22.12.06 – music and illusion at sea


ICosta015 just baked the 2 best loaves of bread in the known world. Photos have been taken. I’ve been sitting in the cockpit, well rugged up, fixing a pair of pliers and watching gadfly petrels swooping in our wake. Elegant little creatures with fast, stylish and purposeful flight. They swoop, soar and change direction unpredictably. They remind me of Rosie.

I awoke at 3 am from a strange dream about an Indian woman, a helicopter, Paula’s alcoholic brother-in-law, ship surveying and the Lane Cove River. Warm and comfortable. I can feel and hear the boat sailing well. Like a chest wall the hull invites auscultation – with gentle sailing a thousand discrete little adventitious sounds. As speed increases, their pitch rises and these murmurs become gentle tinkles and then combine with increasing urgency into a rush of white sound. The boat surges forward.

In the dark I grope forward into the saloon and open the main hatch. This moment is always confronting – the contrast between the warmth and security of our little cocoon and that cold black noisy other. Eyes accommodate and the shock subsides. In the cockpit I ease the main, dial in more lee helm for the Aries, and pull the vane off by 12 degrees. We’re sailing fast and comfortably. Time for coffee.

Then I notice a loom of whiteness 30 degrees on the starboard bow. Long and low. Astonished, I watch and watch. A long-liner or squid boat I suppose, fishing just below the horizon. I go below to call him on VHF. Another squiz has me wondering about an iceberg, so I opt first for radar. Put the kettle on while waiting for the radar magnetron to warm up. Nothing seen at 24 mile range. Back into the cockpit, I’m none the wiser. Coffee first then I’ll call them up, think I. Fifteen minutes later, this strange apparition has become the pale yellow light of dawn, peering out from beneath a band of cloud! It is 3 am indeed, but that’s because we’re still on NZDST.

I remember similarly futile radio calls I made to a ghostly ship in a past life – unsuccessful then also, because the vessel on that occasion was Balls Pyramid! Ah well.

Snugged down in the saloon with coffee, delicious, and a prophylactic hyoscine. The deceptive, at times almost childlike simplicity of Irene Nemirovsky’s prose lulls.

Back to sleep.

Later. I am nudged into consciousness by bright sunlight. The sky is cloudless and Dave doing laundry in a warm cockpit. Last of yesterday’s mix becomes the best ever pancakes to John Lee Hooker.

And still we romp along in the sun, 7.5 knots and on course. It won’t last, but what a joyous sail this is.

How lovely to hear Chris’ voice last night, a warm echo of the dream world beyond our little walnut shell.

There is nothing mythological about this ocean and I’m neither Odysseus nor Jason. Like the Don I tilt at windmills, but unlike him I wonder why, oh why am I doing this?

The early days were shitty but today golden shafts of sunlight dance in the cabin. The decks are dry and with the best ever bread just emerged from the oven and Andras Schiff playing Bach, how could I not be content?

 We’re leaping out into The Great Emptiness, 10 days out from NZ, with only 3,587 miles to go. Neither Dave nor I can contemplate the big South Pacific chart, which shows how meagre our efforts have been to date. Our horizon is 3 miles away and it is that which encapsulates our lovely boat. All else is fantasy, although Mr Schiff provokes warm memories of another world.

Time. Something funny is happening to it. Suspended, it is. Gone is the sense of progression, continuity. Instead there are these separate events which take it in turns to drop by for a visit. Reefing, unreefing, eating, sleeping. Like seizures, each is preceded by an aura – a quiet and deliberate cogitation. Hence thinking about going to the toilet before going to the toilet, thinking about coffee before making coffee, drinking coffee. The same goes for sleeping, eating, navigating, working on deck, reading. And the thinking can assume as much importance and take up as much space as the event itself. Is it a luxury or a way of filling in what used to be time?

Then the bread knockdown to Zigeunerbaron – ahh Rupie. 2nd proving of the dough to Hoffman act 4 evokes painful, sweet memories of the children entranced as Cotrubas sings her fatal, glorious affirmation of love.

And still we romp along in the sun, 7.5 knots and on course. It won’t last, but what a joyous sail this is.

I’ve been listening to the wonderful Act 3 Hoffman duet. In 1979 my father made a tape of it for me on Awatea – the tape he used was 2″ too short and the last 6 triumphant chords are replaced by a devastating click and silence. So often did I listen to that tape that I came to expect the cut-off – the same sort of dreadful anticipation which precedes King Mark’s entrance in Tristan. Now that I have the complete recording, iPodded and crystally stereophonic, Offenbach’s final chords and Mephistopheles’ cruel laughter are all there. I’d rather have my father any day. But if I can’t, then the full version of the duet is pretty fabulous.

I don’t know whether it was intentional, but I find I have iPodded on board heaps of musical cornerstones from my sisters’ and my collective childhoods – a wonderful Harnoncourt Gypsy Baron, Uncle Donnie’s best bits of Tannhauser, Joanie’s dichterliebe and the Mozart piano sonatas. Listening to all this stuff evokes warm, wonderful but exquisitely painful memories. They bring tears to the eyes and I don’t know what to do with the memories. Maybe it’s just Southern Ocean poltergeistery.

At the stern we have a steel structure supporting the solar panels. It provides much security when, perhaps unwisely, we go aft for a pee. It is called the Prostate Rail. There is a rough edge in the stainless tubing which produces a rich sequence of harmonic sounds. These vary according to wind strength. Sometimes I am reminded of Denis Brain playing a garden hosepipe, at others the ghostly music of the spheres.

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