I’ve had four loves in my life. I’m a very lucky man. The first was the sea.
I wasn’t raised by the ocean, I regret to say. But from the time I can remember, I felt her call.
I felt it when I visited relatives who lived near Hampton Roads in Virginia, and my uncle took me bottom fishing in his wooden fishing boat. I felt it when we went to the crowded beaches of the east coast on vacation and searched for a spot of sand large enough to spread our blanket. I felt it as a child when I spent countless hours searching the ocean’s featureless sand bottom wearing my cheap toy swim mask—I didn’t know about snorkels back then. But I truly knew I was in love in a single instant, forever etched in my memory.
It was during my senior year in high school in Torrance, California when a friend convinced me to snorkel off Lunada Bay in Palos Verde. When it was my turn to use the mask, one look beneath the chilly Pacific waters, and I was hooked. Having spent so little time actually near the ocean, I could only conclude it’s either in your blood, or it’s not.
I decided early on that I would pursue this passion in college. I first attended Texas A&M University where I received my B.S. in electrical engineering. While there, I read every book in the library that had anything to do with the ocean. Upon graduation, I left for the University of Miami where I received my Masters in Ocean Engineering.
Going to school on Virginia Key near Miami, Florida was as close to heaven as I had ever been. I loved everything about it. I loved eating conch at Monty’s. I loved the crappy little boat my two school friends and I bought. I loved heading to class out on Virginia Key and upon seeing the flat, clear blue waters, hooking a u-turn to go get the boat, ditch class and spend the afternoon diving off Fowey Rocks. It was there I learned the wisdom in Hemingway’s words: “Don’t go to sea looking for adventure. It will find you.”
There is something magical about being far out at sea. The dark cobalt blue, punctuated by whitecaps in the breeze is a study in constantly changing sameness. Wind blows the tops off breaking waves, forming whitecaps which exist for only a second before melting away leaving only foam to mark their fleeting existence. Like snowflakes, each wave is slightly different in height, length, and frequency- different, yet the same. The sameness serves to focus the attention on any foreign object-another vessel, a flying fish, yellow sargassum. Witnessed from the deck of a slow-moving boat, I find it soothing.
Witnessed from in the water, with no boat, vessel, or land visible in any direction, the effect is somewhat different. Terrifying would be a better choice of descriptors. I know this feeling. I have been there. (To be continued in “A Night Spent Floating in the Gulf Stream…coming soon.”)
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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