Sam Llewellyn appreciates what the best passage pastime is...
Once upon a time there was no argument about what sailors did on passage. Using log, sextant, paper charts, depth sounder and hand bearing compass, they tried to work out where on earth they were.
But we have got GPS now, and everything has changed. The magic screen is there to reassure us. We must find other ways of occupying our time.
There is socialising, of course. The sun still crosses the yardarm, thank goodness, and crew members of all watches can be expected to foregather at sixish local time for a stimulating mug of something or other.
At this charming occasion, views are exchanged on a variety of subjects, including the political situation in Venezuela and who the hell has managed to block the head again.
Then the evening commences, with those off-watch participating in free activities. Card playing is okay, assuming weather conditions make it possible to keep the pasteboards on the table, and the same goes for Scrabble.
The problem with both of these, however, is that they can lead to ill-will among competitors, and ill-will on boats is undesirable, as Captain Bligh discovered to his cost.
Baking bread is an alternative. It makes the boat smell nice. It may even taste okay. But its main advantage is that it gives the ship’s company a glowing sense that this is not a space capsule being shot from one port to another, but a floating home on which lives an ideal community.
For those who are happier scraping the green bits off month-old Mother’s Pride, there are other traditional pursuits.
Chief among these is making baggywrinkle, the hairy covering designed to prevent chafe on standing rigging. Some find this an unfulfilling occupation, closely related to weaving doormats.
Furthermore baggywrinkle can increase the windage of your rig by 100%, which is fine if you are rolling down the Trades but which will bring you to a dead halt if you are trying to work to windward.
The Ashley Book of Knots may be more satisfying. A dedicated reader of Ashley will in time have covered most bits of wood and metal on the boat with a variety of Turk’s heads and coachwhippings, to his or her great satisfaction.
Scrimshaw, another item of ancient seafaring timekilling, is less easy to accomplish, except during a slow circumnavigation with a continuous supply of whales’ teeth.
Intellectual sailors swear by a game known as Deepsix the Spuds. This is best played when the ship’s potatoes are going rotten.
Wait till you are on a run or a broad reach. Then attach the seat of a marine toilet to the end of the boom, let out the mainsheet, and try to throw the potatoes through the hole in the seat.
There will come a time, however, when even these pleasures pall. At this point there is nothing for it but to get together in the middle of the day, pull out some sextants, shoot the sun, and calculate the ship’s position using tables, pencil and paper.
Closest to the GPS position gets let off the washing-up that night. Sooner or later using the sextant will become second nature, and you will switch off the GPS to save power, and your days will be filled with navigating by log, and sun, and paper chart.
Which come to think of it is pretty much where we started.
Sam Llewellyn is a novelist, columnist, and Editor of The Marine Quarterly, www.marinequarterly.com