To Martinique

The stereoscopic view of animals in most higher vertebrates consists of two eyes on each side of the head. This was Zoology 101. The best degree ever 😊. We learned how most mammals have their eyes placed further apart – the ungulates, rodents etc., to provide better overall visual coverage. More chance of spotting a leopard running casually in your direction.

As apes developed and evolved, vision became more binocular – or forward-facing. By the time humans arrived, we lost the wider coverage – and also the chance to be as pretty as horses and cows. We made up for it though by sharper processing and better focus. Light that fire, man. Classic evolutionary pay-off.

This kind of information never left me, long after I finished that BSc. Some aspects of zoology I still think about now. I find myself turning them over in quiet moments – like yesterday’s sail to Martinique.

Not all aspects I agree with. Before I had kids, I was all yeah, yeah, go natural selection. Randomised genetic mutations all the way. Then, suddenly it seemed a little too convenient just to throw natural selection into a big, revolving lottery machine. I mean, are we sure natural selection is completely random?

Did Darwin consider how every living creature wants their children to be better than they are? It is such a deep-seated urge, it struck me it was on the basic, evolutionary level. That elevator goes way down.

I’m not saying that evolution via natural selection gets it right every time. I just wonder if we can make it ‘try’ sometimes in certain directions. Perhaps therefore it’s not always so random.

Anyhow, in my experience, most self-respecting biologists tend to laugh when I voice this ‘hunch’. They throw me the, ‘You called yourself a scientist?’ line.

‘Well, I never said I was a good one!’ I hit back. Hmm. Doesn’t exactly carry the desired burn.

In the last few days, it’s become squally and gusty again. Tropical Storm Sebastian has fully dissipated now. Sailing La Vagabonde got nicely out of its way and is on the downwind to Lisbon. Looks like Greta’s going to make that UN Climate Summit after all.

In our little world meanwhile, it’s hard to get excited about crossing island channels when the spinnaker halyard is banging against the mast above you and the anchor is snatching against the snubber below. The next boat we have, we are definitely getting an aft bedroom.

But it was a pretty wonderful sail to Martinique. Lulu’s live biology lesson managed to finish just as we reached the northern tip of St Lucia.

‘Bye!’ her teacher called out to her Year 10 students through the laptop as the sea became rolling indigo. We pulled the sails out.

Quest is cutter-rigged – she has a small headsail and an even smaller staysail, permanently set-up between the mainsail and the genoa. For some reason though, we usually just sail with the genoa and mainsail. The wind is never in the right place, too much, too little – bla bla bla. Today, close reaching in a steady 18 knots of wind, flying all three sails was perfect. With all her sails out, Quest felt very happy indeed.

We had company too. Almost all the way through the channel were the bountiful brown boobies. Using Quest’s knack of disturbing surface-dwelling flying fish, the boobies dived and twisted, hurling themselves into the liquid sea. They soared back up with pin-point accuracy around Quest’s bouncing sails.

‘Those boobies must have amazing eyesight to do that,’ Jack mused, staring at them too. They were mesmerising.

I nodded. Evolution. And the best bird name ever.

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