March 23, 2010

You put your coffee where?

THE WOMAN WHO CUTS what’s left of my hair went to barber school. That makes her one of the boys, so it’s quite natural that she is interested in sailing around the world.

But she surprised me the other day by lending me a book by Bernard Moitessier, one of her sailing heroes. When I say “by Bernard Moitessier,” I should explain that it wasn’t by Bernard Moitessier in the normal author/publisher way. It was a book assembled after his death in 1994 by his self-styled “companion,” one of a string of females dear Bernard left wallowing in his wake. It’s called A Sea Vagabond’s World.

He was indeed a vagabond when I first befriended him. At least that what’s he called himself. The rest of us called him a seaborne Hippie, a bumbling, mystical doofus who couldn’t sail very well and who built boats (knowing hardly anything about boatbuilding) and promptly lost them through bad seamanship.

But this is heresy to my barber, bless her heart, who worships the very waves he sailed on, so I do my best to encourage her enthusiasm without revealing the facts that would shake her faith in this French guru of long-distance cruising.

And yet the facts are right there in this book she lent me. Moitessier always was infected with a slight case of the Tristan Jones syndrome. As an educated reader, you will know, of course that Tristan Jones suffered mightily from hyperbole and self-aggrandizement, to the extent that you could never know where the truth ended and the lies started. Dear old Bernard wasn’t in his league, but perhaps that wasn’t for want of trying.

For instance, in A Sea Vagabond’s World he tells starry-eyed barber girls how to exist on a tropical atoll. This, apparently, calls for plenty of garden compost, tropical atolls being notoriously short of the stuff. But luckily we all have it within ourselves to make compost. I quote:

“Make a chicken-wire cylinder, stand it on end, and fill it with minced leaves and stems and lots of chopped sea cucumbers, fish guts, kitchen scraps and other organic matter … Urine and excrement complete this mixture. I figured that on Poro Poro my family — two adults and one child — produced 50 to 80 gallons of human fertilizer a year.”

Now once your human-fertilizer compost heap is complete you have to leave it for a week, says Bernard, before “adding more sea cucumber, human waste, urine, and kitchen scraps.”

After that, things heat up, apparently. “A thermometer stuck into the heap would burst at 130 degrees.”

Now, if we wanted to we could pause here for a moment and ask why the heck a thermometer would burst at 130 degrees. That’s not very hot. However, intriguing as that question is, we should waste no time in hastening on to his next statement: “I’ve even used this amazing heat to brew myself a cup of instant coffee.”

Yeah, right, Bernard. You stuck your coffee cup into a pile of steaming human waste to warm it up? And then you drank it? Oh, sure. Of course you did.

I haven’t found out yet if my barber lady drinks instant coffee. I feel compelled to warn her not to use the Moitessier method but I don’t want to shatter her dream of settling on a compost-starved South Sea atoll. Damn you, Bernard, I knew from the moment I first set eyes on you that you would cause trouble wherever you go.

Today’s Thought
There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.
— John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #30
Chart table size. The minimum size for a chart table in even the smallest boat is 28 inches by 21 inches. Ideally, it should measure at least 42 inches by 28 inches, but not many of us can afford that luxury. Incidentally, 100 paper charts folded in the normal matter fill a chart drawer measuring 28 inches by 21 inches to a depth of two inches. If you’re like me and don’t have a chart drawer, you’ll find you can stow about 100 charts under the saloon cushions in three neat little piles on either side.

He who laughs last probably had to have the joke explained.

1 comment:

Aaron Headly said...

Peter Nichols didn't exactly hide his opinion of Moitessier's seamanship in A Voyage for Madmen either, but I figure that that book did more to boost the legend than anything the man himself wrote.

Your version of Bernard (in Small Boat to Freedom) was quite amusing to me, and filled in some of the things that Nichols seemed to elide.

Here, though, I'd like to defend the fantasy version of Bernard Moitessier for a second: His hippy-dippy 'purity' stuff has probably done as much to promote dreams of sailing as the Pardey partnership has. Particularly among people who have no family history of sailing. And barbers.

Happily, Lin and Larry are there to help people get from the dream stage to the actually-sailing stage, or Moitessier would have quite a few deceased or merely disillusioned sailors on his ledger.