Michigan, even southwestern Michigan, can be very cold in January. I enjoyed the winters at that age -- I remember spending many winter days outside, ice skating, building snowmen, and defending and attacking snow forts. One particular January afternoon in 1973, however, found me indoors, shed of mittens, snow pants, and boots. I sat on the carpeted floor, just outside the bedroom I shared with my older brother, putting the finishing touches on a three-masted sailing ship. Dust motes floated in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun that streamed in through the west-facing living room windows. The radiator below the window made its ticking sound as it warmed the room. The ship I was building would never float in water
, for its hull
were made of cardboard, fastened with tape. It's masts, held upright with string, were wooden dowels. From her yardarms hung scrap cloth sails
in a multitude of patterns and colors.
As I pushed my flimsy cardboard model across the carpet, my younger sister saw her 11 year old brother playing with a toy ship. In my mind's eye, however, I was captain
James Cook, discovering new lands as I sailed His Majesty's bark Endeavour
across the Pacific. I was Fletcher Christian, leading mutineers aboard the HMS Bounty
and beyond. I was an ordinary seaman aboard the Cutty Sark,
exploring the Chinese port of Foochow the evening before the graceful clipper set sail for London with a hold full of tea.
What had brought this Midwestern boy, born in Indiana, where the only seas were those of waving corn, to spend an afternoon dreaming of sailing ships and faraway lands? It was a combination of events
and circumstances. Foremost, it was my parent's interest in learning
to sail that planted the seed in my mind. In 1969, we moved to a house whose property fronted a canal that led to Big Barbee Lake outside of North Webster, Indiana. There was a dock
and a pontoon boat. Before long, they bought an old wooden racing
scow. That was eventually replaced with a 16' fiberglass
daysailer, the first boat I ever sailed aboard. I don't remember too much of sailing on Lake Barbee. I'm pretty sure I thoroughly enjoyed it though.
When we moved to Bridgeman, Michigan, in 1972, my parents bought a Southcoast 22. Bridgeman was a small town located on Lake Michigan, in the southwest corner of the state. To be honest, I don't remember too much about sailing on Lake Michigan either. I do remember one weekend trip, however, when we tied up at a municipal dock
on the St. Joseph River. My brother and I slept in the cockpit
, under the stars and a crescent moon. I remember lying there, watching a red light blink at the top of a radio
tower in the distance. The air was warm and smelled of the river and the big lake. And, although were had not sailed very far from from the public ramp
where we had put the boat in the water
, I felt as if we had crossed an ocean discovered a new land.
This might have been enough, this early introduction
to sailboats, sailing, and cruising. But there was more. First, there was a set of World Book encyclopedias in the house. I spent hours and hours perusing those volumes. The "S" volume was well-used, because I was also interested in anything having to do with space. But I also thumbed through articles on countries. What information World Book could not provide, the monthly edition of the National Geographic
did. I couldn't wait until each new edition arrived at the house. Within the pages of that venerable periodical, I read of distant, exotic lands. I gazed longingly at the pictures that were windows on the people and cultures so different from our own. I especially coveted the maps, on which I would trace the routes of early explorers and plan my own future routes. And although I probably did not read many articles from beginning to end, the pictures and captions were enough to instill in me a fascination for foreign lands and a desire to see them firsthand.
And then I read Sailing Around the World Alone.
This is the narrated account by Joshua Slocum of his solo circumnavigation
of the globe in the last years of the nineteenth century. That was followed by Around the World Single-Handed,
Harry Pidgeon's book about his solo circumnavigation
in the early 1920s. Then I found John Caldwell's Desperate Voyage,
which describes his attempt to sail alone from Panama
in 1946 to reunite with his wartime bride. Finally, I read Dove.
This is Robin Lee Graham's book about his five-year solo circumnavigation, most of which was completed aboard his 24 foot Dove.
I did not particularly have a desire to sail by myself. It's just that the first books
I happened to read, that were about seeing the world from the deck
of a small sailboat, were written by those who had done it alone.
Reading those books
, with their descriptions of ocean crossings and distant lands and cultures, solidified in me the notion that one day I would see the world from the deck of a small sailboat. I had hoped the "one day" would have happened 31 years ago, when youth would have provided a more "robust" experience. Instead, "one day" turned into 11,315 days, with about 550 still to go.
But I will go. I will see the world from the deck of a small sailboat, aboard my own Dove.
The experience will be a different one than the one I would have had had I left 31 years ago at the age of 19. The world is a different place. I'm a different person. But I will cross oceans. I will see some of the places I read about all those years ago. I will finally know what it is like to look astern and watch the sun rise over the horizon in the morning and then face the bow in the evening and watch it sink back into the sea. Knowing that this pattern will repeat for days on end. Knowing that a distant land beckons me somewhere over the bow.