July 28, 2011
ONBOARD S/Y BUSHIDO—The thickly pined forested hills form a perfect backdrop to the not-so-wine-dark waters off the Peloponnese. Soft greens and blues are Edward Hopper colors—as is the yellowish-white midday sunlight—noon’s inviolate stillness being a keynote of his paintings. The sea in Greece is mystically wedded to the mountains, the craggy peaks acting as phallic domes to her femininity. The beauty of sailing is the absence of other people, the lack of noise and crowds, the solitude, the presence of only water and nature—but for the occasional bore who speeds by in a stinkpot. I sailed by Nafpaktos—Lepanto to the barbarians—where in 1571 Don Juan and a Christian coalition of 208 ships and 22,840 men soundly defeated the Ottoman fleet comprised of slaves in the galleys, Algerian bandits on the bridges, and Ali Pasha as the head. Speaking of his head, after a ferocious and bloody battle the Christians chopped it off and stuck it on top of his mast, the rest of the towel-heads losing heart at the sight of it and leaving the premises in a hurry. The Ottomans were all over the Med back then. Having finally put them back in their place, some 440 years later, the nice guys who have given us the EU and the euro have allowed them back in again, and this time they’re all over the place, not just Nafpaktos. I will get back to these bums momentarily.
This is the first time after three weeks of sailing with a boatful of friends that I am alone. Isolation can be a beautiful sensation. The onboard saloon where I spend most of my day is spacious and festooned with samurai swords, kamikaze flags, and pictures of my judo, karate, and tennis wars. And books.
My crew is the best I’ve ever had. The captain, Marcus, is as eager to hoist sails as previous ones were to avoid doing it. The engineer, Finn, is a miracle man. The cook, Carmella, makes Marco Pierre White look like a burger-flipper at Yankee Stadium. The captain’s wife, Kerry, is a jewel who would put to shame Buckingham Palace staff. And then there’s Ram, a Gurkha soldier, retired after twenty years of service to the crown, a man with two wives back in Nepal, with many children and grandchildren. I want Ram to find a third wife, a rich Greek widow, but all he does is smile and say, “Thank you, sir.” If only I could convey the wonderful feeling of isolation on one’s boat with a crew such as I have. I seriously am thinking of leaving everything behind and going on a Flying Dutchman trip, but it ain’t my style. Leo Tolstoy wrote in 1896 that “Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.”