Ocean Reveries: Leah Feldman '14

Leah Feldman ’14, an Ishmael among us, reflects on her seafaring experiences in this feature article she wrote for the Colgate Scene.

New York Harbor is daunting at night. Those who have sailed these waters will tell you of an effect unique to this place that renders the lights of buildings and cars on shore and the lights of boats in the water nearly indistinguishable, glistening and sliding past one another across the inky nighttime river in shimmering chaos. It’s a beautiful image, undoubtedly, but one less-than-meditative for the amateur nighttime yachtsman — or woman. The explosions begin, booming one after another, and apprehension mushrooms into hyper-vigilance in the blink of a wide, fully dilated eye.

It’s the fourth of July, and I am at the helm of a 42-foot Beneteau sailboat, chartered for the evening by a family of five intent on securing the best seats in the house for the Macy’s Independence Day Fireworks Spectacular. Every year, fireworks are set off from anchored barges just south of Wall Street over the Hudson River.

It is my job to provide my customers with a calm, pleasurable sailing trip, filling their drinks and plating their food, while keeping them out of danger. I alone am responsible for the navigation and safety of the vessel. This is not my first day of my summer job — it is, however, my first outing at night.

Leah Feldman '14 (third from left) and her shipmates furling the topsail on the Corwith Cramer (Courtesy of the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program

Leah Feldman ’14 (third from left) on the Corwith Cramer. (Photo courtesy of the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program

Hundreds of sailing and motor vessels of all sizes crowd the Hudson River Channel in a maze of shiny, expensive, unscratched hulls. Despite my unease, I am lucky to be on the water for the Fourth — luckier still to be getting paid for it. I can’t help but compare this watery outing to others of my past — some spent keeled over the leeward rail of a tall ship, retching miserably into stormy seas, and some spent frustrated but focused on hopes of racing glory.

Other experiences were simple and pure; true testaments to the inextricable connection between water and meditation that Herman Melville spoke of in the first pages of Moby-Dick, the quintessential novel of man and the sea. Ishmael ponders the people of the insular island of “Manhattoes,” drawn instinctively and obsessively to the water’s edge, fixed in “ocean reveries.” In this moment in July 2013, am I not among them? Am I not one of Melville’s “landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster — tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks,” and drawn to the water obsessively?

Read more of Feldman’s feature article, “Ocean Reveries,” in the autumn Colgate Scene.