That’s basically the same question I asked myself when at 20 I found myself in the Pacific, swimming as fast as I could, as the Gridley drifted toward the far horizon.
Maybe that story says something about why I write, why I blog, who I am.
I had grown up in a Navy family, traveling here and there. Picking the wrong entry into higher education, then the Daytona Beach Community College, when I fancied myself a surfer, ended with the first semester. So, a couple of short stories later, finding my employer’s business seized and padlocked, hitchhiking to Ohio, I was avoiding the draft in the Navy. Naturally, see my blog, Teacher’s Pet, the key is in there, I’d choose the Navy.
I was a young Boatswain’s Mate, the ship’s swimmer, and we were on an exercise off the coast of Hawaii – way off the coast, even from the bridge you couldn’t see the island. We’d ended the exercise because the seas, while calm, – it’s a Pacific thing – were running 10-15 feet and we needed to recover the small unmanned remotely controlled boat that had been part of the exercise. As the swimmer I got to go aboard the Boston Whaler and attach the block (a technical bosun’s term) to the whaler so it could be hoisted back aboard the USS Gridley (DLG 21). I won’t take the time to fully explain what was happening or why self-compensating davits are important and will just tell you that with 10-15 seas Gridley was rolling 15 degrees to starboard then 15 degrees to port. That 60 degree difference would dump the block, a lot of heavy metal cable into the whaler on the roll to port and then yank it and the whaler up and out on the roll to starboard. Not what Boston Whalers are built for!
So when the whaler starts to break apart and I see that my safety line is hopelessly tangled in the block and cable I had cut myself loose and went overboard. It seemed a smart idea at the time – considering the condition of the whaler when it was recovered it still seems a smart idea.
But I was upwind of the Gridley and she was presenting a lot of surface area to the prevailing wind, actually leaving a shadow of wake as she sailed downwind. Being young, strong, a good swimmer, doesn’t mean you can out swim a situation like that. And, that’s when I started asking myself, ‘What am I doing here?’.
And that’s about 1/50 th (a wildly unsupported statistic) of who I am.