The Child Inside
My boat already beached, I sat in the warm sand and watched my friends’ boats sail toward me, an easy breeze rippling the water. As they landed, skippers and crews hopped overboard and walked ashore, anchors and rodes in hand, dragging the vessels a little farther up the beach and setting temporary hooks.
We stood around admiring each other’s boats for a few minutes, pointing out various modifications made or planned, then shared a community chocolate bar and recounted—with appropriate poetic license—highlights from the day’s sailing so far. Next came debate and strategizing about the best route back on the afternoon’s rising tide and contrary current. Someone suggested they might row while under sail, another planned to walk their boat upstream by the painter and push off around the point. Someone else was lobbying to stay put and make camp.
At 45 years old I was the youngest in our group, and not by a little bit. Among those gathered were two former military pilots, a construction company owner, a doctor, and a retired professional designer—all with vast experience, nautical and otherwise—all serious and capable people. But now here they were, pants rolled up like Huck Finn, one of them showing off his new camp stove, another fiddling with his phone’s navigation app, and everyone laughing at each other’s corny jokes. It occurred to me then that what we were, fundamentally, was a group of twelve-year-old boys. We had our wooden rafts and bed-sheet sails, our binoculars, our sleeping bags, and a longing for adventure. All that was missing were a few comic books and maybe a slingshot or two.
Something magical happens when we climb aboard a little boat and push off to explore. If we relax and allow ourselves, we return to the age where such adventures first appealed. A tiny boat really is a time machine, revealing the boys and girls we’ve never fully stopped being. Aristotle said “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” I say give me a 70-year-old and a small boat and I will show you the boy. —Joshua Colvin