Tales of ocean sailors' heroism has Jonty Pearce longing for the wide horizon, though on a more modest passage
Over the New Year break I have enjoyed armchair sailing. Nothing beats reading about wild sailing escapades whilst wedged snugly in your favourite armchair in front of a blazing open fire, sipping a glass of vintage port and nibbling a little Stilton. My chosen reading matter has been The Long Way by the remarkable Bernard Moitessier. While reading about knockdowns, monstrous seas, and Southern Ocean storms endured under triple-reefed sails I was glad to be safe and secure on dry land.
Yet his story unsettled me; while I have always considered myself a sailing coward whose greatest aspiration might be to sail round the British Isles, I found myself wondering what it would be like to face a series of 40ft seas and Force 9 gales. Moitessier’s boat Joshua, a steel long-keeled ketch, is far better suited to such conditions than my own GRP 35ft lifting-keel ketch, but even so to read the thoughts of such a mystical and natural seaman is humbling and makes me face my nautical inadequacy. Moitessier himself was greatly influenced by his Indochine upbringing that led him to a naturalist aesthetic stance: after rounding Cape Horn he chose to persist as a sailing hermit rather than heading northeast on the home run across the Atlantic to the race’s finish line and its associated publicity and materialism. He describes instead the need to ‘save his soul’ and being at one with his boat and nature; so he simply carried on past both Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin again, turning his stern to the civilised world until finally coming to a halt in Tahiti.
I don’t know why I feel so drawn to the Golden Globe single-handed round the world race; although plans are afoot to re-enact the challenge, adhering as closely as possible to the original specification and equipment level (meaning lack of it), I would never consider actually entering. Reading about it while armchair sailing – yes. Actually doing it – no, run away bravely. Yet I do understand Moitessier’s symbiotic conjunction with Joshua: the idea of being at one with one’s yacht without the trappings and stress of modern life is appealing. When out of sight of land it is easy to imagine it no longer exists – our world shrinks to the horizon.
My thoughts led me to the need to get back out to sea. I am ashamed that work pressures have meant that Carol and I have not even sailed out of The Heads at the entrance to Milford Haven this season. Our charter in Holland was wonderful, but there were always other craft nearby and a notable absence of open sea. No, I need to see an empty horizon as passage is made from behind to in front. The departure point and destination are irrelevant – it is the journey itself I crave.
How and when is uncertain. An Easter charter in Skye is unlikely to include any adequate passages. A May charter exploring both Shetland and Orkney is more hopeful, but a planned visit to slake our Scilly appetite is sure to deliver. Until then I have my pilot books to hand – their companionable chartlets and descriptive text will keep me sane until I am freed to let the wind blow me where it will. Dream on.