Where's Waldo Now?
04 July 2014 | Detour Village, Michigan's U. P.
JOLT! Draft of Aug 12, 2011
Jim Hawkins and Ellie Adams
This week we shipped our Baba 30 sailboat, Meta Fog, home to Lake Superior from whence we departed 10 seasons ago. We were still working then so could only cull out five weeks to start our adventure. That first season we got to Lake St. Clair before running out of time. Then, Jim had a series of mis-adventures of the heart including stents and by-pass surgery. The boat stayed on the hard that summer as we regained our confidence in life. The third season we made it to Quebec City on the St. Lawrence. And now we had a goal, Nova Scotia. The fourth season we visited the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence en route to Baddeck and the Bra D'Or Lakes of Cape Breton. They said that as long as we were so close we should cross to Newfoundland. So in our fifth season we did exactly that and fell in love with the place. We hauled the boat in Conception Bay for the winter. The sixth season, we sailed to Notre Dame Bay and left the boat at Lewisport. Then Ellie had her heart affair and we took another season off. After regaining our confidence yet again, we sailed first to Labrador, then down the west coast of Newfoundland to Port Aux Basques before pushing on to Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. Finally, in the ninth year, we delivered the boat to Annapolis for some much needed repairs.
It is an understatement to say that Newfoundland was a life adventure! But we felt done and ready to contemplate other sailing grounds. We settled on Cuba, optimistic that the new administration would finally do away with the travel ban. Consequently, the tenth year we splashed the boat and prepared her for the trip south. However, the night before departure, Ellie sustained a severe hand injury that eliminated sailing for some months. So we hauled again and returned home. In the interim it became clear Cuba was not possible as the travel ban, though modified in humanitarian ways, was not lifted for casual tourism.
Over the winter we came to a decision to return to Newfoundland. There would be Mexico friends awaiting us en route in Massachusetts if we could get there before they flew off to France. In the two weeks before we splashed Meta Fog one more time, three solid fronts passed off of the east coast, each providing 48 hours of 10-15 knot winds that would have carried us off shore from Cape May to Block Island or Cuttyhunk. But now the jet stream moved far north. Weak surface systems left us with nothing but light winds. We would not get to Massachusetts in time. Moreover, we were counting on this early push to get us east quickly, a necessity if we were to make Newfoundland before fall. Now we would take the coastal route up the New Jersey coast and on to Long Island Sound. This was not a wonderful prospect as the Sound in high season is the absolute antithesis of the "wilderness" cruising we loved so much in Newfoundland.
We motor-sailed up the Chesapeake, down Delaware Bay, and up the Jersey coast. Holding our breath, we limped into Atlantic Highlands as our transmission gave out. We were strangers in a strange land, but we quickly located a mechanic. Soon we learned that the transmission needed total rebuilding. Mack Boring did a great job. But 19 days went by until the gear was back in the boat. Whatever plans we had were pretty much blown up.
However, we had a lot of time for thinking of those plans. Suppose we keep going east. Maybe we could get to Newfoundland in a couple of seasons. Then maybe we would have two or three seasons possibly including a return trip to Labrador. At that point we would be 78 (!) needing yet a couple more seasons to get the boat back to the US.
One might think in a long winter of planning a return to Newfoundland that this set of facts might have become apparent to us. But this is how we do things. Push all the way to the wall and just before crashing into it we adapt. The sudden reality of the math calibrating our age hit us hard: First, the onset of the summer doldrums, then the 2 1/2 week transmission merry go 'round, and the realization that our grand plan had a flaw, to say the least. It is not as though this was the first message about getting older, but sailing adventures (including the 10 year odyssey that was supposed to be a simple rounding of Nova Scotia but turned into a complete circumnavigation of the Newfoundland Island with a side trip to Labrador) are a part, a large part, of our identity as a couple. Retirement from our professional lives was a snap compared to this.
Departing Atlantic Highlands, we negotiated Verrazano Narrows, anchored Meta Fog behind the Statue of Liberty, and hoped for wisdom. The whole array of possibilities then began to tumble out. We could turn this into a simple pleasure sail and go east as far as we could comfortably go, but we did not really want to do Long Island Sound. We had had a wonderful sail to Maine in 1990, all the way down east to Roque Island before heading to the Bahamas via the "ditch". But Maine is not the same now as then and not so inviting. We would still need to get across the Gulf of Maine and round Nova Scotia's Cape Sable, that is, if we could find 48 hours of proper wind to carry us there. Somehow, we could not find much allure in any of this now. And for sure we did not hanker for the Bahamas or another 1000 miles in the ICW to get there.
As one ages, the size of the world one operates in gets smaller, most obviously physically as one's physical powers diminish, but eventually in other ways too. The first wise thought to emerge was to bring Meta Fog back to Lake Superior. But we did not like that idea very much either. Even though sailing on the Lake is in many ways like Newfoundland, it is not the ocean. To return to Lake Superior was to take a step in the direction of a smaller sailing world. Since we are still more than capable of physically managing the boat in anything we have ever experienced, it was very hard to face a decision that would perhaps forever remove us from cruising on the ocean. These were depressingly bitter thoughts.
So we thought maybe we could haul the boat somewhere in Lake Ontario and take the winter to make some sort of a final decision whether to transit the Great Lakes back to the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior or roll the dice and make another run out the St. Lawrence even if that meant eventually having to sell the boat in Canada whenever we were truly no longer able to physically sail her. With that in mind, we headed up the Hudson River trying hard to enjoy the incredible beauty of the River despite near despondency over the spectacular turn of events. In Catskill, NY, we un-stepped the mast, tied it onboard, and prepared to head for the Erie Canal, thence to Oswego, NY. After re-stepping the mast, we would make the short sail to Rochester, NY, where we would haul out for the winter to complete the plan.
The summer had been hot and humid. We were a bit taken aback at how much "oomph" the unusually hot and bright sun took out of us. One thing about aging that is true for both of us, especially Ellie, is a greatly diminished tolerance for heat and humidity. The great dome of hot air that had been hovering over the Midwest was already creeping into NY with forecasts of 100+ degree days and comfort indexes forecast to reach up to 110! And we were thinking of plodding through the Canal in this heat with neither the bimini nor the dodger. On top of everything else, this was just too much. So what had seemed like a really good decision only a few days before now seemed like an almost impossible one.
Being away from friends and family had always been more difficult for Ellie. The adventure of our sailing had been the compensation. Now in the middle of our mental quagmire, the relative isolation became acute for both of us. Eventually we established a Skype contact with friends who understood the feelings that were consuming us.
Moreover, we did not exactly cherish the idea of sailing 1000 miles back through the Great Lakes anyway. Since the reality, we could now clearly see, is that we have only an unknown but finitely small number of sailing years left, we needed to not spend time where we did not really want to be. And really we only wanted to be in Newfoundland, an idea which now was burdened with deep skepticism, or in Lake Superior.
The rational mind reached an obvious conclusion--truck her home. The finality of this decision hit with a jolt. Waves of grief, sadness, loss, poured over us each time we faced the fact that a decade of looking east, of habitually scarfing up information on everything from hurricanes to health care facilities, of planning passages, of selecting anchorages and storm hide-a-ways; and the experience itself: the wonderfully generous Newfies, the grandiloquent beauty of the place--all this would be over. Our sailing world would be irretrievably smaller.
And all because we are older than we would like to think! The idea of giving up Newfoundland, giving up the ocean, was so very hard in itself, but as a metaphor for aging--our aging--it was, taken altogether, devastating. Of course, no one died, there is no major change in our health status. So our grief is not in that league. But the sense of loss remains palpable.
We were able to line up a boat transport company which, using Meta Fog as a back-haul, offered a reasonable price. We did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and figured shipping the boat would cost only about $2000 more than bringing her home on her own bottom. We took the deal. We will meet the truck, splash Meta Fog for the second time this summer, and spend the following weeks re-acquainting ourselves with the cool waters of Lake Superior.
Where's Waldo? July 4 2014
Where have we been since? Well, we have continued to try to figure out the question: How does aging, in particular our unique version of it, fit in with our love of sailing?
After splashing in Lake Superior, August of 2011, we sailed to Grand Marais, Minnesota. We met several old cruising friends there and had a wonderful homecoming, as it were. We thought we would go to Isle Royale and visit a few of our favorite spots on the Canadian shore of the Lake. But we discovered that our on board diesel heater was not working. We tried to find parts in Grand Marais, but only learned that the impulse pump, a part we used to transfer diesel fuel from the tank to the heater, are no longer in use or in production. Our heater installation effected almost thirty years before was utterly out of date. We needed a new solution. And we did not want to sail Lake Superior in the fall without it. Had we been younger, maybe we would have gone anyway. Was this the maturity of age or an age influenced increased wish for comfort? So with mixed feelings we returned to Bayfield and prepared to haul the boat.
Somewhere in the Fall we noticed that we were the only boat in the marina with jerry cans tied on the deck. The import of this fact only became apparent later as we slowly came to feel that we had lost the feeling of being at home in our home base! As time went on the feeling grew that we did not want to be here. So in 2012, we sailed east again finally hauling in Wilson, NY for the winter.
As Jim stepped on board after splashing in the Spring of 2013, a lifeline broke due to rust. A week later, we had new lifelines, but had not gone anywhere. However, the season began very pleasantly with a quiet sail across L. Ontario to Coburn in Canada. Then our ambivalence about our age hit us again. After two days of heartfelt discussions, we made what seemed like a final and rational decision: We would sail back to Lake Superior and just make it work.
Since we were just a short daysail from the southern entrance of the Trent-Severn Canal, we decided to take that path back home. The T-S passes through SE Ontario connecting with Georgian Bay in Lake Huron. It was a fun 12 day motor through the 40 some locks of the Canal. Then, despite days of wind on the nose, some fun sailing in the Bay and, finally, a week in the North Channel. We thought for sure we could make it back to Bayfield by mid-Sept. However, the winds were going to be against us all the way. We waited for a few days hoping for a change in the pattern. We even started up the St. Mary's River to the first stop where we waited out a NWgale for two days. Long range forecasts were not optimistic. We decided to haul a few miles back in Detour Village, MI and finish the return to Bayfield in 2014.
It is now July, 2014. Our kids and quite a few others think we are nuts, and we may well be, but we are headed east again! Once again, we believe we have made a good decision. We think we have finally found a way to dampen our ambivalences.