The wind’s a wild one tonight. It whistles and roars. The halyards rattle and clang against the mast. The boat rolls and rocks. It’s not especially comforting, the sound of that wind rising and rising and rising. The boat seems very small to be afloat in such a huge and solemn sound.
We are anchored in Reed Creek — ‘A bit tricky to get into that following breeze,’ Paul had said as we bounced up the Chester River. Breeze indeed. It was bona fide wind by my definition, blowing us along at seven knots — even with two reefs in the main — and whipping the river into a foamy chop. The girls, five and two, had started the sail in the cockpit with us, but then the wind rose and the temperature dropped sharply, and they retreated below. Elizabeth unpacked coloring books and crayons for them both. Paul and I took turns going below to put on more clothes, layering on everything we’d packed against the windy, bright cold. After a while, the girls gave up coloring and rolled themselves in their sleeping bags, foot to foot on the wide settee, half-dozing, half-enduring the wild ride up the river.
Now, anchored in the creek, we’ve all retreated from the cold cockpit. The computer voice on the VHF weather channel says it may dip below 40, frost warnings inland. We are crammed into the tiny cabin; tumbling over each other as I prepare dinner.
‘This is the best part,’ Elizabeth says, ‘all close together eating dinner on the boat.’
After dinner, Paul reads the girls a story. In the middle of it, Margaret rolls off his lap, curled up like a little hedgehog and, surprisingly, soundly asleep. Elizabeth is awake and helpful as we maneuver Margaret into a fresh Pamper and sleeper and bed. I look at my big girl and smile and say how glad I am to have an adventure with her. She looks at me and smiles back but doesn’t reply. She seems slightly puzzled at the thought. I wonder if this actually is an adventure to her. She brings the same casual intensity to this boat, the real one, as she does to her pretend cruises at home, sailing the coffee table on the bounding rug, wearing a real life jacket and chatting with imaginary friends from books. Burt Dow and the Giggling Gull are right there with her as she sets out in the Tidley Idley to rescue Little Tim and the Old Sea Captain. Those are her adventures, not these real outings on the Bay. What she likes about the real boat, I think, is the intimacy, not the adventure. She has the people she loves the best in the world right to hand, literally.
In the marina last night, we saw a boy trailing his dad back toward their boat, talking nonstop all the while. ‘I like the boat, Dad. I mean, it’s not like home. There’s a lot of different things to do at home,’ the boy had paused, considered. ‘And, well, actually, there is nothing to do on the boat. But you and me and Mom, we are doing it all together.’
Still the boat rolls. The low banks of the creek are not much protection from the wind. It rises and roars, and the boat quivers accordingly. The girls are asleep. Paul and I are awake listening. My eyes are dry and tired: too much sun, too much wind. But I am awake because of the wind’s ceaselessness and because of the girls’ trusting sleep.
Paul goes on deck again to make sure the anchor is holding, and that the rode isn’t chafing. All is safe, despite the sound. I go to close the open hatch against the cold and, glancing up, am caught instead by the sight of the round white moon shining through the moving, broken clouds. I am held by its brightness and by their motion. Paul comes below again.
‘Did you see —’
‘The moon,’ he says.
The stricter discipline of small-boat living creates a wider quiet in my mind. It is not a deliberate refocusing but the natural result of embracing a more immediate responsibility and a closer connection to the world around. I plumb more deeply where I am, what this is.
Rising wind. Flying cloud. High white moon.
I am surrounded by the water. Together with my husband and my daughters right to hand. Rocking on the water, listening to the wind.
*essay originally published in Chesapeake Bay Magazine, Jan. 2003; cruise taken Oct. 2000. The emotions associated with being on a small boat on a wide water in a wild wind are not limited to that literal circumstance — which is why I chose this essay to blog now.