Observations: Swallowing the hook

Published on: March 17, 2011

Mitch Traphagen Photo

Mitch Traphagen Photo


I have a case of mental indigestion. I think that it comes from the anchor that I swallowed. It’s an old story. People go cruising; they come back to “reality”, sell the boat and thus, as the saying goes, swallow the hook. They say they will stay in touch with the friends they made while cruising, they may even say they plan to get out cruising again, but that generally doesn’t happen. All too often, life gets in the way. Swallowing the hook is easy. Coughing it back up again is much more difficult.

Sailing my boat down from Cape Cod, I continually thought about how good it would be to get home. I spent hours envisioning the boat at the marina in Ruskin; enjoying lazy weekends watching the world go by from the cockpit. As I shivered my way south, I dreamed of being here in my warm, tropical, beautiful home of 15 years. All of which makes my mental indigestion more than a little baffling. Why, if I like it here so much, do I want to hop aboard my boat, untie the dock lines and sail away? That’s a great question!  And the answer is… I don’t know.

It is truly a blessing to be living in South Hillsborough. Last weekend, Michelle and I saw old friends at the Manatee Art Festival. Michelle mentioned how fast life moves and how nice it is to be able to see people at things like that. We both appreciated that living in a place that still feels like a small town makes that sort of thing possible.

With good friends, a job I enjoy, the unbelievably good weather of late with the almost continuous sunshine, I have to ask, what’s not to like?

I’m typing this column from aboard the Motor Vessel Aggie M., lying in a marina just off the Intracoastal Waterway outside of Norfolk, Virginia. No, I’m not back up here for a repeat trip, Michelle and I are returning a favor to our friends who just purchased a beautiful boat up here. We drove him up so he can make the voyage back home to Ruskin. We are taking the quick way home via I-95.

Looking out at the ICW, I remember how much I looked forward to getting off of the waterway as I made my way home. I don’t envy him for the trip, but as I watch him load up and get to know his new boat, I do envy his mission. I miss having a clearly defined mission. I miss the adventure of the voyage.

Seeing the scenes of utter horror unfold in earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged Japan, scenes that reveal the word “tragedy” as an entirely weak and impotent descriptor; my appreciation for what I — and all of us in South Hillsborough — have grows immeasurably. From the other side of the planet, the sadness and pain is palpable. More than that, it is unbelievable in depth and scope. And yet, through the misery, grief and deprivation, there are no scenes of looting or stories of gouging. In Japan, they are in it together. A catastrophe of such magnitude brings home the fact that we — as inhabitants of this blue orb circling a star — are all in this together. From around the world, people are rushing in to help and it is heartening—more so because as hurricane season approaches, there, but for the grace of God, go we.

Life is an adventure — sometimes it’s joyous, sometimes it’s tragic — but there are no guarantees for any of us.  Just 100 or so yards away from the Aggie M. in this Norfolk area marina is the U.S.S. Sequoia in dry dock undergoing a refit.  It was the presidential yacht from Presidents Hoover to Carter, and has hosted every commander in chief to President Clinton.  On that historic vessel, President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower planned D-Day; President Truman held the world’s first nuclear arms control summit; President Kennedy opened the gifts he received for his 46th and last birthday.  It is a beautiful ship with an unmistakable presence.  Just walking by it, as I have several times on this day, I can feel it — I can feel the history.

Last week in Japan, no one knew an earthquake was coming.  In the moment of the historic decisions and events onboard the Sequoia, no one knew with certainly how things would turn out.  Not even a President of the United States could know that D-Day would change the world.  Or that any given birthday would be his last.  But despite the frequent hardships and grief in the aftermath of those events, things did work out in the end.  Things will work out in Japan.  Things will work out for us in Florida.  The human spirit has always triumphed.  That we are still here, together on this blue orb circling a star, is proof.

In buying the Aggie M. my friends Jerry and Stephanie proved that swallowing an anchor isn’t a permanent affliction.  My mental indigestion will pass — for me the anchor won’t be so much swallowed as just set aside, waiting to see what tomorrow will bring.