Monday, January 19, 2009

sounds of sailing

Often birds play a prominent role in the sound scape of time at sea. This was an amazing site and sound. This point just at the harbor entrance had the largest collection of pelicans I have witnessed. Must have been a convention. Oddly, it was silent.

Dolphin's, we got this one shot of the aquatic mammals while we were in the middle of a pod of what seemed like thousands. Sails up and wind blowing well, we just watched them feed and speculated about how their feeding ground likely runs the length of the Santa Barbara Channel. This went on for something like an hour before they were off in the distance.

Now the Story.
So there you are, nice and warm, tucked into your v-berth while the boat lightly bobs in the water, when... whooooo. Now I write that and you don't have the proper image in your minds ear. What I mean is a sound near the amplitude of a freight train and roaring in waves that seem to undulate within the realm of loud and louder. There is no breaking of the waves and slowly drifting into the lulling of thousands of air bubbles dancing toward a silence as with water, no this is sustained. It howls through the rigging (the mast and all of the various lines and stanchions associated with it) of the boat. It is amazing that the sound of high velocity wind (I think it was around 35 knots) can activate these cables and ropes to produce sounds so beautiful.

Of course, I was not appreciating the beauty at the time. This happened Sunday AM and the only thing that went through my head was, "she will never sail again with me." Well if that wasn't enough, this goes on for 2 hours, the sun comes up. All the while I am maintaining a watch to make sure we are not moving and that our neighbors boats are not moving. She is able to drift back off, but I am calculating and figuring, what in the hell we are going to do. I know it is as simple as pulling the anchors and getting out of there, but this is the backside of the island and the wind is coming over the top and down to us, what is the channel going to be like on the way back? All that I can imagine are huge seas and even bigger winds. Of course as the captain, one must keep it all together and know exactly what to do. In this case the best thing to do was wait and have breakfast. I cook fairly well and if we were going to ave a hellish day at sea at least we could have a great breakfast. So, steak and eggs and I was beginning to relax.

Then I look out the window and notice that the boats are not where they should be. Shit. Then I hear an air horn sound two blasts. Shit! Our back anchor has pulled out. I should have increased the scope, this is the lesson in the end. But right now, it's life jackets and to action team!

We get out, start the motor, pull up the rear anchor and then I try my best to keep her bow into the wind while Christine pulls up the front anchor. Trouble is the front hook has a 40 foot piece of kelp on it. Now at this point it is important to point out that she not only helped me pull up the back anchor but then ran up to the bow and yanked up 200 feet of line and 30 feet of chain with a 35 pound anchor at then end. And it was quick! But we are getting pushed closer and closer to the rocks. I finally realize that she has the front anchor free (we have gotten our communication down! No ego just facts.) So I drive us across to the other side of the harbor and tell Christine to drive down the middle of the channel and out to the open water. I am trying to haul this thing aboard so it doesn't punch a hole in the bow. The best way to do this it have it up as far as it goes and hang over the side of the boat and rip kelp off.

After the fact Christine mentions to me that she was really scared driving through the kelp fields, that it might wrap around our prop and then.... Well yeah, the rocks. Turns out, I've broken the right pieces off. After going back to the cockpit to check on her progress and direct her to open seas, I go forward and can finally get the anchor aboard.

Out in the open water we make our way back to Santa Barbara, first under motor and then sail power, shaking out reefs one by one until we finally have to turn the motor back on as there is no wind!

So that is the exciting adventure side of it. Looking back now I am thinking about the sound. This would be one of the first times that I have been in a sailboat, had a diesel engine on and was motoring at cruising RPM's and not been able to hear it. The wind was so prominent in my perception that when I bothered to stop and think for a second about the motor, I had to look at everything to make sure it was on. It occurs to me that for all the visual cues that I use in sailing, much of what I do is based on sound. I have never broken it down before, but one of the first realizations that I had that taught me this was a fear of not being able to hear the diesel engine when I knew it was on, because if it wasn't we wouldn't be in one piece.

Later on in our channel crossing I began to reflect on the loud slapping that we had heard early in the morning. This had been our boat getting picked up and then falling back on to the water. With this there was also the feeling of the entire vessel going smack! It is indeed an interesting sensation when you realize that the vessel that is keeping you afloat can take that sort of beating. This did not worry me to much as this is very common when coming off of a big wave, but I did begin to keep track of them. Which was louder, how was their tone changing? From where did the sound radiate? Looking back, I can't answer these questions because I was not clearly articulating these criteria at the time, but I can see that they are what I was listening to.

Finally, the sound of balance. As we sailed back and the wind progressively tapered off, we were able to get all of the sails out and get the boat so balanced that I barely had to touch the helm. I would just sit back, set my hand on the wheel and stair off into the distance, while Christine stretched out in the sun, closed her eyes and fell asleep. It was then that I began to notice the sound. There was so little. The swell was so spaced out, we are talking 19 second periods between crests, that we just drove over them without alteration to the sound of the boat slicing through the water. At these times I noticed that I turn my head often to sense the wind. One of the best ways to know wind is feel it and hear it. I often point my face into the wind measure it's consistency of direction then turn my head to the side catch it with my ear. I use my ear to notice how it is changing or not. Again, none of this really occurs to me consciously because I can not really put it into words other than, "the wind is coming form there and it is about 10 knots." Looking at it now, I am aware that I can hear the spectral shifts in the broad band noise that wind produces by using my ear as a sort of instrument to catch the wind. This also means that I have to calibrate this process to the amount of directional variance and perceived by my face and that of the apparent wind that is produced by the boats motion.

In the end I find myself wondering about how to make this type of listening the subject of a composition. It has not yet occurred to me how to best deal with this in order to make a compelling piece, but then again I am impatient and have only been thinking about this as a project for a day or so. I also begin to wonder if so much time doing this type of listening has an impact on what I write or listen to as a musician? Musical hearing is largely event based, chords, scales, notes etc. yet I have always had a preoccupation with longer subtle shifts in timbre. Of course, nothing is exclusive with human preference, so I logically have not focused exclusively on unfolding of long timbre events (funny how I refer to this as an event!), but the pieces that feature this type of focus seem to be the ones where friends turn to me and say, "that really sounds like you". Which I take to be a huge compliment.

Be seeing you. (I am very sad about that).


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home