4 min read

by William "Randy" Thomas  

Once again we gird for sea:

New lines roved.

Sails overhauled

40-pound sacks of food

Hoisted inboard and stowed below 

The crew strangely pensive, 

Standing motionless at odd times 

Lost among distant islands,  

The wastes of the open sea

This is the big jump:

Point Loma to Taiohae Bay, 3,400 miles

Across Mercator’s dark meridians 

Not a rhumbline course,

We intend to keep our easting

As much as one can plan,

Such a vast and shifting ground  

Farewell Coronado!

Dana’s port,

Refuge to fledglings on a stormbound coast,

On 8 March we taxi to the red sea buoy, 

Make sail,

And offer Celerity to the wind

Two days fair

Off Guadalupe a small gale

We decline the combat,

Lie ahull that night

Thea sights gray land in fog next evening 

Last outrider of a lost continent,

The island is gone by mid-watch  

We are alone at sea

Stars wheel, comets flare,

The sun arcs from horizon to horizon without pause

Each watch we scan the sky for signs 

Mackerel to the west    

Off Baja a wild blow

Westerly, clear skies and strong 

We scud sou’east, the little tri 

Rocketing off the crests, 

Slewing crazily

In a welter of foam

(Piver never mentioned cross-seas much)

On deck there! 

Hand the main, 

Cast the tire drogue astern!

300 miles in two days  

At 16 North the trades

They blow fresh, more east than north, 

Whipping the crests off a steep southerly swell

The ensign crackles,

Hulls resound to pistol shots,

Tennis serves, heavier blows  

Three on, three off:

A demanding yoga

Fatigue and bruises mount

The captain’s temper flares

A shaky sunsight, balky halyard Trigger storms of rage

Our only consolation: speed 

1,000 miles that second week  

The doldrums loom,

Stretch like some grim gauntlet

Before the promised land

Visions of squalls and breathless calms Windships reeling across an arid plain

It is the time of equinox  Night watch

Clouds roil, sparks fly,

The stars are blotted out

Patter of rain,

The sky upends 


Roar of a cataract!

I huddle toward the flickering compass light, 

Then stand, shouting,

Celerity planing like a speedboat

Over moonlit, flattened waters...  

The equator must be close

Sunlines a cruel hoax,

With declination zero

Dead reckoning dances,

While Poseidon brews a more insidious plot  

Deck! Randy!
The lower shroud is gone! 

Crash of dreams wind hissing seas Glimpse of wire sighing through the night 

Heart and bowels contract

1,400 miles to nearest land  

I bat dark thoughts away,
Clap spare line to the broken shroud, 

Through a block at the chainplate, 

Thence aft to a winch,

Taking up hard

The mast stands  

Fresh horror at first light:

A spreading contagion -


Port lower and both main shrouds, checked and served before sailing - 


The backstay appears fragile to the touch  

That morning we cross the line, 

Jury rigged with anchor chain, 

Bulldog clamps

Birds cry  The sun booms down

The wake of our passage

Fades 20 yards astern

We might be spellbound,

‘cased in amber 

The sea so blue

It seems to bleed that color from the sky 

Why do we venture here?

Amateur argonauts, trembling

As the extent of our transgression grows clear 

Where flying fish whir

Like shoals of silver locusts,

And the eye, however unreasonably, 

Constantly seeks the distance

For land, a ship, some sign of men,

And finds instead empty mocking horizon  

It is the pilgrim’s lament: 

That the way to paradise Is strewn with pitfalls 

Would we settle  

For paradise less than this? 


It is the alchemist’s dream:

To transform spirit into finer essence 

Whoever dreamed

Of a crucible such as this?

Sun, sea and salt sky  

Day 24

I am resigned

To a Flying Dutchman’s tour 

Through endless Pacific wastes 

To helming forever

Beneath an inquisitor’s sun, stars 

Like dust on the sky  

The wind, though light, never fails 

Celerity glides like a sorceress, 

Her jibs hard-edged against Orion 

Te lapa bursts to starboard - 

Flashing green underwater lights 

A sign the Polynesians knew 

We turn that way 

Or the boat turns herself 

Dawn, noon, nothing from the spreaders 

We are lost

Hot and disgusted

I gain the deck, sluice, glance up 

A gray line slants into the sea

A cloud 

Yet not a cloud

Thea! Land! Land ho!

Ua Huka Island,

A seven mile speck

In the ocean’s blue immensity 

Nuku Hiva

Appears briefly at sunset:

Jagged spires on a smoky skyline

I heave-to at midnight, wake Thea 

To smell the fragrance of the tropics: 

Tiare, copra, frangipani,

A dozen more exotic scents    

Off Taiohae Bay at dawn, 

We slip past the Sentinels, the Pilot’s bold cross

Surf laps like cream  

On a long sand strand

Tropic birds flit like butterflies 

Among impossibly green ravines 

French bungalows, flame trees, 

Jeep traffic on the foreshore 

Eight yachts at anchor  

Let go!

The hook splashes, 

Celerity Curtsies, bobs,

Furls broad wings

Bird cry  



To cross an ocean under sail, 

A dream of many, for some

A fever relentlessly raging until the thing is done  

Who can tell

The depths of this sea-change? 

Strangers to land,

No longer of the sea,

We stand motionless, embraced 

To seaward, one lone sail 

Stands inshore  

Photo Captions:

Celerity sailing south, close-hauled far out at sea -Will "Randy" Thomas photo

Plotting Sheet 42N 125.5E  Sept 18 '78 southbound from Victoria to San Francisco -Will "Randy" Thomas photo

Southbound in a hurry -Will "Randy" Thomas photo