MANY PEOPLE recall the pleasure of an annual sailing vacation by inviting their friends around to view their video recordings. But long before video became obtainable, 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 experienced 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, coffee stains 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 quicker than 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.
Our memories are card indexes — consulted, and then put back in disorder by authorities whom we do not control.
— Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave
“Doctor, my husband has a dreadful temperature.”
“What is it, exactly?”
“It’s about 150 degrees.”
“Okay, give him two aspirins and call the fire brigade.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for another Mainly about Boats column.)