Trip Reports

Been Such A Long Way Home (09-Aug-2002-23-00):
11:00 PM local time, Friday, August 9 (2000 August 9 UTC) 37 29 N 015 05 E. Temp. 82, Humidity 55%, Cloud Cover 0%. At a marina in Catania on the island of Sicily, Italy.

Warm greetings from the crew of Maverick.

There are those among our readership who were disappointed with our treatment of Ithaca last time. They were hoping for another of the Captain's nonpareil ventures into the world of literary criticism, but they got instead some simple geographical information. After all, our mission is not merely to report our physical whereabouts and the price of beer at local stores, but also to savor and celebrate with our readers the reveries that attend our endeavors. Chief among the critics was Dave Tolmie, whose passion for scholarly treatises on Greek literature is practically impossible to convey. So this one's for you, Dave.

Our adventure is an epic of grand proportions. There is no reason to soften this with a false humility, as our goals are, in the course of otherwise unexceptional lives, heroic, or at least that's what the guy who sold me the boat said. Note that I do not claim that we are heroic, or for that matter even competent. I merely point out that the voyage has a mythical resonance with many such adventures in literature, whether fictional or fact, and whether from Homer or from modern cruisers writing to Latitude 38. We all follow a mythology in our daily lives that may be described as heroic if we like, and we usually do. This, in part, was the message of Joyce's other Ulysses. The legends and stories we read inform our mundane trials and help us fill them with significance beyond the prosaic, and without them the crew of Maverick would never have, once upon a time, set sail on a mysterious voyage to unknown lands, battling sea monsters and pirates, searching for treasures, defending liberty and justice, and rescuing various damsels as we were taught to do by the Courageous and Woeful Knight of long ago and far, far away.

The Odyssey formed the pattern for the numberless tales of homecoming that have followed in western literature. The Captain's pick is a song by Garnett Mimms and the Enchanters, speaking of Don Quixote, called "Been Such a Long Way Home." It is my favorite song in the world, and that's saying something. In the song there has been a departure, an absence, and now there is a coming home. Here literature and the performing arts are able to represent what is more difficult in painting, sculpture, and architecture, and that is the passage of time together with a dénouement, a moment of closure and victory after a struggle. Music has the power to make the listener feel the separation and long for the return, leaving us spent at the moment of homecoming. Perhaps the greatest ending in music occurs at the finale of Shostakovich's Symphony #5, but Jerry Ragavoy, Billy Sherrill, and Phil Spector were able to create great drama in their three-minute songs. These often included a coda, that, after the iterations of verse and chorus, used the repetition of a phrase to build tension and then finally release it, just like what happens in Homer's Odyssey.

There was a bass player in San Diego named Pat Fitzpatrick, and he and I were insane about a particular guitar "chink, " or actually a double chink, that occurs just after the climax of "Been Such a Long Way Home," which was produced by Ragavoy. Towards the end of the tune, the band lingers on the five-chord, building the suspense that is the musical correlative of an anguished absence, and during this time the singer repeats in a call-and-response mantra, "been such a long way…" When the song finally resolves to the tonic, which is the one-chord, or "home" in harmony, Garnet Mimms sings the word "home." The release is so intense that the music seems to pause and take a breath, as if the song's own heart skips a beat, and in this space there's a "chink" from an otherwise unheard rhythm guitar player. Pat and I would listen to it over and over, convulsed in rapture, unless there's a hipper way to describe that.

When we meet Odysseus in the Iliad he is already a wily and toughened warrior; we don't learn of his young days at his home on Ithaca until the very end of the Odyssey. He is a relatively minor player in the first poem. Why didn't Homer choose to relate Agamemnon's voyage home, or that of Achilles, or Menalaus, or Nestor? Some of their return voyages were not so easy, either. My theory is that it is because Odysseus' return really was the worst, his separation from hearth and home the longest, and it became legendary.

The heroic thing about Odysseus is that he never doubts that it is worth it all to return. He is threatened not only by storms and disaster, but also by a dialectically counterbalanced temptation, the offer of eternal life and the protection, not to mention affection, of a goddess. What is it that makes it seem so clear to Odysseus that Penelope and home are worth more than Calypso and life everlasting? It is of a piece with the Greek culture that visualized the gods as inhabiting a different, though intertwined, part of the world from the mortals. "Moira" in Greek means "fate" but in the sense of "portion" or "place." The gods' place was on Olympus, and a man's was on earth. It was hubris for a mortal to aspire to the life of a god, and though many were tempted, Odysseus would not yield. He was never lost in this sense: he was certain where he wanted to go.

It is the belief that there is a home that can be struggled for and won that the existentialists ridiculed. Under the thrall of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, and wounded by two world wars, Heidegger and Sartre and Camus among others decided that the fate of humans was to never have a home on earth, and unlike the Christians, they disdained the one in heaven. Their views, in this reporter's opinion, provided a needed corrective but ignored the heroic in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. A simple-minded version became widely fashionable among the beau monde. Philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe, however, called the chic existentialists "wet behind the ears," which world-weary types would certainly not want made public. Perhaps this charge recalls an ancient suspicion that their sort of freewheeling anguish is based on vanity. At the very least we could raise the Platonic question, spoken to particularly in the Symposium, about the ultimate source of the intensity of emotion we can all feel at the resolution of the Odyssey, the Garnet Mimms song, or any other such story. If there is no home for humans, then why do we all feel so good when we get there? (The Freudian and Jungian answers to this question are the reverse of Plato's from a more mechanistic, but certainly not a more epistemologically consistent, Weltanschauung, and that's a word you don't get in your off-the-shelf sailing stories.) Odysseus wasn't troubled by ennui or angst, nor was Socrates. Somehow war and deprivation didn't shatter them. Who could say what the difference is between them and the intellectuals of the twentieth century? Odysseus never doubts there's a home to get to, and Socrates knows that somewhere there is a truth. Even if they doubted themselves, they would never have been persuaded that their quests were naive.

Throughout the Odyssey Homer is building the tension, vamping on the dominant seventh chord, stretching the bow tighter and tighter. We want Odysseus to return. Even after he arrives at Ithaca, Homer presents still more twists and turns before his hero is finally brought, with the reader, all the way back. And when, after his ten-year absence and all of his trials, he at last strings the bow of his youth and in a heartbeat sends the arrow home, straight and true, the most macho reader, Dave, can be forgiven if he bursts into tears.

Now that we have seen Ithaca it is easy to believe how much Odysseus must have thought it worth returning to, just as your reporter dreams about Theresa and the fragrance of the California Bay Laurels on a walk above Phoenix Lake. Soon we will sail through the Strait of Messina, by tradition the place of the feared Scylla and Charybdis of the Odyssey and to this day a hazardous bit of water, and the Captain will do his best to see that Mr. Shrode is not eaten. Even if we survive that, however, for the crew of Maverick, it's still such a long way home.


The huge McDonald's in Catania has a full bar.

With Bob Dylan's new look, that I just saw in a paper here in Italy, he bears a remarkable likeness to Richard Boone, aka Paladin.

The Corinth Canal measurements I gave are from a bridge on one end to a bridge on the other; but from the eastern breakwater to the western it's 3.3 nautical miles. I'll let our readers do the conversions.

Dennis Connor referred to the recent sinking of his America's Cup boat as a "small setback."

More than one reader has commented on the spellings of place names we use, which may conflict with ones you're used to. For example, Iles Marquises to the French are The Marquesas to us in the US, and we found five different spellings for the Bab Al Mandeb. Our Peloponnesus is the Greek Peloponnisos, nisos being the Greek word for island, which the Pelopon-nisos or -nesus is not. There's no easy answer to this problem, or at least one that occurs to me. Generally, we use the spelling on signs where we are, or the charts and pilots we have of the area, in deference to our local hosts and their way of doing things. But believe it or not, even within those materials, some of which are from the US and others from the various host countries, we may find conflicting spellings. Many of the places we travel to are too insignificant to be in the large National Geographic Atlas we have on board, or we could use that as a unifying reference. Mr. Mead may want to weigh in on this one.

To respond to some recent friendly criticisms of Maverick or her crew in Latitude 38 or 'Lectronic Latitude:

1) The fenders you see Maverick sporting on the website are there because the picture was taken about 30 seconds after we left our slip in Richmond, and is a real picture of our departure from home. We were not done coiling docklines and waving goodbye to the dignitaries and movie stars on shore.

2) The name "Maverick" may indeed be common, but it was the boat's name when I got her and I wouldn't recognize her by any other name.

3) A person wrote to Latitude criticizing the way we estimated the number of circumnavigators because we didn't take into account that people take different amounts of time to go around. But this is impossible. I can't go into great detail about this here but for starters, let's admit our estimate is a guess, but also that we can't figure out any other way to do it. You can't count people who are "on a circumnavigation" as many people change their plans or just don't make it. We haven't yet. People start from different parts of the world and some go around two or three times. Some take twenty years, some take two. There has to be some gate to go through so we can count boats and it can't be the Panama Canal because plenty of cruisers go through there to get to or from the Caribbean who have no intention of circumnavigating. But almost no one goes up the Red Sea or doubles the Cape of Good Hope without going all the way around, so we used estimates of those figures to get an idea.

Our friends on "Sam" took second in their division and fifth in fleet in the Pacific Cup, and they report the crew (three couples) are still friends, which may be even more amazing. Way to go!

As far as sailing stories from Maverick go, we're sorry to report that, in the Med, we mainly have been setting the autopilot and motoring from place to place, as there's been little wind, or too much, just like they tell you.

Next report [more or less] from this location: The Wandering Rock

Back to the Progress Chart | Back to Trip Reports
Progress ChartTrip ReportsPhoto GalleryAbout MaverickThe CrewGlossary & Technical Weather Check