Hunched over the steering wheel with bleary eyes I was once again in my old camper van driving into a town where I had never been before. It was raining and sleeting heavily. I was tired and hungry and just wanted to find a place to park for the night. The gas gauge was tsappingon empty. I worried that when I went to fill up the gas tank, my credit card would be rejected. Then I woke up from my terrible dream. There were a few nights much like that on my recent trip. That lost and lonely feeling is much how it is for me again tonight.
I am aboard my beloved ‘Seafire’ anchored in a beautiful nook known as Maple Bay. It will be my last night aboard this wonderful vessel. Tomorrow I meet with the buyers for a sea-trial. On the following day the boat will be hauled out for a survey and once that is past, the deal is near completion. I feel like a convict on the night before his appointment with the hangman. At least he has the sweet hope of oblivion. The ship’s chronograph rings out seven bells, right on time. It is nineteen-thirty hours (7:30 pm) I am reminded that the clocks are to be turned ahead tonight for daylight savings. The clear evening sky held a little light until about a half-hour ago. It is damned cold. There is snow along the shore right to the waterline.
So here I sit, the aging man who lived in this egg, surrounded by the teak and brass in what has been my world. The one oil lantern remaining in the boat is glowing brightly, its cloying bittersweet reek fills the cabin. The furnace is belting out a lovely warmth and I reminisce about all the nights through the years spent aboard sitting right here, at this table, while the rain hammered down or the wind howled while the boat slammed against a dock or tugged frantically at the anchor chain. There were summer nights when the hatches were open to let in the fragrant night air; sometimes there were swarms of mosquitoes. Around the boat, seals and sometimes whales or dolphins snorted and splashed. Occasionally while anchored in some remote north coast bay there would be wolves howling in the surrounding rain forest. Sometimes the northern lights would begin to pulse and throb in the black, star-studded sky. There have also been nights in the harbour of some city where the lighted buildings towered above me and sirens howled above the constant drone of traffic. I don’t like cities. There have been times when I have sat here feeling like the loneliest man in the world but so very often I wanted to be in no other place.
And the days, those magic days, when the world passed at a stately speed between five and eight knots. Grey days, sparkling sunny days, none of then were bad; even those long hours bashing through monstrous breaking, foaming, hissing mountains of briny water when you knew that what you were doing was insanity. Sometimes the boat was surrounded in thick fog. It always made sense to me. I and this beloved little ship have seen an awful lot. We never made it to Europe, or even to Mexico, which was the original plan, but without that dream I would not have experienced much of what I have. A friend e-mailed me today to remind me of my recent metaphor about having to draw the arrow backward to launch it forward. Life is a long series of rapidly passing moments which ricochet between choices, some good, some bad.
Today on the short three-hour voyage to this bay the wind freshened out of the north. It was cold and clear and beautiful. I hoisted the sails which have been tightly furled away far too long. For two hours I motor-sailed, then the wind faltered and died. It was as if the gods wanted me to have one last dance with the wind. I will miss this boat, dearly and desperately, I know that. I also understand that you can’t steer a steady course by looking back at your wake. There is no ocean voyage that is not made between points on shorelines. Land and sea are meaningless without each other. After days or weeks out upon the broad, curving eternal face of the open ocean you make a landfall, often in a port where you’ve never been before. You rest, re provision, find new charts, make repairs and modifications. Then recharged you sail off on a new course to a new destination. Life is an eternal journey. I will send postcards, many of them. Meanwhile, tonight will be very long.
Two days later, the sea-trial is completed, the buyers are happy. I am waiting for the surveyor this morning. There are only some simple formalities to complete the transaction. Then I will be boatless, for the moment.
I learned last night that a new friend, one I made on my travels in the desert, has died. For many years Frank was only an acquaintance until I spent a few days visiting with him in Ajo Arizona. We bonded like brothers and made plans about where and when we would meet again. We had met through a mutual friend who was a life-long close friend of Frank’s. Fortunately Jimmy was able to spend Frank’s final hours at his bedside. Any man who has a friend like that is successful indeed. When circumstances took Frank’s leg he was able to give it a positive spin and became an advocate, at a high level, for the disabled. He took his personal challenge and turned it into an advantage for himself and many others. He was courageous and positive. Nothing held him back. Only a few short weeks ago he took me for a drive in the desert. This one-legged guy drove his standard shift vehicle by using a stick to work the clutch. He didn’t miss a shift.
This short eulogy is all that I can do. My sadness is overwhelming. This is a reminder that one should live among their fellows like each goodbye is the last one. It just might be.
“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”
… André Gide