I have always been a sailor. As if I was a sailor in a previous life, my heart always yearned for the open ocean.
Through the years I have owned many boats. The first was the S.S. Randolph. (not the big one, but the eight foot plywood one that sank in the neighbor’s pond) The second was an old rotten plywood scow. My father procured it for me. He was a very wise man. He, I believe, understood that working on such a thing was as important as sailing it. I spent a winter in dad’s shop getting it ready for the water. The next summer was spent sailing, fixing, and towing back to shore this most valuable treasure.
Later there was a fine O’Day Mariner, which sailed the reservoirs, the great lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay. (I proposed to my wife while swimming 2 1/2 miles to cling to the Great Wicomico Light structure for rescue.) There was a 27′ North American, a 25′ Hunter, a 40′ Irwin Citation, and finally, my current vessel, a 52′ Irwin center cockpit ketch. Each of them were old and in poor repair, each of them required much work. Each of them were loved.
I have seen new boats. They exist at boat shows, their tables set perfectly, with a rose in a leaded crystal vase. White upholstery, fine leather, varnished teak that you could shave in. I wonder what they must look like after a rough passage, crossing the gulf stream in the middle of night with a north wind. Do the vases shatter and scatter their shards across the finely appointed salon? Do the polished floors lie covered with wet foulies and the vomit of the motion sick? Does she have such poise that such things never materialize, and she slips into port, her crisply flaked sails bound with matching sail ties, embroidered with her name, the rose still upright, the vase unfazed by mother nature, having some contract to forestall such indignant calamity?
My boats are different. I know each galled bolt and failed fitting, each questionable seacock. I have laid in every corner of the bilge, under her floorboards, reaching for the dropped fitting, or screwdriver. I have snugged every fastener and I have uttered curses, head-down in her most intimate recesses.
I know her. She knows me, too. I speak with her in the night. She is a living thing. I hear her breath, I feel her warmth on a cold night, she moves, slicing through the water at a whim, carrying me carefully across the sea, surely she cares for me, as I care for her. She rocks me so gently to sleep after I find her a safe harbor.
I love her, only a sailor could understand, it is a contract, like every love. I will care for you if you will care for me – is that not the contract of love?
I know that this is a strange thing to say, but boats are not inanimate objects. They live. They move about the seas, tossed by storms, and congregating in protected shallows. They communicate with those who love them. In the deep of night, alone on the ocean, I understand her, and she me. We share our thoughts and our time. It is a deep and loving relationship. I doubt that the owners of the shiny white yachts feel it, but every sailing bum on every old boat, who has scraped her belly clean, and shined her hull, and fixed her leaks understands. You give love, and you get love in return – that is a fine relationship.
I polish, and coat, and sand, and repair, and when there is nothing pressing, I make her shine – and I take her places – and I show her off. I am not even embarrassed by such actions. Others love their boats, too. Some even love the ugly and the unreliable. How a man could be so attracted to a power boat, or a catamaran! It is shocking!
I miss her sometimes, when business, or life pull me from the sea. I know that she waits. I know, too, that she knows that I am thinking of her now, tonight, in front of my computer, as she stands alone, tied to her slip, watching the dock for my arrival.