Dispatches from Distant Seas
Beth A. Leonard
International Marine/McGraw-Hill, 177 pp, $22.95
In two separate voyages, Beth Leonard and her partner Evans Starzinger sailed almost 90,000 miles around the globe. Their first three year journey was sparked by the familiar
yen for the tropics during a northern winter. Although they headed south they didn't stay. Three years and 36,000 miles later, having circumnavigated the globe, they returned home to New England, "but life ashore seems dull, monochrome," Leonard writes.
It took four years to build and outfit a new boat, a 47-foot aluminum Van de Stadt Somoa sloop, named Hawk, which they intended to sail the "thousand-mile-long archipelago of fjords and inlets, islands and channels starting at Cape Horn and north along Chile's west coast." But first, in order to find out whether they liked cold weather sailing they spent three summer seasons in the high latitudes of North America. In July of 2001 they sailed from Iceland to the tip of South America in a bit over four months.
After eighteen months exploring Chile's spectacular southern coast they sailed from the Beagle Channel through the Southern Ocean to Fremantle, Australia-in a 60 day "eastabout" passage. While in that neck of the waves they paid lengthy visits to both islands of New Zealand. From there, they made "the 8500-mile voyage across the Pacific to sail the Coast of British Columbia..."and we still have not completed our second circumnavigation." she observes.
Leonard says that the book is "about setting your sights on a goal, then turning that abstract vision into something real and tangible." The "real" and "tangible" is the "doing." Considering the above itinerary there can be no doubt!
As they close in on a misty headland on the coast of Scotland, she remarks, "[L]ike turning an idea into something tangible, we pulled Scotland over the horizon, drawing it to us, with each change of sail and each course correction, willing it to appear. We made it happen." She elaborates on this thought. "So much of our lives ashore seemed either inevitable or accidental. This landfall is neither. We did it. We sailed Hawk here. It isn't passive. It was one of the most decisive, active, self-determined things we've ever done. We controlled every controllable aspect of the voyage and accepted the risks for the rest."
But the real and the tangible is only one dimension of human experience. Processing the physical, making meaning from it is what Leonard does better than almost any other writing sailor I've read. Over and over she expresses and interprets with remarkable precision, the thoughts and feelings that originate from the experiences of passage-making, land falls, and being a member of the rare community of blue water sailors.
Explaining why they roam the seas she says, "For me it's...vivid. Intense. Technicolor. Ashore we strive for convenience, comfort, consistency. Most people live within very narrow emotional band. But until we went cruising we didn't realize that in cutting out the lows we'd also truncated the highs."
Commenting on a visit to the boat while on the Argentinean coast of her birder sister, Leigh, she says, "Leigh has opened my eyes to a world that has always been there but remained unseen until I chose to look...With a small investment in awareness, this world opens itself, for it is neither shy nor hidden but-all too often-ignored.
In an account of an arrival she says, "By the time I let go of the anchor, we will have already begun to distance ourselves from the rhythms we have lived by...the heave of the sea, the rise and fall of the wind, the sun's journey across the sky, the endless rotation of the stars...The very act of preparation will take us one step away from nature and from this Zen state of pure being. I have never been able to take ashore with me this immersion in the now. But after a passage I return renewed, awake to wonder, full of joy..."
As she relates land-bound experience with being on the water she comes to understand and relish the state of being porous and connected. Life on land is a series of distractions and dispersal of attention. She more than once describes her experience on the water as a "privilege." Her self-awareness is as rare as is her ability to express it.
This remarkable book is organized into 50 journal entries, each from a different spot on the globe, each identified by latitude and longitude, place names and if reporting a long passage in progress, the number of days accomplished. These exotic identifiers, the brief, yet vivid descriptions of anchorages far, far off the beaten path will satisfy the most inveterate adventurer but it is also a personal meditation the reader is "privileged" to share.