Monday, December 11, 2006

St Jerome Creek, MD, to Norfolk, VA

69.1 nm
Wind: calm to SW 5 knots
Maximum speed: 13.3 knots (but I think that’s a glitch in our system)
Average speed: 5.6 knots
Latitude: 37°00.53’N
Longitude: 076°19.11’W

Forgive me, but I was feeling philosophical today. So here goes:

When I was bicycling from Florida to Maine with my family, I felt like my brother and sister were paragons of grace, sleek tall other-worldly beings that glided down mountains on sleek tall bikes, leaning towards each other, canting towards the asphalt, like some species of brightly colored hawk. I, on the other hand, resolutely peddled my stout wide-tired bike, with stubborn revolutions of my stout elephantine legs, while the clown music started up in the background. They seemed to know, without even having to stop to consider it, how to deflate their tire tubes when they went flat, how to effortlessly slide them from their casings, how to replace them in an instant. It seemed to take no more time than the space of a breath. I, on the other hand, placed my stout and sturdy bike on the side of the road and threw up my hands to sky in despair. They would look at me with wordless disgust and change the tire for me, as easy as exhaling.

If you met them, you’d know. They’re both tall and elegant, regal, graceful, like ancient Egyptians or hybrid aliens from Superman’s planet. I, though older, am the short one in the family at 5’10”, farther apart in age, and sometimes I don’t even feel like I speak the same language, the secret language that only the two of them know.

Without even realizing it, I seem to have allied myself with another of these wordlessly graceful beings. When Karl was a boy, he aspired to be a ninja, even going so far as to buy himself black outfits and nunchaks. He would practice, out in the backyard, how to walk silently, how to take a step so the pressure rested equally on all planes of his foot at once but wouldn’t make a single sound. He practiced how to climb in and out of windows, how to sneak up behind someone so he could, eventually, assassinate them. That is, after all, what ninjas do.

He still walks silently. When we were hiking, he glided down the trail as effortlessly as my brother and sister bicycled, his whole body a lithe instrument of deadly grace. When we came to rocks, he sped up, leaping from the top of one to the next, seeming to sense without thinking where his foot would find traction on the angled and slippery surfaces, calculating, below the level of consciousness, all sorts of vectors of friction and physics. He hiked like a ninja.

I would try to follow precisely in his footsteps sometimes and would end up collapsing in a bloody and sodden heap on the trail, generally weeping. When I couldn’t follow him I would galumph down the trail, breaking through shrubbery like a large beast of burden. This is why, when it got really rocky, in Maine, our daily mileage collapsed to an average of about five miles. Small children could have kept up with us, and did.

Every day I ended up in a sobbing heap in Karl’s arms, continuing through sheer persnicketiness, as he tried to comfort me, wondering what the hell he’d gotten himself into. I could feel, as he tried to tell me that I just had to believe in my next step, that same silent disdain that I felt from my siblings when I tried to change tires.

So now Karl sails like a ninja, like an assassin. He hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet, but I’m utterly convinced, when he does, that we’ll skim across the water like a flightless bird, leaving a trail of effervescent white foam across the water. He’ll trim the sails like they’re an extension of his own body, just like he used to walk like a ninja, like he used to snowboard, when he was almost a professional snowboarder, just like he used to ride his sleek yellow racing motorcycle at 180 miles an hour.

I, on the other hand, can’t even get the boat to tack. The amount of coordination it requires to hold the furling line in one hand while I pull the sheet in with the other is utterly beyond me. Reefing? Forget about it. My profound lack of balance prevents me from doing anything other than crawl out of the cockpit. Changing headsails? Are you kidding? Karl is so deathly afraid of me falling overboard that he doesn’t even let me go up on the foredeck while we’re moving. I went up, the other day, to watch the genoa as it curled and uncurled along its edges like a ruffled lily, trying to catch the wind. Then I had to pull myself, hand over hand, on my hands and knees, back to the cockpit, while the clown music started up again in my head.

As anyone who’s ever watched a kung-fu movie knows, assassins don’t teach. They merely beat their beffudled protégés into submission until that one student emerges from their ranks to become the next master while the sensei strokes his mustache and says “aso.” That’s what Karl’s doing to me now, but I’ll never emerge to be the next master.

What’s my point, though? I still love to sail. I love it. I love everything about it. Just like I loved to hike and I loved to bike before that. I want to do everything, to be the one who reefs and tacks and furls, the one who decides when we’re right on the edge of the wind, as close to it as we can get, the one who can use the wind against itself, tacking into it all day. I love feeling the soreness in my arms and abdomen after spending all day at the tiller. I even love beating, when the boat heels underneath us just a little, becoming a knife cutting through the water like so much excess fat.

But putting the sail cover on while we’re at anchor seems about the extent of my abilities. I’m much more a creature of the esoteric and useless realm of books and paper. I don’t even know why I keep putting myself in these places where the physical world can triumph over me one more time, but I do. I keep believing that one of these times, eventually, the stars will align and I’ll finally get it, that glorious golden line will appear and I’ll be able to follow it, like a ninja. But, until then, I’ll just keep galumphing along. The world, after all, must have a place for people like us.

1 comment:

Amy L said...

My dear friend! I've been reading along, utterly astounded, and often confounded, by your bravery and command of this new language of sailing. Finally, I found an entry I can identify with! Maybe because I DO know your siblings, and others like them. And I know YOU! I don't think you would do the biking and the hiking and the sailing if it DID come easily to you, if you WERE a natural. You love the challenge. You know the gains (along with the frustrations) to be had when you push yourself. You're also an extremist. Otherwise you'd be taking on 10Ks instead of marathons and day-long bike trips instead of summer-long ones, and so forth. Anyway, dearie, perhaps this your quest: to conquer the seas (or the trails) on behalf of all of us non-ninjas. And of course, for yourself. Because you love it.