Sailing with Charlie: Origins and Originals

Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre
Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

Charlie often wonders about the origin of the species, especially in the context of sailing and the sea. ‘It is said that we came from the sea, beginning as unicells; our sperm tastes of the sea, our tears are of salt water. As embryos we resemble fish, and the mammals of the sea are our undeveloped cousins… Only at sea may the complete mixture of all the grand elements best be sensed and comprehended.’ (Song of the Sirens, Ernest K Gann)

It is fascinating to witness the draw of the sea on so many people. Even in high latitudes on holidays thousands migrate to the sea and more and more folks are buying or renting boats to get out on the water. Without getting into religion the argument for evolution far exceeds that of creationism just by observation and common sense; just as people are drawn back to their place of birth or childhood, similarly it seems that they are drawn to the sea from whence they came, like some primeval magnet.

I would not be the first to disbelieve in the first giant cruise ship, Noah’s Ark, but there is palpable evidence that such a ship existed. Apparently, a divine message was received by Noah of an impending storm of cataclysmic proportions. In the message he was instructed to build the Ark to rescue man and the animals during a devastating flood. Time and Place: The Middle East some 2,300 years BC. Such a flood though would have been unlikely to engulf the whole world, but at that time they didn’t know there was a whole world out there. So, when you see artists’ impressions and pictures of the event penguins and polar bears are conspicuously absent.  

Once a seaman always a seaman. Joshua Slocum, the first man to singlehandedly sail around the world began his sailing career on fishing vessels and then clipper ships. According to his story he first served as ship’s cook but his ‘duff’ was not up to standard so he was transferred to deck hand. After years as a mate and then captain of clipper ships, with untold fantastic adventures, he finally retired. 

Slocum then restored a small 37’ gaff-rigged cutter, Spray, and became world famous after writing his best-selling story, Sailing Alone Around the World. His little vessel once sailed two thousand miles with no-one at the helm and he navigated successfully with a sextant and ‘an old tin clock.’ 

On his return and as an invited guest he eulogized Mark Twain at his funeral and was befriended by President Roosevelt. Slocum again met with President Roosevelt in May 1907, this time at the White House in Washington. Supposedly, Roosevelt said to him, “Captain, our adventures have been a little different.” Slocum answered, “That is true, Mr. President, but I see you got here first.” 

Toward the end of his life he would sail the east coast and winter in the Caribbean. At the age of 65 years he sailed into Fiddler’s Green. 

Another original was the Kon Tiki, a raft constructed of balsa logs in 1947; it sailed for 101 days across the Pacific from Peru to Raroia to prove that Polynesian islanders could have originated in South America – a supposition later presumed unlikely. Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, expedition leader, became famous with a book, documentary and movie. 

Nowadays large, comfortable plastic catamarans et al are sailing the world’s oceans like never before. However, now they are not considered adventurers but rather escapees. As such they become sources of revenue for the islanders, who have now realized that their valuable resources are peace, quiet and natural beauty… and that is as it should be. 

Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.