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Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Pete writes

We're soft pedaling downwind towards Cape Town at about 2kts, the main is down, two headsails are up and poled out. I've just come up on watch, the breeze is soft and perhaps a little crisp for this time of year. The sky is completely clear down to the horizon except for a low patch of cloud out over the port quarter, the moon is not up yet so the stars are brilliant. Orion is about 40 degs high on the port beam and the Southern Cross has not long risen off the starboard bow, we now have a little over 100 mls to the Cape.
Sitting in the cockpit just now I realized there are very few of the stars up there that I could name now. When Jeanne and I sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific about 30 years ago, I would have known a lot of stars, as navigation was by sextant. The stars I knew then were those 1st magnitude stars which would be visible with the horizon at dawn and dusk, in the area we were sailing. I knew nothing of their history or which constellation they belonged to. To me then they were just a signpost, something I used daily to work out the boat's position, handy but of no real interest.
Recently, as I had run out of good books Alex gave me one of his secreted specials to read. Its called "Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene. The author is Prof of Physics and Mathematics at Columbia University but don't let that put you off, he talks in easy to read layman's language using metaphors we can relate to. His book is a history and explanation of the universe from the early thinkers, Galileo, Descartes, Newton to Einstein and on to the present day. It's brilliant stuff and as much of it is about philosophy as physics. I'm about half way through the book now but I've left it alone for the last week as you need to devote time to get your head around the concepts of space and time especially when he is moving onto the idea of a 10 dimensional space/time i.e. something can be located with its time in a 9 dimensional space and I'm just lost for time with all the hand steering we're doing at the moment...still I look up at the stars now and wonder.
Now onto the literary segment. Our HF radio has died so no BBC World Service, I left home without my cds so none of my favorite music or world news. Good books preserve sanity and give an escape at this stage.
A couple of the books I really appreciated were, The Kite Flyer by Khaled Hosseni about Afghanistan under the Taliban; Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith a well told spy thriller and Woodlands by Thomas Hardy an excellent novel of English country life written in the 1880's.
The woodlanders was a step back in time, how's this for the beginning of chapt.4.
"There was now a distinct manifestation of morning in the air, and presently the bleared white visage of a sunless winter day emerged like a dead-born child." The weather hasn't changed but I don't think you could use a metaphor like that now, they were obviously more used to early childhood deaths at that time. Here's another little gem, a young girl has returned to her parent's house in a small village after several years at an elite boarding school, she has just finished a walk around the house and grounds that she grew up in. "Having concluded her perambulation of this now uselessly commodious edifice, Grace began to feel that she had come a long journey since the morning; and when her father had been up himself, as well as his wife, to see that her room was comfortable and the fire burning, she prepared to retire for the night."
They don't write them like that any more. Try teaching this book to second form English Lit. Cheers Pete.

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