Pine Nuts: Four hours before the mast |

Pine Nuts: Four hours before the mast

McAvoy Layne
Pine Nuts

I came across a letter the other day, written to my mother from Cape Cod where I was happy as a clam at high tide back in 1979.

So happy was I, I decided to rent a small sailboat and explore Buzzards Bay. I had never sailed a boat before, I knew the pointy end was the front, and having just finished Dana’s, “Two Years Before the Mast,” I was brim full of bluster and pluck.

So on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I rented a sunfish and was cautioned by the rental agent to be back before high tide. I assured him that would not be a problem, and off I sailed, like an ant on a leaf.

So much at one was I with the world, that I lost all track of time until it occurred to me that I should stop singing and whistling and head for home. Shouting “Coming about!” to no one in particular, I made my tack for home.

The first thing that caught my attention was a bridge that looked somewhat lower than when I had crossed beneath her before. In fact, she looked alarmingly low. They didn’t tell me that a rising tide lowers all bridges.

It became dishearteningly apparent to me that my sunfish was not going to fit under that bridge anymore, unless, unless, I could hike her over so the top of the mast was pointing east instead of north. Yes, that might do the trick!

With a little bile building up in my spleen, I tightened the sail and hiked my sunfish over onto her side as we approached the low hanging bridge, and it actually looked like we were going to clear her until the wind disappeared beneath the bridge and stood us straight up, impaling the superstructure with the tip of the mast.

I let go of the tiller, which drifted away, and grabbed a steel girder with one hand. The keel went next and I was certain I would be next to go, but somehow I managed to hang onto the bridge with one hand, and a rail of the sunfish with the other, while a crowd of onlookers gathered above to stare at me.

Well, I managed to hang on until a couple firemen secured the sunfish and hauled me unceremoniously up onto the bridge with a rope. The firemen did not recognize me as Richard Henry Dana, but gave me a good scolding. The agent at the boat rental did not recognize me either, but presented me with a bill for the lost tiller, lost keel and broken mast; there was no charge for my broken spirit.

I have not had an urge to go sailing since. In fact, if you were to offer me a sunfish, replete with a bottle of rum and a mermaid with whom to share it, I would thank you, pat you on the head, and decline the offer. I have lost my interest in being an ant on a leaf ever again.

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