My dad’s friend’s friend’s friend left me a voicemail. He owns Tiger Point Marina on the tip of Amelia Island just north of Fernandina Beach, the last bit of Florida before it gives way to Georgia.
“Stop in and take a shower,” he said. “If it’s locked, look for Greg, he’s got a black sailboat next to the boat lift and has a key.”
I’ve been racing up the coast, trying to get to Charleston to catch a flight to Minnesota for a presentation I’d agreed to do months ago, before I thought I would turn around and paddle back to the Angle. I thought the presentation would be a good excuse to get off the imaginary couch I pictured myself basking on day and night, but then I flipped that coin into the ocean and there was no couch, just a kayak and too many miles between Miami and Charleston.
I’ve been paddling so hard that I never dry out, never wash. Salt water and dew soak my clothes day and night and my skin feels like it’s been brined soft and is rubbing off my back in pieces.
The shower is heaven and I sit on the dock next to Greg’s boat drying in the sunlight, giving myself a few hours to feel human again.
The boat is an old Sweedish designed sailboat named the Svenska, which is Sweedish for Sweedish. It’s pretty, black with a classic curve to it. White and wood trim. Greg and his wife have been fixing it up piece by piece, ripping out panels, painting, repairing the engine, making it their home and getting her ready to sail. It’s a process that can take months, years even, before it’s complete. Sometimes it never gets there.
I pass marinas all the time and see hulls encrusted half-a-foot deep in barnacles and boats that look like they haven’t moved in a decade. I’ve stared at giant lots stacked with sailboats pulled out of the water and set on steel cradles, their keels hanging in the air. Some are almost new, just put up for winter or a fresh coat of paint. Others are rusted and old, like they’ve sat down on land and will never see the ocean again.
Greg’s wife tells me she calls it the field of dreams or the field of broken dreams, I can’t remember which she said, but it doesn’t matter, she’s right either way.
I look out at the boats, the rusted riggings, the half painted hulls, they’re dreams, all of them, broken or not, every fool and his dream of owning a sailboat stacked one after another in a long line of disrepair.
Greg disappears below on the Svenska, grabs a few tools and pulls out another panel. It’s a long process, a slow war of repair and breakdown from bow to stern. Electrical systems, mold, water, rigging, navigation, engines, sails, there are so many pieces.
Down the dock, a boat preps for a trip to the Bahamas at the end of the month. Across the way, a couple works on the last repairs for a boat they bought years ago.
“They’re finally setting off in a few weeks,” Greg tells me.
I sit in sun for a bit longer, then pack gear into my kayak. My skin feels better, not all the way healed, but better, like it had a chance to breathe, but Charleston is still a long way away. I say goodbye and Greg hands me a marine flare and a glow stick. He knows I’ve been paddling at night and wants me to have them just in case. We all wish each other luck.
I slip out and away, gliding past the field of dreams, broken and unbroken, out of Florida and into the salt marshes of the Georgia coast, paddling into the night until I find an oyster bed high enough to sleep on. I’m wet, soaked in dew, but moving north, eating away the miles to Charleston.
If I can get there in time, I can make New York by mid-June, Montreal by mid-July, Lake Superior by the end of August, the Angle before winter.
It’s going to be hard, soaked in rainstorms and wet nights, stretched thin by waves and long days, beaten by the wind and sun. But there will be ice cream too. And sunsets. Beaches for miles. Granite cliffs and blue lakes. Friends I haven’t met. Fried chicken and the Statue of Liberty.
I think about the rusted boats, the broken ones, the ones worn away by time, forgotten, and left to rot.
It is isn’t enough to have dreams, you have to sacrifice for them, to wake up early and go to bed late, to pry them out of life. No one will hand them to you. They don’t come easy. They come hard. But that’s why they’re beautiful.