well, most of the time

“We rigged the square sail but the wind dropped. It rose again with the coming of night. During my watch we raced along, not a star to be seen, the moon hidden and giving a diffused grey light that made the sea a polished black pearl shell.

Why was it that the helmsman felt responsible for the wind, pleased as if he had blown it along himself when the ship made good time? In the mornings, when we compared notes of our night watches, we always liked to be able to say that at any rate she sailed well in our watch, and we estimated the rate – five knots at least, or four, or six.

To Sven’s inquiry, ‘All the time?’ the answer usually was, ‘Well, most of the time’. He always took a discount off our estimated rate of the night watches and said nothing about it.”

Dora Birtles – North-West by North (1935)

(Birtles was one of three women in the crew of Skaga, a 34-foot cutter with no engine that made a leisurely eight-month journey from Newcastle in NSW to Singapore in 1932. Her book is part travelogue, part personal memoir, and includes some penetrating insights into the psychology of crew relationships during a long voyage.)

Click the image to buy the book.