greatest distinction between cruising and racing yachtsmen lies in a sense of
pace. Your true cruiser sails by the calendar, not the clock. The moment is
what counts: the fact that he is afloat, with a good little ship carrying him
to another place. There is no need to be impatient, nor to fret—only to enjoy.
But your racing sailor never escapes the scurrying second hand. It is probably
his most necessary competitive attribute. In any given set of conditions, he
feels how his boat should be going. When she is not doing her best, he suffers.
He must be efficient to be happy.
Happy I was, if
not efficient, on this perfect Bahamas day as we slid across the bank off Royal
Island. I was leaning against the mizzenmast, steering with my feet. Zib, my
wife, was busying herself below. Finisterre, feeling the breeze, was beginning
to walk and talk. There was a gentle plash from the bow wave, and tiny little
slaps along the hull, and a low murmur under the stern. We were two days out of
Nassau, sailing as the wind asked us to sail—toward Spanish Wells, toward
Harbour Island, toward a pink sand beach which Zib had never seen. We were
supposed to be beating to windward toward the Exumas, to watch the Out Island
Regatta; but who wants to beat to windward when cruising? Racing is different;
a race without a windward leg is no race at all, but cruising to windward is a
pain in the neck.
As I thought these
thoughts I looked at the Kenyon speed indicator. It stood at three knots. Add
the light genoa, and we might go up to five. Ballooner sheeted to the end of
main boom, maybe 5½. Hood red-head spinnaker, probably six. Maybe trimmed just
right, plus mizzen staysail, maybe seven. Maybe. Close, anyway. Suddenly I
found myself grinning. I realized I didn't give one fractional infinitesimal
As we neared
Spanish Wells a dinghy came out. Two small boys sat in the bow, a man on the
after thwart. I had an impression of glasses and flashing teeth under a large
and floppy straw hat. "Need help?" asked the man.
A pilot, thought
I, mortal enemy of the cruising yachtsman: bearer of false witness from the
North Channel to the Boca del Sierpe, "Plenty water, cap, plenty-y
water!" being the prelude to the whammie of a hit, with the same air of
calm assurance and confidence after as before. "No," I replied with
The man began to
wind a starter cord around the flywheel of an ancient outboard. "Just a
minute," I called. "Can you tell me where to find Aziel
up. "I'm Aziel," he said, looking at me more closely. "Bless the
Lord, ain't that...?"
Aziel—which means "Whom the Lord Strengthens"—was signed to
"carry" Finisterre to Spanish Wells and Harbour Island, that same
afternoon. My general opinion of pilots does not include such men as Aziel
Pinder, who really seems to know the depths of water around the north side of
Eleuthera down to the thickness of a teredo's eyelash.
Legend has it
Spanish Wells was a watering port for the earliest navigators. It required
little imagination to visualize fat merchantman or sleek privateer swinging in
the multihued water, a rowing boat filled with casks approaching the beach. For
Spanish Wells is by and of the sea; her men live on the sea, and her women look
out across it, waiting. But gone are the sails. As I stood on the foredeck of
Finisterre paying out the anchor rode, I realized not one sloop or schooner was
moored in the narrow harbor off the town. Even the dinghies no longer had
masts. Progress: outboards, inboards, automobile conversions, diesels; smell of
hot oil, scum in the bilge; staccato exhausts at dawn and sunset; talk of miles
per gallon and water-pump packing.... But gone too the anxious hours of
midnight squalls and currents sweeping toward reefs; days motionless under a
shimmering sun; long sweeps and sculling oars, endless tacks, catch of fish
turning belly up in the well. Progress, and the good life. Gas in every tank,
grouper in every pot.
snubbed, jerking Finisterre's head like a curb bit. Gigi, our 16-foot fiber
glass runabout which we were towing behind, ranged alongside, invitingly. We
accepted. Ashore, there was a new hotel and fuel pumps along the dock.
Unchanged were the neat narrow streets, the neat small houses, the neat
courteous people, shy and quiet but friendly. Spanish Wells is as clean as a
town on the Zuider Zee.