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Strain

We anchored in Sabine Pass, among giant oil rigs used for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. There were a hundred of them—I don’t know how many—mothballed, standing idle in the shallows along the channel leading to open water. Raised up high on cylindrical steel legs, their platforms supported what looked like shabby apartment buildings, with all manner dangerous-looking heavy machinery left to rust.

We anchored close by one of these forbidding and fascinating structures. The steel legs were massive, barnacle encrusted, smelling of fresh fish when the wind changed. Looking inland we could see the tall exhaust pipes of oil refineries burning off residual gas. The scale of the ugliness was equal to the sun going down in an apricot sky.

The next morning, pulling the anchors out of a gooey, black clay bottom, I hurried to stay on schedule, trying for an average of sixty miles a day. The soft bottom had swallowed my ground tackle. It took several hours to haul the plow anchor and big Danforth out of the goo. Getting underway, the boat and I were smeared with greasy, evil smelling mud.

All the effort and strain could have been avoided by simply sitting and watching the tide come in. Had I kept the anchor lines fast and tight, the tide rising would have lifted the whole boat and gradually dislodged the anchors.

I had an instinct to do precisely that, and for the sake of an average daily distance, I ignored the insight and determined to bend the circumstances to fit my schedule. In the process, evil smelling mud fouled the deck of my sailboat, and made a clown costume out of my pretty white yachting outfit.

Compounding the loss of time, I grew impatient with traveling on a sailboat period. I thought again of selling the boat. I resented my wife’s love affair with living on a postcard—having me to do the heavy lifting—she did nothing but sunbathe, gestate, and take naps. And all for an embryo, a fetus—whatever it was currently—it didn’t have the slightest idea what a mess it was to clean up all that evil smelling mud.

All day, we motored through a swamp east of Sabine, never long out of sight of the tall gas torches marking oil refineries. Now and then above the undergrowth appeared the conduits and cables, huge hoses and pipes, the obscene intestines of an industry.

It was strange going. We met no other traffic on the waterway, had not seen another pleasure craft since leaving Galveston. The swamp implied no possibility of pleasure. It was a dreary place, overshadowed by the presence of oil and the immensity of wealth that made cruising on a sailboat seem not a pleasure but a profoundly irrelevant activity.

I was going to be a father in no time. What was I doing in a swamp going seven miles an hour?