Ship on the Horizon

by Christopher Lovejoy on October 23, 2011

As the sun was setting inside a rich tapestry of warm, vivid colors, I sat comfortably near the cliff’s edge in a meditative posture, facing a relatively calm and multi-colored sea.

My rescue essentials were lying next to me: my binoculars, which hung around my neck, a portable mirror, leaning against my left side, and two hand flares, which were situated to my right.

I picked up my binoculars and scanned the vast expanse in a zigzag fashion, adjusting the focus as required. This was a ritual that I had performed countless times before.

But this time it was different.

My jaw dropped when I caught sight of a small container ship making its way across the horizon. It appeared to be an ordinary feeder and I was momentarily flabbergasted when I saw it.

I released my grip on the binoculars, letting them rest on my sternum. I picked up the portable mirror, positioned it optimally, and began flicking my wrist. I sent one SOS after another, doubting whether the evening sun was brilliant enough for the mirror to send any clear signals.

I set aside the mirror and reached with trembling hands for one of my flares. With a pounding heart, I removed it from its packaging, grabbed its telescopic handle, stood up, and gently pulled the flare out of its grip tube until it clicked. With the flare fully engaged, I hesitated.

The ship was far away and darkness had not yet fallen.

I was in a bind. I believed that every moment I waited, I both lessened my chances of getting noticed as the ship passed me by and increased my chances of getting noticed as daylight faded. I picked up my binoculars and watched the ship again, waiting for what I thought would be my sweet spot.

I lowered my binoculars and removed the red cap from the flare. I gripped the handle and pulled the cord, moving the flare away from my face and holding it at arm’s length as it ignited.

As the flare burned, I raised my binoculars to the ship and waited for a signal in response.

I believed that the flare burned red for as long as it was designed to burn – about three minutes – but because darkness had not yet fallen, I had my doubts that it worked as well as I would have liked.

No signal was forthcoming and the ship eventually slipped out of sight.

Undaunted, I surmised that someone on this ship could have seen the flare, or failing that, another ship might follow in the wake of the one that had just passed me by.

I tossed the used-up flare aside and sat down again, observing the sky and noting that it was clear enough for me to remain where I was for a while before heading back to my base camp.

As twilight faded, I surveyed the sea for moving lights at or near the horizon, knowing that I had yet another flare by my side. As the night progressed, however, my hope dwindled.

I was nevertheless grateful for the opportunity that came my way.

In the dead of night, I released all expectations and called it quits.

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