Moist All Over

Dreams of the high seas

By Brian Doyle | June 14, 2013


Stuff I have found in the ocean? says a man who spent several years puttering around the oceans of the world in a small boat, just because he could, he says. Well, to name just the organic, I have found children dead and alive in the water, and every sort of fish and bird you can imagine, also dead and alive. I found most of a chimpanzee floating off the coast of Gabon. Insects, plants, vast mats of vegetation. Lots of wood of all kinds both milled and original issue. Lots of rope, much of which was originally plant fiber. No, I never saw rubber ducks or sneakers. Funny how many people ask me about rubber ducks and sneakers. Guns, no, but then again, they don’t float, and I never netted for fish and caught other stuff by accident.

You want to know what it’s like to live on a little boat for a year? I’ll tell you. Imagine living in your bathroom, and then imagine your bathroom being assaulted by storms every third day, sometimes every second day. That’s what it’s like. It’s not romantic at all. It’s mostly wet. You’re always wet. The very best you can hope for is moist all over. I would pull into port sometimes just to dry off for a few days, dry out the boat, dry out the skipper.

What else did I find? More than a few shards of boats that clearly had lost their cargos—you know what I mean? Mostly in the Caribbean and off Vietnam. And I saw some mysterious boats without markings. Was I scared? No—they mostly ran from me before I could run from them. It’s huge out there on the open sea, and for all the people who think it’s patrolled and regulated, it isn’t. There’s a lot of it, and you could go weeks without seeing another craft. I sure did.

People are always asking me why I would put myself in a position like that, alone in a small boat in the middle of the biggest ocean there is, and I think they half-expect me to tell them some sob story about a broken heart or some high adventure thing, but I just did it because I could. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, I was finished with the Navy, and I had the urge to wander. I figured I better wander while I was still healthy and stupid enough to live in a little boat. After a while it was time to come in, so I did. Now I live up in the mountains. Do I dream about it? Not any more. For a long time after, though, I would wake up and immediately think something was wrong because I wasn’t wet. Isn’t that funny?

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