When Horseflies Didn't Bite

I come from the sailing side of the sea. It’s a different kind of relationship with the water that is passed down through generations. If you’re lucky enough to be a part of this exclusive club with the wind, then I welcome you to my story. I have to confess, I didn’t always love sailing. Keeling over was my worst nightmare. The closer the water came to the edge of the cockpit, the more my palms would sweat. Fast forward to one day in sailing camp when I was about 10 years old. I capsized and realized that nothing bad happens when you tip over. Then I began to enjoy it.

My grandfather is responsible for introducing me to sailing. This story is about one experience we shared, which I will try to express with words.

We made plans to go sailing on a Saturday morning. This took some finagling because I was just old enough to drive, which meant I slept till noon or later on the weekends. Also, there are 11 other grandchildren in my family who all would want to go as well. This trip was to be only the two of us. To be fair though, my grandfather and I have always been close.

The day we’d chosen was bright. It was the type of sun that comes out in early June and dares you to look up at it. The type of sun that leaves you with hideous tan lines. Our provisions for the day were a couple of ham and swiss sandwiches fresh from the deli down the road, and whatever beer was left at the bottom of the ice chest. Pop-pop doesn’t believe in skunked beer.

We took off from Port Milford around 11 am. I knew it was going to be a hot one, because as I mentioned previously I stared at the sun and also because the wind was still. The painful speed of 5mph in the channel let beads of sweat effortlessly roll down my stomach inside my cotton t-shirt. Pop-pop and I exchanged uneasy remarks about the wind but continued out.

We hoisted the sails and continued to motor out in search of wind. After about 20 minutes, between bites of his ham sandwich, Pop-pop motioned to me to kill the engine with closed fingers and a twist of his wrist. There was a 3-second electrical buzz and then- silence.

The world became small. Instead of scanning the horizon for lobster pots, chimney stacks, and other boats, our focus shrank to our senses, trying to figure out if we were actually moving or not. We could hear nothing but the faint splash of water against the bow. There were no airplanes, no motors, no cars, nothing. Way out with no one in sight. The sun, now high in the sky, was hidden by the mainsail. The wind gave a gentle breeze that pushed us along. And it’s this moment, that now, all these years later, I’m attempting to describe to you. I don’t know if you have ever heard “nothing”. It was cathartic. It was soothing. It was every buzz word you could think of. What amazes me most, is that this moment, so meaningful and deep to us, was comprised of nothing. No gale wind, no loud noise or points, no games or scores. It was simply the peace of the ocean. The overwhelming calm knowing full well that you are just a visitor on the waters much more powerful than yourself.

After a few minutes, the noise came back, the horseflies started biting again, and we turned up the Jimmy Buffet CD to sing along. But those moments of peaceful nothingness will forever be frozen in my mind. And this is why Pop-pop and I love the ocean.

Written by Along the Keel Crewmember

- Christopher Lato

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