An Errant Circumnavigation

Talk given at the Explorers Club in New York City. Sea stories about sailing around the world with Kianui, who was the beauty and did all the work. Prior to leaving, my only experience sailing was in keeping out of the way. Find it...

World Navigator Adrift in Central NJ

Suddenly, Siri quits talking to me. I look at my iPhone: temperature alert; it is in danger of frying and has shut down. The Mallard is a north country car: no air conditioning. I toss the phone into the shade under the dash and pull over. I have no idea where I am; no idea where I am going and no idea how to get back. At home an hour earlier, I Googled “NJ hiking”, tapped the Lat/Long of a likely trail into my phone and took off, mindlessly following Siri’s directions. Even if I had a paper map, I wouldn’t know where to go. The phone cools and reboots. I stretch out my arm squinting; my reading glasses, the most powerful Walgreens sells, can’t resolve the text; it is too small and too faint in the bright sunlight. I hustle out of the car and crash thru the brush bordering the highway until I find a leafy tree casting a shadow. Google Maps doesn’t remember where we are headed. I have to hunt for it. I bring up Chrome; it crashes. I bring it up again; it hangs. I click up Safari, grudgingly thankful that Apple makes it impossible to uninstall—I tried. Cars whizz past me, tires on hot pavement, every one of them hogging bandwidth. My phone takes minutes to resolve each page. I don’t remember the name of the website or of the trail. I tap in likely search terms. After some minutes, I find a list of trails that looks familiar and click thru it. Find it. I click on the lat/long to bring up...

How it Started

The ridge was high, snow covered and buried in cloud. Below us, below the cloud, was Juneau, home. I followed Don, muscling my skis into sudden turns when rocks jutted through crusty snow. Don’s hair swayed across his back brushing his belt-line. It hadn’t been cut since the day the Marine Corps had remade him a civilian, 8 or 9 years ago, after it had run him through two tours as a forward spotter in Viet Nam, after it had shredded his ear drums and, though we didn’t know such a thing existed at the time, after it had twisted his psyche with PTSD. I’d once asked him: “Do you think about it? Viet Nam?” One of his lower eyelids sagged showing the red meat under his eyeball. He looked at me with the distant hardness of a man who has seen people killed, people he killed, and he said: “Every day.” There was no good way off the ridge—unless we turned back, which wasn’t going to happen. It fell off steeply on both sides and the slopes were tangled with alder and willow. Farther down, stood Sitka spruce and spotty snow. We’d have to shoulder our skis and crash out through the brush. “What are you going to do with your boat?” Don lived in the harbor on a small black-hulled sailboat. A boat that size, I figured, could make a run to Sitka on the outer coast or up Lynn Canal to Haines, both small towns in Southeast Alaska a hundred miles or so from Juneau. “Sail her into the South Pacific,” he said. Beat. “You can...

We Meet

When I first saw Kainui, I was disappointed. Like your first date with a cover girl sans airbrush and Photoshop. Plain, unadorned, nicked and scratched, canvas decked, handmade fiberglass cockpit, and desperately small. Twenty-five feet six inches, she lay in the slip docile as a cow, knowing, perhaps, that her fate was in the hands of others. I crawled into her bilges, paint worn and tar-spotted; poked into lockers, dirt cemented in cracks and joints; squeezed the settee cushions, upholstered in brown vinyl cracked by age; pulled up the floorboards, thick, crudely cut teak planks. My heart was sick. This boat had been in my dreams for a year and a half—ever since I’d read a line by Eric Hiscock: To my mind, the best pocket cruiser is the Vertue. From that moment—what did I know?—my boat was to be a Vertue. And her beauty and seakeeping prowess and the adventures we were to have had swelled in my mind. I climbed back on deck. Standing on the dock watching me with a black sullenness was Philip, who had found Kainui before I had, who had fallen in love with her, who, while raising her purchase price, had neglected to put money down to keep her his. The morning after I had first spoken with Peter Kinsey, Kainui’s owner, to see if she were still available, I went to my bank, was promised a loan (later rescinded), and that evening, less than 24 hours later, offered Peter to purchase a first option. He said no, I trust you. Which only pumped my anxiety—I wanted something binding. But he’d stayed...