You’d think after 20,000 nautical miles I’d be used to going to sea, but every time we leave the safety of inland waters or a secure harbour I’m full of low-level anxiety and trepidation. I consider that a good thing because it encourages us to go through our pre passage list again and again, checking that the rig is sound, that the dinghy is secured with additional lines, that everything is stowed properly, that our sea berth is set up comfortably, that we have easy food to eat, and so on. We missed one critical preparation, which we discovered while bouncing uncomfortably across the Southport Seaway bar and discovered we hadn’t taken off our deck level solar lights. We’d completely forgotten to reinstall our jack lines, the safety lines that run fore and aft on each side of the boat that we clip onto whenever we go out on deck underway. Oops. It will be impossible to get them secured properly in the choppy waves so we’ll just have to clip our tethers to deck fittings instead.
The wind was supposed to be easterly, a perfect angle for an overnight passage south to Coffs Harbour, but as usual, the weather people once again made only a stab in the dark and came up short. For the first eight hours or so we struggled to find a course and sail trim that maximized speed and minimized discomfort aboard. Line after line of squalls took the wind away or changed the direction of it, and my first night watch in months started out in exasperated futzing with the sails, turning the motor on and then off as the wind went from a useless 7-8 kts. to an acceptable 10-11 kts. but in the wrong direction. It’s times like this I wonder how I ever thought sailing was fun. To make matters worse, the boat we left with, a bigger monohull with much larger sail area, was miles ahead of us within hours.
Eventually, the wind settled into a steady direction I could work with, I trimmed the sails for comfort and speed, and with enough pressure to smooth out the ocean swell and wind waves, we started making serious headway toward our destination. At just that moment, a small hole opened up in the overcast sky and for the first time the sea was illuminated by a hazy moon.
The vision reminded me of the title page of this piece of music, written by my great-great uncle Theodore Boettger. As we passed the headlands, each lighthouse joined the moon in painting light over a sea that no longer shook Escape Velocity off her southward track, thanks to the steady breeze, now about 12-13 kts, and at EV’s favorite angle, just on the beam. The piece, published in 1873, consists of five pages of arpeggios.
I’ve never heard it. It’s beyond my ability to play, and I haven’t been able to convince anyone yet to try it. (Jack makes the generous offer of an official EV boatcard for anyone who will play it and post a recording we can listen to. He’s full of the spirit of giving for the holidays.)
I can’t help but think that regardless of what it sounds like, the undulating patterns of notes describe the motion of the ocean that we experience most days at sea. Occasionally we have more regular longer swells from behind, but more often than not we lurch and wobble with waves coming at us from two or three directions, making moving about onboard a funhouse dance.
At 1am I handed over command to Jack, who enjoyed another couple of hours of pleasant moonlit sailing before more squall lines and close encounters with passing ships interrupted the serenity of the night. I was aware even in sleep, as any short handed offwatch sailor is, of changes in sail trim, wind speed and course.
By dawn it was clear we’d arrive before nightfall, something that wasn’t guaranteed after our slow start the night before. Our wind direction luck held out for most of the day and after a final few hours of motorsailing we were able to pick up a mooring in Coffs Harbour four hours after our friends arrived. Not bad for our first overnighter in months.