NOWHERE OR NOW HERE...
by Doc Foxx
This blog has been rattling around in my brain for some time, begging to be let out....
For about a week they had been eyeing each other like two surly dogs glowering over a bone so it came as no surprise when they finally went at it on the foredeck. What started as a shove became a punch by one answered by the other and just that quickly they were down on the deck before anyone could make a move, grunting and rolling around, grappling for an advantage.
Jerry was the first to react. He tied a sheet end to a handy bucket, tossed it over the side until it had enough water and upended it over the two bodies. They came up sputtering. “Okay, children,” he said. “You can quit playing games now and get back to racing. You’re getting yourselves all tied up in knots. It’ll be over soon enough and you can look back and laugh at yourselves.”
We had been at sea for two weeks in the race from Bermuda to Bayona, Spain, the Regata del Descubrimiento, and had spent the last three or four days becalmed off the Azores. In the previous 24 hours we had done a whopping 36 miles while our racing sailboat, the famed 73 foot ocean racer, BLACKFIN, rolled in the long swells like a tub. Under the bubble of the Atlantic High there was barely a breath of wind.
It was the first time in a long distance race for the two fighters and being at sea for 14 days in light winds had definitely not been in their mental travel brochure. The stress of being becalmed, the uncertainty of when it would be over, had finally gotten to them. And in the early 70’s, when you were in the mid-Atlantic off the Azores, 1,000 miles off the coast of Spain, you were about as out of touch as a human could possibly be.
With most of us in our 20’s and 30’s, Jerry, in his mid-60’s, was the old man of the crew and as he took his spot back in the cockpit he was still muttering. “Damn kids don’t realize they need to be here before they can get somewhere else. Before you can get from here to there you have to get from here to here.”
Jerry, a retired professional musician, was as pragmatic a man as I ever knew but here he was, talking about being in the moment without actually saying it. The two kids on the foredeck didn’t know that the race, like life, would not last forever.
I had lost my adventurous Renaissance man of a father about 14 years before when he was in his early 40’s and my search for a reason for his early passing and for a direction for my life had led me into meditation and spirituality, through Zen Buddhism, and Taoism, and into cathedrals and synagogues. Even a profoundly religious experience a few years before when I was in the Army, during Christmas Eve mass in a tank barn surrounded by several hundred cavalry troopers had left me with more questions than answers. The gurus said I could find the answers in the same place I found the questions. So far that hadn’t worked. Ram Dass, the great spiritual teacher, had written a seminal book called BE HERE NOW just a year before and I had said to myself well that makes a lot of sense. Of course I am here now. Where else can I be?
I didn’t know it at the time but I was just beginning to realize it was more than that, it was mindfulness, it was being aware of the moment. Once you figured that out it was obvious. All you had to do was look. But looking wasn’t enough…you had to see...really see.
Zen teaches by koans, parables. For example—An acolyte asks a master how can I find enlightenment? The master asks “Have you eaten your lunch? Then wash your bowl.” Do the next thing. Don’t spiral off into space worrying about all the imponderables. Do the next thing.
At the time, like every other answer I ever sought, it was easier to articulate it than to understand it. It’s only now, all these years later, that I am beginning to comprehend that the first place to really be is here. Everything flows from that.
The late Doctor David Viscott, a psychiatrist and one of the most brilliant minds I ever encountered, summed it up this way: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Now is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”
(What was a cowboy/vaquero whose first word was probably “horsey” doing on a sailboat on a TransAtlantic Race in the first place? Somewhere during my residency I started sailing in the Chesapeake Bay and I was bitten. And I couldn’t quit until I got my navigation papers and sailed about 50,000 miles across the Atlantic, across the Pacific, throughout the Caribbean and through the Med and Sardinia and on and on It was only then that I could get back to my horses.)
The wind picked up a few hours later when we had rounded Santa Maria, the southernmost island in the Azores, and it was foul weather gear wet and cold and overcast for the next few days. BLACKFIN kicked up her heels and we covered the last thousand miles in about five days with no idea how we stood in the race.
At daybreak on the 19th day with the Spanish coast a grey smudge on the hazy horizon we were buzzed by a private plane. The pilot wagged his wings and flew off to the North. Another close pass by the same plane a few minutes later only this time he flew off to the South. When he came back the third time he came in lower than the masthead and this time he held a hand-lettered sign against the cockpit glass. WELCOME it said. YOU - 1.
The community of racing sailors is small, and BLACKFIN’s owner, Ken DeMeuse, and Gil Radzat, a watch-mate and long-time friend, and I always managed to spend time together whenever I sailed in San Francisco Bay. (That's Gil in the picture to my right in the dark jacket.) Some months later we were together in Gil’s condo on the Embarcadero and we made plans to go skiing together in Colorado over the Presidents’ Day weekend. Ken, who was about 40 and a competent pilot, would take his private plane and fly Gil and me and his daughter and her boyfriend to the airport at Aspen. Flying and skiing. It was hard to turn that down.
But when my youngest son was born later that year I reassessed my priorities, decided at the last minute to pass on the skiing weekend, called Ken, and wished them all good skiing. I figured there would be lots more good times ahead.
Ken’s plane iced up in a storm on the way home and went into a mountain near Deer Valley.
There was no one left alive.