For years I’ve moved at displacement speed, at first under sail and most recently chugging along at six to seven knots in my stocky little trawler. Displacement speed teaches patience. The horizon hangs off in the distance with oil-painting like permanency and the shoreline changes in incremental fractions. Other boats come into view, radioing their location to friends (“I’m coming up on some slow trawler,”) as though you’re a fixed aid to navigation and then continue on to disappear into that still unchanged horizon. You have plenty of time to think, plenty of time to remind yourself you’re in no rush, after all getting there is half the fun and all those speed demons are just racing from fuel dock to fuel dock, wallets in hand. But sometimes… sometimes the ‘GETTING there’ part gets a bit old. There’s still that other half, BEING there, especially when the weather turns ugly and ‘there’ is somewhere comfortable and secure, with a hot shower, dry clothes and a warm meal.
Back when I was working in a boatyard we had a hand-full of customers with insanely high-speed performance boats stop by from time to time. And on one particular occasion a fellow had launched his rocket toy and asked if anyone wanted to join him as he tested some of the latest performance tweaks he’d made to the engines. It was a slow day, none of us were doing much of anything, and my story had some chapters with a similar boat, so I said, “Sure, I’ll go.”
The river was glassy smooth as we set out, with the faintest hint of a breeze stirring along the Saturday morning sailors. As we cleared the mooring field my friend pushed the throttle forward, the engines roared, and I was forced backwards into my seat. The world around us seemed to freeze; at that velocity we were the only thing moving as we shot between the now motionless sailboats, and for a moment I recalled that scene in Return of the Jedi, where the speeder bikes threaded between the giant trees in the forests of Endor. Time and relativity had been turned upside down; I’m certain if I’d checked, the hands on my watch had stopped. The water beneath us had gone from a gently rolling fluid to rock hard solid, the hull banging across it like a runaway bobsled on ice as we shot beneath the Tappan Zee Bridge and past the astonished faces aboard the sloop Clearwater. Within minutes we’d covered water that would have taken me half a day’s sail to navigate. I couldn’t move, I don’t think I even blinked, but my tearing eyes shifted to the GPS and it felt as though my heart stopped. We were travelling at 92 mph. At last we had gone full circle and I was returned to the dock, dazed and stunned as I tried to process the wild ride. It was a hell of an experience, and one I came away from a bit bruised and a lot wiser, with plenty of material for those chapters I was writing and a new-found appreciation for displacement speed.