Sailing Off the Coast of California
Posted on September 3, 2012
This Saturday, Heron and I went to Newport Beach where we met up with some friends. We were going to spend the day on our buddy’s — let’s call him Kent — sailboat. Kent has this beautiful boat, and he has been sailing most of his life. Back home, my buddy had a great power boat, but this was my firs time on a sailboat.
Honestly, I was worried that I was going to get sea-sick, and I was even more worried that Heron would get sea-sick, too. The waves were large, and it was a windy day. As we drove through the harbor, Kent told me to head up to the middle of the boat and start pulling a rope attached to the mast. To my surprise, I was lifting the main sail, watching the canvas spread out open at the top — the wind filling and catching. It was amazing.
I kept asking Kent questions. ”What do you call that first sail?” I learned it was called a jib. ”What are those dials for?” ”How fast are we going?” At first, I worried that I might have been annoying, but Kent seemed like he loved to teach about sailing. He knew what he was doing. And to my surprise, as we pulled out of the harbor and passed the jetties, he told me to get behind the wheel.
Suddenly, I was Captain Joe — at the helm of the ship. I couldn’t really figure out, at first, how to keep the boat straight, and Kent wanted me to do circles around a buoy. I was amazed that every small movement of the wheel could cause such major shifts in direction. I was navigating all right, until I took a few sharp turns, and the boom came swinging hard back through the cock pit, almost nailing Kent in the head. Luckily, he was prepared for that disaster and kept his head low. When that happened, I thought to myself, “I’m sure glad I didn’t do that.” But then Kent said, “You’ve got to keep the boat straight.” I asked, “What happened when the sail moved like that?” ”That was you,” Kent said. ”Definitely you.” So, I was at fault. Kent was nothing but encouraging however, and I stayed behind the wheel.
It was amazing, feeling the boat dive and dip in waves. I’ll never forget turning the boat to face the bluffs in Laguna Beach. At one point, Kent decided to just jump off the boat and go for a swim. So I had to circle back and pick him up.
The reason I was so interested in sailing, besides the access to the beauty of California and the mystery of the Pacific Ocean, is that I want to write a novel about a man who ends up lost at sea. I love books like Moby Dick, Treasure Island, The Old Man and the Sea, Shutter Island, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Tempest. My novel has been in the back of my mind for some time, and I have many drafts and sketches, but I’m trying to earn as much experience as I can so I can write the story authentically.
Being at sea, at the mercy of something bigger than yourself, is beyond fascinating. Plus, the ocean as metaphor for the self, for insanity, for chaos and order and the shifting moods of nature and the mind. Theodore Rhoetke touches upon this in his Norther American Sequence and Melville owns it in Moby Dick. But there is still so much I need to learn, so much I need to understand, so much I need to encounter in the middle of the ocean.
Saturday was truly a remarkable day. As we came back into the harbor, we saw seals diving in and out of the water. Plus, we saw seals that took over a boat that was left unattended. Some people even put up orange-mesh fencing used on construction sites to keep the seals out. It was an amazing day, and I just wanted to thank Kent, Brinkley, and Barkley for showing Heron and me such an amazing time.