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Friday, July 18, 2008


Summer in a beach town in New England is the epitome of freedom. Long days spent biking to the beach or the harbor or to the bridge over the creek the next town over run into long evenings that are never called nights because then it would be bedtime, even for a precocious twelve-year-old. But where summer vacation is freedom, family vacation is something else entirely. Primarily, of course, the vacation is for Dad. Dad’s a sailor, so the family vacation involves sailing, for which Dad keeps a boat, of which, naturally, he is the captain. And what, besides a boat and two weeks of vacation time, does a captain need? A crew, of course; preferably an obedient, willing and cheerful crew. Instead, Captain Dad, who for the other 50 weeks of the year leaves the house early and returns late, has four crew members who spend their time in separate rooms, when not separate yards and even neighborhoods, and who are not necessarily gung-ho about spending 14 days and 14 nights in that large boat’s itty-bitty living space, where Mom has nowhere to sneak a butt, Brother has no cookie jars to rob, Sister has no doors to slam or hallways to stomp down, and you… Well, you are twelve!
Eventually, a day or two in, as you are wont to do when stuck out at sea at the mercy of Captain Dad and his crew, you become acclimated. You learn to duck when Dad’s boom whips across the deck on a jibe, regardless of whether or not you heard or understood his casual “hard-a-lee”. You remember what the halyard is, where to stow the winch and how to secure a fender with a half hitch. If you are twelve, you also learn how to keep the radio low enough so no one realizes you’re below deck listening to the top 40 and reading in your bunk, when everyone else is heaving over the side into the long high waves, while you savor what is your newly-found, most-prized possession: solitude.
Then one day you’re cruising on an overly calm sea while the sun seems to diffuse, weakening in a sky that fades from blue to yellow to white, as the ocean stills and the sail does more luffing than billowing until it goes slack in the dense graying air, and Captain Dad sends you forward to go stand at the bow and watch out for lobster pot markers and buoys, because you are sailing right into a bank of misty, then silvery, then thick-as-pea-soup fog. At first, you concentrate with all your might (you still want to be Captain Dad’s favorite First Mate, after all), staring into the dirty gray-green water below the blue Keds you dangle over the bow pulpit. As the whiteness slowly closes in around you, you stand and call aft, “Lobster pot to starboard!” You listen hard for the sharp clang of the buoy, but when it comes it is much softer and more muffled than you expected, and you can’t see even its shadow. “Bouy to port, I think!” you call back, glancing past where you ought you see the outline of the mast, but the cockpit, where your family should be, is blank and silent, as if it were lost to you.
Looking back out over the bow, down at your hand as it tightly grips the rail, you notice tiny drops that have gathered to glisten atop each hair that stands straight up on your bare arm. You breathe in the damp air, alone in this foggy universe for a few silent moments, when even the slap of hull against water is barely audible and your scope of vision consists entirely of your own tanned, beaded forearm.

1 comment:

  1. I remember as do you that it took two days before I felt comfortable and integrated and again close to you. The cruising days were the only ones not dominated by your mother and offering the chance to be myself.
    Nice memories even though not as fond as I'd wished!


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