Today, Cotty Chubb and I drove up to the marina in the man-made harbor
at Santa Barbara and rented a small twenty-foot day sailer. We had to
answer a simple questionnaire about sailing. The only question I knew
the right answer to was which buoys are conical (red) and which are
cylindrical (green). Cotty got this one wrong but all the others right,
so we were qualified to operate the vessel.
We cast off and went out onto the ocean.
A slight breeze took us down the coast as far as the Biltmore Hotel in
Montecito, where Cotty was staying, then the wind freshened
considerably and sped us back, rails almost to the water, spray in our
faces and elsewhere. (Fortunately, being an old sea dog, I had wrapped
my wallet in a zip-loc sandwich bag.)
From the water, there is nothing visible of Santa Barbara that could
not date from the Forties — it must be what Los Angeles looked like
back then. Lines of palms along the curving shore drive and promenade,
exactly like Nice, Spanish-style buildings climbing the hills beyond to
the point at which the mountains rise very suddenly and sharply.
A seal appeared dead ahead of us, diving and resurfacing — dove just
as we came up to him and reappeared in our wake. He looked at us
quizzically as we proceeded along, as though to say, “How did those
guys pass the sailing test?”
Still, we raced back, at the end, with flying colors, exhilarated after
two hours at sea. Twenty buck an hour. “In a world where a plate of
pasta can cost twenty dollars,” said Cotty, “this is a bargain.”
It was — the mental equivalent of two days of rest. Because there is
only so far you can head up into the wind . . . if it blows against you
you have to tack — and this is the shortest route you can take, even
if it looks like nothing but zigzagging on the chart.
Because there is no appeal to the ocean, you and all your problems are
quite irrelevant to its whims. Because everything you get from it is a
gift, which you don't have the power to repay.
We went swimming in the surf afterwards, and I felt a kind of preposterous cordiality with the waves.