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The Mirror of the Sea by Conrad, Joseph - Chapter 1

The Mirror of the Sea


"And shippes by the brinke comen and gon,
And in swich forme endure a day or two."
The Frankeleyn's Tale.

Landfall and Departure mark the rhythmical swing of a seaman's life
and of a ship's career. From land to land is the most concise
definition of a ship's earthly fate.

A "Departure" is not what a vain people of landsmen may think. The
term "Landfall" is more easily understood; you fall in with the
land, and it is a matter of a quick eye and of a clear atmosphere.
The Departure is not the ship's going away from her port any more
than the Landfall can be looked upon as the synonym of arrival.
But there is this difference in the Departure: that the term does
not imply so much a sea event as a definite act entailing a
process--the precise observation of certain landmarks by means of
the compass card.

Your Landfall, be it a peculiarly-shaped mountain, a rocky
headland, or a stretch of sand-dunes, you meet at first with a
single glance. Further recognition will follow in due course; but
essentially a Landfall, good or bad, is made and done with at the
first cry of "Land ho!" The Departure is distinctly a ceremony of
navigation. A ship may have left her port some time before; she
may have been at sea, in the fullest sense of the phrase, for days;
but, for all that, as long as the coast she was about to leave
remained in sight, a southern-going ship of yesterday had not in
the sailor's sense begun the enterprise of a passage.

The taking of Departure, if not the last sight of the land, is,
perhaps, the last professional recognition of the land on the part
of a sailor. It is the technical, as distinguished from the
sentimental, "good-bye." Henceforth he has done with the coast
astern of his ship. It is a matter personal to the man. It is not
the ship that takes her departure; the seaman takes his Departure
by means of cross-bearings which fix the place of the first tiny
pencil-cross on the white expanse of the track-chart, where the
ship's position at noon shall be marked by just such another tiny
pencil cross for every day of her passage. And there may be sixty,
eighty, any number of these crosses on the ship's track from land
to land. The greatest number in my experience was a hundred and
thirty of such crosses from the pilot station at the Sand Heads in
the Bay of Bengal to the Scilly's light. A bad passage. . .

A Departure, the last professional sight of land, is always good,
or at least good enough. For, even if the weather be thick, it
does not matter much to a ship having all the open sea before her
bows. A Landfall may be good or bad. You encompass the earth with
one particular spot of it in your eye. In all the devious tracings
the course of a sailing-ship leaves upon the white paper of a chart
she is always aiming for that one little spot--maybe a small island
in the ocean, a single headland upon the long coast of a continent,
a lighthouse on a bluff, or simply the peaked form of a mountain
like an ant-heap afloat upon the waters. But if you have sighted
it on the expected bearing, then that Landfall is good. Fogs,
snowstorms, gales thick with clouds and rain--those are the enemies
of good Landfalls.