A few months ago my dock neighbor went out for a solo day sail and they later found his boat, but not his body. He was no novice. I heard he could ride the swell like a true cowboy. That his heart was made of seawater. That he had fins for limbs. I think about this story a lot on my first day out at sea alone. I wonder if perhaps he was not tethered or maybe he enjoyed a few too many cocktails or maybe he fell victim to the songs of the sirens. And where is his body now? In the belly of a whale?! I don’t want that to be my fate.
I’ve got another dock neighbor who sailed solo to Hawaii at the age of 18. He had barely been on a boat before. His mission was to win the heart of some gal he met while on vacation. His batteries bit the dust his first few days out so he had to hand steer the entire way. To stay awake he used tooth picks to hold his eye lids open and ate coffee grinds. The sea was so rough that he had to wear a snorkeling mask to keep the seawater out of his tooth-pick-wide-open eyeballs. He said when he finally got there he sailed his boat straight onto the beach and licked the shore. Then slept for a week straight. In the meantime, the gal he was chasing was already kissing somebody else.
I figured if he could make it to Hawaii, I could make it to Hawaii.
I have only ever sailed 36 nautical miles alone and it took me six hours. This sail to Hawaii could take me up to three weeks. I’m sailing slow on purpose. It’s blowin’ between 17 and 20 knots. I have all three sails up, but I got my main reefed, my Genoa reefed, and my staysail flying full in between. I’m cursing at a steady pace of 5 knots with waves crashing over my bow. I have to go up to the mast to make any changes to my main or staysail, so I tether myself to the jacklines and prepare to get wet.
I know, I know, I could go a few knots faster in this breeze, and I certainly don’t need my main reefed, but I’m not in a hurry, I just got out here! Plus who won the tortoise or the hare?
The swell is supposed to get up to 7 ft tomorrow. Gosh darn it, I’m on an upwind course and dreading that. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, I’ve just never seen it alone. Between you and me, close-hauled is my least favorite point of sail and there are 4 more days of it until I can peel off and sail that groovy reach towards Hawaii.
My grapes don’t like this point of sail either, they just threw themselves all over the galley floor.
I’ve been out here for seven hours. It started off all foggy and cold and by the time the sun burned a hole in the clouds, there were no boats or land left in my line of vision. Every five minutes I hear someone from a warship on the VHF radio announcing their coordinates and requesting all vessels to stay 8 NM away because they are doing live firing drills. So somewhere, not to far from me, bullets are flying through the air and sinking down into the waves. At least I know there is someone else out here even if they are packing heat.
“Hot Spot, hot spot, Camanchi on 16,” says another voice over the VHF.
A bullet almost sank into me once. I was 13 and at a house party gone wrong. Imagine two teenage boys from Conway, Arkansas robbing a party filled with kids they have known since kindergarten. I was from a neighboring city and the only face that the robbers didn’t recognize. They yelled at me to “Sit the f*** down white b****!” I stood there like a kangaroo and squeaked, “Is this a joke?” Then they shot straight at my melon.
The bullet missed me three inches to my right, went through two walls, and landed in the bedpost of a bed where a girl was sleeping. Nearly killed us both!
After that, they terrorized us for hours in the living room. The mortal combat video game was on pause and that song just kept looping over and over and over and over and over. Anyway, they kept saying “we’re going to have a blood bath tonight.” So I thought a lot about death that night too. I thought about the obvious things; like the last words I had said to my family, I hoped it was “I love you.” And I thought about the things I hadn’t done yet, like French Kissing a boy or going to high school. Then I thought about the “blood bath” that they were shouting about. I imagined that they were going to line us all up in front of the fireplace and shoot us down a line. I wondered, should I go first so I don’t have to see anybody else die? Should I go last and pray that they run out of bullets? Fortunately, I didn’t have to decide. I saw the guys who shot at me the next day at a Burger King parking lot. The one who pulled the trigger ended up going to jail for attempted murder.
It sounds strange, but I became more adventurous because of that experience. It made me want to take life and squeeze it until all of the stars fell out of the sky.
People say “You can’t do that or you can’t go there, you could die.” I look them right in the eye and say “You could die just sitting in some living room.”
So anyway, here I am, just out here French kissing the sea and NOAA has just issued a small craft advisory and the sun is gonna set soon.
“Nirvana, Nirvana, you copy?” The faceless people of the VHF radio continue.