I had hit a buoy. Dead center. Not one of those plastic buoys that give with the collision but one of those mid-channel, heavy-duty, metal navigational buoys that usually you find out on Puget Sound to mark the shipping lanes.
I rang the bell and had my bell rung.
This was one of those. But it wasn’t Puget Sound. And it also wasn’t where it was supposed to be. It had drifted into a lane of water near the shore usually free of such encumbrances such that – usually – I can row blissfully along without worrying over my shoulder where the dang thing was.
It didn’t give but my fragile single rowing shell did. I just didn’t know it. Yet. I stopped, or more accurately was stopped, and assessed damages. Peering over my shoulder at the bow I saw nothing out of the ordinary and so carried on being within a mile of the turn of the half-way mark for the early morning four mile workout.
The crushed section however was where I couldn’t see and where it was most critical – below the water line. Settling imperceptibly lower and lower in the water – or was it just my imagination – and becoming more sluggish and unresponsive – was I that tired already – the 27-foot racing scull but 13 inches wide was now taking charge of my destiny.
Reefing on the starboard oar at the mid-four-mile mark I turned but the boat didn’t. Nearly full of water, the shell refused to cooperate and ploughed straight ahead, beaching itself with but a gentle grind of gelcoat on the rocks.
Finally, forced to face the inevitable – a long walk home – I pulled the shell further up on the beach but not before all the water rushed to the stern snapping the delicate craft into three sections now held together only by thin-layered fiberglass.
She’s since been repaired and other than being heavier and me being older and the two combined making both of us slower, we still plow along, the hundreds and hundreds of miles we’ve been together, and the rough water we’ve seen, and the races we’ve won and lost making us inseparable. She’s always sustained me.
Sustained – whether in a court of law where a judge sustains an objection, or in a rowing shell where the sculler sustains a collision – means, literally, “to carry on.”
Sustained is my word for today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. In fact, ‘sustained’ is the key word of an ancient proverb that suggests, nay rather declares, that a man’s consciousness of his own integrity will sustain him.