Sunday, January 17, 2010

Riding the Wind

Thoughts on a cold winter day…

Each year during the summer months a need arises to get out of Japan for a while, and probably more than anything else, a desire to distance myself from the everyday colors and textures of life here. Definitely an expatriate sense of longing, but I hesitate to call it a longing for home. The years in Japan have been enough to qualify Tokyo for that label more convincingly than any other place. But despite my years here, and the long list of things I love about it, the things I don’t love about it compel me to leave for a period of weeks each summer.

I am fortunate enough to have a place on Florida’s east coast not far from Daytona Beach. The description ‘on the beach’ in this case is about twenty-five yards short of literal. Walk out the door to find yourself on sand in half a minute, and up to the knees in surf only moments later. And so for obvious reasons I enjoy long hours on the beach, either floating on waves, walking for long stretches, or parked under a big umbrella with a book. Though I do swim fairly well and am not at all afraid of the water, even when the waves are big, romping all day in the surf is not what excites me. Neither do I enjoy stretching out in the blazing sun working on the perfect tan. With sun so hot and abundant, you learn quickly when the best hours are on the beach. Early morning before 8:00 is good, but the later hours from 5:00 to 7:00 are also an especially fine time.

Despite the accumulated weeks at the beach each year, I don’t know very much about boats. I don’t fish, have only been out on boats three or four times, and surely can’t handle a boat by myself. Catamarans sailing up and down the coast are not an unusual sight in Florida, and hardly a day passes when you don't see several sail past. Last August I had an eye-opening experience at the beach, one that left me almost intoxicated for the next several days.

Walking along the beach, late afternoon, doing nothing special, but perfectly content in my solitary stroll, almost unaware of others around me, I came across some people dragging a catamaran down to the surf line. In my ignorance it never occurred to me that the number of people was too small to sail the catamaran safely, and it surprised me when one of them asked me if I would like to go out for a sail, that they needed one more person. I said, “Sure, but you will have to teach me what to do.” Apparently that was no problem, so I joined them in hauling the catamaran out into the water. The ‘captain’ told me right off that balance is very important on a catamaran, and that everyone must sit along the edge, on either side of the boat. It took a little clumsy wrestling, but we got the catamaran out a ways and all piled on, half on one side, half on the other. In just a few moments wind caught the sail and the catamaran went flying over the water like a bird on high-octane.

I suddenly found myself in a magical world I had never imagined. Apart from the captain’s orders to shift position or look out for the swinging spar, the only sounds were the wind beating against the sail, and the catamaran bouncing and skimming over the blue ocean. The water sprayed or exploded in my face as I hung leaning backward over the side, lost in the thrall of wind and water borne excitement. We were on the water for about twenty minutes, all of it racing in perfect harmony with wind and ocean. My thought on returning to land was that this was an experience too short by far.

Thanks offered and heading back home, still feeling the lift of wind and the splash of water on my face, I began thinking about taking up the sport of catamaran sailing. Reality took the wind out of that thought when I discovered that owning and sailing a catamaran is not only a very expensive hobby, but one that requires a long period of learning how to handle a sailboat. But oh, what a thrill!

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America