One May afternoon, at the end of Nicholas Wolff’s junior year at college, aboard our boat, Blackwing, drinking beer so cold we needed mittens to hold the cans, reaching rail-down into the sun and towards the beach at Mackerel Cove on the New England island where we live, Nicholas and I struck a deal: on graduating from Bowdoin, Nicholas would take this boat to the Bahamas with one or two chums.
There was nothing to it: other than taking full responsibility for our boat which I pay for, and teaching his friends to sail, navigate, cook on a galley stove without blowing up the galley, other than maintaining the sails and gear and engine and electronics, and troubling that the dinghy wasn’t stolen, and earning enough money before he sailed from home to keep himself afloat without work for six months, and making certain the anchor didn’t drag when autumn and winter gales blasted him, and learning first aid, and keeping his friends out of the ocean and clear of the boom . . . Why, there was nothing to the venture but a nod, a wink, another beer and a faraway look on Nicholas’s face that I took to be gratitude for my trust, but was in truth cogitation.
During the following year, when friends would remark what a generous fellow I was and how trusting (how could I bank on a mere boy with so much boat? wasn’t he grateful?), that circumspect countenance would steal on Nicholas’s face, and he’d catch my eye, and I’d shrug. In fact, I had every reason to trust him: he was handy; he didn’t get seasick; he knew (as I didn’t and don’t) celestial navigation; he’d been trained to strip down and repair a diesel engine; he’d sailed offshore weeks at a time on a tall ship; he’d been aloft in great seas and screaming winds; his instincts on the water seemed flawless. We’d been together on the water since he was ten, and in trouble he had never failed to come through.