The next morning brings more of the same. No wind. Little progress. And it’s not like I can just power up the outboard. All I have for artificial propulsion is an oar and a little electric eggbeater of a motor. I have maybe an hour of juice in the car battery under the cockpit seat, and even then it only pushes the boat at two miles an hour. I breakfast on a can of sardines and wait for the wind.
The wind doesn’t come. But an outgoing tide sucks me through the bottleneck betweenShelterIslandand theNorth Fork, a zigzag maze of mansions and marshes as I am ushered through by the current. A great white heron fishes on tiptoe with the concentration of a chess master. A bunch of kids on an oversize inflatable raft point and laugh at my workaday vessel. A ferry zooms by with little regard for the wake it creates. I yearn for open water.
Until I actually get to open water. There’s a stretch of sand on the southern tip of the North Forkcalled Long Beach. This is the last leg before I reach the northern tip of Long Islandat Orient Point, and the first time I feel the full force of the ocean. Out here, the South Fork is too far away to staunch the momentum of the waves marching up from the south and crashing onto the beach. And because I’m close to shore, the water is shallower.  The wind really begins to blow. This is a recipe for huge, scary breaking waves, and it’s a recipe being cooked up right now. In my mind I replay how Uncle Johnny rebutted my fears: “Of course that boat can handle the ocean! That’s what it’s designed for! It’s copied after the Friendship Sloop! Those goddam things went out in all kinds of weather! Look at the shape of that bow! It parts the water like theRed Sea!”
And he’s right. As I face these six-foot, white-capped walls of water head on, lest I broach and tip over sideways , my little boat is pointing almost straight up, and when the bow crashes back down into the valley of the next wave, it splays the water away and then bobs back up in time for the next wave. This is amazing! What a design! I’m getting the hell out of here!
I turn back for home. There is no way I’m going into open sea in a homemade boat against these evil waves. What was I thinking? My polytarp sails are attached with shower curtain rings, for chrissake! I’ll just take the bus to Woods Hole and then the ferry toMartha’s Vineyard. There’s no shame in this. My friends and family are worried as it is. Why do I distress them so? I’m being selfish. They’d much rather have me around a few more years than find my little boat lying crumpled and broken on the shores of Long Beach, atop my crumpled and broken body. No one’s going to think any less of me. Discretion is, after all, the better part of valor.
Going with the waves is much easier as I surf back toward home. So easy in fact that I take a deep breath and turn around. I’m sailing toMartha’s Vineyard, damn it. And I shall arrive in triumph. If I can just get through this.
The waves are taller than I am now and they continue in rapid succession. The boat is a breathless, foaming, heaving horse, barely clearing each relentless hurdle: leap/splash, leap/splash, leap/splash. I am not sailing. I am rodeo riding.
This is crazy. A larger boat wouldn’t be forced deal with this crap. That settles it. I’ve tried twice. I’ve done all that I can to prove that I can’t. I can’t. I can’t do it.
I slide back toward home on the face of the massive waves. But again, I can’t do it. I can’t . I can’t face the failure of quitting so early on. I swing the boat back into the angry wind one more time because I’d rather die than catch the bus. The bow does that sickening upward tilt again, threatening a reverse somersault as the boat plows onward, upward, and oftentimes backward. I fight the instinct to sail toward shore. What have I gotten myself into?