When I first wrote the Dutchman, ten years ago, he was sailing around the world alone for the sixth and final time. His plan, he said, was to keep on sailing, continuing this last circumnavigation until the day he died, or until he found some unknown place “behind the horizon.” At the time, Henk De Velde was somewhere in the Atlantic, slightly closer to South America than any other continent, but not very close to anywhere at all. I was on the nineteenth floor of an office building in midtown Manhattan, working at an adventure travel magazine, looking for stories. De Velde’s journey had a nice hook, a neat beginning, but no real end, which was kind of the point. Several years into our correspondence, I told an editor about it. His response was that De Velde probably needed to die for the story to have a proper arc. In the meantime, De Velde kept sailing, and I kept following him—less and less as the years piled on but well after the magazine shut down and I’d left New York. I still wanted to know what shape De Velde’s story would take, if he would ever find what he was looking for, and if he did ever get behind the horizon, where that might be.
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