Thursday, September 07, 2006
The weather's been wild here for the last day or so - strong winds, rain, hours and hours of lightning, floods. I didn't want it to stop. Late last night, I went down to the beach. I stood close to the tide line, in the rain, and watched the waves break and foam in the dark. Lightning made the water look like dull liquid silver. The sand on the beaches here is made from crushed coral: in the daytime it's a deep orange-yellow but at night it shimmers, picking up fragments of moonlight. I've been thinking of the sea a lot, and of learning to sail. I can surf, but I'm yearning to go further out to sea, way beyond sight of land.I've started reading Tamata and the Alliance, an autobiography by the French sea-gypsy, solo circumnavigator, writer, and ecologist, Bernard Moitessier. He was, by every account, an extraordinary man, albeit something of a mad visionary. In 1969, when he was 44, he took part in the first-ever single-handed round-the-world yacht race, the Sunday Times' Golden Globe Race, starting from Plymouth, England. Sailing the 39-foot steel ketch, Joshua, his voyage was the fastest. By the time he returned to his 'home' waters of the Atlantic, having rounded the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of Tasmania and fearsome Cape Horn and having survived huge gales in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean , Moitessier's victory was a certainty. Then something happened. The French sailor changed course. Abandoning the race, he headed back towards the Roaring Forties and sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and Tasmania again to re-enter the Pacific, where he made for the island that would become his home, Tahiti.In his log, and in a long letter composed for his publisher, which he slingshot to a passing ship (he refused to use a radio), Moitessier wrote: "Why am I doing this? Imagine yourself in the forest of the Amazon. Suddenly you come upon a small temple of an ancient, lost civilization. You are not simply going back and say, "I have found a temple, a civilization no- body knows." You are going to stay there, try to decipher it . . . and then you discover that 100 kilometers on is another temple, only the main temple. Would you return?"As another sailor, Jean-Michel Barrault, wrote of him later:"For five months alone at sea, the man had dealt with a multiplicity of technical problems, had shown his physical stamina, had run risks which most would not have faced but above all had sought his own truth, had silenced the sounds of the world and talked with the waves, with the flying spume, with the torn clouds, with the albatross and the petrels. He had lived in the roaring forties, not as a stranger but deep in the beauty of the ocean of which he said, 'I shall always cherish the memory of these gigantic waves, of this incredibly beautiful sea.' What was waiting for him in Plymouth was also the other side of glory: the tumultuous crowds, the lack of respect for the individual, prying indiscretions, the rape of his realized dream. He could not accept this."Moitessier spent much of his childhood in Vietnam, and after only the first few pages of his unusual autobiography, I'd fallen in love with the pre-war Saigon he describes. In all his photos, he looks strong and peaceful, even when all his hair is grey and his face is weathered by the wind, salt and sun. I'll always make art, but I don't want to be inside a studio anymore.