If you are a small yacht sailor there is a special magic about passing another yacht at sea. It is exciting to do so on a coastal passage for no other reason that compared to passing cars on a road, it is a rare event.
If you want to see a forest of masts, go to a yacht marina. If you want to see a cloud of sail, go watch any big harbour on an Anniversary regatta day or on a weekend yacht race day – but if you want to experience the magic of the close passing of two solitary yachts on a big ocean then you need to go for a sail up the coast or seaward to the outer islands.
The act of passing comes in three stages. First there is the triangle of white on a big horizon. The triangle comes and goes. Then the shape steadies, leaning into the afternoon on a warm breeze, hull down and approaching fast. As the two yachts approach each other the hazy details become clearer and sharper – the patient, long slow focus of the eyes lens now beholds its reward. The approaching vessel pitches and surges in the ocean swell as if in slow motion and then suddenly the eye is alerted to the movement of people as a sail is trimmed or a winch turned.
Then comes the long hesitation as the yachts are abreast of one another. There is the illusion that the movement of each has stopped briefly. It is as though they are suspended briefly in time - then suddenly the last stage as she flashes past in a cloud of white canvas and cascading white water. It is only then that the combined closing speeds of the two yachts is experienced fully – and in a blink of an eye, she is gone, moving slowly but steadily in the other direction.
Last week I resigned from my job of teaching. I have been teaching without a break of any real significance every year since 1974. Retirement has been on the horizon for a long time. This term I have not been teaching at all as I have taken a terms leave to deal with a number of issues and as a preparation of sorts for this transition to retirement.
I leave officially at the end of this term in about three weeks time. In the mean time I am sorting out all the retirement paperwork and other associated stuff. At this point the great hull of retirement is leaping off a wave right in front of me – it is the hesitation phase – she is close enough for me to read the name Retirement in big bold letters on her bow – and I am ready – I am barefooted now in my new cream canvas sailor trousers which I have been hand stitching for close on 35 years, bugger using a belt, I now tie them up sailor style with a long coloured silk scarf – the thousands of coloured threads remind me of all the poems I have read over the years – (the only repository of wisdom that ever made any sense to me). I have my trusty canvas swag with a few things in it – a compass that points north, but mainly metaphors of one sort or another – and I wear an old companion of mine, an old Mariners deep sea blue jersey. Its full of well darned holes to remind me of where I have been – and then as the two yachts momentarily stand still like the sun poised above the Earth at its mid day zenith - I throw my swag and jump!