Off the dock at last
05 June 2010 | Green Turtle Cay
Clear. High: 83 Â°F. Winds 5 to 8 knots. Seas less than 2 feet. Scattered showers and thunderstorms. Winds and seas higher in and near thunderstorms.
After nearly a two year absence, I am back to sailing again. Hallelujah! With my job as a college professor, I get three months off every summer. Last summer, I taught summer school for the first half of the summer, and then just when I was getting ready to head to the Bahamas, I got a phone call that my 84-year-old mother had suffered a stroke while doing volunteer work in China. We had her med-evacted to Bangkok and I flew to Thailand thinking I would only be there for a few days, but it turned into a month. I did finally get mom home, but she died in late October, so I spent the better part of the last year dealing with all that entails.
All of which makes it so much sweeter to be here at sea again. My folks had a lovely little Ericson 27 named the Dulcian when they were in their 60's and there was nothing either of them liked doing more than sailing her up and down the California coast, out to the Catalina and down to Ensenada.
So, Wednesday evening just before 8:00, we finally threw off the dock lines and headed down the New River for Port Everglades inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. We had a lovely night sail across the Gulf Stream and on to the Little Bahama Bank at dawn, then to Great Sale Cay where we anchored at about 3:00 in the afternoon. This morning we are enjoying another gorgeous sail down to Spanish Cay where we intend to clear customs and immigration. As I will be doing for much of this trip, instead of sitting topsides enjoying the sail, I'm down here at the computer working. Grrrr..... I keep flipping back and forth between writing and my nav program (Mac ENC) to check where we are and what kind of speed we're making.
Our departure was only nine days later than I had originally forecast, and it was a little less than a month after I'd finished working the semester in my full time job as a college professor. I may not have quit my job to cruise full-time, but I do have three glorious months off to travel by sail. This summer, I am sailing with Bruce aboard Wild Matilda, a Ron Holland 43, and we plan to spend a month in the Abacos Islands and then sail on up from here to the Chesapeake Bay. Where we will stop between here and Annapolis, I could not tell you.
I could feel upset that I had wasted these last three weeks, but preparation can be the key to a successful voyage. There are those who say that if you are determined to wait until you are absolutely ready, you will never leave the dock, and there is some truth in that. You cannot prepare for every eventuality on a boat, but if you have got things working well and stocked up with food and spares, you can see the unexpected as serendipity rather than calamity.
Could there be a better metaphor for writing? I don't think so. Whenever I speak to groups of writers, I am always asked the process questions. What is your process? Do you outline or not? What software do you use? Do you use a computer or write longhand? I remember when I was going through that angst myself as I was trying to get published, and I read that one of my favorite writers, Rita Mae Brown wrote longhand with Mont Blanc fountain pens. I trundled off to the store to buy myself a Mount Blanc, convinced that it would be the magic that I needed -- that is, until I saw the price of a Mount Blanc fountain pen.
Just like sailing, for me writing takes a good deal of preparation. I am both an outliner and an organic writer. When I tried outlining a whole novel in detail, I found myself feeling constrained by the outline. Like a sailing itinerary that is too detailed, I was afraid to take those serendipitous side trips -- afraid to stray too far off my charted course. Today, I outline the whole book very roughly. I do know my final destination, but I allow myself the freedom to take off with those fanciful ideas that occur to me along the way. There are days when I'm working when these things pop into my head that usually come in the form of what-ifs. They are driving in a car and suddenly you ask yourself, what if they get into a wreck right now? Or you may think you know this character and then all of a sudden you ask what if he has a drinking problem or she is pregnant, and if you allow yourself the freedom to go with those whims off on those side trips, it will make for a better, richer book.
Then, of course, there is the research. You read and learn more than you will ever use -- just like we have more food on this boat than we could possibly eat in the next couple of months, but stocking up with details, like good ingredients, will lead to a spicier stew and a book that transports the reader to a place and time he or she has never visited. Bruce's eyes widened a bit when he saw the size of the duffel bag full of books I brought aboard, but those are my spares, there to jumpstart my idea engine when needed.
But research, like preparing for a voyage, can be so alluring, I have a tendency to keep at it longer than I need to. Like preparing to go sailing, the line between necessary prep and stalling is a fine one. When do we stop getting ready and start making excuses? I've done lots of both. This big thriller novel has taken me three and a half years now to get to the 100,000 word mark and it is time to write that last 20,000 words and finish the damn thing.
So now, at last, I am off the dock and on this voyage to see this book through to the end.