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Sea Fever



by William Thomas




Remember that long-presaged moment on the road to Damascus – or Des Moines or Dawson Creek – when illumination speared your core and that inner voice announced with stunning certitude: “This is it! This is why you were born.”
For a lifelong carpenter, it might have been that first nail pounded into a backyard treehouse. For an MD, the time she bandaged her brother’s skinned knee. For a bluewater sailor…



What could be better than running free with a tiller in my hand and a warm breeze wafting my borrowed C-Scow toward the Big Lake? 

     Close ahead of a familiar rounded bow, lights flashed red, bells clanged and striped poles dropped across the only highway into the town named for the Spring Lake I was departing. With amazement and pride, I watched as all traffic stopped, the bridge slowly raised, and a busy adult world bowed to a young boy-in-command.

     Tracked by envious eyes, I passed Stearn’s Bayou, hauled my wind into a dog-legged channel, and began short-tacking toward big water.

     Excitement banished exertion as I alternately raised and lowered twin steel leeboards, casting-off one running backstay and tightening its twin in a well-honed ballet that, with a single misstep, could see us capsized or the mast carried away.

     With Buddy Melges’ inspired design repeatedly pirouetting to claw close to the wind, I covered the remaining miles to Grand Haven agape with the preternatural lucidity of all great adventures.

     The wind freed with the last turn and we slipped laughing on a broad reach, boom wung-out wide, between extensive concrete breakwaters pointing toward open water’s last true freedom.

     Like a truant Huck Finn who’s discovered what a breeze can do, I ghosted close along the mile-long Grand Haven Pier, where countless wrigglers gained momentary reprieve as fishers chasing bluegills and perch looked up from unbaited hooks.

     What the heck? That’s way too much sail for a strip-planked skimming dish with the freeboard of a canoe. Doesn’t that kid know these capricious Great Lakes have sunk thousand-foot ore carriers? What if the wind and chop come up? What if he’s out there and gets becalmed?  

     Hardly the thoughts of an immortal answering the Sirens’ call on a flawless, beckoning day! Secure in the notion that if I lacked compass and chart, I was well-provisioned with a peanut-butter sandwich and bottle of orange pop, I pointed the scow seaward and let her go. I did not think it odd that the further out I sailed and the Lake Michigan shoreline receded, the more relaxed I felt. Nothing to run into out here! Not even another boat.
Steering by the sun, I held my gaze on the horizon ahead, which hypnotically kept receding as fast as the scow and I reeled it in.

     With a light breeze favoring the bold, ruffled water slapping mantras against a varnished hull, and that distant star conferring benediction on a wide-eyed 15-year-old… You might say I was ripe for conversion.

     So when I looked around and beheld only empty blue expanse on every hand, I felt not the fear of a landsman, but the deep quiet joy only a sailor knows alone in a realm that mirrors the eternity of his soul.