I have often found myself wishing my life were dramatic enough to make a great narrative. Moments in it were that way, but only to the extent that they offered material for a self-indulgent, episodic piece or two. Until recently, there had been no great adventure to my tale that could hold the threads together long enough for me to weave them into a tapestry. That all changed on my recent vacation. I was asked to sail from Rochester, New York to Muskegon, Michigan through four Great Lakes and most of the Erie Canal. Agreeing to do s,o I had the thought that I would at best be blessed with a few short bits I could recount to friends over drinks, getting a laugh or two. So imagine my shock when I found myself at the most dangerous part of the Great Lakes in an eleven hour thunderstorm, GPS soaked into oblivion, bilge without a pump and filling with rain water, swells higher than a basketball hoop, dead engine smoking like the barrel of a gun that had shot us all, waiting to die. That I am alive after the series of unlikely misfortunes that put me there is unlikely itself. The water lapped up from below the cabin. The captain got hypothermia. The Coast Guard sent a helicopter. All I could think as we were struck with blow after blow to our fortunes was that I would finally have a true story to hold the world were I only to live. To recapitulate how we got in that much trouble and then how we survived is beyond the scope of one entry. As such I have resolved to detail the entire odyssey here, one post at a time, in hopes that the story might travel further than the waves in my memory that will never quite cease. All we wanted was to get home. Our crew: an ailing Baptist minister, a seasoned atheist skipper, and me in all my inexperience. We were to cover just over a thousand miles before the problems that kept arising finally stopped us short and left us dead cold in the towering water. I agreed to a vacation and it became adventure and then a disaster. Our lives move like weather, unpredictable and beyond our power, and my life was moved by such forces literally and figuratively. I can still see the look in the captain’s eyes as we bobbed up and down on the Lake Michigan side of the Mackinaw Bridge, wrecks all over under us and reefs all over around us. The look was despair. Here was a man who had sailed for decades in the worst of conditions and all he thought to do was smoke cigarette butts and try to still his shivering without cuddling with me. We sat there under a polyester blanket that kept warmth in wetness, close enough to touch but only incidentally, his bones hammering the surfaces around him with shivers. There were no prayers or conversions or appeals to a God that we had hitherto needed for nothing. We just took puffs from butts and watched the map on his iPhone, our sinking almost as near as the sinking feeling in our empty stomachs. The captain had bought the boat recently and barely knew it. Ten miles out from the nearest port and feet from hazards that we were waiting to hit, our boat took me somewhere I had never been. I arrived at a place of peace with death, a sleepy hopelessness that may have had much to do with how cold I was. The end was going to be okay. From where I stand now, I am glad for the moment when I roused from this despair and made that last destructive push, for had I taken the helm when the captain was delirious, had I not driven the boat into everything, had I not cackled at the great lake as I jumped its waves like a forty-one foot jet-ski, I might not be anything at all. You know the climax but we have hundreds of miles to cover first. May these words be my life preserver, that I might be found.
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