A Kayak Pilgrimage

by Dan Dworkin

To travel solo for days in a kayak is to be not on or in but of the water. It loves you, rocks you like your mother did, speaks to you with many voices, supports your meandering, bathes you, feeds you, tells you when to travel and when to stay still on the island of the moment. On every trip there is a time of storm, of being wind-bound when the judicious kayaker stays put, writes, rests, wanders, constructs stone sculptures and listens for the still, small voice.

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OZ On The Water

 

When I was invited to spend a week sailing off the coast of Maine, I expected to make witty conversation as I toasted nattily-clad fellow passengers with a glass of vintage champagne. You know, like Walter Cronkite, or one of the Kennedys.

The Schooner American EagleAfter all, what did I know about sailing? I grew up in Kansas and Nebraska, two states that are about as removed from the ocean as the Sahara is from the North Pole. 

So you can imagine my surprise when I boarded the American Eagle, an authentic Maine windjammer. Seventy-five years ago she was hauling fish from one port to another; today she carries passengers on cruises around Penobscot Bay.

Despite the loving restoration done by Captain John Foss, nothing can change the fact that I was going to be sleeping in a cabin carved out of the old cargo area, the same place that was once filled with dead fish.

Like Dorothy, I wished I were back in Kansas.

The first night I cracked my head when I sat up in bed. No headroom.

The second day I strained my back when I helped hoist the sails. No know how.

There were only a few canvas chairs on deck, so I found a place on the floor. Whoops — on the deck.

"Wicked nice, isn't it?" asked one of the passengers, a born-and-bred New Englander who'd been sailing all his life. Wicked? That's when I learned that "wicked" means "very" in New England-speak and “cool” in hip-talk. But I’m neither a grizzled Yankee nor a young chick, and where I come from, the word "wicked" is used to describe the Witch of the West and serial murderers.

But by the third day I was sea steady if not exactly sea savvy. When the wind blew hard, the boat seemed to fly, skimming over the water with deck tilted and passengers cheering and laughing. But mostly it moved slowly, giving a sensation of drifting—and dreaming.

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