Open Horizon / by duncan mckenzie

It was like meeting a very old friend again after all these years. I had generally good memories of our previous shared experiences. In some ways it was only now that I would really get to know the true persona, find out what was just then, and what was still now. 

When you travel an ocean you pass into a zone. It is a place without time. You are mixing with the most potent currents of memories, the lives of ancestors, of creatures, the capturing of stellar light, the absorption of CO2, its motion reflections of the energy patterns of global weather systems. Even the scientists in Germany now say that water has a ‘memory’ of light particles of everything that passes through it, so this is some electric soup you are moving through.

When you pass out of sight of land into this zone, you willingly enter a haunted house of pure perfection and neutrality. It is a place which does not accept the human any more than it denies it. It just is. It is deeply humbling to be in such a place. It is actually a privilege. And not something one forgets in a hurry.

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I had said, previously, 16 years ago, that my experience of voyaging across the Atlantic was unique in that I saw things there, particularly at night, when the body becomes ultra sensitised, that made me state that I had seen beauty in a different league to anything that went before. The curve of the starlit heavens that confronts the helmsman in his tiny cockpit, the varying textures of moon on water and the heaving swell of the bosom of this vast watery tract enter one’s consciousness and utterly dwell within one’s soul, for a time. 

Afterwards, it is very difficult to say what happened, what passed there. But something changed within you. There was an understanding of something, a connection with something, that changed your soul forever. You somehow saw into the mind’s eye of the planet, the solar system, the very essence of the elements, Nature, the Universe, call it what you will. You are then forever changed. You are a traveller of oceans, and when you meet another sailor who says, ‘After three weeks crossing to Tahiti, I just wanted to carry on’, you do not question such a statement. You become complicit in the darkest secrets of the world. You have seen the giant cogs turning, and considered how impossibly small you are within its context.

And the strangest thing is the feeling this instills in you. Not terror, not fear, not a state of vulnerability, but the purest sense of peace, connection and bliss. People talk of returning to the womb, and I can only think they mean in order to achieve this sense of harmony and connectedness with something much greater than oneself. 

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We were enlightened, mid-voyage in 2002, with the big news from the sailing rally’s daily radio report from Cowes, that allied forces had begun bombing Afghanistan. We stood amazed at this news. Firstly it could have no effect on us whatsoever, in our current state of geography, but mainly in our current state of mind. As we attempted to process this fact, staring out over the glassy waves sculpted by early evening sun, at this endless horizon of space and light, it made us realise how far we had gone in, into this zone, this Afterworld of peace and light. How far we had come, on this voyage.

And of course it isn’t just you that is voyaging. It is thousands of years of humans before you. In dugouts blown offshore, in reed rafts, in early clinker-built ships, in rowing boats beyond their range, in spherical coracles tossed towards the horizon. Never mind the radar scanner, the AIS vessel identification system, the satellite phone, the self-furling genoa sail, the refrigerator powered by solar panels. What you see with your eyes is what they saw. What you feel in your little heart is what they felt. That cannot be taken away. And this is my fascination with the open sea, the ocean environment. It is like a secret amongst ocean sailors: ‘Hey, come listen to the heartbeat of the world.”

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