Sailboats drift by me here in a Maine bay. From land as I watch them, their form is mystical to me as they skim across water yet lift into winds. Half bird, half of fairy wings. Here is the fine border of land and sea, where there’s, for me, memory of Ireland returning, far across those sea miles, where I once lived and where I first sailed.
The sailboats disappear now from view. With them, comes a reversed mood, no longer am I eagerly watching the sailboats, but introspective, sitting on the rocks of a cold Maine beach. You can say a sailboat takes you somewhere but can also leave you feeling left behind. I am forlorn and the wind makes me curl around my sweatshirt, as if frozen by a winter night. What is it. Would I like a new boat journey? Perhaps I must simply remember my first sail.
In the harbor of a small Irish fishing village I had learned to sail. I was sixteen going to school near Dublin. On spring weekends, we shed our school uniforms and anoraks, baring our white skin to the dull Irish sun, and yes, we were pretty girls, sitting on the quay wall, kicking our feet—bare feet—and ready for whatever came. My schoolmates led me into the café where music blared from a jukebox, and boys slouched over tables with fizzies and fags. The smoke made me ill. I sat down. The table wobbled and the waitress screeched, “Open a feckin’ window!” Which someone did.
My dorm-mate was Ann whose boyfriend sat beside her, and she declared that she wasn’t going out of the café. It had turned cold. The feckin’ rain would come. She was staying here. Her boyfriend’s mate said he was going sailing. Anyone mind? No one said anything. Someone yelled to put money into the juke and get another song on. What a bleedin’ day it was turning out to be, was what Ann said. She and her sister blew smoke rings into the dusty café air. Ruth said no to dancing to the new song, which came on and a door slammed. Ann said that was Moragh gone off to sail.
So I stood up, not to dance, and I went out that door, too, my eyes on the shoreline, where it got washed by rain squalls into the great Irish Sea beyond the harbor. And I ran after Moragh, anything to get out of that smoke. I remember calling out that I never sailed before, could I try it? — it was my first ever conversation with him. “Get in,” he muttered, his accent a mix of Dublin and this village.
The boat was small and painted white like the gulls darting over us. Gusts of wind swung the ropes, but I watched as everything was steadied, methodically tightened. He sat ridged on the back seat, saying his sisters would be watching from the windows—he pointed to a cottage past the quay—and wondering who he was with. And they’ll not get off it, so he’d better have my name. Who are ya anyway running after me when I want to be alone? I told him my name was Maggie.
He sailed towards a stone quay, and then he tacked back around towards the opposite shore. The wind was making the sea too rough to take me out. Silver rivulets streaked under the boat, like fish. Light fell in shafts of metallic rays, and I had a desire to jump into this water, let him take a wilder sail out there in the Irish Sea. I’d rather swim back to shore and let him be alone to do it.
This was the kind of sailing which dreamily enters into a calm sea. I’ve since sailed off the Maine coast in such winds. You can’t fear; you sit at an angle to the water, atop the boat’s edge. Plus, back in memory again, this was Moragh’s homemade sailboat, which most of the village lads had made, I later learned. They had no cars, only a train to take them into Dublin, so the sea became their sole escape and solitude, and Moragh quietly told me not to swim but to take the rudder instead. He couldn’t swim. I had to teach him, in exchange for sailing lessons. Each weekend, my friends and I took the train to this village. We’d sit in the café with the smoke and music, but I would also sail with Moragh.
Sitting on the Maine beach now, my memories of the Irish Sea return. We schoolgirls—one in particular, me—drenched in rain and salt water in a fairy-winged boat. Moragh and I putting out to sea.
An overwhelming 88 stories were submitted for the contest. In the end seventeen writers were chosen. Their stories are told with depth, insight, candor, irony, wit and humor. Anyone who has every visited Maine’s coast will be able to relate to them. They’ve put humankind’s instinctive emotional connection with the sea into words.
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