When I was fifty, young and foolish, I flew 700 friends to Paris for a weekend birthday bash. The high point of the weekend was a dress ball held in one of the Rothchild's palaces.
At the time I was gaga over a lady who, like other ladies, changed my life. She was stunning, rich, passionate and knew how to make an entrance.
Her entrance at the dress ball was memorable. Even today, 20 years later, when old friends get together someone will always say,
Do you remember Suzy's entrance? We all do.
She chose the perfect moment. Later than fashionable. The other guests were already in the ballroom and had the time to take the edge off with a few drinks. Suzy left nothing to chance.
The normal entrance was a pair of gilded portals at floor level, through which everyone had dutifully trooped. Not Suzy. She had noticed a lovely stairway descending from a balcony at the other end of the room and she contrived to have the secret and private doors to the balcony unlocked for her.
At the proper moment she appeared quietly, without fanfare, at the top of the steps. She wore simple, skin tight white silk gown, revealing one perfect, naked shoulder. A white headband bound her dark hair to her head.. She made every other woman in the room feel mildly inadequate, but as she was such a great lady as well as a great beauty, their feelings lacked jealousy.
She waited quietly at the top of the stairs, at complete ease. First one, then another then, slowly, all in the room lifted their eyes to her. The room quieted. Still she waited, interminably, till it seemed that the scene would freeze forever like a period painting. Finally, she slowly extended one bare foot and descended the first step. The room, holding its breath till then, let out a sigh of relief and anticipation.
The rest was history. She owned the night, the room and my heart.
I tell this tale because of the pleasure it gives me in the recall and because it defines a most important event in Sailoring . . . the entrance to harbor.
Like Suzy's, an entrance, as we shall see, must be perfectly timed, your boat must be in consummate good order, dressed in proper flags and ensigns. The action of entering must be accomplished with unembellished exactness, not one move unnecessary and without loud and evident direction to crew. Your boat should appear to bring herself in just as Suzy appeared to float down the staircase, an inch or so above the staircase steps.
The entrance to a harbor, with every eye on you, with your peers waiting to judge your every move, must be poised, polished, suave and urbane. You must make all the other boats feel a tad inadequate . . . but without jealousy.
An entrance is preceded by a landfall, certainly the high point of any passage. To watch, after days or weeks at sea, the goal of all of your efforts rise on your bows, expected and hoped for, is precisely what Sailoring is all about.
Perfect landfalls follow a scenario inscribed in centuries of experience. Those of you who have searched a distant coastline for entrances and landmarks know how utterly mysterious the smudges along the horizon can be. Even on closer approach entrances can be obscure, points and capes foreshortened and the whole picture distorted by your own burning desire to make port.
There is one fail-safe way to make a landfall. Only incontestable, unerring, navigation lights point the way to safe harbor. But since you should rarely chance a night entrance, nav lights are to be used just before dawn, to point with clarity the way to harbor. As dawn breaks, there is a moment of pure twilight, a moment of revelation, when lights and shore features meld with lucidity and what you see on your chart coalesces in your minds eye with the lights and horizon ahead of you.
Thus, always make your landfall at dawn. If you are too early to match lights to land, wait a bit. Never, never be late, because if you are, that narrow channel leading to your refuge from the sea may be draped in mists or hidden in a confusion of mountains.
If you are a sailboat, come in under sail. It is more than just elegant. It is a prideful and satisfying statement that you know what you are doing. Coming in under sail is the safety net you spread lest your engine fails.
Engine failures happen more frequently in harbor, after long disuse at sea. Connectors fail and seals leak and electrics poop out in response to peaks of pressure, and plastic bags and floating lines tempt your prop. Indeed, after weeks under sail, you yourself may lose the correct touch on the throttle which keeps your engine alive.
Keep your engine ticking over if you like, even motor sail into harbor, but always keep your main up.
Take your time. Like Suzy, make a long and searching pause, enough for you to register all friends and foes, to seek out unexpected dangers and to give the folks at anchor time to welcome you. At dawn, nothing is worse than a surprise bump or clank of chain released too close. Give the boats at anchor a chance to get used to you and, perhaps to help you find the perfect spot to put your hook in.
There is nothing in all your experience like that ineffable moment when, after the terrors and trials of a long sea passage, you finally feel your anchor grip in a safe and protected harbor. You feel the muscles of your neck go slack as do the tensions in your head. Responsibility and labor are rewarded by an absolute sense of a task completed with no strings hanging loose.
How seldom in your life ashore do you receive this sort of perfect affirmation. Ashore there is always just something else to be done, some contingent, perhaps minor, task left to do. Someone, something blocks that utter sense of 'abate'. There is simply too much input, too much clutter of people, too many comings and goings, too much ferment, too much emotional 'noise' on land to allow a total moment of respite.
Those moments of concord and tranquility are reserved for the sailor come home from the sea.
Your anchor is down, the journey complete, you have absolutely nothing left to do save fall happily into a bunk that is not trying its best to toss you out. It is a State of Sailorly Grace. You may now drift off to sleep with the sure knowledge that you have done your duty and that when you awake, after sleeping as much as you like, you can start to plan your next pasage.