Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Mirror of the Sea

The taking of Departure, if not the last sight of the land, is, perhaps, the last professional recognition of the land on behalf of the sailor. It is the technical, as distinguished from the sentimental, "good bye". Henceforth he has done with the coast astern of his ship. It is a matter personal to the man. It is not the ship that takes her departure; the seaman takes his Departure by means of cross-bearings which fix the place of the first tiny pencil-cross on the white expanse of the track-chart, where the ship's position at noon shall be marked by just such another tiny pencil-cross for every day of her passage. And there maybe sixty, eighty, any number of these crosses on the ship's track from land to land. The greatest number in my experience was a hundred and thirty such crosses from the pilot station in the Sand Heads at the Bay of Bengal to the Scilly's light. A bad passage...

A Departure, the last professional sight of land, is always good, or at least good enough. For even if the weather be thick, it does not matter much to a ship having all the open sea before her bows. A Landfall may be good or bad. You encompass the earth with one particular spot of it in your eye. In all the devious tracings the course of a sailing ship leaves upon the white paper of a chart, she is always aiming for that one little spot - maybe a small island in the ocean, a single headland upon the long coast of a continent, a lighthouse on a bluff, or simply the peaked form of a mountain like an ant-heap afloat upon the waters. But if you have sighted it on the expected bearing, then that Landfall is good. Fogs, snowstorms, gales thick with clouds and rain - those are the enemies of good Landfalls.

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