I’m on my back and my field of vision is framed by Hazel James’s bow hatch. It occurs to me that I’m actually seeing (as opposed to dreaming that I’m seeing). As my eyelids close and reopen in a soft but long blink, I feel the slight crust of sleep around my lashes. My hands instinctively feel around the bedding next to me…nothing…nobody—as in (literally) no body…I’m alone. In this delicate, temporal, and interstitial place between sleep and wakefulness I wonder if I will remember what it was that I had been dreaming about. Sometimes I remember and sometimes I don’t. I suppose it doesn’t really matter though because, even if I initially remember what I had been dreaming about, those memories quickly fade as I regain wakefulness. They fade like a Maine oceanic fog burned off by the morning sun.
Although I shouldn’t be, I’m confused by what I see out the bow hatch. I don’t know why I’m confused because I’ve been seeing he same thing for a month. Still…it gets me every time. I don’t see the floats of clouds illuminated by the moon, or the stars—or maybe both—as I would when we’re voyaging. I see what appears to be a flat whiteish haze. It’s not a haze though, it’s the underside of a four-sided, pyramid shaped umbrella that I rigged over the hatch. It shades the midday sun and also keeps misting rain and light rain showers from waking us up in the middle of the night. While torrential and wind-driven rain finds a way around the umbrella, in the subtropics much of the rain is brief and benign. Usually, when we are anchored overnight, or for a few nights when voyaging, I don’t bother to rig the umbrella. Somewhat because it’s a pain to rig, somewhat because I (or we) want to fall asleep to the clouds, moon, and stars. The upside of the celestial view far outweighs the downside risk of being awoken in the middle of the night to a face full of rain and a mad scramble to get the hatch shut.
This gauzy line of thinking reminds me of a moonless night in Maine when I wasn’t alone in the berth. Rhett and I were lying side by side—my arm cradling her neck. We were stargazing through the hatch as we were drifting off to sleep. It was a magical moment and we stopped talking and honored the moment of perfection with silence. We had been marveling at the stars that comprise the Summer Triangle: Altair, Vega, and Deneb. The subject of our conversation had been that we weren’t really seeing the stars, we were seeing the way they looked in the not-so-distant and distant past: Altair as it looked 17 years ago (at a distance of 17 light years), Vega as it looked 25 years ago, and Deneb at a whopping 1,400 years—the light were were seeing was generated in 622 A.D.
As we were appreciating this subject—this subject that was far bigger than our day to day triumphs and travails, bigger than the political whims of autocrats, bigger than another mass shooting—a meteor shot across the narrow field of vision of our bow hatch. As with Fourth of July fireworks, in unison we instinctively and sharply inhaled and then quickly exhaled with an, “Ahhh!” Then we slept.
Imperceptibly, the level of consciousness rises in my brain. I know it’s happening but it’s happening gradually. The same way that we know that sea levels are rising but we can’t see the change on a day to day basis. I feel the bedding next to me just to make sure. Yup, still empty. I remember that I’m by myself—single-handed as it were. Land-based living is full of commitments and deadlines and distractions, and Rhett has hers and I have mine.
While part of me is scared to sail again on the open ocean, another part of me yearns for the single-minded focus it requires, yearns for the self-reliance that it exacts from the soul, years to be free of these terrestrial deadlines and distractions.
What was it that woke me?
Oh yeah, It’s what generally wakes a 57-year old man in the middle of the night. I’ve got to pee.
I groggily climb up Hazel’s companionway into the cockpit and swing myself onto her side deck and slide my feet into well-worn flip flops. As I shuffle down the dock’s splintering planks to the marina’s bathroom facilities, I do my best to not restart my brain. If I can just relieve myself and get back into bed before and I start thinking too deeply about anything, perhaps I can get back to sleep.
Bottom-line, I’m not successful. Halfway to the bathroom, I’m conscious enough to remember that I plan to embark in a week or two. In a fortnight I hope to be sailing to the northeast, toward Bermuda and the Azores and the Mediterranean. My mind starts clicking through the boat projects I need to complete, the provisioning I need to do, the additional spares I need to buy and store onboard. The spares are in the event of a “known unknown” happening—in the grand scheme, they are the easy things to deal with. As I consider the prospect of 3,800 nautical miles of open ocean sailing punctuated by a couple archipelagos, it’s the “unknown unknowns” that give me pause. I wonder if I’ll really have the guts to go? echoes in my waking brain.
Back in Hazel’s saloon, I look at my digital watch that I keep next to my berth. It’s 2:30 a.m. Too early to get up for the day. I need to get my mind cooled down so that I can get back to sleep. If there’s anything I need in this lead-up to my departure, it’s sleep—and lots of it. Fortunately I happen to be in the midst of reading the Illiad by Homer. It’s the perfect balm to break the cycle of rumination and get me back to sleep. My version of Homer’s epic poem is 400 pages and I’m finding that it’s like kale. I want to like it but I’m not sure if I do, but I know it’s good for me. After several pages of Zeus, Helen of Troy, Achilles, and Odysseus, and dreaming of sailing the waters that they sailed, I start seeing double as my tired eyes lose focus. I reread the same paragraph multiple times and still have no idea what I read. At that point, I figure its time to climb back in the berth and continue to knit up my raveled sleeve of care.
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.William Shakespeare, Macbeth