There were five of us. We were young and right and beautiful – the kind of beauty that comes from being young and right.

There was Armand, from Marseilles, who always had this old Leica around his neck. It belonged to his great-grandfather. His great-grandfather who fought in the Spanish Civil War. He’d tell you the story if you asked or if he caught you looking or if he didn’t. He was the seaman. He sailed the ship.

There was Aadarsh, from Patan, who in two months I never saw wear a shirt. He spent all his free time lifting weights until his muscles glowed. He’d swing around the ship, rolling and diving on the deck like a little wave, until everyone on board wanted to kill him. He was ex-navy. He was our crew.

There was Katja, from Rovaniemi, who wore bracelets made of gunmetal. She worked for a nonprofit that bought medicine and food and traded it to villagers for their guns. She was trained in scientific research but she wanted to do some good in this world. So she was a secretary. She was our engineer.

And there was Rachel, who I knew from school. She was a journalism major. She was beautiful. We met at a lecture by the outgoing Fed chair. She went to wave a protest sign and make sure she got arrested. So she could say she’d been arrested. I bailed her out. We finished the semester and then signed up for a summer of activism and class struggle. Or as I liked to think of it, “three months of getting laid at sea.”

We each had to pass a test in seamanship. All those summercamp days in a Laser paid off. I didn’t mention where I’d learned to sail lest they declare me too bougie to hang. None of them volunteered where they’d learned to sail either. But we tied the knots, passed the tests, made our paltry donation to the Cause, signed the waivers, picked up our lifejackets, and headed for the horizon.

On the third night, Rachel left me for some combination of Aardarsh and Armand. Her look dared me to object, and treat her like a possession, and show myself a little kid. I shrugged it off. Some things are not as important as the Cause. Also I spent that night in Katja’s bunk and never really left. Which drove Rachel crazy. Which she took out on her new boyfriends. It was going to be a great summer.

We first sailed across the Atlantic. The French had finally sold their aircraft carrier, taking a high bid from Vietnam. The Chinese were furious. The Americans were happy. The Europeans kept pointing out that the French aircraft carrier was tiny, antiquated, and due to its reactor design had this funny little habit of glowing in the dark. The Vietnamese were buying a death trap. The Americans were ecstatic. The Cause was anti-nuclear and so we had to stop it.

We sailed across the sea to block it leaving port. We might starve, we might be shot to death. We’d delay it as long as we could. By the time we were halfway there it had set sail. We thought about blocking the Straits of Gibraltar but the measurements weren’t in our favor. Then we thought we’d shadow it, keep a live update online for our fellow-travelers to follow along at home. Try to raise awareness. Try to raise some money. But she steamed at 27 knots, while in a good wind we sailed at 7. With careful timing we managed to take a few photos as she sailed by.

We sailed then to South Africa to protest against a proposal to legalize whaling. We had to stop it. It was voted down before we got to Benin. That’s when we got orders to sail back across the Atlantic to the Gulf. Deepwater drilling was recommencing. We had to stop it. We would try.

We crossed into the Caribbean with the tradewinds at our backs. We spent a night in Philipsburg drinking genever and sucking on the ice. Katja was dark and small and her eyes were bright as sea-stars. She got nervous when people weren’t being nice to other people. Such was not allowed on Sint Maarten.

We sailed and sailed until we saw the derrick. I didn’t realize how big it would be. We sailed towards it for hours, watching it come closer. It towered above us. Then we saw the smoke.

It was pouring black smoke. As we watched the black cloud of it reached across the ocean. So it couldn’t have been burning very long. I went downstairs to find a camera that wasn’t a Leica. Came back on deck, snapped a few pictures, and then said the smartest thing I’ve ever said in my life:

“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Everything we did on the boat we did with consensus. This was the fastest consensus we ever reached. We jibed and made for the nearest non-American port, which was Havana. If only because we all hated America, and/or couldn’t afforupplies in USD.

We made not that far before a Coast Guard cutter came up right next to us, nearly capsized us with its wake, and Metatronned at us to heave to and be boarded.

They searched the ship with flashlights and dogs. No worries there. We’d smoked all our grass in the first five days. Then we realized they must have thought we’d blown up the oil derrick. Which scared us a little but mostly was just funny.

They gave us each our own interrogation rooms. I could guess what each person would do. Aadarsh would pretend not to speak English. Armand would demand a lawyer. Rachel would answer each question with a diatribe against the structural injustices in the legal system. Katja would, taking deep breaths, recite our entire itinerary from port to present. Eventually they’d realise we were kids and let us go.

Wasn’t quite sure how I was going to handle it. I guess they sensed this, since they came at me straight and hard.

An officer came into my little room. Moving fast, talking fast, looking angry and likely to be angrier if slowed down. Asked a bunch of leading questions. Trying to trip me up. I let him.

“So you were sailing to block a nuclear carrier from leaving port.”


“A military ship.”


“You were going to interfere with a military ship.”


“Do you realize that was an act of war?”

“Oh, come on.”

“Who are you working for?”

“It’s a 501c3 in Brooklyn, the school career office sent around-”

“You just admitted to perpetrating an act of war against the naval vessel of-”

“Yeah, that’s definitely what I admitted.”

“And then you sailed straight to the Gulf to sabotage the oil derrick? Do you understand how that sounds?”

“Do you?”

We went at this for a while. He was trying to get me riled up. I surprised myself by not riling. I think it might have helped that I wasn’t guilty. I tried to remember exactly how I felt then, so if I ever got jammed up for real I could pretend.

I let him take me round the maypole a few times. Then I got bored and I told him so. He was clear that I had no choice but to answer his questions. I disagreed.

He gave me three types of runaround about the dangers and the stupidities and the dastardly implications of failing to cooperate. I gave him the raspberry. Then I stared at the wall.

He left me alone. Not for long enough. Came back in smiling. Holding my cell phone.

“We’ve got you,” he said.

I just looked at him.

He looked happier than a live man standing over one he’d killed. He looked like the kind of man who’d be happy with that.

“From your cell phone,” he said, “from the middle of the ocean, you placed a short-sell order.”

“I sure did.”

“For the company who owned the derrick.”


“And the company who built it.”

“All I had time to Google.”

“A 24-hour short.”


“You knew the stock was going to go down.”

“Ah huh.”

“You KNEW, before it HAPPENED, that the OIL DERRICK was going to-”

He shouted for a while. At me. In my face. Pounded on the table. I let him blow. When he saw he wasn’t getting to me he blew harder. His arguments washed over each other and his words watched over me. Finally I opened my mouth and he shut up mid-word. Stared at me. Waiting. That was worth it all.

“I knew the stock was going to crash when I saw the oil derrick was on fire.”

“You knew because you-”

“And not before,” I said. “Which you can confirm from the timing of the order, right?”

“You were posing as a member of this organization,” he said. “I bet your friends thought you were one of them. You joined up to encourage them to commit an act of terrorism for your personal profit.” He spit the words. “Or you did it yourself. And they didn’t even know. Which was it? Huh? WHICH WAS IT?”

I smiled. “Wish I had.”

That was a mistake. “You wish you had engaged in an act of violent terrorism that claimed the lives of-”

But not a big one. “Oh, shut up.”

“Those are your words. Those are your words that you said to me, right now, right-”

“Yeah,” I said, “we sailed up to the oil derrick and saw it was on fire. So I called my broker. That’s all.”

We went back and forth. He kept being stupid. I kept fighting not to get mad at him. So instead of fighting him I fought myself.

He jumped the tracks. “That’s insider trading.”

“Uh. No. It’s not.”

“You traded on privileged information.”

“Not unless someone forgot to tell me I work for an oil company.”

“You took advantage of knowing something before anyone else and using it to your own personal profit.”

“Yeah, mmhmm.”

“You took advantage of misery and destruction to line your own fucking pockets-“

“Yes. YES, I- Look. If you looked out the window and saw a Fiat catch fire and said, hmm, maybe Fiats suck, maybe they really suck, maybe now’s a good time to sell-”


“I – you know what, fuck you. Leave me the fuck alone.”

“You don’t seem to understand your situation.”

“You don’t seem to understand anything.”

So he played the dripping skeptic.

“You didn’t have any plan,” he said


“Didn’t cause this.”


“Didn’t know it was going to happen.”


“A smart fellow like you – a stock trader, a capitalist – spent the summer on board a hippie eco-boat.”


“For no reason.”

“There are girls on the boat.”

“You spent a whole fucking summer just sailing around and then you happen to make eighty grand in an afternoon.”

“Pretty sweet, huh.”

He slams both hands down on the table. I don’t think it’s an interrogation tactic; I think he’s just mad.

“There is no judge and jury in the country who would believe this co-inci-dental piece-of-shit story coming out of your mouth.”

Suddenly the tension goes out of me.

I lean forward. “Yeah, but, you see, that’s why I went sailing. I wanted to stumble onto random shit and then make money off of it. Because you can make fucking money off of anything. But I wasn’t going to see anything if I sat on my ass at home, now was I?”

He searches around for words and doesn’t find them.

He tells my friends. Of course. Tries to create an air of suspicion. Tries to get them pissed at me for trading stocks. That one works. Doesn’t accomplish anything but I don’t think that was the point. They stay away from me. I go to Katja’s bed and she just lies there, doesn’t talk about it, doesn’t speak. Won’t confront the issue. Won’t confront anything. We lie there and I don’t know about her but the rocking of the boat sends me to sleep.

But by then the summer’s almost over. We sail back home and pass the helm to the next crop of kids. Show them where everything’s stored, tell them what works and what doesn’t. Pretend like we’re experts. Then we hit the shore.

I watch as they raise sail and put to sea.


~ by davekov on 11 March 2016.

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