Mar 13, 2015

Gipsy Moth Circles the World

by Sir Francis Chichester

Another tale of a singlehander's voyage that I had on my shelf. It has some similarities, and many differences, to the previous one. In this case, the adventurer was a very experience sailor. He had a yacht custom-built for his trip, where he planned to circumnavigate the world stopping at only one port (Sydney, Australia) which had never been done before, and to do it faster than anyone ever had in a small vessel. Alone. He pointed out how different sailing is with an able crew, than one person solo. I was astonished that he even put to sea knowing all the things that were wrong beforehand- the boat wasn't balanced right, the sail yardage seemed wrong for its size, the keel wasn't big enough, it didn't steer well etc etc. I don't know what all the sailing terms mean, but even so I thought: I would never attempt to cross the oceans in that boat! Plus he had a serious leg injury right before leaving, and refused to see a doctor. Undaunted, he put to sea. And found many more problems along the way- issues with how the boat handled, leaks all over the place, moldy food and so on.

The book is based on his meticulous logs; some of it is about navigation and weather observations, most of it is a retelling of all the things that went awry and how he solved them. Ingenious fix-it-ups when things broke or malfunctioned. I was impressed that he baked his own bread during the voyage, grew cress, bean sprouts, mustard seed and wheatgerm for greens, and even drank seawater (small amounts) when he felt he lacked salt. Also impressed at how arduous it must be to sail alone- constant work to readjust sails and alter the steering whenever the wind and waves changed. Not to mention all the other work! Never any rest. Must be exhausting. I admit I could never face some of the things he did: re-baking moldy bread to eat it anyway, doing dental work on himself when he broke a tooth, going days on end of hard work with fragmented sleep.

And he did all this when he was sixty-five. Breaking several records for fastest-travelling sailing yacht of its size, longest passage without stopping at port, furthest distance travelled by a singlehander, and several others. His trip was followed avidly by newspapers at home, and he was met by adulating crowds and knighted by the Queen when he finally made it back to London (approx 8 months later).

I liked reading about his sightings- he was very interested in the seabirds, mentioned seeing whales or dolphins occasionally, not many fish. In one regard very marked difference with d'Aboville's account of crossing the Pacific in 1991, who remarked upon constantly running into floating plastic trash. Just twenty-five years earlier, Chichester made no mention of finding such pollution. Were the seas so much cleaner then, or perhaps he was too busy to notice it.

Overall, the book gets kind of tedious. It's fascinating to see what the experience was like, but I get lost easy in all the terminology. When he mentions doing this and that adjustment to such-and-such a sail to the boat's response in this way to that kind of wind, I just imagine things being tugged and swung around, but really have no idea. Probably this book is best appreciated by a sailor. It did give me a few great-sounding titles of other famed seafaring ventures, and cleared up some confusion I had when reading Rockbound. (In that book, the characters constantly groused about a seabird colony on the lighthouse island. They called them "the careys" and despised their burrowing habits which ruined the land for crops, and their stink. I couldn't figure out what these birds were. Chichester mentions seeing "Mother Carey's chickens" which he tells me are storm petrels. Ah! That puzzlement cleared up nicely.)

Rating: 3/5        269 pages, 1967

more opinions:
Loud Latin Laughing

No comments: