|Chad, Scott & Danny|
I've been dreaming of Malaika nightly since we left. Brief flashes of the gently tilting deck, the warmth of latern lit teak, the soft sounds of the living vessel; anonymous creaks and murmurs from the rigging, the ever-present lapping of the ocean.
I grew up near water. Lakes, rivers. I power-boated with my father when I was young. But that was different. The sea is different. It's immensity gives brief sidelong glances at infinity. Most of the Earth is down there, covered by it, and most of the time too. It is likely we came from the ocean, crawled out, learned to breathe, stayed out. The dolphins and whales went back for good. Their wills failed against the strange siren song of the sea. Our common heritage is long forgotten; distant cousins with little familial resemblance. But still, staring out over it, there still exists a subliminal nostalgia for our deepest past, like driving past one's childhood home long since sold.
Malaika is a sailboat and her destiny is obvious. To sail. Engineered from thousands of years of human experience on the water she is in a way, a culmination of man's time with the sea. Built by Island Packet in 1986 she is 30,000lbs of fiberglass, lead, wood, aluminum and sail designed implicity to bend with the wind to the will of man.
Scott surrendered the helm to me for a brief moment the first day we sailed. The big wheel was a foreign thing at first, alien & disconnected from action. I tried small movements, and the futility of my small intention on the rudder incited a creeping panic in me. I tried a little more throw and we began to heel.
"ScOTTT!!!" his name escaped my throat in an ascending scale. I was convinced the unnatural tilt of the boat was the harbinger of certain shipwreck. I was at the helm for 30 full seconds and I was about to destroy my friend's home and likely kill everyone on board in the process.
Michelle commented "It's not as easy as it looks, is it?"
"No, it's far more terrifying!" was the best I could do at a response.
I focused. I found a conspicuous building on the island we were headed for and aimed for it, lining up with the bowsprit like my dad taught me almost 30 years ago. I tried to scan the compass and the wind direction indicator, tried to tie them together with the wagon wheel in my hand. Clumsy.
The wheel made faint spasmotic jerks in my hands. The sails faultered. Sheets flapped impotently in the wind. Malaika sighed and slowed in my incompetence. She came back to center. Patient.
She had thousands of years of experience, I was a virgin. Encouraged by the lack of disaster, I moved the wheel back into the wind. The sails flapped for a second and then filled. The sheets tensioned.
Malaika heeled. The whole boat galvanized, solidified, ceased being thousands of seperate parts and became a single uniform object singing in the wind.
Through the wheel I could feel the boat wanting to be in that sweet spot, could feel the life surge through it when the bowsprit passed that little mental marker on that distant shore, felt it change, tease a little. It didn't fight or buck, it wanted to be in that spot, wanted to stay there, to exist there. It signaled through the wheel, whispered to me to hold it there with gentle touch the way a dancer leads his partner with the hand in the small of his partner's back.
We were sailing. The effortless silent glide, the invisible forces propelling us forward, the collective yearning of Malaika for more wind, fuller sails, bluer water. Malaika's destiny was fulfilled, the purpose for her being realized, she was happy.
There were times though, when the wind was to faint or too contrary to our course to sail. Malaika was fitted from birth with a 44hp diesel engine for just such occasions. A practical addition to a poetic, if some times impractical vehicle. The diesel engine is a good thing for a crew to have. It gives the boat greater maneuverability in close quarters such as when docking. It is useful in setting anchors, for charging batteries, and for moving the boat when there is no wind. That being said, a diesel engine is not necessarily a good thing for a sailboat to have. Motoring is contrary to a sailboat's purpose. It is the antithesis to it's destiny. The boat does not sing while motoring. It does not rise up triumphantly from the sea. It does not surge. There is no harmony of design and function and skill. The diesel motor is a clunky add-on. Tacked on as an afterthought, hidden away in a bilge, it is unpoetically utilitarian.
The boat labors ahead of it's diesel motor. It chugs. It exhausts. It plows unceremoniously through the water, borne by the promise of the wind and sail when time and tide are more favorable. The motor serves a purpose, a means to an end. Sailing is the congruence of means and ends. It is the realization of the boat's destiny, the climax of purpose, the alchemy of common elements into gold.
And as we sailed I realized what it is that Scott and Michelle have achieved. They are sailing. They have harnessed the wind of their lives. Most people plod through their lives: they work to chase the dollar to buy crap they don't need, plug themselves into the television in nightly rituals displaying manufactured heroes and icons; choosing instead to live vicariously through pre-scripted reality television, immersing themselves in a fantasy powered by the false idols of a commercialized god.
Almost all of us motor through the majority of our lives, propelled by unnatural, cumbersome means.
We work 9-5's, plug faded dollars into failing retirement plans, endure rush hours, performance appraisals, and the insolent patronage of middle management in pursuit of a couple free weekends a month and the ever-dangled carrots of promotions or bonuses or gold stars or pats on the head.
A few of us sail occasionally. We know it. Chase it.
We motor onward toward those brief moments of wind and full sails, gearing up, building the requisite Karmic credit, preparing, dreaming, waiting.
I only know two people who have actually done it. Two full-time sailors, so-to-speak. They have thrown their diesel motors overboard. Their sails are full, sheets trimmed. They may sail for a week or a year or the rest of their lives. They may sail off the edge of the world into the jaws of the those immense sea monsters the ancient mariners feared.
Doesn't matter. They have already succeeded in their dream. Already sailed more than most of us ever will. They are an inspiration and their lesson is simple: Shut down the motor and sail.
Dream something, and then go do it. Find your destiny.
Thanks Scott, Michelle and Jib for sharing your dream with us, if only for the week. The Bahamas and the sea are nice, but Colorado is still the dream I started dreaming 20yrs ago and never woke up from. Someday I hope I can return the favor.....