Our home in space

Guy Ottewell

Tall ship

I sailed to the Bahamas in a forty-eight-foot ketch called the Soverel, with five others and a captain to teach us how to use the ropes. We started by camping on someone's lawn at West Palm Beach, crossed the Gulf Stream partly under motor power, but then used the sails from island to island. There was one girl, who had the aft cabin; everyone else slept below in such a stuffy pack that I soon took to sleeping on the deck. Sometimes we sailed through the night, steering by the stars (I made this the cover picture for one of the Astronomical Calendars). We anchored at uninhabited islands, saw large life under the water, and the sky was star-studded. Afterwards I conceived of organizing astronomical cruises back to these dark-skied islands, but it would have needed the cooperation of our captain, and he, living in the boat that he was building for himself, couldn't be reached.
     But then a friend who was a travel agent put together a cruise for the solar eclipse of February 1998, on the Sir Francis Drake. She was a three-masted schooner, which under different names had been launched from Germany in 1917, sailed twenty times across the Atlantic and once around Cape Horn. My mailing list brought so many takers that Joyce had to add two luxurious modern catamarans, which came across from France. Starting at Sint Maarten our flotilla sailed from island to island, to reach the middle of the channel between Antigua and Guadeloupe where the eclipse would pass. I used a sandy formation at the tip of St. Barts as a planetarium to explain the eclipse. I and the three children on board climbed around the shrouds, up to the crow's nest, out on the “widow's net” and the bowsprit, swarmed up the side as pirates with knives in our mouths; I sang a Calypso I had composed on that earlier voyage; on St. Kitts I learned to climb coconut palms.