Cats paws darkened the blue reach of Puget Sound beyond Skiff Point to the north. I went below to shut down Phyllis, my Norwegian diesel engine (named after my mother,) trusting the breeze would hold and keep us off the shallow bank south of Fay Bainbridge park. There’s nothing so peaceful as that moment when the wind lifts and the engine is shut off. Old Hand sails better without human interference close-hauled, so I sit back and listen to the sound of water moving along her hull as she gathers speed along Bainbridge Island’s east shore.
It was lovely. We had attained a state of harmonious accord between man and boat in the mandala of winds, and that single point we occupied at that particular moment in time and space was golden perfection. I try to seize such moments on the fly and, by retelling them, prolong existence itself and sail with the generous breeze into eternity.
“Look sharp, Mister Spencer.”
The resonant voice was hoarse, as if graveled by long watches in the north Atlantic-as if it emerged from the very depths of the bilges.
McWhirr paused then called:
I let go the jib sheet as the bow came across the wind and hauled in for a port tack toward deeper water northeast.
“Nicely done, lad. Ye’ll be a sailor before long.”
McWhirr is a pain in the neck sometimes. He’s a relic of working sail and can be as dark as Ahab in rehab on a bad hair day.
But such a breeze can soften a heart encrusted by long watches over icy seas. McWhirr stood stark against the red sky like a weathered piling on a rocky cape. Light flickered through the dark shrouds behind him as if projected on a movie screen.
“What do you make of the Ancient Mariner’s yarn, lad?”
– through soul’s stations he sails…sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze…sigh of compassion that pervades all creation… repents his cruel slaughter of the innocent bird and sees divinity in all beings… it raised my hair, it fanned my cheek…essential reality…wisdom and compassion combined…
“It’s a strange tale.”
McWhirr brooded as if some heavy recollection had made him grow, if it were possible, even more saturnine.
“Aye, we all carry the albatross’ weight around our necks.”
-tangled lines lost in fouled line-lockers…it mingled strangely with my fears…endless dream pilgrimages through foreign city streets looking for misplaced baggage… He loved the bird who loved the man… all those times too slow on the uptake, clueless or proud... who shot him with his bow..neglect of kin…Mom’s eyes…executors of karmic law…archons of the muddy sphere in which my life is, more or less, firmly moored …Oh, my neck.
“What about that part where he must repeat his tale endlessly to strangers?”
“I don’t know. It sounds like a writer I know. But I won’t mention any names.”