The yachtsman

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a foundation of financial insecurity. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea. ‘Cruising’ it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change.”

This is one of those quotes one copies into one’s commonplace book, forgetting to note where one found it. Journalists have been hanged for less. A quick Internet search suggests it was probably by Sterling Walter Hayden. It was the sort of thing that appealed to me when young.

Now that I am old it appeals to me more.

Consider likewise the Spanish folksinger María Salgado, on whom I have a big fat crush — her song, Sólo por miedo (“Only for fear”):

Qué bonito es el miedo cuando es sincero,
Qué brillante el futuro cuando es oscuro,
Qué exquisito el delito cuando lo grito,
Cuando lo grito. …

Una vida más tarde comprenderemos
Que la vida perdimos,
Sólo por miedo. …

I dare not translate this, for too many of my readers know Spanish. And besides, this lady sings with a clarity so distilled, that anyone can understand. And moreover, it is too good a song (an Argentine vals, I am told), woven from beautifully precise contradictions. Translated, it can only be ruined. And the music makes it better: the contralto tone of resignation, for instance, when the words speak of shrieking.

Still I would have you consider, gentle reader:

How pretty is fear when it is sincere; how bright the future when it is in darkness; how exquisite the crime when they scream, when they scream! … Only a lifetime later to understand, that life is lost from fear, only. …

(There are a few more stanzas.)

Yes, I should think, that would make it a love song. But for whom, one might plausibly ask? And plausibly answer, for some long-lost love, never met, and never to be forgotten. And a good love song is erotic, and spiritual, so that it echoes in some way, The Song of Songs.

We do not have the guts to live — to risk, and to adventure. That is why, today, even those who get married, never get married; even those who go to church, never go to church; even those who travel, never leave home. We feast without feasting, fast but never fast. And then in the end we fear, for nothing — for all that never happened, that we have lost.

Yesterday we entered Septuagesima, the turning point in voyaging from Christmas to Easter. (Though till Candlemas, Christmas remains alight.) From life to death, from port to port. And on this day of Saint Paul’s going forth, suddenly in the garments of a Christian, we may see that all this life is an adventure — from the setting out, to the coming in; through the transcendent joyful agony of “real life.” Or we look on graves and remember, the Love that was not spoken, nor died for even once.