2009

  

    A gibbous moon directly above the masthead illuminates THE HAWKE OF TUONELA’s white deck and white asymmetrical spinnaker as she slides across a dark sea.  We are three weeks and a day out of Panama.  Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands is a week and a day or two ahead. 

    I take a cup of tea and sit on deck.  I cherish these nights.  I’m 67 years old.  This is my fifth circumnavigation.  If there is ever a sixth, it will be in the Southern Ocean and via Cape Horn again.  One way or the other there won’t be that many more nights gliding before the trades. 

    Once when being interviewed I was asked what in one word sailing means to me, and my instant reply was, “Freedom.”

    I’ve wondered about that since then.  I am after all free enough on land.  I stopped working for other people and owing money in 1974.  But I never feel as free on land as I do at sea.

    Part of that freedom is escape.

    I grew up in a suburb of Saint Louis, and I didn’t want to be there.      My fellow Missourian, Mark Twain, said that all adventure begins with a book and with running away from home.  Mine certainly began with books, and Carol, my wife, says I am still running away from home.  That isn’t quite true.  Boats have been my home of choice during most of my adult life, and the time I spend ashore is the willing compromise I have made for love.

    Other than freedom from Missouri, sailing is freedom from the restrictions, regulations, and banal, ubiquitous ugliness of modern urban life.  Those restrictions and cluttered ugliness are always there; and they seem only to increase.  Beauty can be found in cities, but as isolated oases glimpsed between telephone poles, billboards, and graceless buildings.

    And sailing is freedom to.  To a world that is simple, direct, as beautiful as this soft night, uncompromising, and unsentimental. 

    The sea is not cruel or merciless.  The sea is insensate and indifferent.  It is what you make of it and of yourself.  A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind.  The sea is the canvas; a still, with a few exceptions, pristine canvas. 

    I love the beauty of the open ocean.  I love not hearing news of greedy financiers and self-serving politicians.  I love that the only sounds for the past three weeks have been the wind, and the water, and the music I have chosen to play.  I love feeling THE HAWKE OF TUONELA move in perfect balance through waves.  I love having the clear-cut responsibly for myself and my actions.

    Sailing across oceans is not always this easy.  Nor should it be.  I’ve been in Force 12 conditions more than a dozen times and put the mastheads of three of my boats, including this one, in the water.  I know the masthead was in the water because everything up there--the tricolor running light, the Windex, the instrument system wind transducer--was torn off.  

    To allay fears, all of these incidents except one took place in the Southern Ocean, and the exception was a cyclone in the Tasman Sea.  Avoid the tropical storm seasons and you can sail forever in the trade winds without ever encountering even Force 10.  But I do think that you should be willing to face a gale before you set off across an ocean.

    Sailing in the tropics is pleasant, but it isn’t enough for some.  The Southern Ocean has its own cold fierce beauty, with albatrosses whose wing spans equal the beam of this boat and jagged seascapes like mountain ranges.

    Long ago I wrote, “Define a man, then, by that against which he must strive.”  When I was young I looked around and saw that the biggest thing on this planet is the ocean.  So it has been that against which I have chosen to strive.

    That is perhaps the greatest of sailing’s freedoms:  the freedom to be myself.