addition and subtraction of angles…6th grade algebra. The first man to circumnavigate the globe using a sextant and reliable clock, Captain James Cook, only had two years of formal education. When he joined the Navy at the age of 12 he could barely read and write…roughly the equivalent of a High School Certificate, these days.

I will assume that you are familiar with the concepts of latitude and longitude; namely that the Equator is designated as zero degrees of latitude, the North Pole lies on latitude 90° north and the South Pole is on 90° south.

Sections included in this manual:

  • Introducing the Sextant
  • The Nautical Almanac
  • Latitude
  • Longitude
  • Position Line
  • Finding Your Position and Some Dirty Tricks

19 pages, with 15 illustrations/figures.

landfall

i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

I came home last Wednesday night to the best thing possible: four long letters from Kris in my Inbox! Forty-five days after leaving Darwin, he was in Pemba, Mozambique.

My heart is singing, morning and night.

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Don’t let go of that thread…

what ships are built for

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

Besides my creative life (which keeps me sane and relevant to myself) there is only Kris, really. Everything and everyone else can fall away and I might suffer a period of regret or pain or loss, but I would get over it quicker and with less trauma than you’d expect, because he stands opposite the sorrow, and balances me out. He is my ball of thread: that wonderful fairytale device that the heroine lets unwind before her, and that leads her through the world. I was an insufferable goose when he met me…I owe him for who I am today. He gave me both the space I needed to open fully, and a scrupulously honest mirror with which to see myself. And because I wanted so much to be worthy of him, I pushed to go beyond the garden-variety mediocrity of my early self.

Today he set sail for South Africa…a dream that’s been in the works for two years. When he gets there, and as soon as I’ve tied up a few of my loose ends here (two exhibitions, and my citizenship, basically), I will fly to catch up with him in either Durban or Brazil (depends on how long my loose ends take).

So my lover, my greatest teacher and my best friend all left together on one sailboat. The ball of thread is out of sight, and stretching ominously. The pull to be with him is tremendous. Things that I thought were important, last month, or felt I couldn’t possibly leave undone, suddenly seem like so much insignificant mucking around. Over the next few months I will slowly cut myself free of the ties here, and let him reel me in.

I didn’t get any pictures of Kris leaving, this time, so have re-used some shots from two years ago, taken the morning he left for S.E.Asia (he was gone four months).

swallowed by the fog

He was intentionally vague about his departure…didn’t want any parties, last minute well-wishers, or the generally curious trying to catch up for one last handshake, lame joke, or to ask the same dozen questions he has answered, over and over again, since he first built his steel Chinese-junk-rigged sailboat and started sailing around without the usual engine, GPS, EPIRB, digital charts, radio, solar panels, water-maker, or toilet. As you can imagine, some people find it hard to grapple with that, or with the idea of man at the mercy of the sea and no thing to rely upon but himself. But getting away from mankind is what attracted Kris to sailing, in the first place, and he goes out there to be alone with the great ineffable force that some call The Universe, Being, or God.

On his Monsoon Dervish website, Kris bids you all farewell:

“I’ll be turning 60 later this year. I’ve been working for a living for the past 40 years and I am tired of working. Humans are the only animals who work for a living. All other creatures live for a living. And I still have five years to go till my old age pension. I have decided I am going sailing for those five years. I will live for a living, like all other creatures in the world.”

Bon voyage, my love, and I’ll see you in Durban…or Paraiba!

Sea pangs

An old friend dropped in on the Sonofagun yesterday. We haven’t seen Warwick Hill for years…and learned that he’s been very busy, living a very adventurous, high-energy life, and that he and his partner, TJ, have been filming all their experiences at sea. I’ve just watched the DVD of their latest documentary, No Fixed Address, this morning. Twice in a row. I loved it. Going to get a few copies, now, for other friends who live on boats and dream of sailing after a life of adventure and freedom and beautiful coastlines.

The following two videos are just short teasers, covering two separate adventures that Warwick, TJ, and their Indonesian-built perahu, Oelin, had…but they’ll give you an idea of what the full-length documentary is like:

No Fixed Address is available from Warwick and TJ’s website, www.oelin.com, either as a DVD or an mp4 download.

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