My wife, Sandra, and I have been
living aboard and cruising our 37 foot cutter, Mariposa, for
twelve years now and we are not about to quit. It's just that
our cruising style has changed, and this has led me to new insights.
What a bummer! Just when I've finally got it all figured out,
I discover something new.
You see, it's like this: For ten years we have been day-sailing
in the Caribbean. Of course, we've sailed overnight and have
even stayed out for several days at a time, but until we transited
the Panama Canal into the Pacific, our passage making consisted
of relatively short hops. I have often compared this type of
sailing with sporting events; we start out before daylight, beat
into building winds and seas until mid-afternoon, and then duck
behind a conveniently placed island for cocktails and dinner
in a placid anchorage. Battered and bruised from battle, we arrive
early to eat and relax in peace before resuming the fight on
the morrow. This is not so much a choice on my part as it is
simply the natural result of Eastern Caribbean geography. The
gem like islands lie in a tight little string. And it seems that
no matter what I plan, Mariposa is always beating, close hauled,
into gusty trades and steep, short-set seas. For years we have
thrilled to pounding into the swells with our lee rail buried
and the spray flying high like diamonds cast to the wind; hanging
on, squeezing, pushing, fighting for every degree of easting.
Like a wild pony ride, a Caribbean day-sail is rowdy, rollicking,
and fast. And of short duration.
But now things are different. Since we have joined the fellowship
of ocean cruisers, the sailing experience has changed
and this old dog is being forced to learn new tricks.
Mother Earth is a water planet. I have known this fact since
I was a kid in grammar school but today I understand it in my
heart. Mariposa is a life sustaining machine cut off from civilization.
We have food and shelter and plenty of air to breath but the
whole program hangs precariously balanced on the edge of disaster.
I don't mean this to sound overly dramatic or to imply that our
vessel is unsafe. But it has been my experience that, while at
sea, everything is copasetic right up until it is not. Then all
hell breaks loose. Although we make daily contact with humanity
via the SSB radio we are, like the astronauts, physically cut
Time becomes meaningless. We exist in the
centre of a blue disc and there is no visible proof of any forward
progress. Waves crash and hiss past our bow. Astern, the sea
boils in our wake. The boat pitches and rolls to the rhythm of
the sea but nothing moves past. We hang suspended in the exact
centre of a blue disc beneath a perfect dome of blue. We can
not reach the horizon ahead nor leave the one behind. Day after
day, and night after night, we are always in the centre. The
sun rears its arch across the sky and the moon follows, growing
brighter and then fading as the month grows old. In the inky
blackness of night the sea and sky become one and close in upon
us. We can sense no progress. Like the astronaut, the Blue Water
sailor has only his scientific marvels to assure him of his progress.
I find that I can not resist this comparison.
I remember the disappointment I felt watching John Glenn make
the first space walk. Our teacher had told us that he was orbiting
the earth at an astonishing thirty thousand miles an hour, but
when he threw open the hatch, nothing happened. Then we watched
as this bug-like figure haltingly crawled out into empty space.
No wind tore at his suit, and nothing flew by. Despite the assurances
of the scientists, we could perceive no forward motion. He just
hung there, suspended! For me, this is the essence of ocean sailing.
I am suspended in space and time; between
Heaven and the Deep Blue Sea. The tedious monotony of the unreachable
horizon is my daily bread. Every six hours we record our position
as established by the scientific marvel of GPS. The satellites
assure us that all is well. They insist that, against all sensual
perception, we are indeed moving ahead and on course. And I am
It was on passage from Tonga to New Zealand that I once again
found myself in a mind numbing haze of boredom. Unseen, North
Minerva Reef lay only a few miles to the south as a fiery red
dawn awoke. I surveyed my surroundings. Yup, everything looked
the way it always does; blue, wet, endless. Sandra was up and
making coffee in the galley as I begged off my final half hour
Hey, I called, how 'bout you come and relieve
me? I want to go to bed!
So go to bed, she shrugs.
O.K. Log us every thirty minutes 'till we're past the reef.
I'll leave a reef in the main. If we catch a squall, roll in
the jib and don't wake me. O.K?
Ay ay, Captain Bligh, she salutes as I stumble off
to the head. A moment later I'm asleep in the sea-birth.
I am beginning to suspect that there must
be some perverse cosmic law that requires unusual, exciting,
or dangerous events to occur whenever I'm trying to get some
sleep. The universe is consistent and so, of course, just as
I began to dream of space-walks and school rooms, I was startled
awake by Sandra's near panic shouting.
Dan, get up here quick! Hurry!
I rolled out of bed and flew up the companion-way steps to find
Sandra standing on the starboard cockpit bench, staring at something
in the water close astern.
Look! There! In our wake!
I spotted the marlin before she finished.
And not just any old marlin either. This was a monster! The huge
fish soared along as effortlessly as a sea bird riding a thermal.
With the sun overhead there was no reflection to obscure our
His navy back creased the surface while
his golden tipped tail fin protruded above the crystalline waves.
His peck-fins stood out like thin, sharp wings. Twice, he raised
and lowered his great dorsal fin before sliding aft into the
I grabbed my fishing rod from its stanchion mounted holder. Still
rigged from the previous days troll, I lowered the bait.
Don't catch him! Sandra begged
as I carefully fed out the line.
Catch him? Hell! I'm just going' to tease him up a little.
This rig 'ill never hold something that size.
Slowly, foot by foot, I played out the
line until the bait was trailing about ten feet astern. The giant
golden sickle of fin broke the surface like the periscope of
an attack sub. The monster shot forward as I frantically cranked
the handle of my Penn 60 high-speed reel. He stopped just short
of the bait skipping in the wake off our transom, and again faded
back. I fed out some more line. We watched in awe as the huge
fish charged again and slid off to ride along on our port quarter.
Look at this, will yah? He's so close I could spit on him
or harpoon the bastard!
With my hunter instinct at full alert,
I imagined myself standing on the gunnels, poised with a long
harpoon raised and ready to strike; the pivoting barb glinting
before the throw, the black nylon tag line threading through
the barb and along the tapered shaft to the feed bucket, my sturdy
mates standing by with clip-on bullet floats and fiery eyes awaiting
the fatal pitch. With a savage grunt I heave the lethal shaft.
The sea explodes in silver and crimson as the wounded beast dives.
One heavily gloved mate grabs the singing tag line while the
other clips on bullet-floats just ahead of his hands. Excited
yet cool, they play the fish. Back and forth the battle rages,
hauling in line and removing floats only to play them out again,
over and over, until the poor creature is hauled along side where
I stand ready with a stout gaff. Dipping the shaft beneath the
thrashing fish, I jerk it upwards and feel the blade edged hook
bite deep into his flesh.
Vanquished at last, the beautiful scarlet
streaming beast is unceremoniously hauled aboard, butchered,
and packed away in the ice hold. The hunters return to their
positions and resume the watch.
The colossal fish dives and I am roused
from my day-dream. Suddenly aware of the fact that I have neither
harpoon, nor hearty mates, nor ice hold, I shake off the fantasy
and return to my fishing rod. Again I lure my giant friend in
close. I have come to the realization that I will not catch this
fish; no matter how much I would like to. To hook him would be
to waste of good equipment and possibly damage a beautiful animal.
And with this realization comes a feeling of peace and love.
I want him to live and grow bigger, to be a king of beasts, to
live forever. At last tiring of the futile game we are playing
he disappears into the abyss, and I wish him well. I feel we
are friends. Sandra says something softly but I miss it.
What was that?
I said, 'this was a gift from God'.
I too am feeling reverent and blessed. Yah I agree,
This was indeed a gift. Wow!
Returning to the sea-birth, I replay the encounter over and over
until it's all mixed up with spaceships and other odd bits of
scrap memory, and I fall asleep.
So, there you have it. I start off talking
about the tedious nature of ocean sailing and before you know
it, I'm into some wonder of nature narrative. And
maybe this is the truest picture I can paint for you. It seems
that every time I find myself staring out to sea in some mind
numbing trance, something happens to awaken my sense of awe and
gratitude. Cruising is often difficult and sometimes dangerous
but, for me, the rewards have trivialized the hazards