| :30 PM local time, Friday, December 6 (2130 Dec. 6 UTC) 18 01 N 033 55 W.
Temp. 80, Humidity 67%, Cloud Cover 20%. Ninth day at sea.
Greetings from the crew of Maverick.
As planned, we turned right to 264 true at about 1100 on the 4th at 18
30N and 30 30W. We plotted a great circle route, or the GPS did, from there
to Carriacou, our intended landfall in Granada. But we've got gnomonic charts
so I did it on paper too. Then I got curious about how much difference there
is between a rhumb line and great circle route going east-to-west at this low
of a latitude, but although the GPS gives the distance for the great circle
route, I have no idea how to compute the distance of the rhumb-line course.
My brother would, cuz he's a math wiz with a PhD in, believe it or not, the
theory of knots, like bowlines, which is a part of topology. For a pursuit
that combines uselessness with extreme difficulty, this area is in a class by
itself. Alas, he's not aboard. But a fellow cruiser had a little navigation
computer that gave us the rhumb line distance, and after all the hoopla about
plotting the great circle route on a gnomonic chart, it turned out to be
about 12 miles longer than the great circle route. On a higher latitude going
east-to-west it would be important but to us it's next to useless. You'd be a
lot better off giving the time to looking for wind.
Even though the wind's been pretty light because of a low-pressure trough
that is shutting down the trades, it's been peachy out here. There are days
at sea when you just hold on, like the first few of this passage, but this
isn't one of them. Right now we're reaching at about six knots in ten knots
on the beam. Twilight tonight was pure Maxfield Parrish, with a silvery
crescent moon in Sagittarius illuminating fleecy tradewind clouds in a field
of stars. In the last couple of days we've had to get out the poles and
remember where all strings went, and today we had Luigi flying and were doing
seven knots on a mellow sea.
Yesterday we saw our first dolphins in the Atlantic, but they wouldn't come
and play. We were becalmed and just sitting there and they had about as much
interest in us as Britney does. We've seen dolphins ever since a week or two
out of San Francisco, as those who have been with us a while will remember.
We saw them in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, the Red Sea and the
Mediterranean, and even in the Suez Canal. Their arrival still is the
occasion for calling the off-watch up if he is not asleep, and cannot help
but lift one's spirits.
About ten years ago Scientific American ran an article on dolphin
behavior. What had been observed was that dolphins (sorry, I don't remember
the species) would at times blow a string of bubbles and then, by swimming
past them and flipping their tails, create a circle by capturing the bubbles
in the vortex left behind. Over a period of time it became clear to the
scientists that while novices would produce irregular and unstable rings,
much like someone who blows his first smoke rings, as they became more
experienced they could reliably create almost perfect circles. The
researchers were occupied with the question of how this behavior related to
other known dolphin activities like mating, the establishment of territory,
and hunting. Having exhausted the possibilities after much observation, they
were forced to conclude the dolphins were just goofing off. Big deal, I do it
all the time, like right now. But there was another issue that seemed much
more peculiar to me, which is: How does a dolphin know what a circle is?
Of course, nobody knows, but the more interesting thing is that we don't
even know how humans know what a circle is. The question is the same one
raised by Plato in his superficially unassuming dialogue, Meno. In the Meno
Plato gives a demonstration of the question's mystery, in a scene unlike any
other in the history of philosophy. We meet Meno's slave boy, who has, like
the dolphins, no previous education in mathematics or geometry. To illustrate
a point, Socrates presents him with a geometric puzzle, one with a solution
that probably would not occur immediately to any of you reading this, even
those who stayed awake in geometry class in high school. With a little
prodding and questioning the slave boy arrives at the correct solution. This
seems to indicate that even though he had never heard of the solution before,
he had the knowledge somewhere in his mind, and just needed to remember it.
Much ink has been purchased to write criticisms of this demonstration,
attempting to prove that Socrates leads the boy to the answer rather than
eliciting it. Any math teacher, of course, prods his students to do the same
sort of thing every day. But this quibble is in any case irrelevant to the
larger metaphysical point of the story, which is that at some time in
history, some person had to be the first person to figure it out from
scratch, so obviously, he wasn't taught by anyone. How, or where, did he come
by the solution? This, along with the related question of whether the circle
represents something real in the universe or is just a projection of our
minds, is a fundamental issue of western philosophy. But it's the same as the
puzzle of the dolphins' rings, or at least close enough for this publication.
The two traditional schools of thought are empiricism, that we know
circles and the like through our senses, and rationalism, that somehow either
God or the universe or evolution has put the patterns in our heads and we
know them a priori, that is, before we ever look at anything, and this latter
one is what Socrates is trying to show. To save you the trouble of reading
all those boring books, the Captain will spill the beans and tell you that
after 2500 years, it would not be going too far to say that both theories
have come to dead ends. We don't know how we know mathematics, and we don't
know if mathematics represents the world. If the reader can offer any better
ideas, please submit them to email@example.com. On second thought, don't.
It would not surprise me if some of our readers suspected your correspondent
has gone all hocus-pocus on dolphins as intelligent, spiritual beings. But
even the Captain has some small remnants of shame. It's not so much the
dolphin's intelligence that is magic, but our own. Our understanding of
mathematics is kind of like clairvoyance, or foreknowledge sometimes of
events but more often of principles or mathematical objects, things that we
represent by little squiggles we thought up, that seem to govern the
universe. This knowledge is so familiar to us that we don't think it borders
on the supernatural, but the Pythagoreans who first discovered it understood
that it was. You could train a dog or a parrot or a dolphin to recognize
certain shapes. But it's something different when a dolphin, like Meno's
slave, comes up with a mathematically perfect structure on his own, like some
humans did a very long time ago.
So when I see them dive under the bow, I know we share a little secret. We
each know something that seems completely clear and obvious, and yet we don't
know how we know it.
Readers will not be surprised to find that this reporter bungled the story
about the man overboard in the ARC. The boat was a UK-flagged 51-footer with
a difficult name, and they ran into the same high winds and seas that
Maverick did. Before or during the mishap the boat became disabled and the
captain went overboard, tethered to the boat. His brother, the only crew,
could not get him out of the water before he drowned. Even when a boat
arrived to assist after many hours, the body was still in the water,
apparently because the brother was either physically or emotionally unable to
get it back aboard. That part must be true, however, since we were hailed
today on VHF by the nearby yacht "Mekeia," whose crew of four battled upwind
in 30-40 knots and twenty-foot seas to help, and we got the story from them.
The Hunter 45, also an ARC boat, that lost its rudder, was aided by the
"Tenacious," a square-rigger that I think is a sort of mothership for the
ARC. Tenacious has a machine shop on board that either repaired the old
rudder or fashioned a jury-rigged one. We had previously heard that the owner
had decided to scuttle the boat! Our friend on Otter, singlehander Brec,
opined that you could just sit on the boat for about forty days and it would
eventually get to the Caribbean. You've got electricity from the motor. In
fact, with Maverick's twin headsail rig we can just center the rudder and
leave it alone, if we're not too particular about our course. We'll go
downwind plenty fast. There are plenty of radio nets to contact to give your
situation to, and by the time you got there, it would not be much of a
problem to arrange a tow into a harbor. Easy for me to say, and anyway, it
didn't come to that.
It's hard to capture the size of waves in a photo, but I spent an hour or two
with the camera and came up with three that give a sense of how big the ones
were that we saw in last week's weather. When we get to an internet cafe I'll
try to get Mr. Eschliman to post them. [Tones!: Here they be
...along with a few other general at-sea shots. Enjoy!- TE]
PS to Jill: Although there is no solid evidence on who the early settlers to
the Canaries were, there is no shortage of speculation. The Vikings
themselves are an unlikely source of the first population, since they would
clearly have had iron and bronze tools and weapons, and would have had more
advanced dwellings than those found in the Canaries by the European explorers
of the 14th century. The islands were settled by at least 200 BC and the
Viking period begins at approximately 800 AD, a thousand years later. The
Celts were early enough, say 700 BC, but also had metal implements. The
builders of Stonehenge go far back enough, but even less is known about them
than the Canary islanders, known as the Guanches.
PS to Lance and Susie: The pictures are taken with a digital camera, saved
onto the laptop, edited in Photoshop, saved as small jpg files, put on a
floppy and attached to an email letter at an internet café. You need some
kind of photo manipulation program because you don't want to attach the huge
files from the camera and a small jpg will be good enough for a computer
screen. The image should be reduced to screen size. I'm almost always able to
compress the file size to under 100k.
Callsign is kg6eud. You might possibly find me on Trudy's net at 1300z on
21400, but I don't know how often I'll monitor it. They're looking for
maritime mobiles but it's no problem to check in and tell them you're looking
for us. Let me know when you'll checking and I'll try to listen in.