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Ahoy, what harm, indeed?

One fine summer when I went to a little arts and crafts fair I expected to buy maybe a pair of moccasins or a wooden flute. Some moccasins soft enough for me to sneak by the Powers of Mischief, those gloomy influences always on the lookout for high spirits to bring low. A flute melodious enough, if I couldn't afford the sneaky moccasins and someday got caught, to divert the Powers while I thought up an unanswerable defense of my innocence.

But I should have expected the unexpected. What I bought was a sail.

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The moment I saw it hanging over the branch of a tree, billowing out in the wind, I knew that it was a sail meant for me. It was an old, worn-thin, crazy-quilt blanket.

After looking at the price tag, which read, ''Make an offer!'' I emptied all the money in my pockets onto the ground. It totaled $3.01. ''Sold!'' said the seller. The bargain was mine.

Now, it's true I didn't have a sailboat. I didn't even have a boat. But I did have, tied to a pier post near the beach cottage I was renting, twelve orange crates nailed together to form a half-sinking, half-floating Kon Tiki-type raft, christened affectionately The Orange Crate Synthesizer. Its sailboat possibilities were endless.

Dragging it up onto the sand, into drydock, so to speak, I set to work. With hammer and nails I put up two rowboat oars for masts, one on each side at about the middle of the Synthesizer. Into these I hammered the four corners of the sail, leaving myself enough room underneath to lie on my stomach and paddle with my hands, like a human rudder. On such a sailboat you didn't need to worry which way the wind blew. Where the wind went, you would go.

As I pushed the Synthesizer out beyond the ocean breakers to some gently rolling water for my first sail, I was filled with that confident, almost cocky exuberance you have when you know that nothing catastrophic is going to happen to your grand designs. I wouldn't capsize. The masts wouldn't break loose and fall on my head, covering me with the blanket, and I wouldn't end up looking like a poor daft soul floating out to sea in his bed, wiggling farewell with his toes. No seaweed-haired mermaids would bubble up and giggle at me. Even touchy old Neptune himself wouldn't take offense at the levity of cavorting in his kingdom and give the waters a stormy shake.

What joy, what a singing of all the timbers of boat and man, when my sail suddenly caught the wind and The Orange Crate Synthesizer fairly flew between two skies, the deep, wet one below, and the soaring, sunny one above. It was like putting yourself and your boat in God's hands and letting Him carry you both wherever was best.

The longer I sailed the more thankful I was I'd bought my blanket instead of moccasins or a flute. With even the softest moccasins you can sometimes step on a dry twig and give yourself away to the Powers of Mischief. And with even the most melodious flute you can sometimes blow a note that does not sweeten their dispositions.

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But what can you possibly do wrong with a crazy-quilt sail attached to rowboat-oar masts on a boat made of orange crates and love?

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