Time has no meaning. It’s impossible to tell how much of this is just that I’m getting older and every subsequent year is a diminishing percentage of my total time on-planet, and how much is the fact that the world is still bizarre, but it’s apparently Labor Day. The unofficial end of summer.
I was last at the shore a couple weeks ago. I didn’t bother to note it with a log…I was just putting on extra lines and tying things down in preparation for Hurricane Henri. That was a fairly weak hurricane, but I don’t mess with named storms and some tendrils of the spaghetti plots had it meandering too close to New Jersey for my comfort. It wound up in Rhode Island, but before I could even get the extra lines off, the remnants of Hurricane Ida rolled through. That brought an absurd amount of rain and spawned several tornadoes, which we’re not even supposed to have here. My immediate neighborhood wasn’t impacted, but huge sections of Philadelphia were flooded and parts of the Vine Street Expressway were completely underwater.
I’ve been so stressed out (with other things; not these storms) that I have been attempting to meditate during the work day. I have historically placed meditation into the same bin as touching a crystal of a certain color or sticking hat pins into a doll of your enemy, so this is a substantial departure for me. I suppose that I have come to accept that there are less woo-woo versions, like mindfulness, which is more about being fully present in the moment without interpretation or judgement than something involving “spiritual awakening” or “astral projection” or “recurring charges.” I mean, it doesn’t do anything, but it’s probably more productive than just swallowing it all or watching The Antiques Roadshow and talking back to the television in the voices of the guests and appraisers as if they were saying perverse things about the knickknacks. As soon as I logged out of my work accounts on Friday, I basically fled. No amount of guided meditation or saucy talk about a late-19th-century majolica rooster in a lingering Québécois accent was going to fix it. I needed to get to the boat.
Of course, the main ways out of the city were still flooded. My telephone told me to drive across the city, and I did. I hadn’t eaten lunch, so I stopped for food at a drive-through in an abandoned strip mall. I have no idea where I was—somewhere east of Hunting Park but not quite to Bridesburg, I guess. When I say “abandoned,” I mean that there were no functioning stores, but there was certainly activity. The parking lot was being used as a grassless park, where people had brought tables and coolers and generators to power massive stereo systems. Cars did donuts and minibikes reminiscent of Miguel Calderón’s Bad Route tore around aimlessly. The person on the other side of the drive-through speaker mostly couldn’t hear me through the din, but there was a slight break in the pattern of minibikes orbiting the restaurant and I eventually got something. I didn’t leave though. I had to know what was happening, so I parked out of the way and rolled down my windows and ate and listened to a version of Killing Me Softly in Spanish that had to be 90dB from 200 yards away. I couldn’t believe people were standing right next to the speakers: the auditory equivalent of staring straight into the sun. The whole scene was so odd to me. Not bad, but odd. Some of the minibike folk were dressed up like surrealistic skeletons or something, but I have friends who dress like spooky boys and it doesn’t bother me (despite the fact that I refuse to wear shirts without collars). I just felt like a tourist. Although at least I was fully rapt in the moment. I continued on and eventually found the back way to the Betsy Ross Bridge.
Speaking of spooky boys… Diner Update: I didn’t drive by the horrendous diner until around 8:00pm. I would have thought that by then, most of that diner’s clientele would have been heading out to the weird machine behind the Walgreens that lets you rent a physical video tape or something, but no, the parking lot was completely full. I have no idea how this is possible. I guess that the undead night manager crept out of his coffin, bit five people, and convinced them that if they could all go bite five more people that their thralls would be soon be kicking up more blood than they’d know what to do with, et cetera, et cetera. Like any blood-based pyramid scheme, it’s best to be the all-seeing eye on top, but eventually you’re going to drain the whole world dry.
I arrived at the boat under cover of darkness. My meditation was setting up the boat for sleep—a mindless, time consuming task that allowed me to not think about anything else for a moment. I wandered around the marina but there was nothing going on. I returned to the boat and messed around online for a bit until I started to get cold. It was the kind of cold that would only feel cold after a long bout of quasi-tropical weather, but getting into the bunk under the blanket felt good, regardless.
Jenn met me at the marina on Saturday morning. I had the boat mostly prepped for sailing, so we got underway rather quickly. I had gone 18 hours without speaking and was not exactly prepared to get back into it, which was problematic, but I mumbled through it.
The weather was nearly perfect. 75°F and sunny, low humidity, 10kts of breeze from the southeast. We initially sailed north, with no real destination in mind. I thought that we might pick up a mooring ball at Martell’s and get lunch, just for something to do. I asked Jenn if she could call them to see if their launch was running to pick up people from the mooring field. She confirmed that I really wanted to use the word “launch” but I couldn’t come up with anything beyond the other terms for ships’ tenders during the Age of Sail. She actually tried it, but quickly reverted to “boat,” which was apparently better received. I can’t believe that I couldn’t come up with “boat.” She was talking to the hostess at a tiki bar, not the bosun of HMS Victory. We furled the jib and dropped the main and proceeded under power as we neared to moorings. There was only one open buoy, and the depth was sketchy. We grazed the bottom and I quickly turned us out. We did a slow drive-by to see if there were open spots somewhere, but eventually gave up and left.
The area directly in front of Martell’s is pretty busy, and we didn’t have a chance to put the main back up immediately. I would have ordinarily done it while still on the mooring. We motored along the shore until we were clear of the channel, where we had room to come head-to-wind and hoist it again. We then proceeded south. Jenn snapped a picture of an Osprey on Marker 39. We’d previously seen what looked a lot like a bald eagle over the creek, so it was a good day for spotting raptors.
We continued south and were back near the mouth of the creek in one tack. As we continued on, I noticed that we had passed a Beneteau Oceanis.
We weren’t really trying that hard, although I may have commented several times about how badly his jib was luffing. But they were pointing as high as possible (perhaps slightly higher) and I wasn’t pinching at all, so I didn’t think much of it. I was mostly just doing my thing. Which is also a thing that I do in the moment. Thinking of little but the wind and the tells and riding the lifts.
Maybe ten minutes later, I glanced over my shoulder and saw that they were practically on top of us.
They had cracked off onto a close reach, which gave them more speed and closed the gap between us. I don’t know if they were embarrassed that we’d passed them in the first place or just oblivious, but it felt rather unnecessary that they’d be so close. I was the leeward boat and wasn’t about to flinch so I just held my course. They eventually got ahead of us and put us in their disturbed air, which helped them complete the pass. I still don’t know if they were trying to pass us or just going about their business, but they had 10ft of waterline on us, and there’s no way I could have beaten them straight-up if they were really trying. Fortuitous is not a fast boat. I can at least make people work for it though.
They continued to fall off toward the mainland and I stayed on course, beating down the bay. We threw in a set of tacks at Marker BB and continued on all the way to the end of the wide part of the bay.
At one point, the VHF crackled with:
Lenny Palumbo, Lenny Palumbo, this is US Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay, over.
They repeated the hail several times. I made note that they never said “vessel,” which they almost always say. Like earlier in the day, they had been calling the Fishing Vessel So-and-So (I can’t remember what the actual name was, but it was some terrible pun on “reel,” like Reel Estate or Reel Housewives of Chum Harbor or something). It sounded like they were just hailing Lenny personally, to the point where I expected someone to jump on Ch. 16 and say “Ooooo, Lenny’s goin’ to the principal’s office.” It is my hope, though, that someone named their boat Lenny Palumbo, which I’ve got to say is a strong choice.
Between the ideal weather and the holiday weekend, there were a lot of boats out. I don’t know for sure, but I think we may have seen a Hinckley Bermuda 40 yawl, which is among the prettiest boats of all time. It is the boat that your mind fills in when you see an impressionist painting of a sailboat.
On the return trip, we saw Bad Donato V, which is, admittedly, a powerboat, but it’s a unique wooden one with an extraordinarily high ratio of style to engine noise. A better photo of her can be seen here (just scroll down below the amphibious car).
There were also many sailboats going in the same direction as us. I don’t know if the wind had shifted slightly or if it was just the standard thing where I underestimate the impact of the boat’s speed on the apparent wind, but it was on our beam as we sailed north, and slightly stronger than it had been earlier in the day. Everyone was hauling up the bay. One boat slowly overtook us on starboard. I don’t know what it was. They had a Pearson 34 mainsail insignia, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t one. I swear I wasn’t trying to race. I am just trying to reach enlightenment by making very small adjustments to the sail trim.
As we passed the line of boats to port, the last one jokingly (I think?) chided us for stealing their wind. I apologized. It was not my intention. Namaste, and let your main out.
By the time we got to 40, they were all off our stern.
It was nice to get some relaxing time on the boat, away from everything. I will continue to attempt land-based meditation as a way to take an occasional four minute vacation from whatever else is going on, but I honestly think there’s something meditative about sailing for me. I can be wound a little tight, and for me a huge part of sailing (or anything) is doing it “correctly.” In this instance, I feel like this does an end-around on my propensities to dwell on the past and future. There’s certainly a little future-thinking and problem-solving required if you’re going to get anywhere by sailboat, but a lot of what goes into boat speed is being acutely aware of the present: noticing the little things, making the little changes, and staying “in it” and letting the distractions float away. There is probably less medical evidence for sailing as a stress reliever than meditation, but I will endeavor to do both.