View of SF Bay towards Golden Gate Bridge

Sails raised

From the water all the stories seem true. San Francisco’s towers are a blend of new and old, and the bridges that link it to the surrounding hills are huge feats of engineering with graceful lines. On this Sunday the light and waves are perfect, neither dull nor overwhelming. We move at a good clip, up from the ballpark and around Treasure Island. On the north side, past Angel Island, there is a race on, a set of boats loosely grouped with similar sails raised. One of our companions, a racer himself, describes their paths and the rules as they tack around and farther from our view.

This short jaunt with new friends is educational. I learn about the wind’s two seasons, stronger summer and calmer winter. Our April Sunday feels like summer, with gusts pushing us south as soon as we pass the ballpark’s shelter. Our biggest shock comes in the missing Cape Horn, no longer tied alongside it’s companion the Cape Hudson. After ten years, the departure is a shock to seasoned sailors and city dwellers alike. Luckily we live in the age of curiosity, and it is quickly located via search, under power heading south down near Monterey. Why it is on the move remains a mystery that fuels much of our next half hour’s conversation.

Getting out on the water is one of the treasures of life here. With a bay large enough for container ships, ferries, cruise liners, and sailboats, it’s part of life in a different way than the waters near Shanghai, New York, or Tokyo. After eight years, I’m glad to be on a sailboat, grinding and tailing in turn as we make our way out and back. It’s a lucky coincidence, an invite we never expected, and we are happy to have said yes.

Sometime in the past few years yes became a goal. At least once a day, to something unplanned on waking. With a smile if at all possible, say yes once a day. It’s a small habit, a trick to play on my own nature to keep adventuring, to keep moving in new orbits and avoid the drag of laziness. Often I follow Tara, which counts. Often we follow someone entirely new, or old friends we did not plan to meet. In this way we end up at dance recitals and at track workouts, and learn in both cases.

Sometimes we end up out on the bay on a Sunday in April, watching the water and the land in equal measure, talking of ships and sails until we return to the dock and remember our knots.

Slow boat

Two or three days a week he reads the paper out of doors, no matter the weather.  Perched at one of the tables overlooking the water, he drinks coffee out of a battered plastic mug. With a duct-taped handle, it is big enough to have come from a gas station, years before. Sometimes he acknowledges other customers, hustling in and out of the cafe’s warmth. Other days he is engrossed in tiny print, the paper held close in front of his eyes.

Wide brimmed hat and overalls on, he is always dressed for warmth. Sometimes he wears a puffy jacket, the kind that goes past the waist. Sometimes only a sweater, though with layers beneath.

The cafe owners know everyone’s story, from the office workers to the dock hands. They know the sheriff whose skiff has a special motorized lift, the lawyer whose wife took the house in the divorce and who now lives on his boat. They must know the story of this man, in his layers reading the newspaper, strangely cordial with the dentist and men in suits that also occupy these tables in warmer weather.

His beard is white and big, bristly and a little wavy. Not thick and curly, broom like, each fiber having a visible strength. Beneath the hat and above the beard his cheeks are weathered, eyes hard to read. A lot of time out of doors, they say.

“My home doesn’t have a motor,” he tells a passer by one day, indicating one of the boats in the marina in front of him. “I just cast off and sit back, pretty soon I’m on my way somewhere.”

Some weeks he’s not there. Adrift somewhere down river, I imagine, on the long windy course to the bay.