On the River with “Plato”

A stern breeze rustled through the trees, whisked inland by choppy water. Sunlight glitter rode the white caps towards the shore, as waterfowl fluttered, and sung their morning tunes.  It was early dawn, before the sweltering heat plucked the energy from all living creatures. The shackles and shrouds clanged noisily, as the boat swung to and fro, whinnying to depart. The tiller drifted loosely, as the centerboard was finessed into it’s resting place, dampening the wind-induced swaying. The mainsail was raised, the jib was slouching in the bow, and the lines were cast off and hauled in. A mighty heave against a piling, shoved the small vessel clear of the planks as it lept bow-first into open waters.

The small craft made steady headway towards the mouth of the river. There was not another human soul stirring that morning. The jib was yanked skyward and it filled with plentiful gusts; pulling the vessel with a satisfactory increase in speed. Tails slapped the surface occasionally, as fish pursued their fleeing breakfasts. The banks of the river were ringing with the chirps and hums of insects ushering in a new day. Despite their cacophony, the waterfront cottages remained sleepily unaware. Boats of all sizes dipped slowly to the rhythm of the waves, slung tightly to their wooden placeholders.

This was his favorite time of day. It felt as if he had a head start on the rest of the world. It was as if the entire natural cinema was for his eyes and ears only. All of mother nature’s grandeur began to pulse. He could feel it through his hand, wrapped loosely on the rope-clad tiller. The water sending ripples of energy through the tiller, and deep into his soul. The boat became an extension of himself. Tacking leisurely across the narrow channel, calmly switching seats to maintain balance, his thoughts melted into the rising sun.

The steady breath of wind blew across his exposed skin, kissing it softly as he skimmed briskly upriver. Small fish were schooling in nervous gatherings, coiling to dart away if a threat loomed large. The brackish water glistened with a dark green hue at the surface, which quickly became murky a few feet down. The lack of visibility always plucked the strings of his imagination. Large sharks, and unknown sea creatures could be too close for comfort without his knowledge. This only added to the mystique of his travels on the river.

He had been cruising the watershed, which trickled lazily from the bay, to the marshes in the deepest recesses of the estuary since he could walk. His first excursions took place on kayak, or skiff, with a life jacket strapped to his torso “just in case.” He was entrusted to stay within eyesight of his small house, situated on the sloping hillside above the inlet. After a few years on the water, and as his limbs lengthened, and his joints became more supple, he was granted permission to explore the far reaches of his birthplace.

It was his ultimate release. The worries of school, siblings, friends, and athletics drifted into oblivion as his craft of choice cut smoothly through the rippling currents. It was an escape hatch which could be opened with the pull of a paddle, or the fluffing of a sail. Entering the watery playground, of which worldly matters clung loosely to the banks, washed his mind clean of thoughts churned by society.

As the small sailboat approached the mouth of the bay, the wind intensified, and the foaming crests splashed roughly against the bow. He stayed close to the shore, as the far horizon showed no hints of land. He tucked his feet under the straps, and leaned out hard as the boat angled steeply towards the water. Pulling on the main and jib as he saw fit, the sails were bracing themselves against the relentless pressure. He maneuvered effortlessly, tacking when needed, to ride across the wind. Pure freedom- the only way to describe flying down the shoreline.

The sun had begun its steep ascent into the far reaches of the heavens. The mid-July heat was dissipated by the rapidity with which he was cleaving through the water. The centerboard remained submerged by a narrow margin, allowing the boat to cut the waves like a knife at a sharp angle. He ducked the boom as it swung overhead for another tack, switched sides, and pulled hard on the tiller. The boat veered quickly in the opposite direction as the wind filled the clapping sails.

He was completely present in the moment. The surf lightly salting his skin, the continuous rush of water against the hull, the screaming of seabirds, the smooth ropes in one hand and the stiff tiller in the other. Clouds streaked the sky, but offered little cover from the sun which was now at it’s zenith. The boat streaked steadily toward his favorite island, pocked with driftwood and an abundance of trees.

The island’s intricacies became more apparent as the gap narrowed. The rough tree bark, swaying branches, and green leaves were dancing in unison to the rhythm of the breeze. The jib was hauled down, and the mainsail was at half-mast to decrease speed. The centerboard was pulled up, and the rudder was adjusted to navigate the shallows. He jumped into knee-deep water with a soft landing on smooth sand. The water was not nearly as refreshing as he was expecting.

Famished and thirsty, he pulled the bowline over his shoulder, and brought the boat to a secure resting place on the beach. The waves lapped calmly against the shore, as he secured the bowline to a massive piece of driftwood which was no less than three feet in diameter. He hitched the line to a sturdy branch near the center mass, and was relieved that the tide was going out. His beloved craft, “Plato,” would be safe for the time-being. The white boat had smooth lines,  simple rigging, and was kept delightfully clean. It looked awkwardly out of place as the sand held it rigidly upright.

His throat was parched, and his stomach rippled and groaned to be filled. He had not eaten since before sunrise, and could think of nothing but sustenance. The canvas bag carrying his supplies for the day was removed from amidships, as he swung it over his shoulder and trudged up the sandy bank. He plopped down beneath the cool shade of an evergreen which smelled sweetly of sap. Leaning back against the gnarled bark, he let out a deep breath and slouched lazily into a comfortable position.

He pulled the bag onto his lap, and the feast began. A pair of bananas, an apple, sandwich, container of brown rice, and a slightly melted chocolate chip cookie, were consumed almost as quickly as they were removed from storage. His hunger satisfied, he clasped both hands over his stomach and scanned the scene in front of him. Despite it’s familiarity, it never became less wondrous. The rhythmic stream of waves, the smell of salty air, the cool breeze on his tanned skin, it was all so heavenly.

The food had been a relief, but his thirst was yet to be quenched. He pulled out a metal thermos and unscrewed the tight lid. The cold aluminum prepared him for the sensation that soon came afterwards. He tilted his head back, pressed his lips to the opening and let ice-cold water stream down his throat. The remaining cubes came to the front of the bottle, and filtered the water into his mouth. His overwhelming thirst inclined him to lean back yet even further, as his full mouth trickled water down his cheeks and onto his chest.

The relatively close proximity of his home, made consuming his supplies so brashly of little concern. He could always head back if needed. He tossed the empty thermos back into the bag and scattered the banana skins into the brush. Fatigue swept over him, and he felt like taking a long nap in the shade of the enormous pine. Instead, he pulled out another thermos and his brain snapped to attention. His drink of choice was soon to hit his lips.

The thermos was still hot, and the aroma of coffee wafted on the salty breeze into his waiting nostrils as the container opened. He blew a few breaths into the opening, and sipped the slightly cooled beverage with anticipation. Perfect. Just the right amount of cream, and an excellent blend. The rich taste washed his fatigue away in gradual drags. He took the last few sips, and made sure to get every last drop from the bottom.

A warm, tingling sensation overtook his body as the coffee flushed his system. An even greater appreciation of his surroundings, and an existential ecstasy overtook him. The heightened awareness brought everything into high definition. His brain worked with rapidity, and sucked every bit of information out of the scene that it could. This was punched into overdrive as storm clouds loomed on the horizon, and a cold wind swept over his face.

The approaching clouds turned dark as they crawled down the bay towards the mouth of the river. Thunder clapped and crackled in the distance. Streaks of lightning blitzed downwards. The water was no longer an idyllic haven. He was several miles from home, and the conditions were about to worsen. His mind raced to determine the correct course of action. Race the storm home? Wait it out on the island?

The hesitation and uncertainty pulled knots in his stomach. Each second that passed diminished the possibility of getting home before the storm. Which would be safer? The metal mast would act like a lightning rod. The violent winds and rough seas could capsize his boat. Remaining on the island, meant only the loss of time. He decided to wait out the storm, and began to secure both the boat, and his belongings.

He pulled the boat further onto shore, into the tall grasses and thickets in the interior of the island. He bagged the sails and stowed them away. He lashed the bow and stern between two large trees which he determined could not possibly be uprooted. He grabbed for his canvas bag to bring his supplies further inland, when his heart sank. He was out of supplies. Kicking himself for being so foolish, he wandered inland to seek shelter, as cold drops of rain began to fall.

The thunder boomed, lightning raced in all directions, and the water was whipped into a frenzy. Trees groaned under the strain as they were pushed around by gusts and gales. The wind howled through the branches, and trunks creaked uncomfortably. The sky was filled with dark, swirling clouds. The fast moving storm brought a cold downpour in horizontal sheets of rain. He huddled under a makeshift shelter of branches and small timbers propped against a tree. The thicket of bushes, and the poorly constructed lean-to offered little reprieve from the battering  that the island was taking.

No jacket. No blanket. Couldn’t afford to lose or damage the sails. He tucked his arms inside his short sleeves, and curled his knees into the opening at the bottom. A ball of boy inside a thin shirt, curled underneath a shabby shelter. He shivered as the cold rain found it’s way into his nest. The rain dripped in from the top, and was rushed into the open sides. The conditions were becoming unbearable.

His shirt was soaked, his bare feet turned a pale white, and he was chilled to the bone. He shuddered and shivered, occasionally blowing into his numb hands after shoving them to his mouth through the neck of his sopping-wet shirt. The wind was deafening. It screamed through the thicket as he shut his eyes and continued the waiting game. It had to end soon. The minutes went by so slowly. “This fucking sucks,” is all he could mutter to himself.

The storm’s intensity was peaking. Branches broke and crashed to the forest floor. Debris clattered through the openings between the timber. Sticks and leaves were blended into a whirlwind. The surf crashed against the shore in high breakers. He could hear the mast of “Plato” being roughly massaged by the trees which held it in place: a metallic grating in the distance. He prayed that nothing would happen to his beloved vessel; more worried about “Plato” than himself.

As quickly as it had come, the storm began to pass. The wind was still stirring his surroundings, but the rain had died down, and the thunder claps were now behind him. He pushed off the remaining parts of his shelter and took off his shirt. He wrung it out, slapped it over his shoulder, and made his way back towards “Plato.” The forest looked mangled. There were downed limbs, saplings had been uprooted, and he was thankful that he had not been struck  by such objects.

The wet, grainy sand stuck to his feet, legs, and bathing suit. He was still freezing, and cursed himself for not being more well-prepared. The sky was still overcast, but glowed with the remnants of the afternoon sun. His wish for the cloud cover to break happened almost on command, as rays of sunshine blasted onto his face. The blanket of light draped him in sensational warmth. His body rippled with goosebumps, as he stretched his arms skyward in praise.

He found “Plato” exactly where he had left it. It was still upright, leashed by stern and bow to the trees. He untied the ropes, and pushed the stern to force the bow towards the beach. The boat slid effortlessly down the shallow slope, and splashed into the calming waters. The sun bathed him in heat. He was dry, and his body temperature was returning to normal.

The gulls began to caw and scream overhead, which reassured him that the storm had passed. He hoisted the mainsail, returned the centerboard to it’s slot, pushed a few hard steps at stern, and jumped into the boat as it re-entered the bay. The wind had returned to it’s normal speed, intermittently billowing forceful gusts. He decided not to hoist the jib, and took a slow journey home. The sun was setting as he entered the mouth of the river, and he took time to appreciate the way the light flickered in long sheets across the water’s surface.

The water slapped lazily against the hull, as he slouched forward on the tiller; exhausted from the expedition. He glanced lazily at the river cottages; which still showed no signs of life. Fish exited the water in pursuit of dinner, and sea birds fluttered to and fro. The green riverbanks rustled with the calm breeze, as the sun began it’s final descent. He rounded the bend towards home, and saw the silhouettes of loved ones awaiting his return. A sigh of relief, and the exciting anticipation of being with family washed over him, as “Plato” drifted into the dock.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s