Waves and the art of winter meditation

Midwinter, 2002

By Dodge Morgan

What does a sailor do in a Maine winter? Work over the spring commissioning list of chores? (This year I’ll finally have her Bristol!)

Plan summer cruises? (Sure, I can fit in Chesapeake Bay and Nantucket Sound and Buzzards and Casco and Sheepscot and Muscongus and Penobscot and Blue Hill and the Maritimes and Newfoundland! Easy.)

Go to a tanning parlor and pretend I’ve been sailing the Windward Islands? (Helps to also display rope burns and sport bloodshot eyes.)

Plan weekly visits to Riverside Boat Company to putter over Eagle and try to find out what Paul Bryant intends to do with that box overflowing with every spark plug ever removed from a marine engine in the last 40 years? (There is no more cluttered a boatyard in existence and no peer for the quality of work done on wood boats.)

Stop by Greene Marine to see what bizarre project Walter and Joan have uncovered this year? (Certainly they can outdo their Sebago boat shoe and fleet of miniature America’s Cup hulls.)

Read “A Voyage for Madmen” again? (Author Peter Nichols proves how far from reality journalists can stray when he claims the lying, certified nut Donald Crowhurst, never out of the Atlantic, as the true hero of the 1968 solo, non-stop race around the world.)

Read again “The Proving Ground: The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race?” (And see how arrogant racing sailors can be, especially obscenely rich guys like Oracle’s Larry Ellison.)

Well, screw it. Maybe I will simply immerse myself in marine meditations. I don’t know how to meditate. I cannot even fit myself into the lotus position. I can’t come up with a suitable mantra when sober. But I can certainly manage to sit bare-assed in the corner and conjure up a monotonous thought process. That’s a start.

I figure some item of clothing is required in this project, so I don that salt-encrusted stocking cap I wear sailing Eagle in the late fall. It takes me a time to stop laughing at myself, but when I do an existential aura of passivity flows over me. This must be like it is to smoke dope, I think. I am lifted into a cloud of contemplation, or maybe a fog of thoughtlessness. I do not care which it is.

Then, slowly, I see a sea of fluid images. They are endlessly repetitive and are abruptly abusive at the same time. Wait – I know what these images are. They are waves. The waves of my past rush out of my subconscious. I remember that one – it came at the old schooner Coaster when I was sailing into Chincoteague after being brutalized by the edge of hurricane something-or-other in 1963. My chart had shown a passage through the bars but my chart was 15 years past current and wrong. I was downwind in 10-foot swells when one of them changed behind me into a 15-foot breaker and bore down.

Don’t ask me to describe any details here; it would be like asking someone to detail the situation just as his car went totally out of control before a crash. All I recall is that Coaster miraculously rode the breaker’s peak while I looked transfixed at bare sand on all sides. I remember those, too. They were 5 feet high and steep and no more than 30 feet apart. Coaster was attempting to beat through them bound for New Providence Island. She was not succeeding. In 20 hours we traveled maybe 40 nautical miles, but all of it was up and down.

I sure as hell remember the two days of 50-foot seas sporting 6-foot breakers on top. They were in the Southern Ocean halfway between Tasmania and Cape Horn at 52 degrees south latitude. They were fueled by cyclone Ima. American Promise and I barreled dead downwind with them and covered 176 charted nautical miles one noon-to-noon with never a hank of sail on.

If meditating bores me, I could try to put my right hand in my left rear pocket and hold myself out at arm’s length.

Oh yes. There were those glassy 8-foot swells, 100 feet apart, for a full week of sailing through the Horse Latitudes with Promise. Now these guys really defined monotony for me.

I can see that waves will never, never allow me to run out of winter meditation material. There are so many of them that they could make me a veritable guru of meditation. And if meditating bores me, I could try to put my right hand in my left rear pocket and hold myself out at arm’s length. Or see if I can take a mouthful of beer and sit on the stove until it boils. For some inexplicable reason, I am suddenly reminded of that country song that goes something like, “I know I am crazy but it keeps me from going insane”.

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.