Monday, June 20, 2011

Being a Sailor - And other Pipe Dreams

I have always been fascinated with tall ships.  They just seemed to be such romantic marvels of engineering.  Ah, can you imagine hoisting 3 sheets to the wind and heading out into the wild flat Atlantic??

Remember the film, Master and Commander, Far Side of the World (2003) with Russel Crowe?  Kinda fell a little deeply in love with Cap'n Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy, and the life of a sailor at sea.  Come on, how could you not?  He can command a ship, fight a fleet of French with half the guns, and play a Haydn menuetto on the violin!  Although, it was it was the pipe dream kind of love.  Not the fully aware, been through the trials, cleaned up the messes, still like it kind of love.  Because I am quite aware, historically, you could not just plunk a middle aged prairie woman on a 19th century 6th rate frigate and watch her enjoy any degree of bliss.  So for I have to make some artistic licence for this pipe dream.

But still I dream of the open waters.  First I said I wanted to see the ocean.  (Don't laugh, remember I live in Saskatchewan.  Can you get any farther inland than this?  Look it up)  Took till I was 30 and in Mexico.  Canadians will swim sans wet suit while Mexicans watch in horror from the beach wearing down filled jackets.  I walked down to the beach one night in Nice and rolled up my pant legs and waded into the Mediterranean.  (It's much warmer that the lakes we swim in here.) That's the first step to being a sailor.  I listen to"Barret's Privateers" which I think is apparently an unofficial Canadian Navy Anthem.  I need to make a significant step though, something that really makes a difference.  Time for research.
As with any good action movie with a plot, there is a book behind it.  I went looking for the book behind The Master and Commander and found not one, but a series of over 20!  The author, English born Patrick O'Brien,writes these stories like they could be his own memories of love and disappointment, military conquest and intrigue.  Battles that were a test of patience rather than simply might.  Oh and let's not forget the thrill of riches.  For spoils of war were split among crew members!  Maybe he made his fortune and got out of the danger and to a writing desk and inkwell.

No he was born in 1914 and lived until Jan 2, 2000.  (Ironically from Titanic to Y2K)  His books flow with beautiful, formal and descriptive language of an age past.  He describes the day to day workings of the ship matter of factly, with no CSI type explanations.

Says one coroner to another, "this body is showing some decomposition."  Replies the other, "That indicates the body is no longer alive and the tissues are starting to break down."  Viewer thinks, "Thank you for dumbing it down for me, I have only watched doctor/cop/hospital/murder mystery shows for about 30 years now."

When reading The Captain Jack Aubrey series, it will be necessary to keep a dictionary (and an old one at that) nearby in order to visualize what people are doing.  Then after a couple of books I began to be interested in the places they were visiting.  And found that people have mapped/charted these travels.  So you can follow along as you read.  The fictional points began blurring, these people are my friends.  I learn from them, enjoy life with them, see life with their perspective as well as my own.  Is this what happens to those Star Wars types? 

Captain Aubrey began his career in the navy at about the age of 8, learning the ropes aboard a Royal Navy ship.  He was a commoner and did not have a choice of careers, nor did he have a father or uncle to send him to boarding school and then buy him an officer's rank, so he was always grateful for the opportunity.  He describes the hours of study to learn the various navigational calculations.  If you didn't calculate perfectly, the lives of your crew were at stake.  Your dedication and discipline at 8 years old would mean souls saved later in life.  The time you got to sit down with a candle in front of a piece of slate and a book of calculations to memorize was the leisure afforded small children then.  Well, the lucky ones.

Later, when he is given command of his own ship a small, but agile, frigate, the HMS Surprise, he meets Dr. Maturin and asks him to travel with them and be their ship's physician.  Dr. Maturin is a Naturalist by passion which means he researches to identify all living things on the planet classifying them with a Latin name.  (modern use of language seems to confuse this term for one who discards clothing while outdoors, or coloratilis humani in the Latin form.)

The friendship between these two very different men aboard the HMS Surprise, grows amid arguments, music, adversity, debate, admiration, and becomes a contented mutual respect.  This makes the series more than just an entertaining read but a life lesson in friendship.  And just as Jane Austen is an author who portrays women in the light of the reality of the strict framework of the time and place, I think Patrick O'Brien develops the character's of his men in a similar way.  There is no pretense to hide their flaws from the reader, or to justify behaviour.  The good guys aren't necessarily good, nor the bad always bad.  Again, the lines blur.

Ok, my rule of thumb is to get on topic by the 7th paragraph, so here we go.  I have lived in the prairies my whole life, can count the number of times I have been on a boat on one hand, but I am just fascinated with sail boats.  So when we decided to go with family to San Diego a couple of years ago, we made a point of finding a maritime museum.  Some cool things:
1.)  Huge aircraft carrier.  HUGE
2.) Russian Uboat.  Not a word of a lie, I think they hired Red Green to build it!  built with broken hockey sticks and glued together with vodka bottle labels.  I was scared just being in it at dock and it wasn't below sea level.  They literally had wire bunks above/between/below the diesel engines because there was NO space.  I can't imagine the noise, the heat and pollution of curling up to one of many LARGE diesel engines in a room about12' x 25' plus the noise heat and pollution of the 30 plus men who were actively working the shift around you.  No romance at that sea!  I can't imagine.
3.) There was a tie for the best ship of the day!  Today I'm telling you about the runner up which I loved!!!  Which will tell you how thrilled I was with the actual winner.
So the runner up was the HMS Surprise!  So it's not fiction?  It's a real story?  No, it is fiction, but it is now a real ship since the movie industry recommissioned an honest to goodness real-life, Royal Navy sailing frigate called the HMS Rose!  To be continued...

1 comment:

dee said...

coloratilis humani = sunburned human