L'autre jour, en revenant de Châteauroux, j'ai mis la radio de ma voiture à fond. Céline Dion chantait son dernier tube en français et chaque mot de cette chanson me taillait le coeur!
"Je voudrais passer l'océan,
Croiser le vol d'un goéland,
Penser à tout ce que j'ai vu,
Ou bien aller vers l'inconnu".
J'ai repensé à cet épisode de ma vie où j'étais équipière sur des voiliers en long et en travers du Pacifique sud. Je viens de retrouver l'article que j'avais écrit à ce propos, d'une rencontre avec un albatross, sur mon blog Threefold Twenty, en anglais. Il n'est plus sur ce blog car je l'ai pratiquement effacé, mais je l'ai retrouvé dans mes archives. Le voilà donc:
73.An albatross (écrit le 13-09-2006)
Reading a book of sailors and pirates adventures in the 1600s, here’s what I found:
"One day out of the great wilderness of water there came an albatross. Circling the ship on wide pinions, dipping and rising on currents of air, gliding and planing, sometimes so close to the crests of the waves that it seemed to become part of the spume, it kept station with the ship for days on end. Neither of the boys had seen a bird of that size before. At times it sailed close to where they crouched in their barrel-shaped perch, seeming to use the up draught from the Seraph’s mainsail to hold its position, never flapping its wings, only gently fingering the air with the black feathers at the tips. Dorian particularly delighted in the creature whose wingspan was three or four times that of his arms." (from Wilbur Smith, “Monsoon”, p.132 Pan Books edition 2000)
I couldn’t describe my own encounter with an albatross better. It was on that same trip sailing as crew on a yacht from Noumea to Auckland in October 1997. We were getting near the tip of the North Island of New Zealand, still 3 days to go to get to harbour. The weather was still good although with a promise for storm coming from the far south west. We thought we might be able to make to port before the big storm as the low trough was situated somewhere near Tasmania, if I remember correctly.
And then, this bird came up from nowhere and started circling the main mast in very slow motion. Just like it says in the quoted passage. Sure, our yacht didn’t have a perch on top of the mast. I recall watching this bird in amazement from deck. I knew that the wingspan of an albatross is huge but the body of the bird looked amazing too, the size of a very large duck, so it seemed. It flew up above us and then around the boat close to the crests of the waves and up above again. I didn’t tire looking at it in wonder. It stayed with us for a while and then disappeared.
The next day the storm was with us. Fast and sharp winds from the south west were building up the sea to a wild element. We were 3 days and 3 nights in it fending for survival of the sailboat, and us five on it. As if that bird had come to warn us and wish us good luck…
I have learnt since then that these birds live and breed around Antarctica. They tend to circle the South Pole in their migrations at the level of the 50th parallel south. They can live as far as the top islands of Northern New Zealand which is 35° south. Two years later on another yacht, on that same route but in fair weather, a pair of albatrosses stayed circling around our main mast for a few days. You get used to the sight of their nonchalant flight “never flapping (their) wings, only gently fingering the air with the black feathers at the tips”. In contrast when further down the coast of Northland we saw myriads of ‘normal’ birds, we thought they looked pretty excited flapping their wings like mad.