On The Other Ocean

Consider for a moment if your house were tilted 30 degrees to the left. Imagine how this would complicate seemingly ordinary activities — like say walking. Now throw in a bouncing motion that lifts the floor five or six feet up and down in a seesaw-like motion on a perpendicular axis to the 30 degree tilt — if you’re lucky, if you’re not it’s somewhat more like riding a seesaw that’s attached to a merry-go-round which is missing a few bolts. Now Imagine it’s night and throw in a healthy downpour for good measure — that’s sailing.

Clouds, Santa Catalina IslandFor many this results in vomiting, tears and some cribbed lines about horror from Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. For others though, like for instance, my uncle, this is the sort of thing that brings out the famous Cheshire Cat grin. Some might attribute this to the general belief that if you’re a bit unhinged in the first place, then you aren’t going to really hit your stride until the world around you starts to come a bit unglued.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never really sailed in conditions like that, but I hope to someday and perhaps that makes me unhinged a bit myself.

But let’s back up a minute. Make it daylight and get rid of the rain. That’s more akin to the conditions on a windy day off the California coastline, which is where I am at the moment. Which is a good thing because my uncle isn’t on this boat and while my father is good sailor, I don’t know that he would relish the above scenario with the same sort of gusto it holds in abstract for me.

And I’m no ace sailor. I understand the basic mechanisms of a boat — anyone who’s sat on a plane contemplating the wind-induced lift of the wing understands, whether they realize it or not, the basic physics of the modern sail, which is essentially a wing turned on its side.

I can tie knots and I know most the terms the nautical world insists on using like port, starboard, fore, aft, stern, bow, mainsheet, traveler and whatnot.

More important though, I seem to have an instinctive feel for that point of sail which maximizes the available wind (at least that what the more skilled sailors I’ve been out with tell me, for all I know they’re just flattering my ego).

blue whaleHowever, it’s this last tidbit that means I rarely get the wheel on these week-long trips my family has been taking for the last decade or so. I rarely get the wheel because when I do I frequently fall off whatever course we happen to be on in favor of the best wind.

If you’re looking to go somewhere specific in a boat, I’m not really your man. If on the other hand you just want to lean the boat over as far as possible and try to exceed the designated hull speed without flipping it, I might be able to help.

Regular readers will know I’m not all that good at reaching specific destinations on land either, I tend to get lured off course by all manner of fascinating distractions. I don’t really travel — despite what it might say at the top of this site, — I just kind of wander about.

Which is why it’s typically my father who gets us from Newport Harbor to Santa Catalina Island — if, as occasionally happens, we have a favorable wind that coincides with our course, then I sail, but most of the time I lie on deck in the sun contemplating the sea — watching the occasional blue whale meander by.

twilight at seaBut my favorite time on the water is twilight. It may just be something that happens in California, but twilight on the sea produces a much deeper red, warm light that hangs around for much longer than its land-loving counterpart.

Unless you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry, you’re typically either moored or anchored come night and while the sea does calm somewhat, depending on the night you might find yourself bobbing about a good bit. And there is very little I know of that will reinforce your own speck-like insignificance quicker than lying here up the bobbing V-berth staring out the companionway hatch at the mast pitching about the stars.

At the end of the day our tiny cork existences float, bouncing and dancing in an ocean so colossal it’s nearly impossible to fathom.

And yet as I lie here with a thousand thought racing through my head, it also seems that our lives contain immense significance as well — we contain so much within us as to outstrip even the vastness of the universe we inhabit.

The largest thing is contained within the smallest thing as the Tao says, we are tiny corks with giant hopes and dreams. Sometimes they play out as we wish and sometimes they do not. As Kurt Vonnegutt was fond of writing, — And so it goes.


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