I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.
(John Masefield, "I must go down to the sea," verse 1)
Most people love the sea, which is why waterfront property is so expensive. A lot of us like to visit the sea on our vacations. I am definitely of that number.
So this year the Mayhem Consultant and I took our annual winter getaway on a week long yacht charter in the British Virgins. For years we've watched graceful sailboats cruising the Sir Francis Drake Channel through the Virgin Islands, so this year we decided to give it a try on the 45’ yacht Corus, which is owned and sailed by a British couple, Ann and Bill Hastert.
For a writer of historical novels, it was a fascinating and visceral education in what it must have been like to travel on sailing ships in the past. Mind you, we had a gourmet meals and a crew dedicated to giving us the kind of vacation we wanted. We had our own private cabin with bathroom ("head"), and choice of wines for lunch and dinner. (Ann in the galley, below.)
BUT–sailboats have tight quarters. I'm a short person, and I was still banging my head, knees, and other body parts all week. With a cockpit about 6' x 8'. there wasn't any walking room. (Though I was dropped off on little beaches so I could stretch my legs once a day.) When we were under sail–a couple of hours a day, from one island to another–the cockpit cushions were stowed below and we were sitting on hard teak benches and hanging on so we wouldn't go tumbling. (Getting a numb backside was one of the major downsides.)
The upside included masses of reading time (bliss!), and fun beach walks with sea dogs and flowers and diving pelicans. Just what I needed to recharge my batteries before staring to write Lost Lords #5.
It was an entry into a new world, with lots of sunshine and great food. A new world that was always moving in three dimensions, at least a little and sometimes a lot.
Luckily, the Mayhem Consultant and I are not prone to seasickness, but the Corus's movements could cause problems, like bashing into walls or pouring more wine than expected. (Sad, that. <G>)
Interestingly, though we weren’t seasick, we have found that ut took several days to fully regain our land legs. The ground underfoot felt like it might be about to move. Not a problem, just—interesting.
As a dedicated landlubber, this is all part of the adventure that I wanted to experience. One really becomes aware of the weather when on a sailboat. A line of squalls might sweep across the water, completely covering an island, then move on leaving rainbows in its wake. In the middle of the night, I'd hear rain falling and have to close the hatch and the little portholes so we wouldn't get rained on. Then open them again when the rain stopped and the cabin got stuffy. <G>
I learned the true meaning of “ship shape.” There is limited storage space, and if things aren’t properly stowed, the result was instant clutter, and possibly objects flying around the cabin as the boat rocks and rolls.
I learned about limited resources of electricity and water. The reading lights were very small, there was no real shower, and the V-shaped bed made me appreciate the sheer genius of a rectangular bed with a pillow top mattress. <G>
I learned something about simplicity. I've never gone shoeless for a week in my life, yet when I obeyed the ship rules and took off the sandals, I didn't miss them at all. I could have gone the whole week on one pair of shorts, a chambray shirt, a sun hat, and a hoody for evenings. (Though I did go for clean underwear every day. <G>) With only one mirror and that mostly above my eye level, I forgot about appearance and tangled hair. (And in fact, hair can go a lot longer without washing than one realizes. Another reminder of times past.)
(I should note that I didn’t care about my appearance then. But now that I’m home, I find the pictures taken of me on the Corus so alarming that no one is going to see them. <G>)
I also recognized that the sea is beautiful but unforgiving. Even in well traveled waters, meticulous attention is required for the weather, the seas, and the setting of the sails. Luckily, Bill and Ann are both certified captains and very experienced so we were in good hands.
The experience gave me much better insight into the long sailing journeys of the past, when it took weeks or months to reach a destination. I better understand how very alone and terrified one might feel at sea in a storm, and the patience and contemplation that sailing engenders.
Since I am not patient and my mind tends to run like a gerbil on a wheel, I am not cut out to be a sailor. But the experience was wonderful and enlightening, a real shower when I got home felt FABULOUS, and in the future, I'll write more heartfelt sailing scenes in my books. <G>
Returning once more to John Masefield’s lovely poem, verses 2 and 4:
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
I'm not that sort of true sailor. But I think I understand such folk better now.
Knowing the kind of readers Word Wenches attracts, I suspect that some of you have sailed single handed across the Atlantic. <G> What are your sailing experiences? And if you haven't sailed, would you like to?