Trip Reports

All Men Shall Be Sailors Until The Sea Shall Free Them (17-Oct-2002-13-15):
1:15 PM local time, Thursday, October 17 (1315 Oct. 17 UTC) 34 27 N 007 33 W. Temp. 77, Humidity 61%, Cloud Cover 100%. At sea off the northwest coast of Morocco.

Warm greetings from the crew of Maverick.

We departed Gibraltar about two hours before first light on Wednesday the 16th. Hardworking order clerks, forklift drivers, bookkeepers, truck drivers, pilots, and deliverymen in America, some of them no doubt Italian-American, French-American, Egyptian-American, and hedonistic-American, who had NOT been on vacation, had delivered our needed electronic parts to Gibraltar right on time. It's fine to travel all over the world but if you want to get something done, US residents are already in the right place. So now we had our HF radio and radar and autopilot back and we were all set to break something else. It's a bit of a puzzle getting through the Strait of Gibraltar, because you're looking for a weather window to take you down the coast of northern Africa, but it's forty miles of weird current, strong winds, and shipping traffic to get to the Atlantic from Gibraltar and they don't organize it so the right conditions out to sea coincide with the right conditions to get through the Strait. It's hella inconvenient.

Yet, defying most of the rules for the passage through the Strait so that we could avoid a gale at sea, the crew of Maverick managed with one little glitch to sort it out and pick our way through unscathed by using what we like to think of as dumb luck, but it really is our incredible mastery of the sea and its ways. The glitch occurred when the top swivel on the furler jammed. This gave us an excuse to sail into Tangier (or Tanger or Tangers or Tangiers) and have a look, at least from the anchorage, at the city. There, Mr. Shrode hauled the Captain up the mast, and with the use of a few magic potions and some of his best billingsgate, our end was achieved. By late afternoon we had doubled Cape Spartel, and were in the Atlantic Ocean proper.

We feel liberated to be in the Atlantic at last. Just as we had been surprised that the Red Sea was as pleasant as it was, we were surprised at our disappointment with the Med. Terrible sailing conditions, by which I mean lack of sailing conditions. Even though we covered two thousand miles, Mr. Shrode and the Captain do a lot more sailing in a normal summer at home than we did in the Med by a long shot, if you define sailing as operating a boat under wind power. Our experience, by the way, was not unusual, from what we hear. Of course, it could have been ugly, and some boats got into trouble. We especially felt bad for the charterers in the Aegean, who often have some aboard who are unaccustomed to sailing, and also a few boats we knew who had experienced some rough treatment in the same sea.

Fact is, Mr. Shrode and I like to be way out there on the main, far from a safe harbor or a sheltered bay, out where you get your sea legs and fall into the rhythm of an ocean passage and the next waypoint is a thousand miles away. If I could, I'd give you a good reason for it, but I'd have to have some idea of one myself, and the truth is I don't. There is the feeling that it's a terrifically foolish undertaking, if that distinguishes it from the normal pattern of life, and I don't know whether that makes it good or bad. I wrote a thing about the experience of being out to sea, quoting a lot of people of a literary bent whom I admire, and fantasized that the reader would in turn admire the Captain because he is sophisticated enough to admire them, but it was bunk. Then I wrote a thing about how what I wrote was bunk, and I decided that this new one was rot. Then I wrote one about how the one saying the first one was bunk was rot, and decided that that was rubbish as well.

Now not a few people have urged the Captain to, as they kindly put it, "Do some thinking" while out here and to unburden himself of the results in a journal to be shared by all. Apparently the idea is that, now that he is engaged in an activity where almost nothing is required of him, like sailing a small boat around the world, he will have little else with which to occupy himself but deep thinking on deep subjects, the choice of which they have generously left to him. The unflattering but well-intentioned suggestion, less subtle than the speakers might have hoped, that the Captain's general deportment shows to this point little evidence of having been forged at the blacksmithy of conscious thought, and it's about time he did something about it, is well taken. Nonetheless the Captain is disinclined to honor these requests, for the reasons that follow.

There are two general difficulties. One is distinguishing a deep thought from the other kind. The second is the transmission of it.

Suppose, for example, the Captain stands on the deck, as is his wont, and observes, "The sea is calm today." Does the reader feel that this is a deep thought, or a shallow one? Because the Captain is sorry to report that it's perfectly unclear to him which it might be. Is it a pedestrian observation about the estimated height of the waves, or have we here a theme found best discussed in the pages of Husserl? Even in the act of uttering this simple phrase, he himself will be quite uncertain whether it springs from shallow sensation or lofty pathos. To discover its source he may need to seek the help of a philosopher, a psychiatrist, or a clergyman. They won't know either.

But suppose he by some means solves the first problem and determines to his satisfaction that after all his thought it is quite objectively one or the other, that is, deep or shallow, and presents it guilelessly to the unwary listener for consideration. The reader has every right and in some cases the duty, does he not, to hold that, howsoever profound the Captain may sincerely believe his thought to be, it is really worthless prattle. And could this be unalterably rebutted? Or-- even more unsettling--quite the reverse: while the Captain may intend merely a brief analysis of sea state for fellow mariners, a reader may astonishingly declare, probably writing for the Times Literary Supplement, that the Captain is "our new Hemingway," who "with subtle irony, disparages any deep interpretation," but "in a simple sentence plumbs the furthest recesses of the abyss, revealing the vacuum of our empty dreams in a fresh and most exhilarating way." Nor could science prove this false. So you see the problem.

In consideration of the above and ever mindful of the good faith of his readers and his responsibility thereto, the Captain is reduced to weakly offering a favorite quote, by Archilocus, c. 680 BC, an obscure ancient, and his wish is that this will serve as a mackerel until a marlin is landed.

"The fox knows many things," goes the quote, "but the hedgehog knows one Great Thing."

This pithy piece of wisdom could without difficulty be adapted to our present circumstances, and the Captain has unselfishly taken the time from his busy day to do so. However, his exegesis would take us beyond the space allowed for the present dispatch, and so the naked saying itself must suffice and the interpretation may be left up to the quite substantial resources of the reader. If indeed this satisfies in a small way the longings of those seeking deep thoughts, they should of course feel free to accept it with the Captain's most humble compliments. Failing that, the Captain must, with somber regret, confess that in the main he is as unable as some have suspected for quite some time, and, he fears, will forever remain unable to confidently come forward with an offering equal to the task of fulfilling the great hope being thrust upon him by so many others-the hope that a thought he may find himself in possession of might be of some lasting, and general, value.


Bob Spinner reports that cork oaks are to be found in my own neighborhood, Marin County, California. I have a very complete botanical reference book for Marin, but it's not on the boat, so I can't determine whether the species is native, which would be cool, but it is very unlikely. He also found a grammatical error, which I prefer not to discuss.

We're back on boat email, so although I've been able to get to internet cafes while we were in the Med and answer correspondence personally, it will now be forwarded through Theresa and so I'll have to ask everyone to keep it short because of our limited air time. Please do write, though, to


To Norton: Thanks for the reference to your friend, whose services we'll need if we run afoul of the law in Morocco.

To Dave Healy: Great to hear from you and welcome aboard.

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