I was originally drawn to sailing not by the pull of the water but by the pull of land, land beyond my horizon. The idea that one could step aboard a boat, hoist a triangle of canvas like a hitchhiker’s thumb and catch a ride on a passing wind to an exotic island, to a foreign country, to a different continent was, well, mind-blowing.
When I first became aware of sailing, the possibilities it opened were personified by the legendary British couple Eric and Susan Hiscock. They had individually started hitching rides on the wind in the 1930s. By 1955 they had sailed as a couple completely around the globe aboard an unremarkable 30ft sloop appropriately named Wanderer III. They continued to wander the globe for another three decades, funding their adventure by penning a number of books that would inform and inspire several generations of cruising sailors.
It was Susan Hiscock who came to mind first when the anchor light failed to illuminate. After a dozen years sailing in the eastern Caribbean, we had made the passage back to Florida. We had not exactly swallowed the anchor, but this night, anchored in the lee of a barrier island in south Biscayne Bay, was our first overnight aboard in a year and a half.
We had full confidence in all of the systems of our still well-maintained cruising sailboat, so the anchor light failure was an unpleasant surprise. The integral photocell had made checking the masthead light impractical in daylight, so now it was dark, and so were we. In one of those all-to-common coincidences that have added “exacerbate” to the English language, my trusty multimeter had apparently succumbed to inattention. Troubleshooting the problem was not going to be an option.
How does Susan Hiscock figure into this little drama? I looked at my dead meter and heard her oft-quoted admonishment that “the most important item to take aboard a cruising sailboat is ingenuity.” I took that as a challenge, and 20 minutes later the Richard Cory was displaying an admirable if not legal anchor light. The components were a give-away nine-LED Harbor Freight mini flashlight, a small clear moisturizer jar we kept aboard to contain tiny parts, and a roll of masking tape. Almost any bright flashlight and any matching clear jar could work. It just needs to be able to remain illuminated through the night.
Despite the sea change cruising has undergone since the Hiscocks’ days, ingenuity remains the best tool in the sailor’s kit.