Indian Ocean, July 1975
A Bit of Calm
You don’’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.—C. S. Lewis
After what seemed an eternity, the winds had died to a whisper, and the threatening clouds had drifted away. The sea became flat and still. So still and smooth, it looked like a sheet of glass on a lake, but we were far away from any lakes. We were out in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I gazed at the peaceful blue sea and sky surrounding us, and walked around the deck at a slow pace, looking into the distance, as far as I could see.
Charles and Alon helped Dylan raise the sails. I heard Dylan complain about the difficulty of moving forward with a broken rudder and the loss of the mizzenmast. “Much harder to steer,” he grumbled.
I went back to our room to have a sea water shower while the weather was cooperating.
When I came back up, I saw Mia sitting alone at the table in the galley. Her eyes were tearing.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She nodded and looked away.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and some dried fruit and nuts and returned to the deck.
Dylan reported he saw a ship on the horizon. I could see something faraway to the west. He went below and tried to reach them on the marine VHF radio, to ask if they could give us a weather report. He tried several times. No answer. He even tried contacting them with a signal mirror. No reaction. I saw his disappointment as they disappeared over the horizon.
I was fascinated with the signal mirror (a disk with a hole through it) and asked Charles about it.
“Standard,” Charles sort of explained. “A valuable communication tool. It reflects light from the sun to a nearby surface like your hand or a raft. Been in use since long before the VHF radio.”
“How does it work?” I asked.”
“You bring the mirror up to your eye and tilt it until you see a small bead of light. Next move the light toward your target. When your eye is in line with the target, you’ll see a bright spot. Pivot the mirror toward the object you want to signal. You can send signals by sending flashes of light. Doing this three times in quick succession is the international distress signal.”
“Oh!” I said. “Good to know.”
At last, Dylan was able to get an accurate read on our location. He told Charles we had gone south instead of southwest and we were heading in the direction of Diego Garcia.
“Diego Garcia? Is it a country?” I asked Charles.
So how was he finally able to get a precise reading?”
“During the storm we were pushed off course,” Charles explained. “The rough weather knocked the chronometer off the wall. Mia hung it back up, but forgot to tell Dylan.”
“Is it the time piece which hangs in their room?” I asked.
“Yes, he kept taking a fix on the chart based on the time showing on the chronometer. Unfortunately, it was not showing the right time.”
“How frustrating. How did he find the correct time?”
“Marine Radio. It’s amazing. Latitude can be found accurately using celestial navigation. Longitude, however, requires the exact time-of-day difference between the starting location and ending location. Without the precise information, the mathematical calculation can be off by 150 miles or more. Non-directional beacons from marine radio signals help obtain a fix of geographic location. A fix is computed by extending lines and reference points until they intersect.”
“Sounds complicated,” I said.
“It is,” Charles replied.
“Can Dylan get us back on course?”
“I’m certain he can navigate us to safety.”
“If he can, Sinbad is a good sailor,” I said, wishing it so.
The boat seemed to be sitting still; barely moving. But after so many stormy days, sunshine and a calm blue sea soothed my soul. I sat on deck and read for hours.