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A sailor’s life for me

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Not many people know this, but, in a previous life, I did a lot of sailing. I was much younger, and there were a few of us from the neighborhood who sought adventure on the water, so we teamed up as often as the right conditions permitted us to do so and took to the water. We learned to sail early and got good at it. Most of the time, we traveled light with our yellow rain slicker, deck shoes or rain boots. It was a sailor’s life for me.

We would take to the streams, rivers and the high seas. Sometimes, it was over brooks and streams, around dams and through other tributaries. It was a full experience from one end to the other, and sometimes, we weren’t even sure where we were headed when we took off. We dealt with sand bars and thick plant life that would tie us up and break the momentum. We got to explore the bayous and swamps and all the complicated surroundings. We navigated over strong currents and obstacles, but most of the time it was calm waters with dramatic scenery. We followed the stars through the Black Sea, Baltic Sea, Sea of Gibraltar and the Sea of Cortez.

Sometimes there were giant waves that lifted us up and down again, and later, there would be smooth sailing for miles. We were troopers, and there was no sea sickness regardless of conditions. We took multiple trips up and down the Mississippi– so much so that Tom Sawyer had nothing on us. One friend would even be out ahead of us shouting, “Mark Twain!” when the water was just about 12-feet deep. We floated along the reeds and marshes, listening to the night symphony of crickets and frogs. Fireflies lit the way while passing the creaky docks and seeing the old fishermen hoping for their catch.

Sometimes, it was the Colorado River with category-5 swells. What a thrill. We actually preferred flooded conditions when we sailed. Coincidentally, we had mostly cloudy or rainy conditions while on the water, but not all the time. One of our most ambitious trips had us following the route of the Kon Tiki. We got used to the sea spray and the sea air. The seagulls were companions, and pods of dolphins chased us. We saw the humpback and the blue whale surface and breech the water with a mountain of splashes and monster waves. We even saw and pursued the elusive great white whale and conspired its capture with Ahab.

Over the course of a few seafaring trips, we’d run into sea monsters and sea creatures of all types. And there were the giant octopi and the sirens, who wooed us over into dangerous conditions.

Sometimes, one friend’s boat would catch the current just the right way and speed off ahead avoiding all obstacles. He’d be waiting off the coast somewhere with red skies while we slowly drifted in.

A number of times, we came face-to-face with real pirates. They were pretty sneaky and would sail up next to us and fire shots without warning or provocation. A real firefight would ensue, and then came the clash of swords, as the ships bumped up against each other– both sides determined to claim victory and take back the other’s gold. Once the smoke cleared, we’d set out again into unchartered waters and ride it out as the seas would rise and fall again.

We enjoyed shouting out commands to each other, even using British accents. “Tack the sail, Mr. Gibbons!” “Aye! Aye! Captain!” “I say, Mr. Bumberg, up the mizzenmast to the crow’s nest!” Many a man had to walk the plank after mutiny attempts. We ran tight ships.

Another favorite expedition was tracing the path of Lewis and Clark by all waterways. We were determined to find them and provide warning about the Spanish soldiers and Comanche Indians that were out looking for them. We could only hope that Sacagawea helped guide them to safe passage. We often needed a guide of our own.

We sailed alongside Magellan’s crew on the fateful voyage trying to find discover new lands and the right place with riches and for settlement. Not so fortunate that time. And we never did find the West Indies, as much as we thought we charted the right course.

A few times, we sped off the coast of New York, heading to Dover and encountered numerous submarines and U-boats and had to radio back for support. Our mission was, of course, to transport supplies to the troops and avoid these underwater wolfpacks. When it was mission accomplished, it sure led to some great nighttime storytelling by the fire.
There was one trip where our boat capsized, and we had to abruptly end our journey. All the crew had to rush to the high-side of the boat for safety. One by one, the captain had us jump into the roaring river, aim our legs downstream and fight our way against the current to shore. Luckily, we all made it out safely and were quickly rescued. We ended up having to find new boats and went right back out again.

We had one adventure straight out of Captains Courageous, and we took turns being Freddie Bartholomew, Spencer Tracy and Lionel Barrymore. One treacherous day, we were trying to get back to the home port and one friend climbed to the top of the mast to furl the sail. Right at that moment, the mast cracked, and he was plunged into the icy sea. My buddy realized that he was fatally injured because some of the rigging was entangled around his legs underwater; he told us to cut him free from the boat, knowing this would kill him. As my buddy said goodbye to the rest of us while we were all crying and hysterical, I finally cut the rigging around him, and he sank below the water.

All of these were grand adventures beyond all measure of our imaginations.

And each time when we got to the end of the adventure, we’d pick up our sticks out of the gutter, run back up to the other end of the block, drop them in the water and set out sailing one more time.

1 Comment

One Response to “A sailor’s life for me”

  1. Charlie Gandy on November 16th, 2018 12:10 pm

    Curse you Cohn!

    Tellin’ tales of high risk adventures then capsizing the ending. Cruel and unusual punishment indeed.

    Much like your legendary role of merry pirate among cagey bk capitalists, hard to know where the real fades and the imagination soars.

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A sailor’s life for me