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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Being ‘Intrepid’

Published: April 9, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

My family bought The Intrepid for my Dad’s 50th birthday so he could live out his seafaring fantasies. A Sunfish, the 13-footer is not meant for ocean waves. It is the type of boat used on camp lakes and ponds to teach children to sail. We christened it “The Intrepid” after some large schooner in a Patrick O’Brian book Dad was reading at the time, but the reality was we weren’t sure it could make it far past the shore.

As it turned out, the name was fitting, and not just for the boat. I have a phobia of sharks and refuse to swim in the ocean because of it. While I had sailed on lakes before, I had never dared try on the ocean, lest we capsize and I be left for bait. Sailing a Sunfish on the high seas was even more petrifying, and the thought left me with images of great whites creeping up and swallowing the dinghy, sail, rudder and all.

But Dad promised we would be okay, so I decided to go. I boarded The Intrepid while it was still on the sand, leaving Dad to push us into the water.

This quickly became our routine. I would climb on early so Dad could push us out and point us in the right direction and I would hold the rudder while he climbed on. I would pull the sail hard to gain speed, and we were off.

My fear of sharks was gone with the wind, if only temporarily. I still refused to swim in the ocean, but to glide on top of it with Dad, that was another thing entirely.

Every time we sailed we hoped the wind would be a little stronger than the last day. Dad, an even-keeled person in the real world, is a regular master and commander on the ocean, never afraid to take on the wind for the sheer joy of feeling the boat tilt, thrusting us up into the howling gusts and above the rushing sea.

We were a good crew. I sailed, and he steered. I pointed to the wind, and he set our tack. I tied knots, and he untied them. I was the First Mate, and he was the Captain, but most importantly we were each other’s sailing buddies.

Riding The Intrepid, Dad and I were explorers of the infinite abyss that lay before us. In between waves, we became reacquainted with each other as adults. We talked about my hopes and dreams not as fleeting fantasies but as a future that could actually be fulfilled.

This summer I will be realizing one of those dreams, living and working away from home for the first time with a different abyss to explore.

When Dad and I go sailing on a particularly windy day, my mom uses her camera with a telephoto lens to keep watch as we bob up and down, a miniscule triangle nearing the horizon.

There’s one picture of us heading out to sea where I am waving back at her, as though I’m saying, “look Mom, no hands.” If you look closely, you can see Dad holding the rope I released in my excitement, keeping us steady on our voyage.

But this summer, Dad will go sailing by himself, and I will have to be Intrepid on my own.