Monday, June 30, 2008


When I graduated high school I took a job working the graveyard shift while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I worked from ten at night until six in the morning. My friend Ray worked rotating shifts at a local refinery, and every five weeks would have an eight day break. Both of his parents were originally from the Cayman Islands, and Ray had the sea in his blood. Shortly after I started the night shift, Ray bought a
Cal 20 sailboat. I'd usually get home around seven am, crawl into bed, and hear the doorbell ring at about seven thirty. "Hey man, you wanna go sailing?"

He kept the boat in the marina at Pleasure Island, near Port Arthur, TX. There were many refineries on the way to the marina; we had to drive a gauntlet of toxicity to get there. We'd stop at the marina store so Ray could get a six pack of Heineken beer, it was the brew of choice back on Grand Cayman and Ray was all about giving me an authentic experience. Once, as a joke, I paid ten bucks each for a couple of yachting hats and Ray and I did our best to try to out Thurston Howell the Third each other.

Once aboard we'd crank up the Jimmy Buffett cassettes, and Ray would teach me how to sail.

"Hoist the mains'l! Hoist the jib! Helms alee! Prepare to come about!"

That's pretty much all of the sailing terms I remember. We'd glide out beyond the jetties into the Gulf of Mexico, and I remain as amazed now as I was back then that you could move that fast with the wind as your only engine. It was thrilling and peaceful all at the same time, and as I became aware of the sound of the wind shoving against the sails and whistling through the rigging the music faded into the background, and I felt the serenity of an honest man at the end of a long days work.

Ray and I tried to figure out how to sail and listen to Jimmy Buffett for a living, but we were too chicken to smuggle. Ray was a newlywed, and his wife had deep roots in the Golden Triangle area of Texas, so moving someplace where the water was blue enough and the sand white enough to make a living running charters was also out of the question. So we'd sail until the late afternoon, and I'd get back to my little apartment and catch about three hours of sleep before I made the drive into work. The next morning Ray would ring my doorbell, and off we'd go again.

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