The wind changed the color of the water from glassy whitish gray to a deeper, more ominous shade of blue. Ripples were building in intensity and white caps were starting to form. I had waited an hour or more for the wind to come up and propel my little eight-foot sailboat, and it finally arrived. I was 12 years old in the summer of 1962 when my father bought me that first sailboat.
When I recall our summer lakefront cottage, I see my father standing on the dock raising his hands to his mouth. He takes a deep breath, and that familiar piercing whistle explodes from his lips. I hear it from a quarter of a mile offshore. “Time to come in, Jim,” he yells. I pretend not to hear him. I steer my tiller away from the dock for one last tack. It always seemed the wind was best at the end of a sail.
I sailed that boat through my adolescent years on Peach Lake, my family’s summer getaway in Brewster. She was made of solid oak, polished and varnished on the insides, and she was perfect for me in so many ways. She taught me her secrets that summer and the many summers of my youth that followed. She was my first love but would not be my last.
I fell in love with sailing during those early years. My little boat took me on adventures around the lake to places where I found a special form of quiet that I would chase for the rest of my life.
As time passed, I left the lake and the carefree days of my boyhood. My parents sold the cottage and the boat, and I moved on to raising my own family. It would be years before I bought my first boat, an O’Day 25 named Windswept. I sailed her out of Glen Cove on the larger waters of Long Island Sound. Later, I would venture out to the ocean on my next boat, a Cal 28 named Night Moves. She was much more fit for the ocean, and she took me to Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, where adventures of untold fascination were waiting.
I am older now and my father’s call to “come in” is a distant memory, but I know it is coming. It’s a call that all sailors hear as they age, and it grows louder with each passing year.
But on this beautiful, crisp June day when I step onto Night Moves, follow my routine of uncovering her sails, drop her mooring lines and head northwest to open waters, my mind is not thinking about endings. The sky is a deep rich blue, the breeze is just right, and I settle in behind her wheel for my first ride of the season. As she heels to starboard, I lean over the leeward rail to catch a glimpse of the rushing water along her hull. The sound of the wind and water is intoxicating.
“I’m not coming home yet, Dad,” I say to myself. In my 73rd year, I know it is inevitable someday, but not now. Not while I have a good boat, good sailing waters and a wind to carry me.
James D. Riordan lives in Old Westbury.