Sailing people who live in houses often envy those who live on boats. But those who dwell afloat all year around miss one great thing: the annual pleasure of throwing off a land-based existence in exchange (however briefly) for a seagoing life that will rock them with different demands and buoy them with different delights.
Anthony Bailey, The Coast of Summer
Anthony Bailey is a British writer/journalist who worked for The New Yorker for many years. At that time he lived in a village (town?) of Stonington, CT and sailed a lot with his wife and kids. Later, he returned back to Britain, but since then he returns every summer (sometimes alone, sometimes with his wife Margot) to spend the summer sailing in his sailboat.
Anthony Bailey wrote a wonderful book how he spent his summer. Remarkably, it has no storyline, and nothing really happens there.
Here, he lands at Logan, catches a bus to Connecticut, makes small repairs on the boat, buys some provisions and takes off. His life immediately acquires a simple and unsophisticated pace: during daytime he sails to the next island-peninsula-mainland, drops the anchor in the next harbor, maybe goes ashore, walks around, swims, get back to the boat, sleep aboard. A day or two passes. Time to take off and move on.
Bailey’s prose flows lazily and unhurriedly, like a hot summer day. New day passage, new harbor. Nothing happens.
Towards the end of the book though, something finally happens: they are caught by a real hurricane in the town of New Bedford. Luckily, the Baileys are ashore. They anchor the boat as carefully as possible (three anchors), stow the sails below, and wait the hurricane through with friends at their place. “The radio rounds up the coastal devastation: beaches, houses, ships, yachts, trees, powerlines. The National Guard is patrolling to prevent looting. Somewhere sandwiched in all this is the real news of the day, at least for the rest of the world: A coup in the Soviet Union—Gorbachev has been deposed.” That’s our only hint as to when the story is taking place.
But that episode is quite unusual, one of two three things happening to the author, maybe the only mention of the outside world. The hurricane is over, and as soon as power is restored and the drawbridge, separating him from the ocean, is open, he takes off and keeps sailing.
The slow, measured rhythm of the book bewitches the reader. Life becomes wide open as the ocean, and at the same time narrows down to the minute details. What’s the current right now, how to trim the sails, which anchor to use. All harbors are beautiful, and each one is beautiful in its own special way. Each one has a history, the history immediately told to us, and as often as not it has to do with the author’s previous visits here.
This is the book about a quiet happiness of the sailor. About his total freedom, and total dependence on the wind and the current. The freedom to choose every morning where you will spend the next night, and the freedom to change your mind at any point.
At the very end of the book the author is peering into the window of a plane taking off from Boston, and making sailing plans for the next summer. It’s impossible for the reader not to follow him.