Ferdinand Magellan and me (36)

Europa Point, Gibraltar


Having sailed through the Mediterranean Sea, island hopping to historic and picturesque landmarks, we stopped short of the Pillars of Hercules. The narrow strait of Gibraltar is the Mediterranean’s bottleneck and the busiest ocean waterway in the world. In ancient times it was a barrier for sailors, only opened by Portuguese
explorations in the 15th century.

For me it was a chance to tackle the many jobs that needed doing aboard Wathara. High on the list was installing a satellite navigator. I had learned my lesson with the grounding in South Yemen and wanted never again to blunder around without being able to get a fix. In Wathara’s main cabin there was a photo taken in 1896 of Joshua Slocum in his yacht Spray. He was the first person to sail around the world alone in a small yacht and a kind of hero of mine, but now it was time to abandon the heroic stance.

There is a class of cruising yachtsman calling themselves purists who would be aghast at the thought of fitting electronic gadgets to a yacht. They sail gaff-rigged wooden boats preferably without engines and preferably designed by Colin Archer, a Norwegian who designed distinctive craft in the early 20th century. There is a place for such people and such boats just as there is a place for antique cars but for some reason the owners of the nautical variety consider themselves superior to the lesser mortal whose boat is fitted with an engine, electric light and an actual toilet, or head, rather than a bucket. The purist, pounding his chest, climbs on deck in all weathers to perform his ablutions hoping he doesn’t knock over the bucket. The purist drifts for hours or days waiting for wind long after his inferiors have motored into port. The purist is an expert tier of useless knots, plays sea shanties on a mouth organ and smokes a pipe. One well known purist claimed to store ship by tipping alternate layers of porridge and smoked fish into an old oil drum lashed to the mast, staggering on deck at meal times to scoop up a ladle full of the disgusting mess. There is a further class who are not so much purists as maniacs; the ones who cross the Atlantic in bathtubs or round Cape Horn on a windsurfer. The British are prominent in this class, perhaps as part of their eccentric national character.
No, that’s not me. I felt only a slight twinge of guilt installing the satellite equipment. Gibraltar seemed an appropriate place to do it. I did murmur an apology to Ferdinand Magellan.

Ferdinand Magellan and me(36)