National Geographic : 1929 Feb
CRUISING TO CRETE Four French Girls Set Sail in a Breton Yawl for the Island of the Legendary Minotaur BY MARTHE OULIE AND MARIEL JEAN-BRUNHES THREE weeks before the date fixed for our departure we had not yet found a boat. The crew was ready, awaiting only a telegram. We were, however, somewhat scattered. The captain, Hermine de Saussure, was work ing along the coast of Provence; the mate, Ella Maillart, was cruising on an English yacht, in the Channel; the commissary doctor, Yvonne de Saussure, was direct ing her school of dramatic art in Geneva, and the seaman-boatswain-cook, Marthe Oulie, was harvesting her hay in southern France. At last, the 51-year-old motorless Breton yawl Bonita was found in the hands of her thirtieth owner, and in less than three weeks she was repaired and outfitted by the crew, which had assembled at the Vieux Port (Old Harbor) of Marseille, where large sailing ships are becoming very rare, alas! On July 7 we passed under the Trans porter Bridge on the way to Ajaccio, Cor sica. In order to reach Ajaccio it was neces sary to touch at Porquerolles, in the Hyeres Islands, which resembles a beauti ful forest of pines planted in the midst of the sea. Here a Provencal tartan, a small coasting vessel of the Mediterranean, of fered us a bouillabaisse, and under the chaperonage of an old, retired seaman, affectionately called "the admiral," we had a delightful party on board an Italian brig anchored in the roadstead. What a mem ory to cherish is that of those Italian songs, sung by superb male voices, with the melo dies rising, from the group around the captain, at the foot of the great mast, to "the cruel and divine heaven of voyages"! THREE PLAY WHILE ONE OF THE CREW STANDS WATCH The western Mediterranean greeted us with disheartening calms alternated with squalls. We took three days and four nights to cover the distance between Por- querolles and Ajaccio, and a sort of tradi tion seemed to establish itself. Regardless of the length of a trip, it was almost invari ably made in three days and four nights. This meant three days and four nights of open sea, absolute liberty, no land, and often without a ship in sight-days when the routine of the boat, the preparation of the meals, and the navigation were all that occupied the passing hours. We took turns at the helm, eyes fixed upon the compass and upon the sails. One person was generally sufficient for a watch. She could steer and manage the sheets alone, while the trio off duty lounged on the deck, in the cabin, or in the cubbyhole, below and forward. But whenever the breeze freshened, everyone was needed to work the ship. A British officer, a writer of note, asked us with astonishment: "But is it possible that you did not get bored, just the four of you, during two months ?" "Such an idea never entered our heads. How could one be bored in this solitude, without vexations, with so much work, so much of the unlooked for, and with so many charming hours of reading aloud or of lively conversation ?" "Well," said he, "I cannot imagine four young Englishmen who in any case could thus amuse themselves in each other's company. At the end of several days they would be bored to death." He did not say whether his observation was based primarily upon the supposition of their being English or merely men. Of Corsica we saw only Ajaccio and wild Bonifacio, and these only in glimpses.* Ajaccio, with its palm trees, has an Afri can aspect, and everything about the port suggests Napoleon, who was born there. Even the smallest boats in the harbor have names which recall the Empire. * See, also, "The Coasts of Corsica: Impres sions of a Winter's Stay in the Island Birth place of Napoleon," by Maynard Owen Wil liams, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for September, 1923.