for Marike, πάντοτε
Night or day, when at sea we are always on watch, Marike and I.
She is the skipper, the one who oversees and takes charge of the whole vessel–without her there would be neither vessel nor voyage–and I navigator and cook, but we make all of the important decisions about what to do on a passage together, including how and when to spell each other off.
Rest is as essential as wakefulness, for sailing requires both strength and presence of mind, particularly on a long passage. What you cannot see, you must teach your ears or your flesh to give shape.
Love, you log the sea miles, sailing as I sleep in both darkness and light.
Love, I log the sea miles, keeping watch in the bleakest hours as you sleep.
Nightwatch #2 (transcript)
Hello, Orion, my old friend. I’m glad to see you.
And Cassiopeia. The stars of the autumn night sky.
We are motor sailing towards Corsica. By morning we should be able to see land. By evening, we should have made light
It is night and my tongue is confused.
I see no other vessels anywhere around us.
It’s just us here and the water and the wind
and the scent of the sea.
Our little vessel full of dreams and fears.
Making a long passage on a boat is a funny thing because you’re alone with yourself and your thoughts. A lot.
If it’s just two of you on a passage, you have to spell each other off.
So in fact, although the boat is a very intimate space and you see each other, you don’t actually spend large chunks of time together because while one person is on watch, the other person is resting.
There’s a certain beauty to it.
And you deeply profoundly actually hope not to have too much excitement because that’s really hard.
Everything is harder on such a passage.
Standing up is harder.
Sitting down is harder.
Putting your pants on is harder.
Getting food is harder because you’re moving.
You’re moving in all directions.
But also then if nothing exciting is happening, there’s you, your thoughts, maybe even a kind of boredom, which those of us in the busy affluent west don’t appear tolerate very much.
Just look at how everyone is peering at their phone and scrolling while they wait for the train or at the bus stop, or even when they’re doing something else, like walking or talking to their child, still they do this, we do this.
But here there’s just us and a radio.
There’s no cell service.
There’s no news.
You can’t research something or double check or scroll through a feed.
It’s not possible.
So there you are, you, your thoughts, your doubts, your fears, your weird dreams, the mysteries you can’t solve.
And boredom: the hmm, I don’t know what to think about because if I think about anything, I will soon be in a place where I’m wrestling.
When I’m insomniac, not on night watch, I call that Jacob wrestling the angel of God.
And sometimes it results in something, but most of the time it results in sciatica like Jacob’s wrestle or some other kind of pain: a headache.
But there’s this other thing. If you can have periods of boredom
of just looking, watching,
smelling, not being busy,
then you see the dolphins with a pod of pseudo orcas approach the boat, one of the orcas or pseudo orcas spy hopping.
Or you notice that there’s a little bird, feathers ruffled, a songbird, sitting on the jib sheets shivering,
and you’re what, 140 miles from land?
Pretty far for such a little bird.
But you might also notice a song or a rhythm or a phrase or something you want to do.
You might muse a line or something you want to say to someone,
something you’d really like to cook and eat.
And those are the fruits of boredom because boredom does have fruit: this kind of slowness, this willingness to sit and wait and see what happens.
Listening to the sea. Listening to the boat move through the water.
Listening to the water echo and bounce around in the scuppers.
Little flecks of bioluminescence thrown up. Drifting by.
I’m hungry. I’m going to go get another peanut butter banana and a little bit more tea–lapsang souchong, nice and smoky with lots of milk.
Marike is sleeping,
so I’ll watch until the light.
Everything I know about the sea and sailing I have learned from and with Marike. She does not speak in this piece, but, as in Nightwatch #1, is everywhere implied. Beneath the sound of the waves and the wind in the sails and the hum of the engine I am listening for her breath, for the sound of her stirring. I move quietly in the dark hours, so as to let her rest, every hour logging our position on paper so that should something go wrong with the power systems on the boat, we know (more or less) where we are. She does likewise as I am sleeping, sailing sailing sailing into the light.
The sound piece was recorded in the wee hours of the 26 October 2022 somewhere west of the south coast of Corsica.
The first two images above are photos I took that night while on watch, the first of a corner of the cockpit in darkness, the second of the screen of our navigation instruments, showing the distance still to travel, the shapes of the coasts, and, in green, other vessels, mostly cargo ships, on the move in the region. The third, a photo of the bird who accompanied us, was identified as a Pit Roig by Catalan friends, or a European Robin. In fact, females fly long distances, and after sheltering on our boat for about 36 hours, picking insects out of the soil in my spice garden, sipping dew from the rigging and eating a few nuts, our young bird was joined by another and, as we neared the coast of Corsica, they flew off together. Finally, the last photo is of Marike later in the day (October 26 2022) at the bow, looking towards the mountains of Corisica as we approach the coast.
This post is a rough outtake, not a finished work, an effort to begin to find a form for a new sound and text poetry project rooted at once in movement at sea, migrations, history and literature.
Genesis 32: 22-32 recounts one version of how Jacob came to be wrestling with the angel of God.