Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Lat 55º 59’ S, Long 67º 12’ W

I may have mentioned in a previous post that my chronic sea fever started with big ideas about big boats. Nothing too extravagant (though I do remember being enamoured of something 65ft long at one point) but generally I thought that a boat from 35 to 42ft would suit me fine. I fancied a steel or aluminium craft and was continually drawn to rugged, hard-chined boats with fractional rigs, solar panels, and self-steering gear.

And, once I had my boat, I would set out on a circumnavigation—east about and passing south of the three stormy capes: Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn. I read all about the pioneers, the men that sailed out into the unknown; Magellan, Sebastian Elcano, Drake, Thomas Cavendish, William Dampier, Anson, Bouganville, Byron. Men that discovered the shape and form of our world; James Cook, Charles Wilkes and La Perouse, and then the modern circumnavigators, Slocum, Chichester and Knox-Johnson, Moitessier, the Smeetons and the Hiscocks, guzzling the details with the voracious appetite of a half-starved mariner.

While engaged in all this reading and dreaming I worked up a fascination for Cape Horn and any tale about those chilling, furious waters would have me gripped. For over a year I read books exclusively about the sea paying particular attention whenever the tale strayed to the southern latitudes. And as I rode, in a tatty tour bus, through the sparkling Catalan country side, from one sleepy provincial theatre to the next, the wind would be howling in my head, the sea rolling, monstrous waves steepening and the Horn’s distinctive profile looming in the northeast.

From the cover of Felix Riesenberg’s book Cape Horn I took a view of the Cape from the west and had it tattooed on my arm. The tattoo has served me well—whenever trouble’s been brewing, problems with family, work, money, threatening on the horizon, I have looked at my arm and thought of the Cape; a place where my petty woes would pale in an instant and be blown away with the spindrift.

Escapism, relativism, I know, but it’s worked and over the years I’ve spent a lot of time dreaming in those hazardous waters, so much so that I don’t even really want to go there anymore. Apart from the fact that I’ll never get the money, or the boat or, more importantly, the depth of experience necessary to tackle a cruise of those proportions, to be dashing off on a round the world cruise no longer seems relevant. But that’s no problem, there’s no frustration, I’m building my own boat, I’m living my sea dream more than ever, right here in the garden, without even getting wet.


Anonymous said...

Ben, Tanks for this post. You have summed up something similar to my feelings lately. I too was caught up in the big boat, big cruise idea, so much so that I quit the teaching job I loved. 7 years later, I am no longer dreaming of cruising the world, I just try to sneak out of the office with my kayak, or day sail with my dad and friends in Tampa Bay. A weekend out on the water is more than enough adventure. The boats I dream of now are closer to the light trow, or Wharram's Melanesia. Something small, pretty and fun to actually use in my own local sailing paradise.

Jon at

ben said...

I couldn't agree more. Let's drink to big adventures in home waters!