I stood in the cockpit of our boat, my trunks dripping wet from the swim out. Usually being aboard releases a spurt of euphoria within me. If I’m on the boat, most likely I’ll soon be sailing.
Instead a shiver coursed through me. My shoulders and back ached from hauling myself aboard. My knees throbbed from bouncing around during our earlier sail that day. The wind puffed in my face, taunting me. But I balked.
“Am I getting too old for this?”
I froze. I had uttered that most private of thoughts—fears, really—out loud. I had violated the taboo.
“No, you’re not.”
I jerked my head around. Had I said that, too?
“You love it, and you know it.”
I peered over the rail. No fish had spoken. I stepped onto the foredeck and turned to survey the twelve feet of catboat lying before me. No doubt the boat and I were alone.
Which left only Finn, my boat, speaking in a voice that echoed my own.
“Don’t for a moment think you can do without me. What else would you have to pine for all winter?”
I swayed, clutching the forestay, as Finn paced on the mooring.
“But what about all the sores and bruises and cuts from barnacles and pickled skin from handling wet lines?” I said. “I hobble after every sail. I bleed.”
Can boats chuckle? Maybe the waves made the sound.
“You love those,” said Finn. “They’re emblems of your exploits. You flaunt them.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “How about the weather helm? I don’t have the muscle power, the stamina I used to.”
“What about reefing? You used to reef all the time so we could get out even in sporty conditions. What do you have against reefing?”
“Nothing. Except it’s work.”
Again, I heard the chuckling. “Sailing is work. That’s why you love it. It fulfills your need for the practical and the poetic.”
“Do you have an answer for everything? Don’t answer that. What about the swim out, hauling my old carcass over the transom, shivering in sopping trunks?”
“You do own a dinghy, in case you forgot. That’s what it’s for: to bring you to me without getting wet.”
I sighed and looked up. The shelf of cloud that had clamped a cast iron shadow over us parted to admit a warming caress of sunshine from a slot of blue.
“Okay,” I said. “The million dollar question: the expense of it all. Can we really afford it? The winter storage? The maintenance? Year after year after year?”
I heard a sigh.
“Wrong question,” said my boat, voice lowering. “Can you afford not to? Can you put a price on joy?”
I squinted out to the open water, now an expanse of sun-strewn gems. The boat rose up as if to urge me on. I nodded. Time to sail. Enough talk.
Hoisting and reefing the sail warmed the salt water in my veins, and I pulsed with the urge to go, and keep on going, as I dropped off the mooring and tucked myself into the cockpit of my catboat.
Craig Moodie lives with his wife, Ellen, in Massachusetts. His work includes A Sailor’s Valentine and Other Stories and, under the name John Macfarlane, the middle-grade novel, Stormstruck!, a Kirkus Best Book.