What I Like
What I like is sailing solo on smooth water. Close reaching in a moderate breeze. The autopilot steering. I can walk around the boat to observe her from different perspectives. It’s like sitting in the backseat of your car for the first time. Things look different, are different.
From the bow I stare up the forestay to the masthead. To my side, the shapely genoa curves up and away into the blue sky. If there are clouds for reference, the masthead swings to and fro like a metronome. It is tempting to lean back into the sail, and if the boat were heeled sufficiently, to lift your feet from the deck. That would be foolish, of course, but I imagine it would be like lying on a cloud, the way you imagined it as a child during your first airplane ride, cradled on the billowing white field, trembling to the gentle harmonics of wind and water working on the canvas.
Leaning to windward and sighting aft down the hull, part of the underwater sections are visible. You can tell how well your bottom paint is working. With each gust and lull, the great round shape of the hull rises and settles. Viva’s roundness makes me think of whales and submarines.
Back in the cockpit, I lean to leeward and watch the passing wave tops reach for the rail. The genoa sheet is taut. The telltales on the sail stream aft, parallel. A good set. We’re moving quickly. I feel like I could go on forever, or at least until Bermuda and the West Indies.
What I like is overtaking another boat, gliding silently past through its lee, emerging from the wind shadow in front, pretending not to watch the other crew watching me.
What I like is watching dolphins swim before the bow, slowing and dropping back, then sprinting forward away from the charging stem. They jump, swerve, veer. They seem happy. They have made me happy. When the pack finally tires of the game and starts to leave, one or two remain for a minute more, before they, too, heed the call we cannot hear or know.
What I like is dousing the sails and silencing the noise of whipping fabric and lashing lines, furling the sail neatly on the boom and securing it with long nylon sail ties so that just a yank of the bitter end frees it. The sound of the anchor chain paying out over the bow roller is rough and businesslike, yet reassuring. Men have heard this sound all around the world for hundreds of years. It signifies the day’s and passage’s end. When the anchor sets, there is a sense of relief that you’re again hooked in to Mother Earth. In the lee of land, protected in this anchorage from the wind and swells, it is time to rest.
What I like is going below and getting out of the wind. Checking the cabin. Making a drink. Climbing back into the cockpit and sitting with my feet up and a pillow behind my back. I look around at the other boats, especially those coming in late. What kind of boat? Who’s aboard? From where do they hail?
Beyond, in the wetlands, there may be birds whose white bodies appear iridescent in the yellow light of the setting sun. Colors of the sand and grass deepen.
After dinner, what I like is to climb back into the cockpit with the last of my wine and a fresh pipe. I check the anchor and other boats around me to make sure we’re not dragging. Then I sit again, back propped and feet up. The dodger shields me from the wind. In New England, the evenings are always cool.
Above, the stars come out. The constellations slowly revolve; should I get up in the middle of the night, they won’t be in the same places.
Here and now it is just me on my boat. The world is silent, somnolent. Wavelets lap the hull. Somewhere a fish jumps.
God’s in his heaven
All’s right with the world.
So sayeth Robert Browning.
So sayeth I.