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Swimmin' with the Fishies

I was sitting around having a smoke with my boss before work this morning, and the subject of fishing came up in conversation. I think it has something to do with the fact that it's March and Spring is just around the corner and, of course, it's another dark, damp, depressing day in downtown Seattle . . .


But fishing . . .now that reminds me of another story.

Flash back with me about twelve years if you would. My brother--we'll call him Curlytop--his friend and I were out on said friend's 40' sailboat for a long weekend of sailing and fishing and snorkeling and all-in-all, forgetting that Southern California existed.

Now, the thing is see, none of us knows how to sail.

Well, Curtlytop's friend had just gotten the boat-- named the Gentle Wilderness--and it was in great shape and there was no way we were going to let a long weekend pass us by just because none of us knew what the fuck we were doing.

Hey, I was young. So sue me.

Now, when I say the boat was in great shape, what I mean to say is that the HULL was in great shape and the rigging too. The interior and the inboard motor on the other hand . . .well, let's just say that we were pretty sure everything would be okay.

But the boat is great, right? Forty feet, thirteen foot beam, full 10,000 pound lead keel which made that puppy so stable it probably could have survived the Perfect Storm. So what did we have to worry about? How hard could this sailing thing be, anyway?

Halfway out of the harbour, the engine sputters, putts, gasps like a eighty-year-old chain smoker and dies.

Now folks, it's against the law to sail inside the harbor, but we managed to get away with it long enough to clear the breakwater and get out onto the open ocean. We have tools. We have mechanical expertise. The engine is inside the boat . . .no problem, right? Surely not enough to ruin our weekend.

We were brave. We were stalwart. We were stupid.

So, we put up the mainsail, snapped open the jib and went plowing forth into the ten-foot swells.

Still, worry had yet to enter our minds.

Anacapa Island was only twenty miles out and we could see the island fur chissakes. Just point the boat toward the island and sail. That's all we had to do. How hard could this be?

So, at a steady pace of around five knots, we made our way toward Anacapa island. We figured to pull into a cove and drop anchor around four hours later given our current speed.

Two hours later, we were further from shore, but no closer to Anacapa island.

What do you mean, current? Huh? Whassat?

Anacapa mocked us like a grey mountain of gibbering madness.

Two hours later, and we seem to be a little closer. Curlytop's friend has been trying to fix the engine to no avail and well, maybe it's gonna take a little longer than we thought to get there.

Midnight rolls around and then the one thing we didn't expect happened.

The wind died.

Yup, no engine, no closer to Anacapa island, and we were becalmed.

The first nervous glances followed shortly thereafter.

The whale spout thirty yards off the port side didn't help matters, either. It may sound beautiful, but when your miles from land and a shape that large breaks the water that close, a forty foot boat begins to feel like a canoe.

If you ever hear me say the words, "How hard can it be?" I want you to shoot me. Please.

Everyone was exhausted from fighting with the sails for six-plus hours so we decided that one of us would stay above board in case the wind picked up while the rest slept. I volunteered for the first shift as I worked midnight shifts and hadn't gotten up at six a.m. like everyone else.

You know, I fell in love with sailing that night.

Around one-thirty, on a clear night, twenty miles off the shore of California, magick became real.

The half-moon shone down on the flat ocean and gleemed like a candle off a mirror in a dark room. The stars filled the sky and then, as if on cue, the wind blew gently into the mainsail.

I watched as the sail filled itself, the wrinkles disappearing as if under a hot iron and slowly, with just the slightest creaking of the deck boards, the Gentle Wilderness lived up to her name and started cutting through the glass sea.

No current, no cross-wind, no fear found its way into our path that night and I watched, amazed, as Anacapa slowly grew in front of me.

There is a natural rock formation a hundred feet or so from the coast of Anacapa Island called the Anacapa Arch. A natural arch of stone lifts itself from the sea, and that night, the moon shone directly through it.

Twenty minutes later, a small school of dolphins picked up our trail and ran alongside the Gentle Wilderness for the remainder of the trip, as if they were guards in a formal procession.

I woke up no one.

This was my moment. My time. And I wasn't about to share.

(To be continued)

Joseph Haines, signing off from The Edge of the Abyss.

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