Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Star to Steer Her By...

When I was 10 years old my Dad took me deep-sea fishing out of New Bedford with some friends from Freetown. We were awake at 4AM and on the road by 4:30. It was a grey, overcast day with a light drizzle that did nothing to dampen my spirits. We climbed aboard the small seagoing vessel and set course for the fishing grounds. The seas were choppy and the boat rose and fell with the waves. After we settled in I chatted with the captain (who was amused that I was wearing a life preserver) and he explained to me the various ins-and-outs of what he was doing. It was a planned 45 minute ride. I was hungry. I ate a Hostess blueberry pie and fell asleep on top of a bench. I was woke up only as we made our first stop. Our lines went in the water and I waited...waited...waited for anything to happen. The distant storm was still causing rough seas and the boat was gently tossed with each wave.
Finally, after long minutes of waiting, something happened.
I threw up, spreading blue vomit across the sea over the side where I was fishing.
Damn Hostess blueberry pie.
Thus was my first (and not my last) bout with sea-sickness. One memorable hydrofoil trip to Nantucket caused the worst bout of sea-sickness I have ever known. It was a stormy day. The sea churned and waves crashed against the second-storey window of the boat where we were sitting. It was the longest hour of my life. I made three trips to the bathroom during this time and when I was seated on deck I sat staring at the pattern in the rug because it was the only thing I could look at that wasn't moving. Katie says that she had never seen anyone so pale, green and sick in her life.
Yet I love the sea.
Ever since I was a young boy I have loved the idea of sailing the ocean aboard a frigate or a ship of the line. I'm sure this idea has been given life from repeated viewings of The Sea-Hawk and Captain Blood as a kid but I think its more than that. Life aboard a sailing vessel is, to me, the height of romantic adventure as well as personal fortitude. There is an honesty to it, too; challenging and respecting the sea and all her myriad ebbs and flows. I have often wondered if I could rise to this challenge?
As an adult I have visited a few sailing vessels.
I vaguely recall my Aunt Barbara taking us to the USS Constitution when we were kids on some unspecific school vacation week but all I clearly remember about it is going to McDonald's for lunch. How sad. Last year I finally got to board the USS Constitution as an adult.
What an amazing experience.
The Constitution is a magnificent vessel, lovingly and painstakingly maintained. The guided tours are informative and gently educational. The sense of history aboard her is palpable.
Early one summer morning 10 years ago I climbed aboard a Tall Ship that had docked in Duxbury. I spent nearly two hours on board. I was like a kid in a candy shoppe, touching anything that was "touchable", laying on the deck to get views of the masts and I was even gently rebuked for climbing on some of the rigging. Still, I wouldn't have missed this time aboard the ship for nearly anything.
Nowadays I spend my time reading of naval heroes and their adventures. I have no illusions about how awful life on-board these vessels was for those who served on them. Instead, the books that I have read on the subject all agree that a crewman's life aboard an English sailing vessel was horrible. Yet, I must admit that Captain Jack Aubrey and Captain Horatio Hornblower fill my reading days with adventure on the high seas. In my dreams, I imagine myself alongside them; standing on the deck of a tall ship, with the wind at my back and a star to steer her by.
And I'm not puking Hostess blueberry pie over the side, either.


Blogger Fox In Detox said...

Great post friend! Once you get your sea legs, you'll never get seasick again...Oh, and as someone who has spent extended periods at sea... Bonine is your friend...trust me on that.

12:10 PM, July 02, 2009  
Blogger Andy said...

I'll have to remember that Bonine is my friend.

I can tell you that the first time I read Forrester I was mightily heartened to discover that the young Midshipman Hornblower suffered from sea-sickness.

12:51 PM, July 02, 2009  

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