"And every road I walked would take me down to the sea With every broken promise in my sack And every love would always send the ship of my heart Over the rolling sea” - Valparaiso, Sting
I’ve been super bitchy lately, discontent and frustrated. Several nights ago I told the Uber Chef I would come up for dinner, but just before the hour arrived, I told him I wasn’t in the mood. “Get over it,” he replied. “You’re coming.”
I’ve been spending more time alone than usual. I haven’t visited by grandparents in ages, or even Skyped with my sister.
It’s not that I don’t know the cause – or the treatment.
“[T]here is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea,” wrote Jospeh Conrad in Lord Jim.
It doesn’t help that I’ve been doing research for the pirate adventure script I’m writing. The other night I read Poe’s “Ms. Found in a Bottle,” in which his narrator is swept up by a kind of Flying Dutchman.
“I went as a passenger,” he writes at the outset, “having no other inducement than a kind of nervous restlessness which haunted me as a fiend.”
Sometimes we get our just desserts.
Last weekend my friend Greg and I were supposed to leave on a sailing trip. We’ve been discussing it for months and debating whether to sail to the northern Channel Islands off Oxnard, or tackle something easier – like circumnavigating Santa Catalina Island. We opted to leave the former trip for summer, when the water’s warmer (there’s a surf spot Greg wants to hit). But last Thursday the weather turned sour. The winds kicked up with gusts in the high thirties and they came from the south. The cove we’d planned to make on our first night is south-facing. We had a quick pow-wow. I was so ready to be off-shore, to be away, that I told him I was fine with the wind forecast.
“Yeah, but it’s also going to be cold. It’s supposed to rain every day – the whole four days we’re going to be gone.”
I groaned, got back in bed and pulled the covers up over my head.
God help me, Ismael, I’m about to start knocking random people’s hats off their heads.
On Friday Greg and I went to a happy hour at a restaurant in Playa del Rey. The winds shook the tented roof of the outdoor patio. We sat at the bar and talked about how it was probably a good thing we hadn’t gone out. Then Greg turned and looked at me soberly.
“Hey, so, would you want to sail to Central America with me?”
This is a thing we talk about frequently – as in, “someday,” or, “when I meet my sailor man,” or, “when I sail around the world.”
My heart jumped to my throat. He was serious. And he meant soon.
We’re scheduled to leave for Catalina in an hour, as soon as the fuel dock opens. We should be within cell coverage so my plan is to post updates over the next few days so you can follow our trip in near-real-time.
The outlook is good. Winds are forecasted to be from the North at 10-15 with localized gusts to 20. Temps are supposed to be in the mid-70s to lower 80s.
I’m better prepared than last week. I’ve pre-made many of our meals. I made meatloaf; pickled beets; and yoghurt pana cottas in little plastic cups. I made a huge batch of chili, froze most of it but set a quart aside. I cooked off some bacon to put on top our salads (trust me, you don’t want to fry bacon on a boat). I made a syrup with Meyer lemon juice to make my favorite cocktail once we arrive: a gin martini with Meyer lemon syrup and celery biters.
It’s not everyday you get to the backside of the island, so I’m hoping for good snorkeling. I got a taste for it in Hawaii in January, and now I’ve prepared by buying a wetsuit and snorkeling gear.
Greg also gave me some homework. We’re going to practice celestial navigation along the way. So we don’t end up fumbling with our sextants when our electronics go out, like Robert Redford in All is Lost.
Speaking of Robert Redford, I only just realized that in that scene in Out of Africa, where he’s washing Isak Dinesen’s hair, he is quoting from Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Which is also apt. Like Poe’s narrator writes in his messages in the bottle, the ancient mariner is cursed to sail aboard a ship with a ghost crew. If you haven’t read it (spoiler alert), he survives and manages to shake off the curse by retelling his tale and asking forgiveness, but, Coleridge writes in the glosses, “ever and anon throughout his future life an agony constraineth him to travel from land to land.”
Perhaps, like the mariner, I too am cursed. I don’t know what this agony is. I suppose it stems from a discontent with one’s life, a feeling of futility, and the knowledge that when I’m sailing, it goes away. The Uber Chef sent me a link to this article that suggests there’s a “travel bug gene.” That would certainly explain it.
All I really know, though, is how to fix it: it’s time to weigh anchor.