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Sail away ...

                . . . sail away

          Sail Away, Home

by: Denis Cook,
© 1998

 

A Midnight Sail ... The late day October weather was pleasant, clear skies with crystal clear visibility, warm gentle breezes feathering across the Chesapeake Bay. Hopefully the weather will hold for some excellent midnight sailing. KokoleoKo, a 26' sloop, gently pulls at her moorings, anxious to break her bindings and drift into a realm of fantasy and delight.
      Quickly casting off, motoring out the slip, then heading for the open bay proper. The marina, a cove on Swan Creek, gave birth to the wide expanse of the Chesapeake where the Susquehanna, North East, Elk, and Sassafras rivers flowed as one into the bay forming a large estuary, reminding me or an expanse of shallow water like a large unbroken rice paddy.
      The plan was to stop in the middle of the bay, start supper, and prepare KokoleoKo for tonight's sail. Mid week was the best time for night sailing as boat traffic was nonexistent. Only an occasional freighter, tug, barge, or fishing boat plied these waters tonight. Pleasure craft never venture out after dark, except for KokoleoKo
      The 100% jib is attached to the fore stay, all lines are in place ready to be put into service at a moment's notice. The main is unfurled, loosely draped on the deck. The jack stand fixed and the colors were flying. Everything in the cabin secured, the marine radio tuned to the Coast Guard Channel. Supper prepared and two cans of beer are pulled from the cooler. One for the skipper and one for the crew, who would board later.
      As the sun sank to the west the sky filled with amber after glow, golden bursts of orange and magenta, pinks, and grays. The telltale grays forecast a change in weather, but the marine weather station calls for a pleasant evening with storms toward daybreak. Good, there'll be wind tonight and KokoleoKo will come alive.
      With the growing darkness came a north westerly breeze of 10 to 15 knots shifting to the east. Mares tail clouds catch the last touch of daylight with a brush of white streaks, wispy yellows and blood red. Time to get on with it.
      Sailing single handed takes me back to a time of isolation, darkness, and loneliness. The dark loneliness of working the wire. Tonight will be no different, a rendezvous with the past is inevitable ... and the crew will be on board.
      Sails are set and scoop a warm damp wind, breathing life into KokoleoKo A heading is set in the general direction of Baltimore. Assured the wind is right and sails gather the elements, the tiller is tied off, allowing KokoleoKo to sail herself. Riding the bow, a sense of detachment overshadows reality. Demands of the world cease to exist, memories are the only intrusions allowed to deviate the course tonight. Destination, the edge of reality, the edge of life ... the edge.
      The view from the bow is dark and foreboding. Sunset and clouds turn the purple-blue sky to an empty blackness, save a lone cluster of stars. Sea waters reflect then magnify the blackness till there is no sky, no water, no horizon. Just KokoleoKo adrift in a universe of sparkling starlight, her rudder swirling the Milky Way.
      I look to shore and blackness is interrupted by winking coastal lights some 20 miles distant. Not much different than the lights on base.... Buoys occasionally wink red, green, and soft white lights, inviting all to their timeless vigil.
      Memories of a time on a lonely fence line, black sky and earth, existing only to the sentry standing quiet duty like a Minuteman statute. Time standing still ... the edge of boredom and freight. Always looking, always waiting, always prepared for the worst. Never a clue, nor warning as to what the night will bring. Love it ... hate it ... bored with it. Being part of it---it never lets go---even after 30 years, it still lingers laying in wait, always there ... taunting, teasing, interrupting, spoiling life as it should be.
      Okay memories, this is your chance to take over. This is where you often pounce. Another beer is in order. Sailing is intoxicating. The sound of sails coaxed with joy, puff KokoleoKo along in a rush that stirs the body and soul with primeval ancestral memories. Water gushing past the hull, the wake effervescing unseen, yet calling after us. Time and distance go unnoticed.
      A fresh beer set out for the crew ... their late tonight, but soon will board. Too soon, I fear. Another beer to wash the salty lips, sprayed by the wind driven bow wave. Lost in an ocean of thoughts occasionally pulled back by the marine radio, ship-to-ship. But the memories are calling ... let go, let go ... come with us ... come join us once more.
      Senses are dulled, melancholy is creeping in, beer and sailing now intoxicating me to the point of total detachment of the present reality. The radio crackles, "Coast Guard, Coast Guard, we have an emergency."
      "Coast Guard/Baltimore to the vessel calling, what's your emergency?"
      "Command Security Control, this is Tango 1, we're picking up flashes to the north ... don't know what to make of it." CSC Tango 10, Tom can you observe the flashes?" "Tango 10 CSC, there are numerous flashes to the north, looks like recognizance taking night pictures." "CSC, this is Bravo 1, we have incoming, repeat we have incoming, 10, 20, 30 hits so far."
      ... Abandon ship, run for cover! The rockets explode on the ramp like fourth of July
skyrockets gone a stray. Rockets slam all around the boat, the flight line is taking a beating! A fuel truck with JP-4 takes a direct hit, and the base novas with a deadly wild fire. A rocket finds a C-130, and another targets an F-4C. The base of the control tower erupts with a thousand glowing red sparks---rockets raining everywhere. A flare ship taking off hits a smoldering runway crater collapsing her landing gear, and she slides on her belly for what seems an eternity, then breaks up like a ship on a reef. The fiery rain continues on.
      The Chapel! No, not the chapel. Troops sleep there waiting for their freedom bird home. The Chapel is a burning ball of flame! The BX, another building, another building, the rockets are hitting with devastating accuracy. The quiet dark night erupted into a hell storm of fire. The crew jumps on board and is taking cover and shouting commands. The boat shakes from the bombardment---nothing is safe. We're taking another beating boys, hold on for you lives. God save us all.
      The rockets stop at last ... the radio is alive with screaming cries for help. The memories have all but blocked out reality. I'm back, I'm back, don't be afraid, we're with you. You won't be alone ... we're with you, just hold on tight you'll be all right. Everything is quiet except the wind, a howling wind. But something's wrong, something's terribly wrong. I can't shake this off, got to find out what's going on. KokoleoKo is floundering badly, the wind has backed to the Northeast and increased to 15 to 20 knots. The shallow bay water is now a short steep chop, battering us like a cat batting a ball. The crew abandons ship.
      Memories quickly fade as reality takes over. The full set of strained sails threaten to flatten KokoleoKo to the water. Waves crash over the boat like a cascading water fall. Got to get control of the boat, got to get control of myself. The crew watches from a distance as the jib is let go. Crawling forward, got to douse the violently flapping jib. The bow is bucking like a loco bronco. Riding the beast to hell, one hand for me and one for the boat as the demon tears at my sprit, like so many years ago.
      The wildly flagging sail, ovulating bow, fear of what's happening, and my crew beacons me to join them and abandon ship. Remember? It wasn't so bad last time, 30 years ago, when you gave in to death and accepted our calling. Not now! You almost did . . . it was close .... Not now! Can't accept that again. Fight it man fight it! Don't listen to them ... gain control, get it together. But they're my friends!? They were your friends ... life is your friend now ....
      My legs entwined in the bow pulpit, hands coiling line around the beast of a jib sail brought to frantic gale life the bucking KokoleoKo The main sail, stretched tight as a drumhead, whirls the boat in a drunken dance to port then starboard, and back again. Start the engine---head upwind. The main sail quivers violently in protest. Mast, rigging, and boom are all splintering and shredding at their mountings.
      KokoleoKo trembles with fear, much as the sentry trembled in the firestorm. Precariously perched on the cabin, the sail lashing and slapping as it is resists lowering from the mast. Lash the main to the boom before you're swept into the water! ... That's it! ... a little farther!
      Holding on dearly, not ready to die yet, I sail catapulted into a mysterious lee shore, and am suddenly out of the nightmare's nightmare. The boat's keel is again submerged as it was meant to be, and I quickly drop anchor in the spirits' haven.
      Now at anchor, can rest this weary sentry turned mariner, the memory remains and the crew is gone once more. I reflect on the past and reflect on the present ... a dance with death mimics that waltz with death 30 long years ago. My soul is shaken and my chilled body spasms with exhaustion. Once more my crew casts me on the shores of life.
      Until that day when we are together again, I am forever destined
to
 sail away ...

 . . . sail away

                sail away home.

 
 THE CREW
Tan Son Nhut Air Base
Saigon, Vietnam,
USAF 377th Combat Security Police
February 18, 1968

JOEL KENTON BROWN
Army, CPL
Start of Tour: January 9, 1968
KIA: February 18, 1968
Panel 40E - Row 001

BRUCE LEO CAREY
Air Force, SGT
Start of Tour: June 29, 1967
KIA: February 18, 1968
Panel 40E - Row 002

EDWARD EARL DEW
Army, PFC
Start of Tour: December 21, 1967
KIA: February 18, 1968
Panel 40E - Row 004

RICHARD CHARLES RAMSEY
Air Force, SGT
Start of Tour: March 8, 1967
KIA: February 18, 1968
Panel 40E - Row 012

LUKAS JOHN VENTLINE
Army, SP4
Start of Tour: May 2, 1967
KIA: February 18, 1968
Panel 40E - Row 015

ALAN WAYNE WILLARD
Air Force, SGT
Start of Tour: February 20, 1967
KIA: February 18, 1968
Panel 40E - Row 016

 

I miss it, I miss it all, I miss them all. The crew lives on, I'll never forget you,
I promise, I'll never, never forget you all.


"Sunset" Photo © Copyright 1972, 1998, by Robert Jordan

 
 
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