The Ancient Mariner is home from his lonely voyage. He’s waiting beside the tavern door to tell his tale. The Old Man is back from the Sea…did he win the fight with the great fish?
The story of my journey to being a sailor is over…for now. I have completed the final task which was to set sail into the Gulf of Mexico, without the instructor on board. It was just Russell, the other student, and me. It was up to us to go out and return without incident. Experienced sailors will shrug at this, and I can not speak for Russell, but it was a large step for this novice, this beginner, this “mariner-to-be”.
The forecast called for rain and moderate winds. As I was preparing the boat, an official looking man on the dock said:
“Keep your eye to the west. There’s a front approaching and a strong possibility of lightning.”
We had been trained for “man overboard” drills, but nothing was ever said about lightning. I looked around and saw only the small cabin as any protection from preventing me from acting as a lightening rod.
One strike from the gray clouds overhead would have put an end to my story rather quickly.
We motored out into the channel and followed the markers to the open water. I kept my eyes on the darkening skies to the west. Mariam was video-taping the departure. As she fell from view when we turned, I regretted not telling her to drive out to the tip of the island and walk to the beach…walk to the beach and watch Russell and I raise the main sail, the jib and sail away. No, she wouldn’t see me kill the motor and raise the sail into the wind for the first time, and let the wind take me. There will be no photograph of that moment. No video to show to a bored friend. No tangible evidence that moment happened. It will exist only in my own mind. Russell will have his recollections, but only I will have that chance to see and feel that moment, again and again in my memory. The instant I cut myself free from the land and became part of another world.
This was the moment I’ve been waiting for…sometimes with some anxiety, sometimes with excitement.
We headed up wind on a close haul. We tacked. We jibed. We came about and relaxed…we talked. I watched the sky grow darker to the west. The blue sea turned to lime-green. The wind eased.
The front moved slowly toward us. It got darker…more ominous.
“I think we should think about heading back,” I suggested, still thinking about lightning. “How do you feel about it?”
“I’m not one to enjoy sailing in a downpour,” said Russell.
We brought down the main sail and furled in the jib.
We motored back in a heavy rain. I was soaked by the time we reached the mooring. Mariam was there, safe and dry under her umbrella.
It was over. We had completed our trip…a little shy of two hours. Another instructor from Off Shore Sailing was on hand to help us put the boat back together with everything tied and secure. She didn’t want to be out there in the rain.
“This is a day to be home and sipping a mug of tea…with a splash of rum in it,” she said.
Yes, this was a day for a dash of rum.