One of the great advantages of going to sea for a living is that your seagoing life is to live a dream – and most of the time it doesn’t feel like work at all. Yes, very demanding and a mistake can easily be your very last. We can see, standing at the seaside and looking out into the vastness, the sea is not a forgiving element.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Love is blind .... Eyes shut tight tightly as if they feared seeing what we couldn't avoid. Photograph by Jeremy Bishop from Unsplash.

Swim out too far, get cramp in deep water, get caught in an off-shore tide, and you will need help.

I suspect that I tasted most of the dramas the ocean offers – immense storms, adverse tides in becalmings, being turned over in a storm, trapped in the rigging when a yacht has been knocked down.

And, par for the course, some very strange sights.

Naked and very occupied

For instance, on the voyage Sailing to Purgatory follows, what an odd sight was to be witnessed on the very first night on an anchorage.

I had chosen from the Admiralty chart what looked like a great anchorage on a remote beach on very remote Araya.

There in just about the middle of an otherwise deserted beach were two people naked and very occupied in each other, as Sailing to Purgatory tells ...

It was difficult to keep one's eyes off the sporty pair … I flaked the mainsail on the boom. The lovers had the expanse of sand to themselves yet settled almost exactly in the centre. It made for a very strange scene: two pleasure boats at anchor, the stream of shipping passing by, the hint of a town beyond the dunes, the edgy cliff face, and right in the middle of it all, two humans performing that strange yet ancient communion.

….. They looked as if they must be acting yet they were nothing like actors for their efforts seemed clumsy and surprisingly unrehearsed. They certainly hadn’t passed the audition for aesthetics either. Neither could be described as attractive nor in good trim, and nor were they enjoying the first flush of youth.

As you might gather, the sight wasn't exactly erotic. It certainly made very apt Iago’s expression in Othello, making the beast with two backs. It was extraordinary to see. Surely something so natural should look natural, or more natural, or conversely less unnatural. … I penned in a notebook some impressions: a sort of ballet without style, the tumbling of amnesiacs, gymnastics for the unfit, and all the while their eyes remained closed tightly as if they themselves feared to see what we couldn’t help but witness. If Adam and Eve had spotted something like the performance we were being treated to now, they may well have passed their lives happily in Eden.

I described it as the strangest sight, and yet isn't it odd that to we nutter humans - if I might be excused the term and the impression - that for all the astonishing things that happen on our planet, it's what our own species does that fascinates us most. Perhaps I should say seems to fascinate us most.

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