The Last Voyage
© Copyright 2020 by John Bourges
He loved the sailboat. It was his and his alone and he loved her. The boat was a ‘she’ if ever that word had meaning about beauty, temperament, forgiveness, and style. She was small, only 24 feet and of an older design, but classic lines, another feature he admired.
She was fiberglass, teak accents, with a white hull, scarlet red waterline, and a cobalt blue bottom paint. Although the transom said UF-28 New York, her bright white sails had DD-214 in large black letters;; and were full of the morning air. He had a photograph of the boat heeled over exposing the three colors bright in the sunlight, with himself waving at the railing with the jib, and main sails full in a stiff breeze. He was happy in the picture, but that was before. That was before he realized he wanted himself to be happy, but it always seemed to be at other people’s expense.
Today he was out in a temperamental breeze with gusts and lulls as he took her out for one last time in the sound. The bay was mostly protected water but once you hit the openness of the sound, the wind changed, the waves changed, and the boat changed. He could feel it in her as he held the worn tiller of warm colored teakwood. He could feel the entire world change. In the bay she was responsive but sluggish almost always turning her bow, her gaze, her spirit to the open water beyond the point and lighthouse. In the open on a beam reach, she felt like a pent up race horse looking to run free. Hoping the main and jib sheets would be pulled tight and she would heel over to gallop. She would ride a crest gloriously or crash into it and simply slice through it. He felt it was just him and her and life was exhilarating as he was splashed by the occasional rogue wave of salt water.
Then that changed somehow and today he felt it more than ever. There was an ache to his soul, something was missing, and the sad part was that he knew what it was. She no longer responded to his touch and gentle urges to change course easily but fought every move. It was his fault of course, no denying that.
He felt if he turned quickly enough he would see her sitting opposite him with her hair blowing in the breeze, smiling, and laughing at the thrill of the boat as she ran. But she wasn’t there and never would be again. He had seen to that by his selfish actions thinking no one else felt pain, no one else was hurt. But where affairs of the heart were concerned there was always just pain and he had caused it all. He tried to smile at the image of her but couldn’t because when his mind saw her, there was no smile only tears.
He turned his boat towards the open water, pulled tight on the sheets, tying them in the cleats as he pulled down tighter on the boom downhaul. Returning to the tiller he had tied off he adjusted back to the course he had plotted, looked at the compass and set his course. But he had set that long ago.
It is hard one day to wake up and realize you’re not the person people think you are, that you are not the person you even think you are, that it is all a charade. You were called calm under pressure as the world exploded around you, showing resilience, leading others while all the time there was a voice inside your head screaming to stop and just hide. You were called brave because you had seen death, accepted it as inevitable and had no fear of it, yet you shook uncontrollably when it was all done. You were considered smart because of all you knew but were afraid to tell everyone how little you really knew. You were a fool, a pretender, wondering if anyone else saw through you.
She had, she had known, she was aware, but she also knew why and didn’t mind. She was the calm to his storm, the balm to his wounds, the hiding place he always sought but he had ruined that. He could never return to her because she was hurt by him, just as he could never return to the shore.
He had hurt people before, that was not the point, they had deserved it, or so he thought. He wondered why he did what he did, but then the answer came quickly, simply selfish, incapable of knowing what love is supposed to be. He had written sonnets to her asking forgiveness but only silence was the reply. And so he ached, wishing he were the callous kind where this wouldn’t matter in the least. But it did hurt, everyone was hurt.
It would be another hour before he would see the end of Long Island and then he would tack between Montauk and Block Island and head out to the open sea. She heeled over and smiled, if a boat could ever smile, at the vastness of the ocean before her and she ran.
Morgan wanted to pass the busy shipping lanes that ran along the coast before he set his auto tiller, shorten his sails and settled in for a few hours’ sleep. He did not want to die crushed beneath a giant tanker, like some modern day PT 109. He knew how he was going to die, and that was not it. Besides, he had a plan. Always have to have plan he thought. He would set the auto pilot to a heading straight out into the middle of the Atlantic from which he did not plan on returning.