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Large sand dunes between Albrg and Tin Merzouga, Tadrart.  South of Djanet. Algeria. 2009. Photograph by Sebastião SALGADO / Amazonas images

Photograph by Sebastião Salgado

One of my favorite pastimes when we were sailing was watching the wake the boat made slipping through still waters. The glassy surface of the ocean rose up creating a razor-sharp edge as it continuously slipped along beside us, like a wave that never breaks.

Not every wake was like this and so fascinated me. It came only under perfect conditions. When the sea was clear and still, smooth as a mirror. When the wind was non-existent or so light it was like a baby’s breath. When we were sailing lightly on a zephyr’s breeze, or motoring through calm, still waters. When the wind rose and rolled, the wake would change, shot over with foam, its curl not so distinct, its edge not so transparent.

I’ve searched everywhere for a photo of a wave or boat wake that captures what so fascinated me, but the closest I can find are images of sand dunes with that razor-sharp edge following the undulating line of its crest. Sand dunes have their own haunting beauty and they too shift over time, but even so they don’t do my memory justice, for the wake I watched was alive, vibrant, constantly moving, a steady companion.

It was sculpture in motion, the way it  curled up continuously creating that sharp, transparent edge. A slight undulation along the lip as it held its form was mesmerizing. Watching it, I thought, I never want to be anywhere but here. And, I never want to lose this. I sought to etch it in my mind so it would always be part of me.

Of course, it wasn’t just the sight of that never-ending curl, that razor-sharp edge trembling in the sunshine that moved me. It was the whole experience. The still sea stretching out forever, the soft swish of the hull parting the seas, the whisper of the wind against the sails.  It was the tang of the salt in the air and the balmy breeze stroking my skin with silk gloves. It was me, bare-legs stretched out against the warm teak decking, sitting absolutely still in a sea of motion.

It was my family tucked away with me within our living, moving, breathing home, miles and miles from anywhere, safely embraced by the sea and sun and breeze.

If anything clearly captures the essence of what it was like to live aboard La Gitana all those years, it was the poetry of moments like this, repeated over and over again, like glittering pearls strung along a string.

I think now what fascinated me then was how this was such a clear example of the ever-changing changeless: The constant subtle variations in the wake’s shape that made it so mesmerizing to watch and yet changeless in its constancy, it never-ending formation. And while it lasted for hours, it was ever a new thing, newly created moment by moment.

I wanted to reach out and touch that razor’s edge, but I knew if I did it would  dissolve beneath my fingers.  How could water, so malleable that it melts through your fingers, create such a sharp, clear edge and hold it so long?

These things fascinated me then as they do now and fed my interest in the sublime ambiguities and paradoxes that underlie this beautiful world we live in.

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