The Cruise of the Jest
He was waiting to find out what Jack wanted him to do next. Jack told him to be on Jest at ten that morning. He didn't want to be early, so he was lying on his bed, listening to the radio. He was thinking that ten was an odd time. Usually when Jack wanted him to do something, it was more like six in the morning or eight in the evening, dawn or dusk. Back in the summer, the last time Jack told him to be on Jest, it had been eight in the evening. That was when Jack told him to sail Jest down to Half Moon Bay. Jack said he would be there, at the harbor in Half Moon Bay, waiting for him when he came in. But it hadn't happened that way.
He couldn't help going over that trip down to Half Moon Bay, trying to understand once more what he had done, as opposed to what Jack said he had done. The trip began with a warning. He was in the bow of Jest, casting off the forward mooring lines, and Jack was standing on the pier, looming above him in the weak evening light. That was a problem he still had, seeing Jack, massive and immobile, not as a man who was his father, but as a man who had learned the trick of surviving in an equatorial jungle and who was now, sixteen years later, playing that trick on him. "Remember," Jack told him, his voice filling the space between them, "pass Mile Rock to port." It wasn't actually advice, but rather a reminder of the mistake he once made on the Astrolabe, Jack's 56-foot ketch. He was at the helm when Jack told him to pass Mile Rock to port, and he almost ran the Astrolabe aground as he headed her in between the rocks and the coast. There had been a lot of yelling and confusion at the time, but the main confusion in his mind was how there could be two port sides, one for the Astrolabe and one for Mile Rock. And he had picked the wrong one.
So Jack telling him to "pass Mile Rock to port," as he was about to back Jest out of her berth in the Sausalito yacht harbor, was a warning not to do the sort of things he usually did when Jack told him to do something. He understood the warning, and at first, sailing Jest down to Half Moon Bay hadn't seemed so bad. He had the ebb and a light wind going out the Golden Gate, and once he left Mile Rock astern, he could see the lights of the Sunset District and, farther down the coast, those of Pacifica. He figured all he had to do was stay awake so that he didn't get run over by a freighter. But after he got about three miles off the coast, almost up to the number eight buoy of the main ship channel, the fog started to set in. He was afraid of the fog because of the freighters, but at the same time he didn't want to get too close to the coast. He was afraid of the coast, too. In the fog he was afraid of everything, so he headed farther west, outside of where he thought the shipping lane was. The next morning he couldn't see the coast, only the booms and bridge of a freighter, hull down, off the port bow. He felt a certain freedom then, away from everything, so he hove-to and went below to sleep. After he got up, late in the afternoon, he set sail again and headed in toward the coast. As the sun set behind him, he could see the light at Montara Point. He thought of trying for Half Moon Bay in the dark, if the fog didn't move in. But it did. So he headed back out to sea again. As long as he was in the fog he was afraid to leave the cockpit, so again he spent the night listening for foghorns. In the morning he hove-to again and went below to sleep. But this time when he woke up, Jack was there, sitting in the cockpit. Later he figured out that someone must have brought Jack out in a powerboat, a powerboat that didn't make much noise, but it was only much later still, before he was able to figure out how Jack knew where he was, how he found a 35-foot sailboat, hove-to off the coast of California.
"Bubba, what the hell are you doing way out here." It wasn't a question. "You're lucky I found you before you spent the rest of your life drifting around in the middle of the Pacific Ocean." He didn't really care what Jack said, because he felt that he hadn't done anything wrong or even anything particularly stupid. He hadn't wrecked the boat or anything, and he knew more or less where he was. His mistake, as he understood later, was not so much in forgetting that Jack would be watching him, for he knew Jack would be doing that, but in not realizing that Jack would be watching him so closely. He thought he could get to Half Moon Bay in his own good time. After all, Jack hadn't told him when to be there.
At first, as they headed toward the coast, Jack didn't do anything. He just sat in the hatchway, facing forward, and told him what to do, what course to steer and how to trim the sails. Then Jack turned to him, in his decisive manner, "Thousands of people have already led a better life than you'll ever lead. They have done more than you'll ever do. They have seen more than you'll ever see. And they have learned more than you'll ever learn." As Jack continued to stare at him, it became clear that he was being challenged to say something.
"They aren't me." He tried not to make it sound like a question. "I'm different. I'm unique."
"There's nothing different about being unique." Jack turned away, facing forward again, his back filling the hatchway. "Everybody's unique."
After the light at Montara Point came on, Jack asked him once in a while for the heading. They sailed into Half Moon Bay just after midnight. The fog hadn't set in this time. In the morning they started back to Sausalito. The trip was short and uneventful. There was no wind and they motored all the way. Again Jack sat in the hatchway, saying nothing. But he knew the meaning of Jack's silence. He could see it written on his back, as he sat there facing forward, the warning: "Wait until next time."
Now, waiting for ten o'clock, it was that next time, and although he knew he wasn't good at predicting what Jack would do, he thought that Jack would make him sail Jest up to Bodega Bay, or maybe down to Monterey, or even farther south. He knew Jack would make him sail Jest until he did it right, that is, until he did it the way Jack wanted him to do it. Waiting for ten o'clock meant waiting for ten o'clock and not five before or five after. When it was time, he turned the radio off and he went down the outside stairs and walked toward the Sausalito yacht harbor, pacing himself by singing the song he had just been listening to: Don't know much about geography. Don't know much trigonometry. Then he remembered Jack saying that what you don't know always hurts you.
His sea bag was already on Jest, had been there since last weekend, and he didn't take anything with him except fifty-six dollars and his Case knife. He didn't want to second-guess Jack by taking anything he wouldn't need. Any attempt to do so would be ridiculed. It was a minor variation of what he thought of as the pillow-dilemma. Once in the main cabin of the Astrolabe, sitting around the table with Jack and some of his guests, he made a particularly thoughtless remark. Jack told him to close the skylight, but instead of doing so, he said he wasn't cold. Jack looked at him for a moment and then took the pillow he was leaning against and threw it across the cabin at him. Although the action was sudden, he could see the pillow coming and he had enough time to duck. He also had enough time to realize that he didn't have to duck. It was only a pillow, not a fork, which Jack had used on him once, the four white points still visible on the back of his right hand. So he let the pillow hit him in the face. He thought at the time that his action was a clear statement that meant: "I see that it's only a pillow so I don't have to do anything." But Jack gave his action, or lack of it, a di?erent meaning by saying: "What's the matter. Are you too slow, or too stupid, or both, to catch it." It's true, he hadn't thought of that possibility, but then catching the pillow was playing Jack's game, for that is what Jack would have done, though no one ever threw pillows or anything else at Jack. Afterwards, he still preferred his version, mainly because he had the suspicion that Jack hadn't thought he would let the pillow hit him. But although he felt he hadn't failed, he was still ridiculed in front of Jack's guests, because in all games Jack played, Jack made the rules.
He stopped on the main pier, before going out on the floating dock, and looked down at Jest. Over the past year he had stripped and painted most of her, except for the topsides, which were painted black. Now there was something different about the way she looked. Aft, behind the cockpit, was a wind-vane that hadn't been there the last time he was in the harbor, just a few days ago. He walked out to the end of the floating dock and looked under the stern. There was a shaft with a trim tab on the end of it, running from the wind-vane down into the water. He wondered why Jack thought he needed a self-steering rig, whether Jack wanted him to sail all the way to Santa Barbara, or even Long Beach or San Diego. He stepped onto Jest, putting all his weight on the rail, and felt the boat move heavily in the berth, then he stepped back on the dock again and looked at her trim. She was lower in the water, especially forward, obviously loaded with something.
Jack wasn't on Jest, not that he expected Jack to wait for him, but when he saw the envelope on the cabin table, he knew Jack wasn't coming. The envelope made him pause. It wasn't Jack's way, to leave him written instructions. It was unexpected and suggested that Jack was about to surprise him with something. The note in the envelope was short:
Sail to position 21 19 N, 157 58 W
Depart March 4, 1961
The date was today, but the latitude and longitude looked strange. He opened the chart drawer, and on top was a chart of the Pacific, a new one that he hadn't seen before. He took the chart out and put it on the table to study it. But without having to plot the position, he could see that Jack wanted him to sail Jest to Hawaii.
He checked the lockers and under the bunks and found food supplies everywhere he looked: beans, rice, flour, noodles, canned meat, vegetables, and fruit. Peaches, he liked canned peaches. For a moment he became suspicious and checked the bookcase. There were a lot of new books, all hardback, but with some satisfaction he found that there were no schoolbooks. It looked like he was finished with high school, at least for now. But Jack had provided him with a substitute, The Elements of Celestial Navigation, one hundred and twelve pages. In the locker under the chart table he found a sextant.
He knew that if he looked he would find everything he needed, including things he never would have thought of himself. But he knew he had to check the water and the fuel, just to make sure. The aft water tank was empty, not because Jack had forgotten it but because Jack had left it for him to check. As he filled the water tank, he looked across the harbor. The Astrolabe was in her berth but there was no one on deck. Jack was on the Astrolabe, waiting for him to leave, so he tried to think of somewhere to go. He could sail down to the South Bay and anchor there for a few days, and then see what happened. Or he could go up the Delta and hide in the marshland, perhaps for months. He couldn't decide, but he had to leave, he had to go somewhere and then decide what to do. He couldn't decide here, knowing that Jack was watching him. He turned on the engine, cast off the mooring lines, and started to back Jest out of her berth. Jack wasn't there this time to warn him about Mile Rock. Mile Rock. It made him think of Half Moon Bay. He could spend at least three or four weeks in Half Moon Bay while Jack was waiting for him to turn up in Hawaii.