Don’t try talking reality with this ship

Midwinter, 2001

By Dodge Morgan
It is much easier to mix reality and fantasy when one is at sea alone. And it is only when the two are combined in a kind of mental-state emulsion that the truth can be experienced. Reality is trapped by logic, driven by institutional convention and coerced by common sense. Reality by itself gets places quickly and efficiently but to nowhere really worth going. Fantasy is random and totally personal with no guiding rules or gurus. Fantasy finds marvelous places or nowhere. Apply reality by itself and you are boring. Apply fantasy by itself and you are crazy. Now, to combine boring with crazy is truly a worthy quest.

I set sail from artificially calm Quahog Bay under a sunny sky bound for Narragansett Bay. An hour later I am in 30 knots of wind, 6-foot seas six seconds apart and mid-30s air temperature. Problem is, my destination heading and the weather direction are exactly the same number. This is the reality.

I free my mind to wander, looking for something better than what I got. I sense the boat is conscious and independent of me. She has a state of awareness made up of little, spiritual bits from all those who designed and built her. While I am struggling to windward, she is having a prolonged orgasm. This, of course, is fantasy.

Miraculously, the GPS machine is working but it tells me the best I can do is under 3 knots of progress. This completely screws up my plan to sleep over in Gloucester Harbor for the next day’s sail to catch a fair current through the Cape Cod Canal.

My idea of destination is not hers. Harbors and canals by name are meaningless. The boat is already sleeping off her sex. You see, she sleeps as soundly in a violent bounce as she does in a cradle.

I am rip-shit each time the boat scoops up a wave and rolls it aft, where it splinters through cracks in my foul-weather jacket. The act stops her hobbyhorse dead. I am motorsailing 30 degrees off the true wind in stop-and-go-slow style like in a rush hour drive to Boston.

The boat goes into a collapse of laughter over the hilarity of hatch leaks below.

Thirteen hours of time passes and the wind, which was supposed to veer northwest about 13 hours ago, finally does. I am only east of Boston by about 35 miles. The boat accelerates to 9 knots with no more of that jarring motion. Problem is, I now calculate reaching the canal in darkness with the 4-knot current foul and desire neither.

The boat is meditating. I can hear the “owwmmmm-owwmmm” of her monotonous chant.

Slowing her down is not simple. With nothing but lapels of sail out, she insists on 4 knots. I take the opportunity to experiment with all sorts of bad trim methods.

The boat does understand the concept of trim and even the practice of it, but has no idea or concern for the why of it. To her, precisely good trim is like, well, like going to your own wedding naked and then to bed with a tux on.

I hit the canal at first light running with the current and marvel at smooth, 12-knot speeds. The canal itself is empty but the banks are festooned with fishermen throwing lures at me through below-freezing air.

The boat hears the applause and responds with a big, white, condescending grin.

Thirty-three hours of real fantasy, maybe fantastic reality, together before I get to sleep the sleep of the dead with her at anchor. Not many more miles to go and the boat will be at the yard for some structural and much cosmetic surgery over the winter. Pisses me off she needs it.

She is convinced it is I who needs it.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine