Perhaps we all should keep our pasts a secret

August 2009

By Dodge Morgan

At one point in life, the past becomes populated with activities we cannot anymore do – and those we would not even consider doing again. A corollary of this is that time enhances, sometimes creates, past successes, and blurs the failures.

I once admitted to my son that the older I get the faster I used to run. I have come to see my walking out on a large group of IBM executives in the middle of a supposed “inspirational talk,” based on my solo, nonstop circumnavigation, as a heroic personal statement – “these lowly office residents” – rather than what it was, a stage death.

Today, I would never attempt to solo sail an old, gaff-headed schooner from Hawaii to Tahiti, a distance equal to a North Atlantic crossing, some 2,300 nautical miles, without Society Island charts or any instrumentation or life raft, or dependable engine, or food other than rice, crackers, peanut butter and Dinty Moore, or self-steering gear. Just thinking about doing that scares the you-know-what out of a 77-year-old me now.

But it was 45 years ago, and I recall believing then that the passage simply seemed the right thing to do. It was during those passages down and back that I figured out a system to reef the old gal down in less than an hour and learned that a drogue trailed from the stern in heavy downwind work can rob the boat’s steering agility, like hanging a sounding lead from an overhead string. Maybe the experience allowed me to feel quite privileged just a couple weeks ago to have 30-year-old charts on the old schooner Eagle.

While down in those islands I learned that the beaches are beautiful, but they are all the same, and that Polynesian women look like the ones Gauguin painted, rather than like the fakes in South Pacific travel ads. It took time and the introduction of some sperm and wombs from Scots and Asians to produce the beauties.

I will always wonder how I ever thought it a hilarious frat prank to raise an extension ladder to the dean of women’s bedroom window to shoot a signal cannon off inside. Getting caught and kicked out of college as a result now seem like pulling off a colossally stupid act and getting away with it.

There are also so many acts that I continue to do, sincerely wish I did not do, and for the life of me cannot figure out how to stop doing. Such as my obsessive, peppering my conversations with four-letter words, my compulsive use of sexual metaphors in Points East columns that really enrage feminists and women blessed with sensitivities that keep them from watching cable television.

I have a compelling belief that someone beating me at cards must be undeservedly blessed by the luck charm or cheating. I hide that my dependence on solo sailing is because no one can know the mistakes I make when I‘m alone. I have never achieved the ability to see value in a buck. My addiction to silence is emphasized by the presence of people. I persist on my obnoxious trait of truly living out the old maxim: “Someone who thinks conservatively when young lacks heart, and someone who thinks liberally when old lacks brain”. This makes me persona non grata wherever people of politics at both spectrum ends gather.

And to top this whole mess off, I have the cojones to actually turn this column in to the Points East editor. Wow, I sure do miss the counterweight of Tom Snyder herewith, and miss his next-door column for its repeated model achievement of intellectual bafflement.

Former record-breaking solo circumnavigator Dodge Morgan lives on, and sails out of, Snow Island, Maine.