“Oh but I cannot, can not stay. I must be off a-buccaneering.”
John Steinbeck, ficticiously attributed those worlds to Captain Henry Morgan, whose rum you are probably familiar with, but whose story you may not be. You may also be familiar with Steinbeck’s work including The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath and be wondering which book talks about pirates. The answer, my friends, is his first novel, Cup of Gold: A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional References to History. The novel lacked the polish and critical acclaim as his other works, but one of the major themes is relevant to my and many of your lives.
“Ok, cool Travis, but when did this become Nor’easter book club?” you may ask. Bear with me. I was hand steering for 12 hours a day for three days on our passage from Bora Bora to Niue, my body was on autopilot, Nor’easter was surfing down 12 foot waves, and I was lost in thought. Our engine failed again, hence the hand steering, but that is outside of the scope of this article. This is about how the early lives of Captain Morgan, myself, and you are all similar.
In Cup of Gold, a young Henry Morgan goes to visit Merlin, a wise old man at the top of a mountain for advice before he leaves home (how original). Merlin told Morgan, “You are a little boy. You want the moon to drink from as a golden cup; and so, it is very likely you will become a great man – if only you remain a little child. All the world’s great have been little boys who wanted the moon… But if one grow to a man’s mind, that mind must see that it cannot have the moon and would not want it if it could…”
When we were children, adults told us we can be anything we want if we set our minds to it. We thought of a wide variety of exciting occupations: astronaut, pilot, professional football player, marine biologist, president of the USA, firefighter, secret agent and more (our current leader is proof that anyone could be president). Then, most of us grew older. The message changed to what are you going to study in college. We no longer saw the options for many of the things we wanted to do when we were young, or there is no money in it, or someone told us the odds of becoming an astronaut are smaller than becoming a professional athlete, so don’t bother trying either. Instead we study finance, law, medicine, engineering, and other practical majors that will allow us to get good jobs out of college, and the dreams yield to security. However, at a certain point growing up becomes negative again and people compliment others who are young at heart or have a young soul. Those are the people that are able to continue to chase their dreams and not coincidentally, how many people describe my dad.
“There was no desire in him for a state or condition, no picture in his mind of the thing to be when he had followed his longing; but only a burning and a will overpowering to journey outward and outward after the earliest risen star.”
Young Henry Morgan and I felt the same calling. We both needed to sail west and explore islands, even if we didn’t really know the full reason why. Eventually, Morgan decided he wanted respect and to bring honor to his family name by doing something remarkable, which became invading Panama, burning it to the ground, and holding a beautiful heiress for ransom. Times have changed.
After Panama, he still didn’t feel like he accomplished anything. He gave up his dreams and settled for marriage and a real job, which was the lieutenant governorship of Jamaica, prosecuting everyone he sailed with in his previous career and sending them to the gallows. I have different goals.
My goals are to explore the world, meet locals and other cruisers, learn about other cultures, learn French, climb some mountains and catch some nice fish. I love the ocean and can think of nothing better than to sail across it and dive in it, exploring the underwater world with 100+ feet of visibility and coral that is still alive with vibrant yellows, purples, blues, and pink. For work, I want to become a great captain, but that is where my similarities with Morgan end. If I had all the money in the world, I still would be doing this – albeit with better fishing gear, a dive compressor, hydro generator, and a slightly larger boat. In 15 years I want to do this trip again, but spread it out over five years with a wife and young kids. The people you meet and the cultures are absolutely inspiring and change how you view the world, and I think that could help anyone stay young and keep dreaming.
So why am I sailing around the world? Because I’m still a little boy and “I must be off a-buccaneering.”