Sailing memories sparked by the senses

April 2005

By Dodge Morgan

Wintertime Maine locates sailors in a squat posture drooling over memory inventory. Memories do come packaged in a very wide variety of actions and images oriented quite uniquely by the leading sensory input that captured them in the first place. An olfactory memory is liable to be very different than an auditory one, for instance. I decide to visit my memory stockroom and sort them by the physical sense that cataloged them: sight, sound, feel, smell, taste.

Memories instigated by sight:

Rowing up to the universal beauty of the Peterson schooner Coaster. Watching that gorgeous Polynesian girl redefine erotica with her dance-floor gyrations. The sight of nine foresail mast hoops simultaneously shattering as I allowed Coaster to swerve upwind from hove to in hurricane wind. Cape Horn on Day 107, my single land sighting in the 150-day voyage of American Promise. The great albatross who became my temporary companion in the Southern Ocean. The 13,000-foot-high island of Hawaii sighted at 100 miles distance after 49 bilge-pumping days at sea on Coaster. Watching American Promise sail away from me after I fell overboard astern. Sighting the first welcome party vessel on the horizon after 150 days at sea.

Some sailing memories by sound:

The lovely sound of a flute wafting across Pulpit Harbor at sunset. The spoken word Moorea when I asked where I was after sailing there. The first female voice after 150 days of solitude. The deafening crack-whoosh-hiss of a lightning strike into the sea just 20 feet to starboard. The note of a bell buoy after a long fetch in dense fog. The sweet whistle of too much wind in the rigging. The roar of the cone of a waterspout passing directly over and knocking down Coaster. Promise falling off a six-foot wave on a 50-foot sea.

Some sailing memories by feel:

The shock of immersion in 40-degree ocean as I slipped overboard from American Promise. The following tug of a personal lifeline that held me at eight feet of distance. The air-suction stroke of a manual bilge pump. A hard stiffening of the anchor rode in heavy wind off a lee shore. The tingling of maggots on the lips when eating old cheese in the dark. Eighty- degree sea water in February.

Some sailing memories by smell:

The powerful organic stench of land after an extended sea voyage. Cooking bacon at sunrise while anchored in a Maine cove. A ball of marline. The erotic odor of a salt marsh. The lobsterman’s bait bucket. The combustion stink of a ship indivertedly signaling presence at sea.

Some sailing memories by taste:

The bite of rum straight from the bottle after a rough crossing. Biscuits just baked on board coated with peanut butter. The tip of a sailing mate’s tongue after sails are furled. Tang of salt spray.

The occasional memory hits all the senses equally. Such as standing on the Bermudian dock before a startlingly large welcoming crowd five minutes after hopping off Promise with a cheeseburger and a vodka tonic in one hand a woman in the other.