This peaceful sunset photo with sailboat may not seem to personify determination, but look more closely: Do you see that little black blip off the bow? See the guy rowing the dinghy, pulling the boat? See the cloud of mosquitoes around his head?
The photo documents the very end of my yearly sail Down East on the Maine coast. I hadn’t got very far this year – only to Acadia National Park. It’s been a cold and rainy spring and I was often shivering, even in late June. But the winds were good and I had covered a lot of territory in the sweeping bays – Muscongus, Penobscot, Blue Hill, Frenchman’s Toothacher – all studded with islands, passages, skinny minis, and gunkholes.
My longtime sailing buddy passed away a couple of years ago, so I now sail alone, and this pilgrimage always includes many memories of her. Yup, it’s sometimes scary and occasionally lonely to solo, but i cannot live without a yearly encounter with the implacable god of the sea.
So I had slept beneath the mountain in Isla au Haut, shouldered my way through the tourists in Bar Harbour to sit in a café and catch up electronically, ducked into Bass Harbour to escape a storm and exited with the fishermen at the ass crack of dawn, moored at Bucky Fuller’s Bear Island for a trip down memory lane, gone into Rockland for repairs, back to see my brother on Eggemogin Reach, and down through the Fox Islands Thoroughfare to the out-to-sea island of Matinicus – all spiky granite, lonely surf, and large fishing boats.
Early in the morning of the day this photo was taken, in the similar light of dawn, I found out the repairs had not worked, and I was utterly without an engine, and needed to get home by wind and wits alone. There was a bit of morning northerly, so I handed Tycha out of the harbour with it Too bad, it died shortly and for a couple of precious hours I turned lazy circles in a silky ocean – naked and reading, and fully warm for the first time all week. But without wind, would I have to sleep tonight in the open ocean? (and miss a court date, a story for another time)
In the two days of blustery northerly winds that preceded this warm lull, it seems as if the entire load of pollen from Maine’s north woods had been blown down the state and out to sea. Yellow dust got into everything in the boat. It gave me a cough and a lot to clean, but the trillions of these little demonstrations of faith, prayers you could call them, pure determination loosed upon the wind in hopes of reproduction, only to alight as spindrift in an ocean that could not care less. In the thickest spots, it gathered in yellow froth, calming the surface but giving me the illusion of an unexpected reef in the water.
Because, around noon, as it often does in Maine. the wind came up, slowly at first. I trick the boat into moving, thrilling to forward motion through the pollinated surface – 2, 3, and finally the SSW comes in earnest, and for the rest of the day I made great time, flying at 6-7 knots, heeled over comfortably on a single tack, so I could lock her down and leave the wheel for a snack. In sailor’s bliss, I left Matinicus in the rear view mirror and passed Metinic, Monhegan, Pemaquid Point, to Thrumcap, which is where I turn right up the river to home.
In the morning, engineless and wind-free, I had no hope of getting home. But the wind had come – now I was within 6 miles of home, so surely I could get there? But toward sunset our sea breeze dies, the water calms, and thus, no matter what my sailing skill, I came to a dead stop about a mile from my home. Stopped dead. Worse than that – the tide was falling and I was slowly going back down the river and out to sea.
I could have simply dropped the anchor, made dinner in my galley, slept in my bunk as usual, and taken up the last mile with whatever wind came in the morning. But no, determination: I wanted to sleep in my own bed. So I fixed a bow line, tied it to the middle thwart of the dinghy, and set about trying to tow the boat. So there you see me, very pleasantly (except for the endless mosquitoes) getting my exercise trying to pull a 16,000 pound boat upriver against the tide. I was making only about an inch per stroke in the last of the light.
My neighbours, who took this picture, also took pity on me, and offered help. Since determination, in my experience, is all the sweeter if you include the willingness of others to participate in your dream, I accepted. Michael was soon down in his motorboat, catching my line and towing me home in less than ten minutes – a journey that would have taken me a couple of hours at least. Even with his help, it was completely dark by the time I dropped the sails in the still air and put the boat to bed – after a week aboard I can do it by feel – and crawled gratefully home for a shower and my own bed.
I am grateful that I have determination, though it gets me in trouble often enough. I am even more grateful for those who support my determination, daily, like my office staff and teachers, or occasionally when it counts, like Michael the other night. Yes, you can row it all the way and get all the glory, whatever that’s worth. Yes, you can totally give up and something other than what you planned will happen. Or you can accept help and all enjoy the shared result. Thanks to Michael and Anne, thanks to my supporting staff, and thanks be to God for the wind the powers both the boat’s determination and the pollen’s. (Oh, and what the hell, thanks for mosquitoes too, I guess.)