In another life I might have been a sailor. I also might have been a sportswriter a la Red Smith or a curmudgeonly columnist a la Andy Rooney. Today, though, it’s sailing, or more generally, boating that I seems just the thing. This happens from time to time, as I have mentioned on the past. I read something and want to participate, not just read about it. These recent ruminations of the sea are brought to you by a couple of Paul Theroux essays, in particular “Sunrise with Seamonsters.” But these are just the most recent in a fascination the origin of which I cannot place.
I’d say it started with Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, but even before that, I recall reading Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan. Much later there was The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee. Each of these made me want to head out for the water. Forget the fact that I have little or no training sailing a boat, limited experience in canoes and kayaks. The idea of being outdoors, and the solitude of the sport appeals to me. It doesn’t even have to be the open sea. I remember a few years back reading an article in the Washington Post about a fellow who kayaked to work along the local rivers for much of his career.
The mode of transportation is specific: no powered motor of any kind. I’m not interested in motorboats, Waverunners, yachts, cruise ships, or any vessel that isn’t powered by nature or muscle. I’ve gone kayaking a number of times up the Bagaduce river in Maine, and always enjoyed the quite, strenuousness of the experience.
There was a time, back when I was flying, that I enjoyed trimming the plane at 6,500 feet, while crossing the water between Oxnard and Santa Barbara. I was alone, I had packed lunch. But it was noisy even with the headset and there’s no way to fly in or around L.A. without being in constant contact with air traffic control. There is no sense of isolation. So while I do find myself envious reading books like Stephen Coonts Cannibal Queen or James and Deborah Fallows Our Towns, it is the water more than the skies that I find so seductive today.
I’ve never been a long-distance runner, or biker, but I imagine it is the same feeling that draws people to running and bikes that I find drawing me to the water. I spent my day sitting in front of a keyboard and screen. I live in a suburb of a populous city which in turn is part of a greater megalopolis. Reading about hitting the water in a canoe to see if you can make it from the north side of Cape Code to Nantucket seems appealing to me.
Buck had his call of the wild. I have my call of the water.