The longest reach

"...he has returned to his mother sea only on her own terms. He cannot control or change the ocean as, in his brief tenancy of earth, he has subdued and plundered the continents. In the artificial world of his cities and towns, he often forgets the true nature of his planet and the long vistas of its history, in which the existence of the race of men has occupied a mere moment of time. The sense of all these things comes to him most clearly in the course of a long ocean voyage, when he watches day after day the receding rim of the horizon, ridged and furrowed by waves; when at night he becomes aware of the earth's rotation as the stars pass overhead; or when, alone on this world of water and sky, he feels the loneliness of his earth in space."
-Rachel Carson from The Sea Around Us (1951)

I was first introduced to the writing of Rachel Carson back in college when Silent Spring was assigned as the core text for an introductory Fisheries & Wildlife class. Later on when I was in graduate school studying to become a marine biologist, I again read more of Carson's writing, this time from The Sea Around Us. I enjoyed the book, but the above quote didn't particularly resonate with me at the time.  

As time has passed and I've become a sailor and sailing has become part of me, that quote is starting to have a certain gravitational pull. I've had small glimpses of the "receding rim of the horizon, ridged by furrowed waves". And sometimes when I'm sailing away from land, even if only for a few miles or hours, I can begin to feel the loneliness of the earth in space. Not necessarily a sad loneliness, but rather a distant separation from the familiar.

If you read enough books about sailing voyages, old and new, you'll start to notice a common thread about how passage making changes you from the inside out. You've probably noticed the same thing from reading blog posts about long passages. And if you hang out with cruising sailors or wannabe cruisers, sooner or later the conversation will turn to making ocean passages. You can spend countless hours debating routes, weather, safety gear and the merits of a full keel versus a fin. And then of course, the long distances become part of the conversation. Thousands of miles under the keel and week after week of continuous sailing. All of this brings me to what motivated me to write this post today: The longest continuous straight line (no tacking!) that you can possibly sail on the planet Earth.

The longest straight line sailing route on Earth
(Map by kepleronlyknows from Reddit)

Look closely. That's nearly 20,000 miles from Pakistan to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. I can hear the dissension already - I know it doesn't appear to actually be a straight line. But that's because the flat map doesn't tell the whole story. To verify this is indeed a straight line route, check out this video:


Can you imagine that passage? True enough a non-stop circumnavigation is a longer sail, but you can't do that on a single tack or without changing course. How long before one of the many record seeking sailors attempts this route?   

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece! I was assigned to read Rachel Carson's Sea Around Us when I was an unaware & callow youth. You include a passage which has become iconic.I should re-read it!

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