What is this sea, and wherein lies its power so greatly to stir the minds of men? What is the mystery of it, intangible, yet inseparably its own? Perhaps part of the mystery resides in its hoary antiquity, for the sea is almost as old as earthly time. Its shadowy beginnings lie somewhere in that dim period when the earth was forming out of chaos, when the deep basins were hollowed out of the cooling rocks and the rains began to fall from the thick cloud blanket that enveloped the earth. The rains poured upon the waiting basins, or falling upon the continents, drained away to become sea. And there became at once that slow erosion by which the continents are giving up their substance to the sea, by which the minerals are passing from earth to sea, and the sea is becoming ever more briny with the passing eons.
Or perhaps the spirit of the sea resides in the implacable, inexorable power by which it draws all things to it, by which it overwhelms and devours and destroys. The rivers run to it; the rains that rose from it return. For more than two billion years the sea has endured, changing yet seemingly changeless, while mountains have risen and been worn away, while islands have grown up from its floor, only to dissolve under the attack of rain and waves, an while the continents themselves have known the slow advance of engulfing seas, an again their slow retreat.
Or perhaps the mystery is the mystery of life itself – of life that began as a primordial bit of protoplasm adrift in the surface waters of the ancient seas. For hundreds of millions of years, all life was sea life, developing in prodigious abundance and variety, evolving into thousands of kinds of creatures, some of which finally crept out of the sea, some of which, after long eons of time, became men. But we as man carry the sea’s salt in our blood, and the trace of our marine heritage in our bodies, and perhaps something akin to a racial memory of that dim past lies within us.
A sense of some of these things may come to one who makes a long ocean voyage – when day after day he watches the receding rim of the horizon ridged and furrowed by waves; or when he stands alone in darkness on the deck at night, in a world compounded only of water and feels the brooding presence of the sea about him.