Rowing to the Wreck

Along with sailing, rowing captivates me, and rowing in a small boat to an island is a recurring image in my waking and dream life. Mostly it’s a sensation: that of riding up a wave in a lightweight rowboat or dinghy, the lift and lightness of topping a wave tinged with the prospect of potential peril lying ahead. This is the kind of image that sometimes acts like a sand grain and allows layers to accrue around it to form the pearl of a story. I turn this image over and over, and as this rower rises over the crests and slides into the troughs, an island and the wreck of a ship come into view. It is the wreck of the Pendleton off Monomoy. Years ago I fished there with my friend Chris and his dad, Joe. I don’t remember what we caught, if anything, but I do remember seeing the monstrous canted hulk of rusted hull jutting out of the water as we idled closer. On one side of us stretched the desolate deserted beach of the island, the Atlantic rollers gasping ashore. On the other spread the open Atlantic itself, an immensity at once alluring and menacing. Closing in on the wreck, you could hear the swells gurgle and suck as they rose and fell around the hull or echoed from within. Cormorants lined the slanting rail like the souls of sailors lost at sea, their wings held outward in supplication. The closer we got, the more our small fishing boat seemed in danger of being drawn toward the hull and pulled downward in one of the eddies or whirlpools boiling by in the swirling tide and current. The effect of this wreck, abandoned to be haunted in this lonesome place, beset by heaves of gray-green seawater, was of ghostliness, menace, and spookiness, as if a wraith might begin wailing above the slosh of the waves, keening for the men who had perished in February 1952. Heaven help my imaginary rower should he near this now-vanished vessel.

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