July 26, 2012

Lucky Bernard

EVERY NOW AND THEN I hear somebody praising the late Bernard Moitessier for his wonderful seamanship. They’ve usually just read one of his books and are smitten by his wonderfully carefree attitude toward life combined with his renowned boat-handling skill in heavy weather.

But it wasn’t always like this. I knew Bernard quite well when I was a schoolboy. I used to practice my schoolboy French on him, and he practiced his schoolboy English on me.

Although he became world-famous for his sailing exploits, he was a lousy sailor in some respects. He lost two of his boats on reefs after falling asleep, and he abandoned the most famous one of all, Joshua, on a beach in Mexico after he anchored too close inshore.

One of his favorite stories, told in his book The Long Way (Sheridan House), involves a large dose of sheer luck that was presented to him by a pod of porpoises.

Unbeknown to him, because he hadn’t checked his compass course, Joshua was being carried at 7 knots toward the rocks off mist-shrouded Stewart Island in the South Pacific.

Suddenly “a tight line of 25 porpoises swimming abreast goes from stern to stem on the starboard side, in three breaths, then the whole group veers right and rushes off at right angles, all the fins cutting through the water together and in the same breath taken on the fly.”

They did this more than 10 times before Moitessier understood their message, checked his compass, and turned Joshua to starboard onto a safe course.

Then something wonderful happened, he said.  A big black-and-white porpoise jumped high into the air and did a double forward somersault. “Three times he does his double roll, bursting with a tremendous joy, as if he were shouting to me and all the other porpoises: ‘The man understood that we were trying to tell him to sail to the right ... you understood ... you understood ... keep on like that, it’s all clear ahead!’”    

Moitessier seemed to have as much luck as skill, but I dare say he earned his luck one way or another and always had enough points piled up in his black box.

Today’s Thought
Diligence is the mother of good luck.
— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
(18) “Just leave it there, sir, and I’ll fetch the goldfish.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

KevinH said...

Perhaps too as in the case of golfer Gary Player who said, "The more I practise, the luckier I get." The more time you spend out there the more intuition and the more points in the black box.