Old Salt Blog - Conrad on Nelson at Trafalgar

Conrad had sailed off Cape Trafalgar. Like Nelson, Conrad was a windship sailor. He paid attention to and understood the vagaries of the wind in a manner that steam ship captains of both his day and ours could never fully grasp. He wrote: “ To this day I cannot free myself from the impression that, for some forty minutes, the fate of the great battle hung upon a breath of wind such as I have felt stealing from behind, as it were, upon my cheek while engaged in looking to the westward for the signs of the true weather.”


I have a neighbor who I’ve never seen take less than 3 tries before docking his boat. Like most pleasure powerboat operators I observe, he seems clueless of the effects of winds and currents.
I attribute my awareness to my having been introduced at a young age to sail as well as motorboats so it’s second nature.
On a higher level of fixation, I recently watched a professional sport fishing boat captain blow his docking maneuver because he answered a ringing cell phone instead of ignoring it and returning the call when finished docking.


A common problem. In our company’s navigation training program we try to teach respect for wind and current early on, by putting the trainees in an open boat for a week with only sail and oars, and have them navigate through 130 miles of the Inside Passage in British Columbia. A painful task unless you carefully study wind and current.

Do they learn the lesson? The program is relatively new. We’ll have to wait years until the trainees becomes captains before they can give us an unvarnished report.

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It may be difficult to justify the time and financial investment in terms to satisfy upper management but based on my experience it’s one that is likely to pay off handsomely for future captains. I see it as a valuable practical knowledge for negotiating stretches like the Seymour Narrows where brainpower is more important than brawn.
You’ve mentioned this practice in previous posts and I commend you for it. I wouldn’t let the bean counters talk me out of it even if the results are difficult to quantify.

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Joseph Conrad has such a way with words that I keep reading his passages over and over again. There is no disguising the heart of a great poet, even if he styles himself as a novelist…

It was one of these covered days of fitful sunshine, of light, unsteady winds, with a swell from the westward, and hazy in general, but with the land about the Cape at times distinctly visible. It has been my lot to look with reverence upon the very spot more than once, and for many hours together. All but thirty years ago, certain exceptional circumstances made me very familiar for a time with that bight in the Spanish coast which would be enclosed within a straight line drawn from Faro to Spartel. My well-remembered experience has convinced me that, in that corner of the ocean, once the wind has got to the northward of west (as it did on the 20th, taking the British fleet aback), appearances of westerly weather go for nothing, and that it is infinitely more likely to veer right round to the east than to shift back again.

On one level it’s a matter-of-fact description of a micro meteorological trend, on another it’s a masterfully executed painting by words.


True. I always wondered how much of this had to do with the fact that his mother tongue was Polish. His syntax is British–but not quite.


I find he’s one of those writers who makes me take my time. I read a few pages then put the book down.

I always enjoyed his characters as much as his written paintings.

“Care for you!” exclaimed Mr. Baker, angrily. “Why should he care for you? Are you a lot of women passengers to be taken care of? We are here to take care of the ship—and some of you ain’t up to that. Ough!.. What have you done so very smart to be taken care of? Ough!.. Some of you can’t stand a bit of a breeze without crying over it.”