“Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made, for somewhere deep in their oaken hearts the soul of a song is laid.” — Robert N. Rose
As I write this, I’m very happily immersed in the pleasant memory of a wonderful weekend spent sailing and racing with good friends. Dare I mention that it’s an awfully long 120 days or so until the boats begin to get launched, and we can all be together again? But right now, today, I console myself by banishing winter, and remembering way back to last August, and an unforgettable, dreamy voyage, when nine boats from our fleet made the trek together across Buzzards Bay, from Marion to Quissett. We were sailing there to compete in the Championship, and with great hopes of winning the coveted Team Trophy.
Several good, ole weather-eyes had been watching the forecasts with some trepidation, but, happily, we awoke that morning to the perfect conditions for making the crossing — sparkling sunshine, and just the right amount of wind, which is always the challenge in Buzzards Bay. You see, for these small boats, one needs the “just right, Goldilocks-version” of wind conditions for an optimal trip, and as we drank the last of our coffee, and readied the boats and cast off the moorings, the wind was already beginning to blow from the Sou’west. Not too much, not too little — just the right amount. And as luck would have it, as we were sailing out of the harbor, the Wind Gods moved the dial just a tad West, which, for us, meant that we could sail the entire way to Quissett on one, long, starboard tack. Five nautical miles – one perfect tack.
It was a beautiful sail – replete with glorious sun and puffy white clouds, gently rolling seas, and a steady wind. We sailed together in a little pod, not too near, not too far, quietly watching each others’ progress across the water. We made a picturesque fleet of sublime little yachts, seemingly from another time, riding the waves and harnessing the wind just as Nathanael Herreshoff, in his infinite wisdom, had envisioned we would. Our steady progress was a stark contrast to the last time we had sailed over to Quissett, a voyage of a very different sort, in which we had found ourselves becalmed, dehydrated, and sunburned — way, way out in the middle of Buzzards Bay, just near Cleveland Ledge Light. It was glass-top calm that day, long after one would have expected the sea breeze to conjure itself, which is unusual — it was so calm, in fact, that one could see millions of poor bugs who had landed, exhausted, scattered on the water’s surface, far from shore, the wind having let them down, too. But we made the best of it and enjoyed an extended lunch, floating aimlessly, and then paddled for a very, very long time, before the wind finally came up again to carry us the rest of the way.
But no floating on this particular trip! It was the perfect day for a sailing voyage, and my hand felt the irresistible resistance of the tiller come alive, wood and sails conspiring to channel the energy of the wind and the water — and, yes! — the boat sang — the thrumming of the tiller, the salty splash of the bow wave, and the foamy, crackling bubbles we left in our wake, all gave testament to our progress. We sailed in silence, a fleet of sister ships, racing (but not racing), tuning our sails, stealthily trying to catch and pass each other. It may have looked relaxing to an outsider, but the hypnotic concentration on the wind and the sails, and the movement of the bow through the waves, was mindfully exhilarating. We were together, yet alone, our fleet of little ships masquerading as an island of safety and comfort in the vast blue waters, together, yet apart, as we tried, silently, to best one another in speed, and skill.
When at last our little pod reached the harbor, the spell was slowly broken; the static of radios began to interrupt our long-voiceless tranquility, and our sea-borne freedom was reluctantly relinquished as boats and moorings were caught and secured. Sadly, we entered back into the realm of the shore, and our lovely, long voyage across the water was but a dream — an alluring dream — of that one, long, perfect tack.