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On Going to Sea

"By all that's wonderful it is the sea, I believe, the sea itself—or is it youth alone? Who can tell? But you here—you all had something out of life: money, love—whatever one gets on shore—and, tell me, wasn't that the best time, that time when we were young at sea; young and had nothing, except hard knocks—and sometimes a chance to feel your strength—that only—that you all regret?"

-Youth, Joseph Conrad

 

 

The seas appeared steeper, or was it the play of sunlight on translucent crests at the instant before they broke. Scottie valiantly climbed over each then dropped down the backside in a roller coaster plunge. Suddenly there came a sea bigger than the others. Cresting high above us, we rose to it, from its trough much deeper than others. The following wave was a monster, blanking out the sky. Its crest became concave like the hood of an immense cobra drawing back to strike. Dean was at the chart table, his back toward the bow. Concentrating on the compass, Jack was at the wheel, head down. The wall of water broke, hurling itself at the bridge.


"Look out!" was all I had time to shout. I ducked instinctively clinging to the sill. The wall of water slammed Scottie hard over onto her starboard side. I saw the captain's feet, still in those loafers, slide out from under him. He hung for an instant from the thin mahogany railing of the chart table and then it broke away. In a hail of splintering wood, pencils and charts, Dean flew across the bridge and neatly clipped Jack's feet from under him. Then everything disappeared in the seawater exploding through the open window. For an eternal, yet vividly clear instant, I hung from the sill seawater pouring over me. The stunned boat lay on her side indecisive whether to right herself or yield to the tons of green water and roll over.