Another America's Cup summer looms on the horizon, raising again that perennial insuperable question that so tortures racing sailors: how the heck do we get laypeople interested in our sport? These days the default answer is super-fast boats and TV-friendly race formats, which certainly are attractive to sailors, even slowpoke cruisers like myself. But this sort of excitement, I fear, flies over the heads of most people who are not inherently interested in sailing. A much more successful formula is to focus instead on personalities. Look back at those moments in America's Cup history that have truly bubbled up into the mass consciousness, and you'll note they have all revolved around interesting people--Dennis Conner fighting to redeem himself after losing the Cup in 1983; Ted Turner talking trash back in the 1970s; Sir Thomas Lipton playing the lovable loser throughout the early 20th century.
Sailors may have trouble comprehending this, but writers certainly don't. Which, I assume, is why Julian Guthrie, in her soon-to-be-released book on the most recent history of the Auld Mug, The Billionaire And The Mechanic, tries her darnedest to make a hero out of Larry Ellison. It says something of her ability as a writer that she almost succeeds in doing so.
WHEN IT CAME TIME to leave Dakar, I found we were, almost literally, hanging by a thread. I had anchored Crazy Horse, my Alberg 35 yawl, on about 100 feet of three-strand nylon rope, plus there was a 30-foot chain leader. On hauling back all the rope, which I had to do by hand, as we had no windlass, I discovered the rode, just a few feet back from the chain, had almost chafed right through. Two strands were severed entirely; the third was cut in half.
On making this discovery I was, of course, both shocked and relieved. Something down there clearly liked to chew on rope, and I reckoned in only a few more hours it would have been done chewing on mine. At best we would have lost the anchor; at worst we might have lost the boat. I also couldn't help laughing: it seemed appropriate that we should escape the city by the skin of our teeth.
HERE'S A HOT STORY from the Where Are They Now Department that blew my mind a bit while I was cruising around in the Spanish Virgins last week. Spotted a feature in All At Sea, a local Caribbean sailing comic, by a young blonde rasta-looking dude about sailing 2,000 miles to windward from Vieques to Brazil in a converted wooden fishing smack with a pregnant wife and young son. Byline: Thomas Tangvald.
Yes, THAT Thomas Tangvald. Last known whereabouts (in my own mind, at least) was a reef on the east coast of Bonaire in 1991, where, at age 15, he eyewitnessed from a surfboard in the dark of night the crunchy death and destruction of his famous cruising dad, Peter Tangvald, and his little half-sister Carmen. Which, amazingly, was in fact the last in a triptych of awful tragedies that defined his childhood. Panel one being the eyewitnessing at age 3 of his own French mother Lydia being gunned down by pirates in the Sulu Sea. Panel two being the loss (at age 8) of his Chinese stepmother Ann (mother of Carmen), who got clubbed overboard by an errant boom during a transatlantic passage from the Canary Islands to Grenada.
OF ALL the supernatural entities we sailors must cope with while messing around on our boats none are more heartless than the dreaded Bilge Gods. As long as there have been bilges on boats, these evil spirits have been lurking down there, waiting patiently to consume any Very Important Object an innocent mariner might temporarily hold in his or her hand. Even if you are on deck, or at the very top of your mast, as far from the bilge as you can possibly get, it is a scientifically proven fact that all you need do is let slip your grip on a VIO for but an instant and somehow it will end up in the hands of these greedy gremlins.
THE SKY TO THE SOUTH as we sailed away from the island of Gomera looked bruised and hazy, as though the blue had been sucked out of it by some meteorological vampire. By this time, November of 1996, I had been cruising full-time and living aboard Crazy Horse, my Pearson Alberg 35 yawl, for almost a year and a half. I had sailed three times across the North Atlantic--twice as crew on other people's boats four years earlier, and once again as master of Crazy Horse after I left New England and headed east for Europe the year before. For several months I had felt competent, confident even, as we cruised Portugal, Spain, Madeira, and the Canary Islands at our leisure. But now, heading south from the Canaries toward our next destination, I felt a cold stone of uncertainty growing within me.
Africa! The very name conjured thoughts of the unknown and the unknowable. In the two years since I had acquired my boat I had sailed in familiar waters, voyaging to places I had been before, or places close to places I had been before, where I knew what to expect, what might go wrong, and how to set things right again. Now, at last, I was wandering on to charts that were alien to me, and I felt as though I was stepping off a cliff into a void.
Big confession here: I have read little of Carleton Mitchell's writing. I was always familiar, of course, with his enormous reputation--three consecutive Bermuda Race wins, etc.--but I never bothered to study any of his seven books until he died at the ripe old age of 96 in the summer of 2007. On learning of his demise, I ordered a copy of Islands to Windward, his first book, published in 1948, which documents an extended cruise of the Caribbean he made aboard Carib, a 46-foot Alden ketch, shortly after World War II. The photos were nice, but I wasn't very impressed with the writing, much of which seemed like dated travelogue stuff. Vaguely interesting, perhaps, if you had visited some of the same places and were curious to see how much they had changed, but not very compelling in itself.
This summer I spotted a copy of Passage East, Mitchell's account of the 1952 Transatlantic Race, in a used-book store and picked it up on a whim. It has been a while since I was so immediately enthralled by a book about sailing. Though its format is shopworn and predictable--a present-tense logbook-style narrative of a long ocean passage--Mitchell's prose is so engaging and evocative I got sucked right into it.
I first met the Neale family--Tom, his wife Mel, and their two young daughters, Melanie and Carolyn--in November 1993 on the Virginia shore in Chesapeake Bay. I was sailing south with Nim Marsh, then a once-and-future editor at Cruising World magazine, aboard his boat Breakaway, a Bristol 29, and he was anxious to visit the Neales, who were aboard their Gulfstar 47 Chez Nous, preparing to embark on their annual pilgrimage from the Chesapeake to the Bahamas. I remember pulling into an anchorage past the marina where Chez Nous was docked and running aground in a tricky channel. Nim was frantic and declared we had to get off before Tom had a chance to come over in his dinghy to help us out.
"If he has to pull us off, I'll never hear the end of it," he insisted.
You never saw two guys set an anchor and kedge a boat off a shoal so fast in your life.
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Offshore Passage Opportunities
Attainable Adventure Cruising
Blue Planet Times
Father & Son Sailing
Cruising Sailor's BB
Good Old Boat
North American Sailor
Liz Clark and the Voyage of Swell
Onboard with Mark Corke
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