July 8, 2010

Charting old memories

(Read a new Mainly about Boats column here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.)

G. K. CHESTERTON the British writer, critic, and author of verse, essays, novels, and short stories once described how he evoked the emotions of a vacation by calling a cab, piling it up with luggage, and driving to the railway station. Then, having had his sensation, he drove home again.

Mr. Chesterton’s little eccentricity was harmless enough, certainly, but most sailors I know would get just as much in the way of belated emotional thrills by perusing the old paper charts of their favorite cruising grounds.

(Incidentally, perhaps I should be more careful about labeling Mr. Chesterton as eccentric. I have literally hundreds of paper charts stuffed under my marital bed and a nearby couch for wont of adequate stowage anywhere else in my home, and I find nothing eccentric about that. I have never owned a boat big enough to accommodate them all at one time. I admit that my dear wife has from time to time mentioned her unease with this arrangement, especially with regard to vacuuming under the bed and its attendant difficulties, but so far the word eccentric has not come into the equation.)

The thing is, paper charts, with their hand-drawn course lines, ancient annotations, recommendations, and warnings, are the magic carpets that whisk us away from the banalities of this careworn earth and transport us in the blink of an eyelid to sunny beaches, serene anchorages — and other less enticing places.

Nothing sends a frisson down my spine as quickly as the word “FOG!!” scrawled on the chart of the San Juan Channel, where, I now recall in the warmth and safety of my home, a Washington State ferry on a collision course with us was swallowed up in thick grey mist. I can laugh about it now, of course, smug in the knowledge that I took the right decision to keep out of his way. At the time, however, it was quite another matter and only the deep handprints I crushed into the varnished tiller bear the true testimony of my feelings then.

And there is my salt-stained chart of Cape Agulhas, criss-crossed with penciled bearings from that powerful lighthouse and the shaky words “Rounded at last.” Our joy at doubling Africa’s southernmost cape against storms and contrary winds comes flooding back — perhaps with even greater evocation than that which Mr. Chesterton managed to wrest from his piles of suitcases.

Today’s Thought
Our memories are card indexes—consulted, and then put back in disorder by authorities whom we do not control.
— Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #67
Engine air. Engine compartments need lots of cool, dry, clean air. Without blowers, the very minimum air vent area for natural ventilation is found by dividing engine horsepower by 3.3. The answer is in square inches.

“Doctor, my husband has a dreadful temperature.”
“What is it, exactly?”
“It’s about 150 degrees.”
“Then give him two aspirins and call the fire brigade.”


Unknown said...

Hey John,

Charts do indeed bring back memories and so did your blog. When I was reading about your FOG experience I was immediately transported back to the first time I had sailed around Isle Royale on Lake Superior. I was alone on my Montgomery 15 motoring out of Duncan Bay preparing to round the northwest point of the island when a fog bank swept over the island and engulfed me. Visibility dropped to about 30 yards. With my heart in my throat, I slowly crept towards the shore so that I could keep it within visual range off my starboard. The next hour was spent slowly creaping along constantly watching the shore shrouded in the mist, looking down into the clear water to judge the depth, and looking ahead for any telltale signs of rocks lurking just below the surface...I made it safely to the next anchorage without incident. One of the best things about memories such as these is the satisfaction one receives from knowing that they have faced and safely navigated these challenges. Thanks for reminding me of this and other great memories.


John Vigor said...

Hi John:

Yes, paper charts do bring back memories. It's a great advantage they have over electronic chart plotters. Every coffee stain and nail scratch tells a story.


John V.

Ken said...

What a great idea, I think I'll break out some old Imray Iolaire charts. The last time I talked to Don Street we both dove under an umbrella during a downpour in Falmouth Harbour, Raceweek 04

John Vigor said...

Mickey, just the mention of Don Street and Imray-Iolaire brings back instant memories of wonderful cruising in the BVI, Bequia, and Grenada. I can almost feel the silkiness of that lovely warm blue water. Wish we had some here.

John V.