| 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,
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
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
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
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
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