500 Miles at Sea
By Jackie Leavitt
Even 500 miles away from any sign of land, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that you’re not truly at sea. You look in front of you — at the bow of the sailboat cutting slowly through the blue, rippled salt water — and the slightly curved horizon remains unbroken in the distance. It’s a fluid line that stretches from left to right across your view, until it disappears, fuzzy at the edges. It gives the feeling that there’s something behind you, that if you turn around quickly enough, you’ll see rocks and trees and beaches and people flying kites in the ocean breeze. It’s like a game. You turn, but not fast enough, so you see only the stern of the boat, your white, foamy wake that fizzles into the distance, and another line of blue that stretches miles around you. You would also swear the depth of the water beneath you is only 40 or 50 feet – shallow enough for you to dive to the bottom, or at least see the bottom – rather than 400 or 500 or, really, thousands of feet. You sit on top of a giant chasm, and only physics keeps you from than sinking down, down… down into total darkness.
Blue is everywhere, in the ocean, in the sky. You are in a snow globe of blue, and instead of snow, there are puffy white and grey clouds that circle you. For the past few days, the scenery is unchanged except the storms in the skies. You could almost not be moving, like the boat is just spinning on wheels under the waves. The only way you know what direction you sail is that the white sun glimmers off the waves to one side of the boat. It’s late afternoon, and the sun will set in a couple of hours, slowly laying its shining gold cheek to rest in the clouds that linger on the line of your vision.
You face forward again, scanning the sea for ships, but there are none. There haven’t been for days. But then you do see something in the sky. Near the boat. It dips and curls in the invisible wind. Not a gull, but a tern. And turn it does, around and around you, questioning. What are you doing 500 miles from land? Do you ask this, or does the tern? It swings on its white wings behind your boat, checking out the colored, plastic squid that squirm on fishing lines behind your boat. Real? Fake? It asks, and circles around for a second look. It smells something fishy.
And then someone comes up on deck from inside the sailboat, and the tern catches a breeze toward the clouds and the endless blue horizon, and it disappears into the sparkling sun before you can say, Hey, there’s a tern, 500 miles at sea.