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Once more unto the beach

It was kind of early for a swim, but later that day I’d be on a plane back to the loathsome winter of the Northeast. I knew I’d regret it if I missed a chance to float in the warm turquoise of the Caribbean, so I roused myself, shaking off my natural laziness, stoked to its peak by the sun’s hypnotic whisper to just relax. Why, oh why didn’t I listen?

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Minutes later, as I faced the beach to yell encouragement to my family — come on in, the water is fine — I took a step and felt severe pain. I had no idea what was wrong, but it was clear something very bad had happened. I hopped into the shallows and crawled onto the beach. When I looked down at my foot, it was bleeding, and something white, about an inch long, was sticking out of it. It was cartilaginous and shaped a little like the ridged and tapered end of a dart — it was also clearly just the tip of a deeply embedded object. I bent over and pulled four boney inches, the size of a pencil, from the top of my foot. It bled more, and then the pain really began.

It never occurred to me that I’d been hit by a stingray. I’ll spare you the details of the next few hours, but it was by far the worst pain I have ever experienced. And for the record, I once inserted my thumb under the hinge of my steel pilothouse door and slammed it shut against an approaching hurricane. I didn’t know I had severed the bone, but I succumbed to tears only hours later, when the boatyard was deserted, the wind was battering the boat, and I sat alone in the howling storm with my throbbing thumb submerged in a bucket of ice — at that point, I just gave in to feeling really sorry for myself.

I could just call this particular column Stupid Things I Have Done, but that’s not my point.

Every passion comes with dangers, I suppose — even model makers inhale glue fumes — but when you consider boating it must be admitted that ours ranks just beneath flying in the death-defying category. And if you’ve been boating long enough, and you’re doing it right, you will wind up with a few hair-raising stories. You’ll have a storm catch you at sea, despite monitoring the forecast, and spend hours keeping yourself on course through the seemingly endless crests and troughs of big waves. You’ll experience a mechanical breakdown that forces you into a hot engine room in a rolling beam sea. You’ll find yourself nearly capsized by the wake of commercial traffic moving way too fast in an approach to Charleston Harbor. But I digress …

We boaters tend to relish a war story, but what keeps us coming back is our sublime ability to forget. Each time we cast off the lines, we’re chasing the good times: the sun glinting off the water, the escort by dolphins, the sunset in a quiet anchorage after a day of happy cruising. We are optimists who live in happy denial (but not ignorance) of the potential dangers that come in pursuit of such perfect moments.

I don’t know about you, but I’m proud of that. It’s who I want to be. And it’s the same thing that will make me get up off the lounge chair and into the ocean the next chance I get — though please don’t judge me if I am wearing motorcycle boots. Crikey!

Send us your favorite war stories.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue.