Tuning the Rig: A Journey to the Arctic

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9780060920906: Tuning the Rig: A Journey to the Arctic

An Excerpt: 25 July. 69 N/52 W. Off Jakobshavn.

I'm on the wheel at 0600 hours, steering toward the eastern shore of Disko Bay. Having circled the sky at a height of six degrees off the horizon all night long, the sun now oozes upward like a squashed fruit, spreading its pulpy light across a wreckage of ice and stone. The Jakobshavn Glacier, so-called Mother of Icebergs, sprawls dead ahead, grinding seaward at the rate of sixty feet per day, dropping aircraft carrier-sized icebergs into the blue-black sea.

Seven miles offshore we meet our first ice. Closer in it is everywhere; there is often one floe ten yards to starboard and another just as close to port. These chunks are not pack ice formed from the frozen sea. They are splinters, dumptruck-sized, of larger icebergs. It's impossible to guess just how much farther they extend beneath the surface.

Under normal conditions the person on helm may let the compass wander up to five degrees, holding course over time by balancing the swings to either side. But when maneuvering here, straying even one degree could cause real trouble. Square-riggers don't respond like sports cars; steering is hard work, you have to know what you're doing, and at such times in the past it's been routine for a deckhand to take over. So I am surprised, to put it mildly, when George does not replace me at the helm.

My arms are tired, and my back is tense. I keep my eyes glued to the compass and my fingers tight around the wheel. George stands on the roof of the after deckhouse, above and behind me. Amidships, everyone maintains silence so that the helmsman can hear and repeat the captain's orders.

- What's your bearing, Harvey?

- One seven eight.

- Come to one seven nine.

- One seven nine. (Twenty seconds pass.) One seven nine, on.

- Steady. (A half minute passes.) What's your bearing?

- One seven nine.

- Come two stokes to port.

- Two strokes to port.

- Come four strokes to port.

- Four strokes to port, aye.

- What is your bearing?

- One seven eight.

- Steady on

There are all kinds of intimacy in the world. This one proceeds, uninterrupted and unadorned, until I lose track of time. I almost lose myself in the hypnotic counterpoint of order and

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Oxenhorn, Harvey
Published by Harpercollins (1991)
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