November 10, 2010

Just a slight panic

SAILING A SMALL BOAT introduces many personal feelings and emotions that must be quite alien to the landlubber. When I sail out to sea, for example, there is always a sudden twinge of anxiety when the land disappears and I realize that my boat is alone on a very wide sea. There is always that sudden sense of worry, of disbelief that land exists anywhere.

No matter how many times I do that, the anxiety always appears on schedule. I feel it in the pit of my stomach until the physical routine of running the ship consumes me once again, and all fear is forgotten until the next landfall — when a different breed of concerns takes over.

There’s another feeling the landlubber will never experience either, and that’s the anxiety, verging on controlled panic, you experience when land should appear but doesn’t.

It happened to me once. After 16 days at sea I was approaching the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, specially chosen as my landfall because of its height and therefore its visibility from a great distance.

But when my calculations showed I was within sighting range, there was nothing but blue sea and sky. Hour after hour went by as I fussed with my navigation and did my sums over again and again. My alarm was contagious. My crew started to worry alongside me. Ten miles to go, and no St. Vincent.

With sinking feelings in our stomachs we wondered out loud. Could the compass be wrong? Were we completely lost? Was the sextant giving false readings? Was our chronometer acting up? Were the charts wrong? Did we have enough food and water to find some land somewhere, anywhere?

Five miles to go. Nothing. Had there been an earthquake? Had St. Vincent been blown off the face of the earth? If so, wouldn’t we see some trees and wreckage? Our minds, urged on by partially controlled panic, ran amok with logical reasons for our worrisome situation.

Suddenly there was a flash of light high up to starboard. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was sun reflecting off a car on a mountain road. We were about to run into St. Vincent. I was so startled, I automatically jibed and reversed our course.

In the next few minutes, the whole island revealed itself and we were, in fact, about four miles off, dead on course. Oh, what a relief. You can’t imagine our joy. The island had been hidden by a sea mist that had blended on the horizon to make one seamless view of the blue sea and sky. So much for the pilot books, and their tall tales of how far away St. Vincent is visible.

I have to tell you that we all felt physically drained after the gamut of emotions that had wracked our minds and stomachs for so many hours, so perhaps the landlubbers are, after all, quite happy to be spared that particular experience.

Today’s Thought
“We are lost!” the captain shouted,
As he staggered down the stairs.
-- James Thomas Fields, Ballad of the Tempest

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #118
Knots good and bad. A good knot has three important attributes:
1. It must hold fast under all conditions.
2. It must come apart easily when you want it to.
3. You must be able to make it automatically — that is, your finger muscles should retain a memory of the knot.
In addition, the best of knots can be tied or untied under strain.

“Who’s the gorgeous girl over there?”
“She’s the village belle.”
“How do you know?”
“She’s wringing her hands.”

1 comment:

Ken said...

Ain't that the truth!