‘Sailing Moriches Bay’


The afternoon’s water was smooth, as it always was when the sun had the sky all to itself. The previous night’s unsettled weather had moved out to sea, leaving the sailor to savor the crisp and sweet-tasting air. He was snug against the cockpit’s bulkhead steering the S.S. Speedy toward the Moriches Inlet, its sails trimmed for the downwind leg. He watched a cat’s paw begin blooming, its ripples spreading across the bay. Fresh breezes were always spotted by sailors when they saw quivering patterns on top the water’s surface. The occurrence was like a sailor’s drug—when the ripples reached the boat, its sails would suddenly flap full by an invisible force, and the wind would lift the boat forward.

He felt the warmth of the autumn colors that were blazing along the creek banks, with their crooked wharfs and weathered poles. During the summer months, boats would roar by the sailor, leaving nature’s sights, smells, and sounds drowned in fumes and wakes. Speedboat skippers used the bay as a highway to a destination where they always seemed long overdue. But it was fall, and the sailor had the bay to himself. He was a private person—brought up as an Army brat—a lonely childhood that crisscrossed the globe, and his most coveted companion had become himself. 

The westerly wind pushed the S.S. Speedy past Buoy 27, where the sailor unfurled the foresail and began a southeasterly cut toward the shoal marker.  From there, he lined the boat up with the spits of sand and rock that were the eastern tip of Fire Island and western tip of Westhampton Beach. The wind caught the sails on a broad reach, heeling the boat with a hull speed of six knots per hour. There was an incoming tide, so the boat was actually moving at about two knots.  Even at that speed, the channel was so narrow and chaotic—that—if his attention wandered, he might send the boat’s keel into rocks or a bed of sand.

The wind strengthened as he sailed the boat by the inlet’s breakers, entering the ocean. The boat bent under the wind and drove the boat’s bow into seas that returned sheets of spray over the pulpit. At times, the rail was awash and the water churned past the rudder, making a rooster’s tail off the stern. Rather than shorten the sails, he took the full force of the wind and the boat rode on her leeward hull, passing the big buoy that marked the Moriches Inlet to the rest of the world. Each wave prodded a loud gong from the buoy’s bell that the sailor believed mourned the souls of past sailors. 

Farther out to sea, the wind calmed, and the sailor attached the autopilot to his rudder. He then lodged a fishing pole in the stern’s rod holder and trolled his lucky silver spoon about 200 feet behind the boat. Fall was a season for brilliant colors, including blue—as in giant, glistening blue fish.

He returned to the helm and settled to the cadence of the boat rocking on the slow rollers accompanied by his fishing reel’s drag gently clicking as the boat passed over the crest of each wave. The soft sounds lulled the sailor into thought. Some thoughts were of his wife cleaning, filleting, and then sauteing his fish in gobs of butter, garlic, and thyme. The marriage had been for over 40 years and, by far, she had been his biggest catch. Other thoughts drifted to the courtroom. By trade, the sailor was a lawyer who ran a firm in Riverhead. The cases were many, each complicated in their own way.

The fluttering of a flying bird startled the sailor. It was tiny, no larger than a sparrow and had an orange breast. Because it circled the boat’s mast, he couldn’t tell whether it was grey or black. The shore, invisible under the horizon, was somewhere to the north. The wind was from the southwest. There was no ready explanation for the little bird’s presence, and yet it drew closer, exploring the rigging on the windward side of the sails. Finally, it alighted in full view on a shroud spreader, and there it stayed.

As his thoughts again drifted, this time about the bird, the drag of the fishing pole suddenly screamed, popping him up. A large fish was taking his silver spoon to the depths of the ocean. It was time for him to reel in another catch.  

The sailor was happy. He was in heaven.

Don Foucar Salkaln recently died. He was 90 years old. This story was submitted by his son, Donathan, a member of the Moriches Yacht Club.


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