Sailing to Somewhere
For close to twenty years, I have daydreamed about owning a sailboat. I don't mean I’ve sat for hours staring blankly out the window on warm, breezy afternoons, nor have I spent more than a few hours in the past twelve years with my hands on a tiller instead of the steering wheel of my 1993 Ford Escort station wagon. But I have done a little sailing, hands on the sail lines of a small 22-footer, cruising the waters of Presque Isle bay on Lake Erie. Sailing is fun and challenging for a novice like me. The boat I first sailed on belonged to a man I worked with at a small state school in Pennsylvania, and he took me sailing for the first time in my life, teaching me what little I know about it.
I can't say when I began wanting a boat, but I'd always dreamed that it would be special, that something in the whole mix of wind and water, boat and sky, would connect to something deep inside me. The moment we got on the water and under sail, I knew that all my imaginings all those years had been right--I loved it, I loved every part of it. And I wanted my own boat. I remember telling him, laughing as I spoke, "Oh, man. Oh, man, Aubrey! This is it. I gotta have one. Today I'm opening a separate savings account. I'm calling it 'Boat'!" We both laughed.
We talked for a long time that day about boats, sails, and weather as we cruised back and forth across the bay. And though I'm not a powerful swimmer and scared of deep water, I felt a profound calm in the stern of that small sailboat that I have rarely felt in my life, and I wondered what it meant. Unlike the sleepy calm of an overstuffed chair on a quiet Sunday evening, I felt watchful, relaxed and alert at the same time. And giddy, too. Like a grinning schoolboy on his first outing, swept up in the freshness of the moment, I marveled at the steady power of the wind as it pulled at the sail lines and the quick and sure response of the tiller to my hand. My heart listened to the sloshing of the water as the bow sliced through the waves. And in some way I can’t explain, I felt as if I had come home.
That first day was so perfect—warm, yellow sun, deep blue sky, cool breeze, and soft afternoon light--that I was ready to sail that boat out of the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River and out into the Atlantic. The strength of the desire surprised and embarrassed me as my head filled with cliches of romantic fantasies--sunsets in the South Pacific, sailing from island to island, hands on the tiller of my life.
But we didn't sail the Atlantic that day, not even Lake Erie, just the bay. I returned to our college town, to family, apartment, and job. The boat stayed at the dock, and my memories with it. In the dozen years since that day, I haven't opened any special savings accounts, though my wife and I have saved five thousand dollars in government bonds for our daughter's education, bought her a piano and clarinet, and paid off two family car loans. We’ve seen the daughter through college and got her brothers halfway through with two years to go. We’ve also paid off three educational loans of our own. I haven't been sailing since that day, nor have I thought much about it, though I have been riding some unknown tide to and from work every day.
Copyright © Mark McTague, 2003