What could be more liberating than to live aboard a boat, able to pick up anchor on a whim? In The Sea Will Call, all the characters have been seduced by the sea, whether it is a Marine Colonel accused of embezzlement, a ten-year-old ace sailor entrusted with his parents’ boat or African-American executives fleeing corporate America. Each protagonist in this linked collection has felt intensely alive as a wave crashes over him at the bow. She has watched from the cockpit as a breeze makes marsh grasses sway lazily. He has ignored the wail of a banshee wind and the pounding of bully waves. After all, this takes place on a boat, where land rules do not apply.
Once at sea, though, these intrepid individuals discover that living aboard a boat is too often like living on land. A woman considers using a windfall to buy a sailboat but feels she’s too old to go cruising and also have the children she wants. When she changes her mind and buys a derelict forty-year-old boat, she discovers her benefactor aunt’s secret life and now wonders if her aunt’s childless fate will also be hers. As the niece and her husband then cruise through the Caribbean, they discover that the magic of being at sea does not protect a young couple they meet who is trying to outrun the wife’s terminal cancer. Fellow cruisers sailing in the Bahamas fear the unknown as potential pirates speed toward them. Linen still has to be washed, but the Dominican laundry man might dry it on bushes that donkeys brush by. A girl who grew up in a Chicago housing project can’t figure out where she belongs as she tracks down her Puerto Rican roots with her wealthy Andover cruising buddies. Drunken husbands escape demanding wives and race dinghies in the middle of the night. A lapsed minister’s daughter searches for an island church and wonders if she can ever escape her childhood religion. Sailors in Grenada give themselves license to moo at cows but fail in their whimsical attempt to convince the cows to respond. A woman can’t save a shiftless crewmember as their boat is tossed around by an Atlantic storm. A sister tracks down her long-lost alcoholic brother to a sailboat in the Florida Keys, but can’t bring herself to confront him. As the cruise wears on, the niece’s husband, now bankrupted by the high cost of cruising, wonders how to redeem himself. Still together, the niece and her husband picnic on a promontory, and she can’t help but notice boys, the age of her foregone children, sailing by on other boats. In the end, the niece and her husband divorce, and she examines the high cost of their decision to go cruising.