The Old Man And The Sea

MeSailingDay2

My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light,

He slept with a mermaid one fine night.

Out of the union there came three,

A walrus, and a porpoise and a little old me…”

–An Old Sea Shanty

I’m sure that you think differently of me now.  Now that you’re thinking of me as a real mariner.  A real old salt.  A man

who goes down to the sea in ships…

But, life for me is not all tattoo parlors, ex-flamingo dancers named Contessa, hard living gypsy women named Esmeralda and rum bars.  Not to mention the mermaids so fair and beautiful and alluring that you need to have someone lash you to the mast and pour wax into your ears to prevent you from sailing to your doom on rocky isles off the coast of Zanzibar.

Oh, the call of the sirens are songs you can not resist.  No normal man, like me…has the fiber and purity of heart to not fall into their arms…arms that ensnare you and lips that whispers the secrets of the eternal seas into your ears, and then drag you down to the abyss.  The abyss, where you meet Blackbeard, Davy Jones, the Kraken, Jack Sparrow or even the death-like Keith Richards.

I’m bidding farewell to all those whose feet never leave the safety of the sand and pebbles of the land.  My destiny is on the lee side of tomorrow and the starboard side of yesterday.  I can feel the salt water in my veins.  I can feel the sea spray on my gray beard, spraying me so hard, I can not tell the ocean from my tears.  I can feel the sun on my forearms and the sweat on my shoulders.  Yes, I feel the sun and wish I had used SPF #60.  I can feel the gentle rocking of the boat.  I can see my backpack stored in the cabin.  My eyes are on the little zipper pocket that contains a small box of chewable Dramamine.

It is Day 2 of my sailing classes.  We leave the calm small bay where our boat is moored.  We enter the waters of the Gulf.  Still there is no wind.  We practice a “man overboard” drill.  Not enough wind to tack.

After three hours, we return to our slip.  The class is over for the day.

I won’t be an ‘official’ sailor until Russell (the Canadian) and I take the boat out on our own…on Friday.

What kind of sea will be meeting us that day?  How will Poseidon greet this old man who dares to enter his abode?  Will I be challenged to my limit?  Will the elements be greater than my limits?

Do I even have limits?

Does the god of the sea know that I will win in the end?  We humans have no limits, do we?

Then I think of the tens of thousands of souls who went down to the sea in ships…and never sailed back in their safe harbor.

Those New England whaling village homes had a place on the roof that is called “the widows walk”.  There must be a reason for that.

Forever I’ve Dreamt Of Sailing Away

BurlingtonSailBoat

One day, several decades ago, I sat down with a book by Captain Joshua Slocum.  It was titled “Sailing Alone Around the World”.  Capt. Slocum published the book in 1900–it was a bestseller–and it made him a Superstar of the Seas.  His boat was named Spray.  Nearly ten years later, Slocum disappeared aboard the Spray.  He was never seen in this world again.   I feel assured as I can that Joshua Slocum is sailing his way through the dark reaches of space and time, aboard his little boat, the Spray.

I finished the book in just a day or two and since then I’ve been fascinated by the sea and solo sailing.  Later I read an account of a man who was attempting a solo crossing of the Atlantic.  This was back in the days when such trips carried risks that made each voyage an item in the headlines of the world’s newspapers.  When I got to the end of his story and thus the end of his trip, the last pages described something he did that transfixed me with amazement.

He had departed from some former whaling port in New England, Gloucester maybe.  I can’t even remember the name of his boat.  But, I seem to remember that after he made a final navigational fix on his position–about a day from the west coast of Ireland, he did something that I totally understood.  While his wife and the press corps were waiting for him in Cork or Galway or wherever he was to dock–he took a long hard look around his world, the world that had been his home for several weeks.  He saw water, he saw the sky and he saw his boat.  And, he saw himself as a tiny speck in this vastness of the North Atlantic.

I would imagine he began to weep.

Yes, he loved and missed his wife.  Yes, he would garnish a ton of publicity from his trip.  But…

I truly believe he wept because he had become such a part of the elements of the sky and water that he couldn’t bear to lose it.  He supposedly took his sail down, and delayed his arrival by one day.  One more day when his whole world–his whole existence–could still be his alone.

As I write this, I cannot remember his name, any book he may have written or any record he may have set.  I sometimes wonder if I had made the whole story up in my own dreams.  I can’t provide any evidence this really actually happened.

I hope it did.

I’ve aways wanted to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic.  Several problems stood in my way, however.  The first and most important issue was the fact that I simply have no idea how to sail–anything.  I put a sheet up on a canoe on the Susquehanna River once when I was a kid, but that was all the sailing I had ever done.   So, I went out and bought a book on how to sail.  I never finished it because I had no real access to a really large body of water not to mention a sailboat.

I lived in New York City where one can take lessons down at a sailing school near Battery Park.  I never did.  Now, I live about forty-five minutes from Lake Champlain.  There are sailing schools in Burlington and probably Plattsburgh.  I always find something else to do.

Maybe I’m afraid of facing those elements that seem to draw so many men and women to the sea.  In truth, I don’t even like to swim.  The water is always too cold in the Adirondack lakes.  I can’t imagine the chill of the Labrador Current.

But, I’m a very restless soul.  Perhaps I have a bit of Romany (Gypsy) blood in my veins?  Perhaps, from my bedroom near the railroad in Owego, New York, I heard too many train whistles blowing and heard too many clickety-clacks of the steel wheels on the rail joints when I was a child.

So, I’ve learned to put my sailing solo dream on that dreaded shelf alongside all the other dreams I have grown to accept will never be fulfilled.  I lost the golden ball that I was born with.  I will never climb the Matterhorn, stand in the hard frozen air of Antarctica, hike the Pacific Crest Trail–or sleep with the Prom Queen.  I’ll not be given the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I will never speak at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan.

Deep inside, I believe that I can rediscover that golden ball that made my childhood so full of magic.  The little ball exists somewhere–maybe inside me or out there alongside the less-driven roads.  I will drive the highways of Virginia and watch the Kudzu creep up the trees and engulf them.  I will pass plantations in the Deep South, pass over the brown water of the Mississippi River and I will squint into the late afternoon sun in West Texas.  But I know that somewhere, sometime, the Dark Irish in me will rise and I will begin to see shadowy clouds building on the horizon.

I’m channeling my wanderlust right now by pulling a small RV behind our Ford and heading to Florida for two months.  Our sextant is a GPS we call “Moxie”.  Our Gulf Stream will be I-95 (some of the way).  I will not be returning to the cold and ice until the Springtime arrives at Rainbow Lake, New York–sometime in April.

My boat is an r-Pod.  My alone-ness is replaced by my wife, Mariam, whose company is delightful and engaging.

LeavingRainbow

I won’t be talking to the sea or the stars–hearing nothing but wind, waves and my own voice.  Oh, I will park our r-Pod in the desert sometime in February and stare at the countless galaxies–count the shooting stars–and listen to a coyote or a song on the wind sung by the wandering ghost of a long-dead cowboy.  But I won’t be alone.

I once romanticized that kind of isolation and I still seek it, to a point.  But, in truth, there’s something about the vacuum of loneliness that frightens me very much.

I’m afraid of the dark–but that’s for another blog.