Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea

23 Oct

Drakes Bay

October 19, 2019

5am. The alarm sounds to wake me though I’ve been up since three o’clock. 

For some time I lay in the dark listening to the wind whine in the rigging. Mo tugs at her chain. I wait for sleep to descend again, but it has slipped away in the night to play with the coyotes calling from the headland.

Today we return home. My heart pounds. The bunk rejects me.

I make coffee but can’t sit to drink it. By flashlight I continue the endless job of tidying the deck in preparation for our Golden Gate entry.

6am. A pale dawn silhouettes the mountains. We are underway for the Golden Gate Bridge. During these final jaunts, I have been worried the engine will fail or the windlass will quit and that I will be forced to enjoy the ignominy of a tow. But Big Red fires as usual; the anchor picks clean. 

I point Mo to the E and toward Limantour Beach, well clear of the Chimney Rocks reef. Yesterday on the leg down from Bodega Bay, we encountered a long, large swell from the NW. At Point Reyes and over this reef, seas stacked up frighteningly. Giants curled and crashed and leapt for the lighthouse. At the reef, their break extended well past the green buoy. Without a moon, I can’t see them now, but I can hear the roar of white water. Mo passes through billows of spume and rolls deeply.

9am. Motoring in flat calm. The morning is drippy. A high fog flows from the N as we pass Duxbury Point. These will be my last hours alone with Mo, and I feel an urge I can’t define. Not to be out to sea again, but an agitation. We’ve nearly run our course. A thing I have ardently desired is imminent. Do I desire it now?

At Mile Rocks, we will be joined by other vessels that will sail us in. At Cavallo Point, family and friends will be waving. At the Sausalito Yacht Club, I will encounter other friends and the press. Closure and an opening, but an opening to what? 

There is a sense of foreboding, not at the idea of being home but rather at the display that will accompany my return. Will I be what people expect? Will I remember my remarks? Will I make a sailing blunder for all to see?

Having passed so many difficulties, having relied so often on my own resource and on Mo’s extraordinary ability–and still to be worried about what others will think. It appears I have not left my faults behind. “What we have done, we have done,” I say in my own defense.

“And we did it as well as we knew,” says Mo.  

“Senior, it is the time for coming home,” says Monte.

10:30am. I am an hour early to Mile Rocks. Already there are three boats waiting and two climbing the light W wind from the Gate. Congratulations are shouted across the water as we heave through the swell on the bar. Now there are ten boats, including friends who sailed out to see me off a year ago. Slowly I let the wind and tide draw us closer to the gate. Red rocks, red bridge, gray sky. Now there are fourteen boats in the flotilla. Horns blast as we slide below the great span, and then we are in the bay.  

For years I have followed the track of the Figure 8, always pressing on and pressing further, and now the double loop is finally closed. 

12:30pm. I let Mo take the wind on the beam and we race toward Cavallo Point. One last charge. Show them what you can do, my friend! Then a cheer at the point as we swing round. Waves and cheers and the flood pulling us further in.

Then we are nosing into the yacht club. A bagpipe sounds. Hands reach for lines. Other hands catch Mo’s rails. Gently she is eased into the dock. Another cheer for Mo. Joanna approaches smiling. A kiss for completion. In that instant we have pierced the veil. We are home.

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“Home is the sailor, home from the sea” is a haunting line, filled with profound relief and a touch of melancholy. 

In it the sailor’s deep longing for completion, for return, is fulfilled but not without cost. That other place must be abandoned—where he has fought and held his own; where the fates have let him see and live; where he has stood in awe of the raw, alien beauty, where he has felt more himself than anywhere—on this he must turn his back.

Because for all its attraction, the sea is not home. 

The wind blows. The waves continue their heave and roll. The sea awaits. Always the sea awaits…

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage

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