Friday, July 9, 2010

Penelope on board, continued.

Would that one had so much crew.

The story so far: Penelope and and have sailed out of New York harbor, en route to Fire Island, and night has fallen. Penelope is scared, and of course so am I, though I would never admit it to her.

The wind was brisk, from the southwest, which from a sailing point of view was great, but didn't enhance Penelope's peace of mind. The Scapegrace steers a little skittish in a quartering sea, and being a small boat, after all, bounces around extravagantly at the slightest opportunity. Poor Penelope -- who is, at the end of the day, a highly intelligent girl -- decided that if she had to die, she'd rather die in her sleep, so she went and curled herself up in the vee-berth and dove into unconsciousness.

This left me in a position both familiar and unfamiliar. I'm used to sailing through the night -- used to all the surprising reveries that come to mind, used to the deceptiveness of distances, used to the boredom that imperceptibly transforms itself into a kind of contemplative trance. Used to the strange lifting happiness that comes with the first faint hint of a lightening sky in the east -- just that tiny finger-sized corner of the firmament a shade less black, and hosanna, it's officially a new day. Above all, used to being grateful for the moon, which on this night shambled reluctantly up, gibbous, misshapen, unshaven, unwashed and surly, a little after twelve.

What I wasn't used to was worrying about Penelope. Should I heave-to and go below and try to comfort her? Console her? Reassure her?

You can forget the reassurance, actually. She wouldn't believe a word I said, and quite right, too.

While all these thoughts were chasing each others' tails in my head I became aware of a strange rhythmic sound, not one I'm used to on the boat: a gentle woodwind burr, like an oboe d'amore heard through a velvet curtain, on and off, a few seconds in each phase. What on earth is that?

It took a few minutes and then the penny dropped: it was Penelope snoring. Gently, peaceably snoring, a lovely familiar domestic music, though never heard before on the high seas, and surprising in this new context.

The rest of the night was very happy: a good steady breeze moving us along at five or six knots; moonlight on the water -- splendet tremulo sub lumine pontus -- and my dear girl down in the cabin, making a noise like a small contented sawmill, no doubt dreaming of posh hotels and nice restaurants.

We got to Fire Island inlet about four AM, just when the blush began in the east. The current was still on the ebb through the inlet and I didn't want to fight it -- and I wanted daylight to find the channel, too. So I crept cautiously up into about twenty feet of water off Democrat Point (why is it called that, I wonder?) and dropped the hook. Bundled the sail up any old how on the boom and gratefully dove below to curl up next to my favorite sawmill for a few hours' rest.

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