I am trying to dance with the wind. At the helm, it is the middle of the night, and though I have the light of a moon just past the full, it is getting dark. Clouds are rolling in. They might mean a shift in the wind, backing or veering, and an increase in speed, and I am standing with my neck craned all the way back, peering up at the barely-visible flag, trying to judge if the wind is changing, and where I should steer to keep the sails full.
There’s one way of looking at sailing, the way I too often fall into, which is that the ship is a series of clever mechanisms for turning wind into propulsion–purchase blocks, ropes, sails trimmed with exactitude to airplane-wing shape. And that there is one right heading and trimming of sails which will produce the best results, given any defined set of wind and swell conditions. This is treating sailing like a math problem.
But sailing is not math, not regular or predictable, no more than life is. Like astronavigation, there is math involved, but the basis, the foundation is all guesswork, pretending the earth is flat, and having a good feeling about the sextant reading you just took. The first mate, Anne-Flore, talks to me about trying to find the rhythm of each maneuver, the flow of how people move about the deck, meshing with the movement of the wind as we bring the ship through the wind on a tack, for example. It’s a dance, I can see. Each of us moves like the wind, unpredictably but with a certain grace, and the trick to being a good leader, as the trick to being a good sailor, is to work with that energy, and catch it at the most graceful moment. This is sailing–the ship is a thing of muscles and breath and wings. To pay attention to the maneuver in this way is to be where I am, to live where I find myself.
How wonderful, to feel that the world is real, and that I belong to it! I am a part of the place where I am, just as much as the wind and the waves, the stars and the clouds. I too often block the world around me, filter it through a screen which sits on a desk and, in the words of Wendell Berry, « obscures the place where it is. » I place barriers between myself and the real world, of computer screen or even book page, instead of living where I am, in my surroundings. I am trying to learn to dance with the wind instead, to feel it on my face and lean into it, to watch the swell and feel it move me as I sway with it. To listen to the ship, how she reacts to the wind, rudder, or waves. I will not truly learn sailing from a book or a screen, no matter how much they can teach me, for all they do is obscure the place they are in, this place, the place where I am, out here smack in the middle of the Atlantic with my sailwings and rainclouds and moonlight. Dancing.
While I’m not particularly attached to a certain religion where a god is involved, and while I
don’t particularly believe in something, I apparently do have a certain idea of the feeling of
Of course heaven can just refer to anyone’s ultimate dream so in that case it doesn’t
matter if you’re religious or not. But anyways, this morning I was wondering if heaven would
feel something like this. A complete serene surrounding, all this water kept itself so quiet and
almost dissolved in the sky. And then the sunrise came. A forest of clouds being on fire on the horizon.
Sea and skycovered in copper glaze.
While we humans are out there in society, running around, talking, working, worrying, this is
just here all the time. Everyday the sun rises to give us another day over and over again.
Even if we don’t look at it, it’s there. This is of course an idea philosophers have been
questioning, but at least it was the feeling it gave me: This is just here all the time, so
big and endless. It is no one’s property and we have the privilege to look at it.
Then the sun was completely visible and that was when the intensity and brightness of the
light that was all around us, made me wonder about heaven. It’s not that this is my ultimate
dream in the sense that I never want to leave again. Because if we stay drifting around here
like we do, we will run out of food at some point and we will end up eating banana peals with
marmite and we’ll never reach the other side of the ocean.
But if my heaven could have this
serenity, endlessness and peace, that would be a great basis to spend the rest of eternity.
50 miles in the northeast Cabo Verde, steady trade winds.
1st fish : small dorada coryphene. Since few days nights are quite. Sounds of little waves, sails flaps sometimes downwind, windmills turning, barometer tic tac, banging pan in the galley. The moon is very bright now, she shines the rigging, what a beautiful picture: black, white & grey, straits lines, curves & shadow, green red lights. Photographers an drawers could be charmed by the scenery. Close your eyes face toward the sky, let the 24 degrees cool breeze sweep gently your hair as a caress. Your legs are now following the movement of the ship naturally and you know already about a breakfast with banana bread. Yes it’s official, unlimited consumption of the gold’s treasure.
Inspired by an awful book in the open sea.
On the way of travel I met few vagabonds with luggage plenty of anecdotes. I am remembering those, ripples marks on the face as an alive stone which you can find, by chance, on the beach away of any civilisation. You look at the outlines of this part of the rock revealing details, stories in peace, doesn’t matter how deep or big are the scares. You listen to them attentively, you stave wide-eyed in front of humbles story-tellers on a sailing vessel deck. Theirs blows are like an infinity poem flow and we are becoming a tall ship wearing many open sails, gliding over the whisper of the foam.
They are somewhere far away at sea or hidden in an old stone house on a mountain, you are not running after them, never. Gipsies are not this kind of people you are planning to meet. Just a warm dreaming restless wave.
So, about this awful book. I advice you to throw it over board ( as I did yesterday) any books who’s talking about the worst sadness, scared, heavy weight of family tradition… If you want to use your holiday watch as a proper rest and quite sleep (for the focs’tle people), it’s useless to bring it in your stuff. I kept only the last page because she’s the only one ( in 436 pages) positive & full of hope. Well, the past is already done and we can inspire ours life from that, the present is now: the wheel is waiting the next watch team and tomorrow is a new dawn, is a new day, a new life and I’m feeling good ( dixit Nina Simone).
first mate Anne-Flore
It is a strange day for the Sint this year.
He started working with all his gear:
Pieten, pepernoten, presents and horse,
Making the same route on the regular course.
But in the house of van Assem something was wrong.
There was one person not playing along.
She appeared to be on a sailing ship,
On a eight month Fairtransport cargo trip.
So no Sinterklaas for her this time,
In stead a weblog story in rhyme.
Sint sent Piet to have a look at this boat,
But he couldn’t quite get there on only the road.
At this time they were already at the Atlatic seas,
Almost halfway through there storage of cheese.
Piet visited on a quiet day,
And immediately he felt that he wanted to stay.
The sea was a smooth silky blanket all around,
The quiet only disturbed by peaceful boat sound.
Anne-Flore always looking always sails trimming,
The water so clear that you could see the fish swimming.
The just-not-caught dorado is driving us crazy.
The fish is too smart or maybe too lazy.
With their bright colours and their grumpy look,
We can see them swim beside the hook.
We thought we found the perfect purpose,
For all these cans we have in surplus.
They do swim around with their mouth open wide,
But the pieces of cat food they leave on the side.
Then two weeks later the moment is finally there:
Two bright fish for us, not more then fair.
From La Palma on to where we are now,
Was supposed to take us three days Genau.
Instead we’re out here already for more then two weeks,
Down to our very last pumpkins and leeks.
We’ll be at sea for quite a while longer,
But don’t worry it’ll only make us stronger.
We have to be stricter on water and food,
In three weeks fresh stuff will taste ever so good.
We brought enough supplies to spare,
And Waka-Waka has 30 pairs of underwear!
German speakers and Americans are well represented,
But despite that fact we’re all still contented.
The miracle of nature shows us fish that can fly!
It’s really true, I’m not telling a lie.
Lots of dolphins we see all the time,
You would not believe how it still is sublime.
A little word from the cook to let the family know,
About daily life, about how things go:
From the galley comes an amazing smell,
I handle the hungry and talking mouths quite well.
And while the oven doesn’t want to stay lit,
I’m learning to live with the nickname peach pit…
I’m using bananas every meal,
Don’t waste a thing, that is the deal.
If you eat five per day,
The sixth is for free to take away.
What we didn’t bring with us, it’s sad but it’s true,
Is still laying around in 72…
If you lose track of us and don’t see us no more,
Then follow the banana peel track, back to the shore.
The routine at sea, no land in sight,
Nothing is left us then to grow more tight.
I know everyone’s taste, what they put on their bread,
What they wear, what they read or what they do instead.
Thanks to Lis who helped me rhyme not in Dutch,
Writing, shushing the teapot, O this woman knows so much.
Piet thanks the crew for his wonderful stay,
He’ll tell Sint everything right away.
I hope at home you’re all squeezed together,
On mam’s red couch hiding from the weather.
All the grandchildren on grandma’s lap,
Little Mingus might be having his nap.
Leaves me nothing more than wishing you all,
A loving Sinterklaasfeest this fall (eh.. winter).
« There are still a few old sailing vessels laid up in various odd corners of the world, but most of them have been idle for a long time with their gear rapidly deteriorating. It is not likely that they will ever be recommissioned to stave off the inevitable day when the beautiful sailing ship, for trading purposes, is a thing of the past and only a memory to those who suffered many hardships and discomforts but loved her just the same. »
This I found in a book entrusted to us in Brixham. Toni, skipper and artist (and Brixham legend), told us that it would provide hours of reading, on the long night watches of the crossing, and he was right. « Shipping Wonders of the World, Volume 2, » now sits among our pilot books in the charthouse, and I think every one of us has at one point or another picked it up to flip through. Or, really, set it down to flip through–the book is huge. The article I found that quote in was all about the last great sailing cargo ships, and the decline of sail cargo as engines took over. Of course, the author’s glumly romantic prediction has not, in fact, come to pass, and reading it aboard the Tres Hombres is particularly ironic. « It is not likely, » he says, that cargo sail will ever be resurrected, and that it is inevitable that the beautiful sailing ships will become « a thing of the past. » I look up from this sentence to go trim the foresail sheets, passing by our cargo hatch on the way.
But what thrills we get from that phrase, « a thing of the past! » The dying out of greatness, the passing away of some beautiful thing, they fill us with a sense of melancholy longing for a past most of us never knew, and may not have ever existed. We raven the romance of the lost hope, the dying star. Our books and movies are full of this sweet remembrance, like the flowers we send to a funeral instead of attending ourselves.
What is it about watching or hearing about the end of something that satisfies us so? It is romantic–utterly romantic to feel the ebb tug at our heartstrings of something ending. It sweeps our minds away into pleasant fantasies of what the past was like–how much better it was, how much simpler, or grander, or more beautiful. « A time when men were men! » for example. Bittersweet, we call it, as though the sweet would not be so sweet without the bitter.
But I can’t help but feel that there is something insidious in our love of this kind of romance. A kind of laziness, perhaps, that creeps in around the corners and says « Ah, at last. That was hard work that now we can safely say is over. We can lay those burdens down and go back to sleep, to dream maybe of past glories, but never to do the hard work again. » Perhaps this is part of what is so satisfying to us about stories of the Last Great this or Final Stand of that. We have all the pleasure of contemplating those great acts or noble things, and none of the daily grind of maintaining them.
Because sail cargo, while utterly romantic and still a dead notion to most people (if they think of it at all), is in actual practice a lot of work. It’s a grind, tacking from the Canaries to the Cape Verdes, searching for the trade winds we hope will appear, « sometime before the food runs out, » we joke. It’s wearing to the senses and the spirit to drift, windless, north over ground we fought so hard for every degree south on. And even when the wind is good, and the rigging is humming and the wind turbines are whirring away happily, there is little romance in leaving your soft bed at four in the morning to stand your turn at the wheel, fighting a nasty cross swell and watching the squall you know will drench you creep up from behind. There’s nothing pleasant or noble about spilling dirty dishwater down your pants, or getting tar in your hair for the third consecutive day. The railing must be scrubbed again, though your back aches still from the time before, and the fresh paint of yesterday was ruined by the waves under the railing in the night. But you get up and scrub and sand and paint again, because the boat has got to be held together, however you do it. You put chafe gear on the foreshrouds for the third time this trip, hoping that this time it will hold longer. You do what must be done, because giving up, giving in, is to surrender to the insidious romance of « things of the past. »
Give me instead the romance of the plain quotidian! The daily washing of cups and pumping of the bilge, the constant upkeep of the rigging as we wear through miles of marlin and gallons of tar, inch by inch, and drop by drop. Give me the coffee break daily, that someone must remember and prepare, though it is not a grand deed, and far from exciting. Give me the small words and smiles that build frienships, the late-night conversations and learning to work together with all different personalities. When considered from up close, there is little romance in these things, in the actual maintenance of a true sailing cargo ship. But it is, in the end, far better I think to keep going than to give up, no matter how nice and restful the giving up would be. Just because something is hard or ignoble doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. And the beauty of sail cargo is not lessened by the fact that it has not fulfilled the prediction of Clarence Winchester, writing just after World War II. It has not passed away with other glorious things we remember with a sweet ache–our childhoods, the old-growth forests of the world, life before advertising. Instead we cling doggedly to life, and others now come alongside Fairtransport to help shoulder the burden. Perhaps even some of those ships Clarence talked about, mouldering away in shipyards in various corners of the world, will soon be refit and put once more to use, carrying goods across the oceans on wings of canvas, not clouds of pollution. That is romance enough for me.
Deckhand, Elisabeth, Nov 27, 2017
White beaches, black beauties and 4 Banks for 10 Barbadian, this is the best deal of the island…but there is more…the slow food movement with Julie and Ian who brought us interesting and committed company onboard as well as fine goodies from their own produce, locally grown with permaculture techniques, thanks tor Erle from Trinidad who is the leading hand there. The crew had a nice tour about the project, thanks again for that, and we have the freshest salads in the Caribbean…
But more grows her and will be brought back to the old world…organic hot sauce made of local spices and for sure: the rum from Richard Seale, aged gently in the old Foursquare distillery on the southeast of the island. This impressive old plantation uses the original english style pot still distilling in huge copper ketels, next to two great columns which give excellent results in converting molasses to a crystal clean spirit which tastes fine even at 80%, coming out of the tap….
This time we brought our own Port Wine casks directly from Porto and after emptying the rest of Port in there….Richard filled them with a rum which was distilled back in 2005… lets see what arrives in Amsterdam jejeje.
Oja, the race…as every year we started for the Round the Island race but this time the t’gallant yard was still on deck when our hot competitor, the sailing schooner Ruth passed the startline. Bending the sail, hoisting the yard and connecting sheets and clews took until midday but then we went off…after tacking to the start we had a fine breeze on flat water which made her fly along the coast at 9 kn with a relaxed racing crew onboard. At the north tip of the island we met Ruth who was coming back and so we also found a quiet anchorage, which was badly needed after the 200 decibel party boats cruising about Carlisle Bay until 8 in the morning…
Now underway to Marie Galante, no stop at Dominica this time due to the regulations of small minded people in hyper bureaucratic countries where even a sailing ship without engine has to arrive at a certain time… We will see, now we go for more rum but then in the French style, directly squeezed, fermented and distilled from the sugar cane….Rhum Bielle, what do you have for us this time?
DATE: 13dec15 GMT: 1400 POS: anchored at Carlisle Bay, Barbados
GENERAL SYNOPSIS: ON BOARD THE TRES HOMBRES
SEA TEMP:28ºC (have you ever swim in a soup ? )
AIR TEMP:32ºC (sorry for ours Europeans fellows, but it’s true and in ten o clock)
AIR PRES:1016 hPa
Shout the Captain to the Bosun,
the command to drop the 300 kg anchor
fast on a 10kg per meter chain
50 meters in a water
enough to hold fast this beautiful island
For the first time,
the Tres Hombres will bring back Barbados’ Rum
the Rum’ original island
After 3 weeks across the Atlantic
After 7 hours spent in a custom office over air conditioned
We inspect the quality of our new cargo
Yes we are responsible professional cargo sailors 🙂
As usually, we jumped into clear and blue water of course
From the TopSail yard for the bravest pirate
Our little sailing dinghy turning around the Tres
We already enjoy the fruits from the Island
Papaya, Mango, bananas ( hurray, some fresh one) , coconut
avocado, and many others that only our cook new the names
All the best from the other side (of the Atlantic)
picture: © jdr / Fairtransport
Having another awesome day provisioning with help from slowfood Barbados and local organic farmers. Cooking the upcomming week is going to be easy and so much fun, lekker!!!!