Of the colossal, organic and abstract

There are few environments more dramatic and poetic than Southern Harbor; on Otter Island; in Muscongus Bay. Photo by David Buckman

There are few pursuits in this world more profoundly dramatic, organic and poetic than coasting. In an age when algorithms divine the way of many things, fetching alongshore is still an ancient occupation that demands discipline, a grasp of various arts, instincts and the abstract.

Cruising under sail is generously invested of colossal themes, vastness on a grand scale, fabulous natural forces, and challenges that stimulate the senses and demand awareness, which may be annoying at times, but is an optimal circumstance in which to fathom the drift of things.

A vast, brooding sky looming over a narrow band of dark seas, islands and coast seems no less a stark minimalist rendering now than it did when we first fetched alongshore in the ’70s. Wandering ever eastward aboard an 18-foot, homegrown cruiser, we tried to fathom the depths of what we didn’t know, which was no easy task. Our insignificance against one of the greatest sweeps of space on earth was striking, and always lurking in the background were trembling, unknowable powers and great themes of which we worried about being unworthy.

Figuring out how to play our hands aboard the leaky wooden sloop framed life with a certain intensity. We had our cages rattled occasionally, and were luckier than deserved, but found that with care we could follow our bliss. No fearless adventurers, the success of our minor epic could be largely attributed to the vigor applied to staying ahead of things aboard the little centerboarder.

The coast was abstract art on a colossal scale. Masterworks of brooding islands, infinite sky, tossing seas, whales blowing, wave-lashed headlands and petrels on wing, it was life writ large. Sheltering in velvet alcoves, close under protecting shores, we felt a world away from home when home we heard the assaults of stormy outrages unleashed on the seaward shore, and came to a particular affection for the pleasures of sheltering, which proved a meditation of sorts.

Coasting aboard the 26-foot Folkboat, Leight, for the last 34 years we’ve generally experienced the most civil of weather, and have only known the stinging fury of a few storms, where breathtaking forces were unleashed, seas raged, and there were no easy options. Getting caught-out is as inevitable as muddling through.

And there’s the compelling drama of fog, which silently rewrites reality and sets the mind to flight as the senses try to accommodate the new order. Our concept of place, space, geographic imprint, time and direction are suddenly revised. We have to think and see differently, the world an abstract concept, and we trusting to ageless intuitions.

There’s a vibrant historical warp to wandering the main. Lighthouses are metaphors for danger, daring and heroic tales. A schooner on the horizon, her staysails creamy arcs against white-capped seas, stands for a sense of time arrested and the glories of the age of sail, when men and women of steel sailed the world and New England ships were well-regarded in foreign ports.

Coasting is a rare place in life where there are discoveries yet to be made, expansive freedoms to be reveled in, and quiet to be cultivated, which must surely rank among the most precious of worldly possessions.

David Buckman’s book, “Bucking the Tide,” is about discovering the New England and Fundy coast aboard a wreck of an 18-foot sloop. Only a few left. It’s $19, including shipping. Send your mailing address to buckingthetide@gmail.com. Pay only after receiving book. In sailors we trust.

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