IN MEMORY OF ODYSSEUS
I wrote this during early morning hours of June 2, 1980 while sailing my wooden hull yawl, Iwalani, enroute from the Dry Tortugas (an island 60 miles west of Key West) returning to Fort Myers, Florida. In the darkness I placed a pad of paper inside a plastic waste basket and wrote. Sometime after writing this, I lost consciousness for several hours, awakening with the storm still raging, boat dead on course, steady-as-she-goes, effortless. I still have to remind myself that this mystifying experience really did happen. It actually happened the previous night also.
This is my second night without sleep, fighting the storm, numb - beyond fatigue. Beyond even fear of life, tired - to death. The sails are stretched stiff as steel and the sheets whine in thirty knots of wind; seas are fast, about ten foot - perhaps twenty, I'm not sure. It is dark, black, pitch black dark. Nothing is visible but the faint red glow of the compass on the binnacle. My helm is a small wheel, mounted in reverse - toward the stern, low in the cockpit to the left of my seat. I've been straining at this wheel for two days now, turning it two or three full turns for each quartering wave. I'm probably overcompensating but have lost ability to steady her course. I don't feel my numb arm anymore; I keep turning the wheel, mechanically.
The blackness of this Night is more than I can bear; he has become personal, an evil who hides from my sight the water, my boat, the sky. Barely perceptible is a faint whiteness of cold spray which whips over the cabin when we plunge into an oncoming wave, a spray that drenches me. I wipe my face again with the dripping towel.
This is fun? Sport? Life? I wonder if it's lunacy that puts me out here on this ocean a hundred miles from shore, forcing my lady into new violation with each wave. Her name is Iwalani, forty feet of mahogany yawl; she writhes and twists and pains and screams the question, "WHY?" We porpoise from wave to wave and she heels over frighteningly far, yielding to her attacker. But I refuse to reduce sail; I just want to get home. We're flying full main, jib, and mizzen, close-hauled on a starboard tack, heading 010 with wind off the land at 060.
The clapper of the fog bell clangs a curse with each crashing lurch, tolling my presence to this hostile world. Is the River Styx any more ominous? I pray, yelling into the blackness, for a ceasing of the wind, but roar of the storm drowns out my voice. I pray, my soul wailing, for calming of this maelstrom - in vain.
Does the terrible Poseidon still live? Or has he spawned offspring even more malevolent? Is it wrong that I am here? I mean no harm. I came for fun. Oh, Odysseus, is this really your relish? But, you, too, anguished, I know. It is no shame.
Hours pass like eternities tied together without respite. Oh, look, the moon begins to glow, ever so faintly in the black eastern sky. She barely penetrates the clouds but my eyes are achingly hungry; I find her. Oh, moon; Oh, blessed moon; I've been longing for you for so long. But wait, you ruin your blessing by showing me my opponents; I don't want to see the giants approach which lift me up, up so high, then fling me down surfing and skidding into the next trough, showering me with spray and wresting control from me again. Ohhhhh, this fight is more than exhausting; it is a battle with gods who play without mercy. I don't want to play anymore! DO YOU HEAR ME? I don't want to play anymore; I am so-o-o-o tired.
Roger Hathaway, June 2, 1980
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