Posted on: March 14, 2015 Posted by: Cole Ruth Comments: 2
“I don’t know. I’ve traveled. And all it is is bad water, bad food, you get sick and you gotta deal with strange people. And when you get back you can’t figure out whether it was something that happened to you or if it was something you saw on T.V.” - Slacker

Though we’ve been back six days, I still feel the tidal pull.

When we left Avalon around noon on Sunday, the sea was coated in a layer of fog. Oddly, we never sailed through it – it seemed always to be just a little ways ahead or behind us while we motored along happily in the sun. We discussed fog tactics, and what to do if we were caught in the fog in the shipping lanes. I pulled out Greg’s massive Chapman guide from the 1980s (then in it’s 58th edition) and read aloud from the section on mayday, pan-pan and sécurités, to see which one we should use if we felt we were in danger, yet were not going down.

Minutes later we heard: “Sécurité, sécurité, sécurité.” It was the Coast Guard. They were warning boaters that the trimaran we’d seen the day before was drifting out to sea.

Next I read aloud from the section on fog, because this is the kind of thing Greg and I find entertaining. There are four kinds of fog. Who knew? (Actually, Greg did, since he is, after all, a trained pilot.) We decided we were in advection fog, caused by the cooler air that was coming down on us, sandwiching the warm layer of air that had built up over the past few days between it and the 62 degree ocean. After a while it cleared altogether and the wind picked up and we sailed almost all the way home.

I later found out that the whale watchers at Point Vicente clocked 65 whales that day, a record for the season. Unfortunately, we did not see a single one. But as we neared the point I went below to use the head (toilet) and discovered the valve had not closed properly, and there was brown water floating up, out, and over. It had just started to run down the center of the boat toward the bilge. I grabbed plastic gloves, paper towels, and disinfectant, and went to work. Yuck.

By the time I came up and all was sparkling clean, I was in need of air.

These are also the kind of things that happen on boats.

Around sunset I went down to warm up the chili I’d brought. I’d made a huge batch and brought a quart of it for the trip. I planned to top it with gouda, chives, pickled jalapenos, sour cream and tortilla chips. We’d both been looking forward to it. But when I went below I couldn’t find that damn jar anywhere. Finally, desperate, I opened up the electric fridge that Greg uses on-shore and there it was. I had put it in there the morning we left because the ice box was full of beer and that was the coldest place I could find – then I promptly forgot about it. We were never connected with shore power during the trip and therefore never ran his fridge again. I wanted to cry.

In spite of the overflowing head and the lost chili and no whale sightings, I was not ready to be back on land. I felt a quickening feeling in my chest, like the kind you get in the fall when you live in a place that gets snow, because you know that winter is coming. There should be a name for that feeling.

We arrived in darkness, both of us very, very hungry. After grabbing lunch at a nearby barbecue joint, we feel asleep in our separate beds, exhausted.

So. I’ve been sleeping in my own bed for almost a week now. Last night Greg came over with a movie: The Whale. It’s a 2013 BBC production I discovered while investigating the Wreck of the Whaleship Essex upon our return.

We looked at a map and traced their journey. Incredible. They survived for 90 days. A man named Dougal Robertson was “holed” by killer whales while cruising with his sons and another man near the Galapagos in 1972; they survived for 38 days. Steven Callahan, who survived for 72 days floating from the Canaries to the Caribbean, mentions them in his book, Adrift, in which he also references Maurice and Maralyn Bailey, who were adrift for 117 days! But if you think that’s a lot, when I googled “survivors at sea,” this article appeared about a man who’d been adrift for 16 months. Honestly, I don’t even know how that’s possible. It’s like he was trying not to get anywhere.

All this fascination with shipwrecks right now has me reading Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know Poe had written a novel. But Poe, like so many famous writers, spent time on the sea. Stephen Crane was shipwrecked; he wrote about it in “The Open Boat.” Almost all our ideas about pirates came from Robert Louis Stevenson (I just read “Treasure Island”) and that’s to say nothing of good ol’ Melville. Or Hemingway. Or Conrad. Or Defoe! (Or Twain, a friend reminded me, who is quoted all over Hawaii because he stopped there on his trip around the world.)

In Poe’s novel the shipwrecked characters must resort to the same “Custom of the Sea” as the survivors of the Essex, and they draw straws to see which man will be sacrificed. The name of the character is Richard Parker. Poor Richard Parker. Poe wrote his novel in 1838. If your name is Parker, good God, don’t name your kid Richard. In 1884, more than forty years after Poe penned his story, a vessel named the Mignonette sank off the Cape of Good Hope. Among the survivors was a cabin boy named Richard Parker. About twenty days adrift they drew lots according to the Custom of the Sea. Who do you think got the short straw?

“There is no coincidence. Only the illusion of coincidence,” goes the famous quote by Alan Moore.

That travel gene I mentioned, in the article forward to me by friend the Uber Chef – it’s actually a mutation called DRD4-7R. In this National Geographic article, the author writes that DRD4-7R is “carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans” and that “dozens of human studies have found that 7R makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.” But in this psychology blog, which also discusses DRD4-7, the writer says, “Another theory behind the motivation to travel is rooted in our childhood: as children, we learn through play and imagination… The basics of imagination is to create hypothetical scenarios… Questions such as ‘what’s further than that border?’and ‘what’s over the other side of the sea?’”

“The sea has never been friendly to man,” wrote Joseph Conrad. “At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.”

Today I texted Greg. I checked the winds and it looked like we were going to get 15-20 knots. “Do you want to go sailing?” I asked.

2 People reacted on this

  1. In Life of Pi the tiger character is named … Richard Parker! In the book his name is chalked up to a “clerical error” and background on the name is never given. Now we know!

    1. I read that book years ago and had forgotten it until I watched the movie recently (since writing this post) and I had the same response: the name Richard Parker was no clerical error. And in fact, it leads you to wonder who exactly was cannibalized in the Life of Pi…

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