A Storyby Tom Barbash
There’s a line I love in Moby-Dick: “Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him at some time or another crazy to go to sea?”
There were five of us: John Lennon; our clear-eyed skipper, Captain Hank Halsted; Tyler Coneys, John’s first sailing coach; and a crewman named Declan Jamison, employed because he was an excellent cook who knew how to prepare macrobiotic meals. We stocked the galley with tomatoes and tomato paste, corn and baby corn, beets, beans, brown rice, tofu and lentils, tuna, salmon, canned fruits for emergencies, and even some canned meat, Spam, what was in Spam?
Water. Jugs of it, because you can’t drink saltwater. Medical supplies, sea sickness pills, laundry soap. Dr. Bronner’s. Books. Yes, books.
The first thing John said when he saw Cap’n Hank was, “It’s the Zig-Zag man,” because funnily he resembled the man on the packets of rolling papers, with a black beard and a bandanna.
The oddest thing about Cap’n Hank at first was that he seemed not to know who John was, that the John he was ferrying to Bermuda was John Lennon.
As they unpacked, John noticed a pair of chopsticks among Captain Hank’s possessions.
“My girlfriend’s Japanese,” Hank said.
“Mine too,” John said.
And still no recognition. An hour later it dawned on him, but his treating John like an amiable client had the effect of putting them at ease with each other. He wanted to head to sea unidentified; a father, a musician, an Englishman, maybe, but not for this time a Beatle. It seemed that way to me, anyway.
Our boat was a forty-three-foot Hinckley sloop, no balsa raft, no cruise ship; big enough that you felt sturdy sluicing through the waves, and small enough to feel the sea pitching beneath you. There was a little dinette where we ate breakfast and swapped stories, a few places that opened up into sleeping berths, a radio panel, storage drawers within which were charts, ship manuals, and items like waterproof gloves, a compass, binoculars, extra lines. A stainless-steel sink and a stove with three burners.
Declan started in on the galley, putting food away and locating things he’d need to make meals. “Does it smell like rotten fish in here?” he asked. He sniffed his own armpits. “I guess it’s just me.”
Tyler had sold John the Isis and taken him out in it the first four or five times.
“Have you done this trip before?” I asked.
“I’ve never been more than a mile off the coast,” he said. “You?”
“No,” I said. “Never been in the open sea.”
“It’s different out there,” he said.
“Is there any truth to the stories about the Bermuda Triangle?”
“You mean the squadron of planes that plunged into the sea, and the ships mysteriously lost and the UFOs and the ghost ship.”
“Yes,” I said.
“It’s shit mostly. But it’s pretty gnarly to sail through certain times of the year.”
“The Gulf Stream can do some crazy things in a storm.”
“What’s our sailing forecast?” Declan asked.
“Nice and clear. Small chance of something hitting late in the week, but the storm season’s still a month away.”
From a porthole, I saw the waterline above, and it had you thinking of how little there was between you and a world in which you could never survive.
“You want the real mindfuck, go up and look back at where we just left from.”
If you’ve never seen the shore disappear from the back of a small craft, it’s both unsettling and magical. It feels like you’ve disappeared, vanished off the map, and of course you have, in a sense. We were sailing southeast toward a speck in the ocean with only our wits and the stars to guide us.
We all went up, the five of us, and watched the ocean swallow the land.
The coastline got smaller, then smaller again, and then it was gone, “and so is your life before now,” Captain Hank said.
Everywhere around us was the same; nothing but water and sky, no reference points, no street lamps, or road signs, no mountains or fields or buildings, no people.
“We’re nowhere,” Tyler said.
“Write that down,” John said. He had a rueful smile as though thinking, Why did it take me so long to get here?