We saw little of the port watch—indeed, at times, we might as well have been on separate ships—except in the evening during the dog watches and happy hours when it was too early or too late to sleep. There was Bob, who is 17, growing a wistful red beard and entering Cornell in the fall; Lew, Wally's son, who owns the Jet Car Wash in Sacramento and talked of going into the drive-in dairy business. I used his bunk and sleeping bag. His hammock was full of karting magazines. Pat is in marine insurance. He is a daring, confident sailor who grew somewhat bitter at what he, and others, agreed were often indecisive, conservative and dilatory racing tactics. "We are cruising," he said more than once, "under racing sails." Not, I gather, that more radical strategy and authoritarian command would have made a good deal of difference. The Santana, built in 1935 as a schooner by Sparkman & Stephens and owned by several film stars, including Humphrey Bogart (SI, April 30, 1956), is essentially a heavy-weather boat. The light airs of the trades didn't move her.
Glenn, the fourth member of the port watch, was sailing master of the Santana: 68, skin like a Seckel pear's, large, responsive nostrils and notable ears. This was, no doubt, his last ocean race. I can hear him crying, "Make her go, Babe, goddamit. Make her go," as though it were his first race on the Bay. He sings, in a worthy monotone, The Prince of the Sargasso Sea and Abalone Moon. He is a retired agriculturist and was world Star boat champion in 1933. Before the start off Point Fermin, he went below and lay in his bunk; all that morning he had been as restive and fussy as an orchestra conductor. He came up precisely half an hour before the gun to take the wheel, wearing soft gloves and a yachting cap bashed in like a bus driver's. He had us stand by to hand him lit cigarettes, candy, cups of water, and to take his jacket off and put it on. He muttered sour exhortations to himself as we jibed over and over again with the others across the line, like cunning moths circling a bulb. We were away maybe sixth, heading for the West End of Catalina. As we came about so that we could round the island, a large family was sitting along the rail of a pitching powerboat, legs dangling over the side, blowing New Year's Eve horns in farewell.
Off, at last, in the evening for Oahu on a starboard tack, the big A boats ahead of us heeled over similarly, so distant in the graying light that their sails looked like nail cuttings. The dun hide of Catalina was the last land we saw until Molokai 12 days and some 2,300 nautical miles later. I was told that when we were halfway to the islands we were farther from any land than at any other point on the globe. When we finally jibed off Molokai, emotionally—"Let's jibe then, goddamit," Glenn shouted after the customary debate—with a brute of a squall bearing down upon us (we had a knockdown when she hit, boom in the water, gear fouled), Glenn stood at the wheel, looking older and more worn than ever, and I read the compass for him. He could not see the numbers. When we saw the dark, formidable headlands of Oahu and boiled up the channel, once making 12� knots, our fastest, Glenn slept obscurely below. He came up for the finish, however, and as Wally took over from Babe to cross the line, his fires flared again, he cheered and kibitzed the skip-per home and went ashore, like the rest of us, burdened with flowers. They say that Glenn laughs and sings in his sleep.
We were 11 altogether: Wally, Gael, the navigator, and Riley, the cook, did not stand watches. Perhaps we were 12 if you count the phantom. He was a character in an elaborate joke Babe told one mild evening in the trades—the evening Gael played the ukulele and sang to us in his high, affecting voice, and we shot Riley's .22 over the taffrail at colored balloons receding on the six-foot swells. The phantom became a member of the crew and left sneaky notes on the bulletin board. Riley, who is in the oil business, too, had misgivings about being cook, but he never complained and remained surprisingly cheerful. It was a thankless job, strapped in his harness, like a telephone lineman, as the boat suddenly slammed over, filling the galley with a storm of deviled eggs. He became adept at tossing garbage out of the open galley skylight and over the lee rail. Gael is a partner in an advertising agency. He had navigated, I believe, during World War II. Wally was in oil and obviously quite wealthy: a yacht, they say, is a hole in the water surrounded by wood into which money is poured. He is a West Point graduate and served as a brigadier general of artillery in the Pacific; World War II was a common, and often dreary, topic of conversation. The guns had made him slightly deaf and, as a result, he speaks with startling volume. The heavier the weather, the more Wally enjoyed it. The rare times he drove the boat you-could see him grinning with delight. He has owned nine boats over the years, five sail and four cruisers. "I never sailed them myself, though," he lamented one night in the main cabin. "I never had the time and there was always someone willing to do it for me." In a sense, Wally served as Gael's assistant. The Santana was abundantly navigated. At noon and at innumerable other times Wally and Gael would emerge, like moles, from the companionway with their sextants, trailed by Riley and Lew with stop watches, while we hummed, rather under our breaths, a martial air. We called it The March of the Navigators. They shot the hell out of the sun. Venus, more elusive, got off easy.
In 1834 Richard Henry Dana wrote in Two Years Before the Mast, "A sailor's life is at best but a mixture of a little good with much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain. The beautiful is linked with the revolting, the sublime with the commonplace, and the solemn with the ludicrous." This book was on board. I read it in the cockpit and forward, with a sail bag as a back rest. They tell me that one of the delights of sailing is its tradition or heritage. This may be true, for what Dana wrote then holds now. It was a numbing, embittering and largely useless 12 days. There was no plot, no suspense. Our progress was as lacking in memorable incident as the passage of an hour hand across the face of a clock. We proved only that a curving, erratic line is not the shortest distance between two points. I will not deny, however, some simple pleasures. For instance, having a watchmate douse you with sea water drawn up in a plastic bucket and then lying naked on the warm planking to dry.
I have to remind myself. Things have a way of receding, like balloons astern or punch lines of the best jokes. Just now Wally phoned. He wants me on his starboard watch for the Acapulco race. He knows my sentiments, but he told me I'd think differently in a few weeks. Is this what they mean by sea change? But I have devised a way to remind myself. Next time they want to send me to sea I'll lock myself in the bathroom for 12 days with canned goods, Sterno, an electric fan and an alarm clock. I'll sit in the tub for four hours, fully dressed, with the fan blowing across me, taking a cold shower. Then I'll get out, eat, undress and go back to the tub to sleep. Four hours later I'll put on my wet clothes, take another shower and so on.
What did I learn at sea? I know about endurance, but I do not class it as a virtue. What benefit is it to lie a few inches below the overhead in the fo'c'sle as the boat pitches and tosses so you have to hold tightly to the pipes or chains or be thrown; to lie there with a track meet going on overhead when the port watch changes sail; to listen to the seas washing over the foredeck and the ominous gurgling of the bow waves as the boat lifts its heavy head and sets it down? It's like living in a washing machine. Then they call you out, stumbling and cursing, your arm aching from hanging on while you slept, hopping about in a bizarre jig to try to get on your foul-weather gear, a suit notable for drying rapidly on the outside while remaining clammy as a cave's wall in the interior, then climbing up the companionway ladder and changing places, grunting greetings, with the port watch. I've known discomfort—and this discomfort was minor if prolonged—but discomfort is not a virtue, either.
I've known boredom, too, but never so total an apathy, where the bleakness and monotony of the sea seem to invade the mind, drown it, so that you cannot even rescue yourself with reveries, those comforting journeys. But my dreams at night, as though compensating, were extraordinarily vivid. Ask me what I did in real life when I was at sea and I will relate to you my dreams.