Night Passage to Cherbourg


To young men comtemlpating a voyage, I would say go….The days passed happily with me wherever I sailed.

                                             Captain Joshua Slocum                                                                             Sailing Alone Around the World

Joshua Slocum was in his 50s when he took a notion, refurbished a neglected sloop, and became the first person to circumnavigate the world single handed.  An experienced sailor, but a non-swimmer, he set out to sail, trade, and barter his way along the sea lanes with the aid of compass, chronometer, and sextant, navigational equipment now made obsolete by GPS and computers.

I am aboard the MV Oscar Wilde bound for Cherbourg, France, thinking about Slocum and his life at sea.  Something about the luxury and comfort  of this Irish Ferries passage has a decadent, fin de siecle feel about it.  Will my grandchildren ever experience such pleasure or will they accept the degraded cattle-car air travel now packaged and fed to us like Happy Meals and Kentucky Fried Chicken?  There is nothing like a fine meal well presented, a glass of good wine, and sleeping cradled in the ample bosom of the sea.

However, I promised my itinerary, so I will get to business.  Tonight I’m crossing the Irish Sea on my way to France.  From Cherbourg I will travel to Paris and on to Marseille by rail.  That’s where the adventure begins in earnest.

In Marselle, I board the CS Ural, just launched last month.  She’ll be my home for 35 days on the way to Xiamen, China.  Along the way we’ll stop at Malta and Port Said, transit the Suez Canal, and make calls at Salalah, Oman, Khor Fakkan, UAE, and Port Kelang, Malasia.  The voyage takes us across the Medeterranian, through the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and China Sea.

All this makes me think of the old comic strip ‘Terry & The Pirates,’ whose principal female character, the mysterious Dragon Lady, still whispers in my dreams.  Xaimen is an old port city, now a popular seaside resort, and a train ride away from Shanghai.  I plan to make that trip and spend some days there before looping up to Beijing.  I hope some of the old mystery of the Orient still haunts the back streets of these ancient outposts.  I think of Marco Polo, Genghis Kahn, and successive waves of Mongol hoards battering the Great Wall.

Joshua Slocum was lost at sea, presumed dead when he failed to reappear after again sailing away alone.  I prefer to think he’s still somewhere out there living free among the dolphins and stars, only occasionally making landfall when the smell of tropical flowers blows down across his weather side.  A man might occasionally forsake the sea for the touch of the Dragon Lady, a woman with an orchid in her hair.

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Copyright Jack Kelleher © 2014.