We left the harbor before six a.m., the sun still well below the horizon. Ordered by the captain, I stay below deck, in bed. It is just as well. He loves this stuff while I am cloaked in morning grogginess and mostly in the way. It’s dark and chilly outside, and I cannot imagine this is the best time to sail. But I’m a rookie, and experience will tell you differently. I hear the purr of the engine as we motor out, the water getting rougher against the hull as I snuggle into the cave-like berth at the front of the boat. The belled buoy at the mouth of the harbor sounds its dire warning like an overprotective mother, bleating out a litany of the dangers that await us outside her guarded reach. I hear footsteps overhead and the unmistakable clang of the halyards against the mast. God, are we going to sail? Then a ruffle and snap as the main catches its first breath. Guess so. The captain kills the engine, and we are transported by the sheer power of wind, quieter than its industrial counterpart, but fickle and with the potential for savagery.
To love sailing, one must love the wind. One must relish its bracing slap and unfathomable strength, revere its unseeable power and unpredictability. One must embrace cold early mornings, the boats dripping in dew. For wind is the essence of sailing.
From my quiet place below the deck, I hear the murmuring: a love-struck sailor talking to his best girl.
“Shut up! We are not dragging anchor! Ya got 160′ under ya!”
“Don’t you run out of fuel on me!”
“Come on! I just need four knots out of ya, or I’m turning you in at the dock!”
My tiny portal turns pink with morning light. The gentle lulling rock of the harbor waters have turned into a body-jarring scramble and a sharp heel, the sides of the boat dip hard toward the water’s surface. I time the giant swells, moving my stiff frame from recline to upright in one ungraceful swoop. I am batted around the tiny compartment like a dead moth set upon by two rambunctious kittens.
I put on pants, a five-minute aerobic activity. I cross to the back of the cabin, dodging airborne items—the boat under control of some deranged sorceress —a water bottle, a navigation chart, a loaf of bread. An attempt to retrieve the bread earns me a smack on the head. It is going to be that kind of day, and there will be no coffee.
He stands at the helm, the now-present sun glinting off his enormous smile, catching the spray behind him and tumbling through the hatch like a thousand glittering stars.
“Good morning!” He sings out, impossibly bright, holding the main sheeting like the reins of a runaway horse. “Finally! Some fucking wind! Check the cabin, will ya? We are gonna wash some windows today!” He is robed in enthusiasm and spray.
My one piece of solace is that he is clipped in, a nod to the proximity of calamity.
I make certain all the windows are latched, check that the toilet is locked, navigating the still heeling boat by dangling from ceiling-mounted grab rails like some absurd ballroom chandelier. I make a second attempt at the bread that has now been joined by a baseball cap and a shoe. All this will have to wait for calmer times.
I climb out of the cabin and join him in the cockpit, banging my shins on the edge of the hatch, find a 45-degree seat where I can brace myself and avoid the worst of the icy shower the lake is dishing up. He grins into the mayhem. What I perceive as a raging gale, he views as the best gift the day has to offer, his elation ebullient and infectious. The passion for the sea that has held my friend in its volatile grip laughs at my stumbling walk and dripping hair. A plume of water douses me, and I hit that crossroad between annoyed and euphoric.
With an inaudible snap, my heart opens its sails to the exhilaration, to the joy that is ours for the moment. Our boat dips in a graceful curtsy to the strong, frolicking draft. I let the wind catch my insecurities and embrace the crazed and turbulent essence of sailing, allowing excitement to mist over me as we turn windward, enveloped in its spray.