Prologue to a Prologue
02 October 2014 | Swedesboro, NJ
People look at me with a sideways tilt to their head, when I tell them I am planning to sell everything and sail around the world. Even people who know me well, can't understand my desire to undertake this adventure. People tell me I'm crazy, it's dangerous, they would go crazy being cooped up in a sailboat... ect. Basically, they can't comprehend where the desire to sail across oceans was fostered, considering I'm known as a farm girl. I ride horses, milk goats, raise chickens and live and breathe the farm life.
All my previous rantings about the peacefulness, serenity, feeling of freedom I have when aboard a sailboat, doesn't truly explain how the desire for this lifestyle was born. A few years of sailing as a child, sailing regattas as a young adult, does not necessarily breed the desire to set sail around the world and spend one's life aboard a boat. There is, however, a deeper and more profound explanation of this desire, and I attribute it to genetics. While my husband is the son of a sailor, my roots go way beyond my parents, deep into the foundations my maternal grandfather.
My grandfather left Hampton Roads on December 16th, 1907. He sailed the oceans on 16 battleships, 4 destroyers, fought in wars, rescued survivors from sinking ships and encountered every corner of the Atlantic and Pacific from the deck of a ship. He once traveled for 14 months, non stop, across 46,000 miles of ocean, leaving his family and missing yet another birth of a child. While he was married and fathered 7 children, the sea was his true mistress and he weathered all of her temperaments and mood changes with love, respect, and a returned passion. Twenty-three years later, he retired on Deer Island, MA, and bore in his children, his love for the ocean.
I hold in my possession, the records, pictures, letters and every remaining documentation of his life. His story is truly incredible and I have taken on the project of writing a story about his life, and the life of my mother growing up on Deer Island. Their story will be testimony that my love the of sea and my desire to experience the adventures she promises, is not just a far-fetched dream, but a part of my family history and genetics. And as I look through the weathered and time worn pictures of my nautical family history, I hold in my hand a stiff and battered card with the name George Maynard and the date 1907 written on the back. This card accompanied George through his maritime career, his creed and solace to the dangerous life he chose.
The Sailor's Grave
Sleep on, thou mighty dead,
A glorious tomb they've found thee,
The broad, blue sky above the spread,
The boundless waters round thee,
No vulgar foot treads here,
No hand profane shall move thee,
But galiant fleets that proudly steer,
And warriors shout above thee.
My story will begin with my grandmother, his bride, and progress through his extraordinary childhood and how the two of them met. From there, a portrait will be painted of my mother's childhood, in which her adventures will be revealed and she will learn about the history of her father's experiences at sea. I have attached the Prologue to this story and someday soon, I hope to be able to share the entire tale in the upcoming novel, based on a true life story, "Dinners with Pa".
How does one begin to write a story about distant relatives? This responsibility came to me, or perhaps I came to it, eventually. When the time came, the events that aligned and pushed me to the task, I do believe were divine. They began, however, many years prior, when visiting my mother, she handed me an envelope containing pictures and documents from her father's past. As she handed me the envelope, she told me that someday, I had to write my grandfather's story.
I was the only child out of the 6 children in our family that had any interest in writing. While I had the stack of yellowed, ancient documents, faded black and white photos, and Naval logs and journals, that is all they were. I had no connection to the story. I had no knowledge of the treasure and history I held in my hands. In retrospect, I believe that my mother, having lived much of the story, didn't have perspective as to the magnitude of the incredible material or how amazing and inspiring the lives of her parents were. I had never met my grandfather, as he passed away years before I was born. His wife, my grandmother, Philomene Maynard, I had the pleasure of getting to know. When she passed at the age of 103, I knew not what I know now. Had I known the treasures her memories held, the struggles she overcame in her lifetime, our relationship would have been greatly different.
As a child, I viewed her as a strict grandmother that made me eat my oatmeal every morning. She was up before the light touched the horizon, baking bread from scratch and religiously doing her calisthenics. By the time I was up and out of bed, the aroma of the freshly baked bread had already infused the air, and she sat silently on the couch, Rosary beads in hand, reciting her Hail Mary's for what sins, I hadn't a clue. She seemed timeless, sinless and beyond reproach of a mere mortal grandchild such as myself. Her strong French accent and strict routines made her seem out of context with the rest of our family.
My grandmother came to visit for long stretches. When she visited, I could expect that she would sew me a new nightgown out of slightly rough, fabric, with straight lines and having no conforming fit. If I were to come down with a cough, which she immediately declared was croup, I was sure to have a brown bag cut and plastered to my chest with gobs of Vix Vapor rub, despite my protests and tears. And if I or my brothers became loud and unruly in the house, we could be expected to be chased into the yard, followed by her verbal wrath and the threat of a beating with a wooden spoon. Yet once we were contrite and allowed back into the house, we were sure to be greeted with a fresh berry or rhubarb pie, the fruit which she had picked and prepared herself, nestled in a mouthwatering, buttery crust.
Those memories were of the farm years, years of being raised on a hundred acres in upstate New York. Fields of vegetables, farm animals and fruit trees yielded the bounty that my grandmother was accustomed to, from years of frugal living where gleaning from the fields and farms was a way of life, not a luxury. Then, the farm years abruptly ended as brothers and sisters grew up and departed the large farm and my father took a job transfer to the South. What was left of my family was transplanted to North Carolina, and left my mother, father and I on a few acres of land just outside of Charlotte. As was customary, my grandmother followed and spent her stints of time with us, but in a much different setting. By this time, I was high school age and I became increasing aware that the time I had with my grandmother had to be growing short. At 93 years of age, she still walked a mile every morning, and started her day with her calisthenics and Rosary prayers. No longer did she have the fruit of the farm to freeze, can, and bake into pies. She seemed a bit lost and out of sorts during her visits and less intrigued with life in the suburbs. She began following me around outside, on our small farmette, where I was still able to have a couple of horses, sheep and chickens on our cramped 4 acres of land. Then one day, to my surprise, she told me, "I want to ride the 'orse." Her still thick French accent removed the H's from all her words. I quickly did the math and figured if she was 90 years old, that meant she grew up in the late 1800's, early 1900's. How was it even possible she didn't know how to ride a horse? I was sure she didn't grow up with motorized vehicles. She was adamant, however, that she had never ridden on a horse's back and it was a dream of hers.
My mother wasn't home on the specific day of her request, but I was quite sure my mother would not be pleased about me giving my grandmother her first horse ride at 93 years of age. Her persistence finally won me over, swayed by the argument that at 93, what did she really have to lose? I reluctantly agreed and threw a Western saddle on the quietest and gentlest mare my family had ever owned. I knew without a doubt that Punky would take care of grandma and if there was a safe scenario for undertaking this venture, Punky was my surest bet. While when I picture my grandmother, a don't get a visual image of her smiling, I do remember the smile on her face that day as she mounted the steps to the barn loft. I sent her up the stairs and stood the horse securely so my grandmother could climb abreast and easily sit astride the quiet mare. She mounted nimbly as the extensive exercises she did every morning allowed her more flexibility than women half her age. Once seated, she grasped the saddle horn with delight and ordered, "Let's go!"
Grandma wanted to ride by herself and was a little indignant about being led around. I did have some common sense and while it appeared I was not holding the reins, I stayed close enough to grab them should Punky decide to be contrary. She even prodded me into letting her trot around a little, which made me smile when I looked back at her and saw the wrinkled and weathered face of my ancient grandmother, reflecting the look of a young child on her first pony ride. It was all good, fun and games, until my mother drove into the driveway and I heard her car door slam as she peered into the yard spotted our fun. She arrived immediately and halted us in our tracks. I looked at my grandmother and pointed at her defensively, "She made me do it, Mom!"
"What in God's name do you two think you're doing?"
"Mom, she's on Punky. How much safer can she be? I got her on from the stairs so she didn't have to climb and I'll get her off the same way."
I don't remember my grandmother's response to all this. I am quite sure that she sat there, with a grin on her face, letting the two of us duke it out. The story ended well as my grandmother took one more lap around the yard and then she dismounted safely onto the barn loft stairs. Punky was a model citizen and fulfilled a bucket list dream of my 93 year old grandmother. My grandma waited as I untacked the horse and put her back into her pasture and the two of us walked back toward the house through the back yard. Tucked in the back of the yard, against the neighboring forest, was my trampoline. And as the two of us passed by it, my grandmother paused and stopped me. "You know," she said with a devious grin, " I 'ave never been on a trampoline."
"Don't even think about it grandma. My mom let me off easy after this riding thing, but I know if she catches me helping you onto the trampoline, we are both in a LOT of trouble."
Had I the knowledge of my grandmother's life, then, I would have spent hours talking to her, writing down her memories, her stories, her precious thoughts and feelings. Now, as I open the pages of written memories from others, I feel a great pain that I didn't have a chance to talk to her and listen first hand to the account of her amazing life. She was present at my wedding, barely able to stand and watch as we cut the wedding cake, at 101 years of age. She was wilted and withered as I placed my first born baby boy in her arms, as she lay in the bed at the rest home at 103 years old. I remember the smoothness of my baby's skin next to her arms. Her skin was so translucent that I could see the colors of the blood in her veins. It was mind boggling to think of the difference between my baby's beginning, and my grandmother's. She had been born in the remote wilderness in a day and age when there was no technology of any kind, and my baby was born into a world her people could not imagine would ever exist. And when my mother tells the story of how she sat by her bedside on the day she passed away, I weep now, not for her, but for me. And through dying eyes, my grandmother saw the souls in the room of those who departed before her, my mother giving her permission to let go, and go be with Jesus and the ones you love. The ghosts of those that she knew and cherished, welcomed her into her next life and carry with them the secrets of their lives and adventures. And in my piles of postcards, newspaper clippings, letters and documents from the past, I will try and reconstruct the story line of their lives. Had I only known then what I know now, I could have used words directly from my grandmother's lips. All I have now are my mother's memories, the frail trail of documents and photos to try and reconstruct the past.
Memories, especially of those that lived in a time way before us, are a precious gift. As our world becomes more advanced, faster paced, more technologically oriented, the one aspect it can't improve on is remembering the past. To let those memories slip away with the ones we love, without recording or remembering them, is a terrible loss to our culture, our humanity, and to our future. It is my hope, that the story I am about to tell gives some justice to my relative's tales of courage and perseverance. As we wake up in a world of alarm clocks, convenience stores, and technological advancements in every aspect of our lives, it is important to remember and know our past. It breaks my heart that I am a victim of letting people in my life go, without hearing their stories firsthand. Had I only known what I know now, the story may have been better, but at the very least, it will be told.
When Bad Things Happen
11 September 2014 | Chesapeake Bay
Four days of adventure lay ahead for Dan and I, as we embarked on our Labor Day holiday weekend sailing trip. It was the first opportunity we had all summer to sail with just the two of us. The route we planned took us across the bay on the first evening to a quiet, little creek near Rock Hall. The second and third harbors would be Annapolis and Baltimore, where we would experience much busier city port activity. We would be averaging 20 miles a day and the weather forecast was favorable.
In the past, I have always written about the wonderful experiences we've had sailing. I've described the euphoric feeling the wind, sun and water have on the very fabric of our souls. I've written about the magical effect sailing has on the people around us, and how the cares of the world melt away when experiencing sailing. There is, however, the other side of the story. There can't be smooth sailing, all of the time. There can't be sunshine, gentle breezes and perfect harmony and agreement, 100% of the time.
The first evening we pulled in to find a spot to drop anchor in Swan Creek, we had a brisk wind carry us across the bay and arrived in 4 hours, and 3 tacks, to our destination. The sailing is the easy part. Maneuvering into a spot and dropping a secure anchor, is a little bit trickier. Fortunately, we've had quite a bit of experience anchoring, but one never knows what new obstacles you might encounter. For instance, the first night of our honeymoon in the BVI's 30 years ago, we chose to anchor in a harbor whose steep volcanic sides made it virtually impossible to secure an anchor in 30 knot winds. We spent all night, drifting, resetting the anchor, and desperately trying to get the anchor to stick so that we might get a few hours sleep. This anchorage, was not nearly as challenging, and we motored in between several other sailboats, dropped the hook, and in a matter of minutes, felt it take purchase and hold fast. The situation around us, however, revealed noise and activity within a stone's throw of our cockpit's sanctuary.
On one side of us, was a 40 some foot boat, well equipped with all the gadgets, bells and whistles for comfortable cruising. The middle-aged couple on the boat, seemed experienced and comfortable, however the dog they also brought along as a passenger, took his duty of guarding the vessel, way too seriously. It was a small, poodle-like yappy thing, and the couple didn't find it offensive or annoying when the dog barked at everything that moved, beyond his boat. Trust me when I say, there was a lot of activity in the harbor that evening, from paddle boarders, passing fishing boats, and a variety of other aquatic traffic. Not once, did I hear a, "shhhhh, be quiet, stop barking," from these people. They simply let the little bugger voice his opinion that any movement within his eyesight range, was reason to raise the alarm.
Okay, so a little barking is annoying, but doesn't really hurt anyone; not like smoke. The boat upwind of us, a few yards on the opposite side of the boat from the yapping dog, fired up their grill. What they used to fuel their grill, I will never know, but the billowing, dark, funnel of fumes, found their way into our cockpit. Dan says, smoke follows beauty, so one of us must be gorgeous. As we struggled to light our grill and cook our evening meal, we were accompanied by smoke from our neighbor's grill, which to say the least, put a dark cloud over our happy hour, literally.
The sunset was spectacular, and despite the barking and smokiness, our grilled sausage and potatoes were exquisite. Finally, the barking sentry went to bed, the wind shifted, and the ember's of the neighboring grill died down and became less toxic. True to a sailing timetable, we settled in for the night, just after sunset. There was just one problem. The wind had died and not a breath of wind funneled through the cabin despite the wind sock we installed above the forward hatch. It was humid, hot and sticky. The stars were brilliant and the air was a bit cooler and more refreshing in the cockpit, so I got the grand idea so sleep up on deck, under the stars. Exhausted from the day, I grabbed a pillow, a sheet, and lay down on the vinyl deck cushion, wearing a short, thin, nightie. I fell asleep immediately, noting that Dan had adopted the same plan and had crashed on the other bench. It was probably 2 or 3 in the morning when I awoke the first time and tried to roll over. I had pulled the sheet over top of me, and had been sleeping, skin against the cushion. Wow! Who would have though skin and damp vinyl have such adhesive qualities. I tried to roll over to sleep on my back, but 90% of my body was glued to the cushion. Painfully, I ripped off several layers of epidermis trying to roll over. Afterwards, I peaked over at Dan and noticed he had cocooned himself with the sheet, thereby making no skin contact with the cushion. Thank you sweetheart for the warning. I flipped over onto my back and tucked the sheet underneath me.
Apparently, I am a restless sleeper. The sheet somehow slid from underneath me, and when I awoke in another hour and tried to roll back over to my stomach, I found the other side of my body now glued to the cushions. With great consternation, I peeled myself once again from the powerful grip of the cushions and actually wondered if my tan was removed in the process. I lost that much skin. When I looked over to see what position Dan was in, and if he was still safely wrapped in comfort, he was gone. That's right, disappeared and nowhere in sight. As I felt the part of the sheet wadded on top of me, I realized it was soaking wet with dew. My guess was Dan had fled the cockpit to drier and less sticky conditions; I was correct and found him a few minutes later, sound asleep in the V birth.
Ah, the V birth. It is not a roomy area in a 30ft boat and is lined with a shelf that protrudes around both sides of the sleeping area. Trying to shove my body next to Dan without waking him was impossible, so I wrestled over him and wedged myself between him and the bulkhead. This process was neither delicate nor graceful, and I kicked and kneed him several times in the process. Sorry honey (secretly, I felt he might have deserved some of this after abandoning me in the cockpit). After successfully burrowing into my spot, I raised my knee to sleep with my leg against the wall of the birth, and kneecap and shelf collided violently. In the dark, I misjudged the height of the shelf and proceeded to painfully bash my knee. As I lay there groaning, in the heat and stifling air, skin burning and knee cap throbbing, I knew that our future boat was going to have to have a queen sized birth.
Next morning, we motored out of the harbor as the sun peered over the horizon, welcoming us to the glorious new day. We had our breakfast and morning tea, and were ready for the next leg of our adventure. We cleared the marker around the point and were ready to put the sails up for the 20 mile leg to Annapolis. I couldn't wait to get there for happy hour and sit on the dock, drinking a Pain Killer, my favorite beverage. The wind was building, a strong 15 to 20 knots. We rounded the buoy and headed Dove upwind to put up the sails. I have to flashback before I continue this part of the tale for some background information about our sail.
Dan is a planner, a thinker and a mastermind in many ways. He is always thinking ahead to our future voyage around the world, and in his infinite wisdom, decided we needed to be able to repair our own sails. Since he can rebuild any diesel engine from scratch, repair any part of a boat, it made sense to me that he wanted to buy a heavy duty sewing machine and learn to repair sails. Dan researched machines and found a used one on Ebay, and it seemed perfect for him to undertake the craft of sail repair. The machine arrived, it was a black monster. I saw evil, just looking at it and Dan spent the entire winter finding parts for it because it did not work. Dan can fix most anything given enough time, and by spring he was ready to try sewing a new UV protective strip to our jib. It would be his first project and a test of his self taught sewing skills, straight from Youtube videos.
To say that sewing a sail is difficult would be to say Mount Everest is a tough hill to climb. It took no less than 5 people at a time to feed the sail through the machine and stitch that unwieldy piece of material. It was a nightmare, with lots of cursing, swearing and sweating. People kept abandoning us and we spend many evenings recruiting new victims until the project was finished. However, each time we pulled the machine out, moved all the living room furniture, and spread the sail out the length of two rooms, Dan's stitching got better. There was a significant learning curve and finally, we had a complete line of new protective cloth lining the sail. The purpose of the strip, is when the sail is rolled up and left on the front of the boat, the sun will only shine on it, and not damage the sail.
As we motored out and headed into the wind, I happened to glance up at the jib, so proud of our first sail sewing feat. The sail was furled tightly against the forestay, and I smiled proudly at our handiwork. One small problem, as I stared at the sail, before pulling it out, only I couldn't see the strip. "Dan", I yelled back to him as he concentrated on avoiding other boats, steering into oncoming wakes, and keeping us in the channel. "Shouldn't I be able to see our new UV strip?"
"What the heck are you talking about?" he said, not really concerned. "Of course you should be able to see it."
"Well," I said, cocking my head and looking from a different angle, "It looks a lot like the rest of the sail."
Dan strode forward, abandoning the helm, and walked up for a closer look. "Mother *&^#%$%@^, son of *&^&^, and a few other expletives later, we discovered that the strip was indeed on the wrong side of the sail. When the sail rolled up, the strip lay where no sunshine would ever see it. Dan claimed that he put the strip on the same side we had taken the old one off, but something had gone wrong. The good news? We know how to do it now. Second time will surely be a charm.
The wind was amazing, the sky sunny and despite a rough evening and disappointing start, the rest of the day promised wonderful things. We raised the mainsail, rolled out the jib and started to fly. The boat danced across the water, promising to get us to Annapolis well in time for happy hour. After a brief sail across the channel, we needed to come about and change tack. Well rehearsed in this drill, I knew exactly what to do and prepared the windward sheet, winch handle in hand. Dan gave the order, "Coming about," and released the jib. She flew across the deck and came to grinding halt half way across. The jib line caught on the hatch cover that had been inadvertently left open when we left the harbor. I sprang to action and launched myself forward to release the tangle. The sheet was thrashing wildly in the strong wind but I knew what needed to be done. Dan heard me scream in pain, as the force of the wind had such a tight hold on the jib, that when I used my hands to try and pull the sheet up and over the hatch, it pulled me forward violently. The sail was free, however, and floated over the other side of the boat and I bounded back to the cockpit, limping, bloody, but I hauled the jib in tight and tied it to the cleat.
"What did you do to yourself?" Dan asked, looking at the huge strip of skin missing from my shin.
"It was the spaceship!" I blurted out, not knowing what else to say.
"Spaceship, what the hell are you talking about?"
A sliver disk, screwed to the deck, with small holes all around it, resembling a miniature UFO, was the culprit. I described the fixture to Dan, who promptly explained it was a vent cover for the head. Whatever the heck it was, when I was pulled forward by the force of the tangled lines, my shin grazed the metal object and it sheared a strip of skin off my shin. It really hurt.
The rest of our voyage we had other small incidents that were not entirely pleasant, like rain squalls, reckless motorboats driving dangerously close to us, and other anxious moments. I could probably write 3 or 4 more paragraphs about them. But you know what? Other than the scab on my shin, when I think about our 4 days of sailing, I only remember the good things. When I came up with the concept of writing about the negative aspects of sailing, I really didn't think I would have enough material for one post. As you can see, I had plenty of material, but none of it was in my mind until I really thought about it. And when anyone asks me how my Labor Day sail was, I answer with complete and utter sincerity, "Fantastic! Absolutely loved it."
The moral of this story? There is no bad day sailing.
And Then There Was Peace
20 August 2014 | Chesapeake Bay
This past summer has been both fantastic and exhausting. July started with a 7 day trip riding coast to coast across the country of Scotland. Riding through bogs and across mountain passes was an incredible experience, where we thoroughly enjoyed the people, cuisine and history of the Scottish Highlands. As Dan and I rode our sturdy Highland ponies along the beaches, we looked longingly out to sea at the passing boats and imagined a day when we would be sailing the magical shores.
One day home, then I was back aboard a plane, traveling another three hour time zone jump. I spent a week in California and then drove horses and kids 10 hours to Oregon for our national vaulting competition. By the time I drove the horses back to California, and boarded a plane back to New Jersey, I had spent 27 days traveling. Gruelling does not begin to describe the majority of these days away from home, as it was either spent riding for 8 hours a day across challenging terrain, or feeding, coaching and supervising a dozen kids. The last two weeks of this marathon was spent without my sailmate. Without him I seemed lost and uneasy, as if a large piece of me was missing
Even after arriving home, it was weeks before we were reunited with the Dove. She sat idly, bobbing in her berth, surely upset at the parade of passing boats that did not include her. When we finally did arrive to free her from her lines and let her sprint along the banks of the Chesapeake, her decks were overflowing with bodies. The question, "When are we going sailing," is the first thing family and friends ask when they see us. It is only natural for us to include as many people as possible on our weekend visits, as we love to share our lives and adventures.
Our first outing in far too long, included a crew of guests, Philip and Shelby, our son and daughter in law, as well as some family friends. Dan and I settled down quickly as he navigated and gave orders to his makeshift crew, while I ensured that everyone had a beverage and comfortable place to sit. The wind filled in and bodies lined the rails, toes dipping into the waves dancing along the hull. Our cruise to nowhere was perfect: wind, air temperature, and voice of Jimmy Buffet melting into a perfect afternoon. Earlier this summer, Philip had revealed to me during one of our sailing outings, that Dan and I were going to be grandparents. Shelby is expecting her first baby, and the son of a son of a sailor was announced on the sea. Now, the silhouette of Shelby, and the rising mound of our future little sailor, lined the rail with a row of smiling and content faces.
Contentment is a great description of how it feels to sail, but there is a greater prevailing feature that dominates the sailing atmosphere. I believe the best description of it is peace. When motor boats power by, the smoke curling from their stinky bilges, heavy hulls pounding against the waves as if they are slapping the water in front of them into submission, their angry noises as they plow past reinforce the aura of peace, even as their invading noises fade. The beauty of sailing as my husband often states, is not where you are going. With sailing, you are already there. The quiet sounds of the waves lapping gently across the bow, the tinkling of halyards, and the ruffling of full sails, is one of the most peaceful mixture of sounds on the planet. When you watch the faces of our guests, you can sense the contentment and peace, reinforced by the smiles and laughter.
This particular voyage ended with the promise of a perfect sunset. We all disembarked from the Dove and made our way to the end of the dock, regretful that the day had to end, but looking forward to the beauty of its final moments. The back wall at the end of the dock faced the sunset, and we hoisted one another onto the four foot wooden wall, and lined ourselves up to watch the quickly departing sun. A few boats bobbed in the water between us and the path of the setting sun, colors swirling and melting into the horizon. The sun, a giant ball of orange, cast a bright path along the water, and sent diamonds of light sparkling on every ripple of water. The group sat in relative silence, fascinated by the unfolding drama of color and light. It was a perfect end to a perfect day, and peace and contentment were ours to hold on to, if only until the light faded and we filed back to our cars, sad the day had come to an end.
Finally back on my floating home, after more than a month away, it began to dawn on me why I am so at peace when I am on the Dove. The most magical part, is that no matter what life has thrown at me, what problems and concerns are dwelling in my mind, I have total and complete release from these concerns once the sails are up and the wind is sweeping us away. At home, from the moment I awake to those long moments before I am able to sleep, troubles and negative thoughts invade my mind. I try and listen to my mother's advice and think positively, put negative thoughts out of my mind the moment they enter, but I have not mastered that skill. I can come up with new and imaginative ways to complicate problems, dream up worst case scenarios, and dwell on issues that should have been laid to rest long ago. It is a sickness really, and sailing is my cure. Dan and I plan on spending a rare 4 day weekend over Labor Day, enjoying time alone aboard the Dove. I am sure I will have insights and adventures to share, but until then, may you find peace, contentment, and beautiful sunsets.
The True Test
30 June 2014
It has been a while since I have had the opportunity to write a blog post about sailing. Summer is the heat of battle for me in the equestrian vaulting world. One would think that having a boat and sailing is the farthest thing from my mind, when I spend 10 hours a day outside lounging horses and coaching vaulters. In truth, however, it is during these times that my craving for future sailing adventures are at their height.
Most of the people who know Dan and I, know us in the context of our land lives. We have horses, play polo, ride, manage our farm, and boats and oceans are not even mentioned in the course of our normal routines. Most of our friends and relatives who contemplate the adventure we are choosing to embark upon, have the same thought process. One, you two are going to go crazy being alone together that long, and two, you are going to miss all this. For most people, I would agree. The solitude of being alone together would end many relationships, and most people who have led fairly normal lives could not contemplate living aboard a boat. While Dan and I are not disillusioned about the difficulties we will face, we do have strong convictions that this is our destiny and the rewards of our adventures will far outweigh the negative moments.
While we have not had extended times out at sea together, the longer voyages we have had, bode well for our sailing compatability. The first trial by fire, was our two week honeymoon aboard a 40ft. Hunter in the Virgin Islands. At this point in our lives, we only had a long distant relationship to judge our suitability for one another and had never spent two weeks together, alone, period. The entire two weeks in the Islands, that particular June, met us with 30 knots of relentless winds for the duration of our honeymoon voyage. The wind was so strong, that each night, we threatened to drag anchor and spent sleepless shifts watching and waiting for signs that our boat was shifting from her evening perch. The challenges were great and through the heavy winds, rough seas and even a sudden and violent storm, our wits remained, our communication was fluid and our trust in one another did not waiver.
Through the past 27 years of marriage, we have had several voyages aboard the Dove, one of them being a 10 day passage through the inland waterway from New Bern, NC to Bowley’s Quarters in MD. It was during this passage that we tested the process of spending lengthy hours alone, on a boat, in a solitary environment. What most people don’t realize, is that being on the boat is not like being trapped in an apartment together. It may be about the same size on the inside, but when sitting in the cockpit of that boat, you feel as if you have the freedom of the entire universe at your fingertips.
We spent hours traveling at slow speeds up the narrow waterway, not encountering another boat or human being for days at a time. We couldn’t put the sails up, did not have the ocean waves playing alongside us, or the endless view of an ocean horizon teasing us forward, but every moment was still magical. We sat for hours, talking, or not talking. It really didn’t matter. We shared thoughts, had thoughts of our own, but there was never a listlessness or a remote feeling of boredom. Every sight, every sound, every breath of life around us, hiding from under the murky water, peeking from beneath a log or a protruding tree limb, piqued our curiosity and intrigue. There was an absolute feeling of peace and serenity in the quieter moments, and shared excitement in anything unique that popped up along the journey. We took delight in the rising and setting of the sun, the feel of the air, the ripples of the water and every aspect of living and breathing aboard our boat.
The serenity of the waterways was just one aspect of the journey. We also crossed large bodies of water where the seas became quite angry and we were buffeted by large waves, heavy wind, and the challenge of stormy conditions. While creature comforts were put behind us and the chill of the air and the constant battle to keep the boat sailing in heavy air became our focus, there was a thrill for both of us in this challenge, as well. There were difficult moments, ones in which our skills were challenged and there were even fearful thoughts creeping into our minds. But after enduring the rough weather, watching the clouds vanish, the seas unfurl and the gentler winds settling against our stern, the feeling of accomplishment was amazing.
After almost 8 hours of one such gale, the boat cruising on the remnants of the retiring storm, we looked in awe around us. The sun was setting and beginning to cast its colors on the slowing settling waves, and there was not one boat or sign of human life as far as our eyesight could stretch. We were approaching land and our evening harbor and the arrival of Captain’s Hour was gratefully met with kinder conditions. We snuggled against the cockpit cushions and raised our glasses to a good fight, tired but feeling very accomplished. Suddenly, the quiet sound of the water rushing against our hull was shattered by an intense blowing sound followed by a loud splash. This sound was replicated from every side of the boat. We jumped to our feet and steadied ourselves against the lifelines, searching for the source of the unexpected sound. We were greeted by a pod of dolphins, jumping, playing, broaching in vast numbers around our boat. We looked at each other, laughed, and hugged in the precious moment that we had been greeted by friends from the sea. They watched our trials, felt our fear, knew that we were new to their world, and were there to tell us, “job well done.” They danced and played in our wake as we traveled nearer to our destination. We watched in fascination, totally enraptured by the scene around us. Then, as silently as they arrived, the dolphins slipped away with the flick of their tales and final splash. Dan and I do believe in miracles and know that there are no coincidences. We take each special moment such as this, as signs, that we are meant to be part of that world.
We both agree that the diversity of sailing in all conditions is what makes the sailing life so appealing to us. We can appreciate the quiet moments, and we look forward to the challenges. It is unfathomable to us, others can’t image the diversity and unlimited potential that blue water cruising represents. Boredom, feeling trapped or cooped up, are not fears for us. Each moment, represents an opportunity for serenity, beauty, exposure to a vast universe, and an unbelievable feeling of freedom and adventure. And while we bide our time, continuing life with our friends, loved ones and animals, we cherish each moment. When the transition finally occurs from land to boat, we will look back with fond memories of all that we have done. We are grateful and blessed for all that we have been able to experience, but there will be no hesitation in proceeding with our next adventure. It is our hope that those who can’t imagine the new shift in our lives will come and visit our home on the sea, so that we may open their eyes and allow them to experience our next little piece of heaven.
Dove - Our Labor of Love
08 May 2014
Our sailboat, Dove, is not in the water yet. She is stranded like a helpless beached whale upon her land legs, her great blue underbelly exposed to the air, looking pale and vulnerable. It pains me to see her in this condition, knowing that she thrives most when the breezes are stiff and the waves slap playfully against her hull. I love to feel her dance beneath me, never faltering at the size of the waves she meets, as she spreads her giant white wings and races with the wind.
Dan is her kindred spirit, and when his hand is upon her wheel, the two of them are magical. I have yet to be frightened when we have encountered angry seas and heavy winds, even when we watch as other boats flee to the safety of the harbor. We spent two or three days of heavy air and rough seas on our 10-day trek up the coast last summer, where we did not see one other boat in the stretch of an eight hour day. There is a quiet, unspoken confidence that the Dove has the desire and determination to help us reach our goals, and protect us on even the roughest passage. While she is not quite big enough to live aboard and cross oceans, she is a true confidence builder in the interim.
Owning a boat, is much like raising a child. When people see you in public with your clean, well dressed, well mannered child, they smile and only see the bright side of the family. They wrap their mind around the current moment and that is the impression that sticks in their mind, calmness, harmony, a pleasant family environment. What they miss is the dirty child, needing a bath, not cleaning his room as told. They miss the squabbling at dinner time when the child does not eat his vegetables. They are not privy to the arguments about bedtime, homework, and cleaning the cat litter box.
Boats are much the same. They don’t have to eat their vegetables, or go to bed on time, but they do get dirty and need to be scrubbed. They don’t have to do homework, but they require lots of attention and they have many parts that wear down and need to be replaced. They need constant attention to both their insides and outsides which ranges from fixing leaky hatches, replacing engine parts, to polishing and protecting her grainy wood. I come up very short in being to help with much in the maintenance department. I am the anti-fixer and make a mess of almost anything I touch. I leave the mechanical stuff to Dan and leave my area of expertise, to cleaning. I can do that. I can clean.
Last weekend, we went to visit our Dove, perched upon her land legs. Dan got to work fixing and replacing some of her vital organs, and I got to work scrubbing her belly. You would think that would be an easy and un-botchable job , as I just professed, I can clean. I got my bottle of environmentally friendly cleaner, a scrub brush, and set to work, spraying, and scrubbing. I worked on small patches, and then those areas needed to be sprayed with water. Dan hooked a hose up to a nearby faucet so I could spray each area after my intense scrubbing. The first time I turned on the nozzle, I gave the round head a twist and the hose nearly leapt out of my hand with unexpectedly intense water pressure. The water shot about twenty feet in front of me and I grabbed the hose with both hands in horror, thankful I was not pointing the hose in a direction that sprayed anything important. I quickly turned the nozzle in the opposite direction and reduced the stream to a manageable spray and rinsed the section I just completed.
My secret weakness, or not so secret anymore, is that I am horribly dyslexic. Every time I grabbed the hose to wash a new section, I grappled with which direction to turn the nozzle. When I accidently turned it the wrong way, the violent spray would ricochet off the hull of the boat and soak me. When I got it right, a nice, gently manageable spray would greet me and I completed my rinsing without incident. After a few botched attempts, I got pretty cocky that I had mastered turning on and off the hose.
About half way through the job, Dan had just descended the boat ladder to get tools out of the trunk of the car. I was proud of my cleaning job thus far and was hoping Dan would compliment my hour and half of intense scrubbing. I would not be so vain as to call his attention to my project, as everything he does takes far more skill than any of my menial tasks. So, I scrubbed extra hard to get him to notice my efforts and sparkling hull, hoping he would turn from his task and take notice. I finished rinsing the section I had just worked on, and tossed the hose to the ground with a flick of confidence.
Big mistake. The nice round head of the evil hose struck the ground, and twisted slightly with the impact of the solid dirt. In an explosion of spraying water and flailing hose, the valve completely opened and with the violence of a raging snake, sprang to life. I had no idea what hit me from behind, all I knew is that I was being attacked by an unknown entity. I screamed and leapt to the side, as water doused me, but when I turned, there was nothing there. Again, I was wacked from behind and water continued to drench me. I squealed in horror and flung myself around again to come face to face with my monster. The hose from hell continued to writhe and I spun and jumped, trying to match its furious motion. Finally, after spinning, jumping and grabbing several times, my hands clutched its evil throat, and with both hands, I wrestled it into submission and squelched its flow.
Squatting, breathless, soaked and looking quite ridiculous as I throttled my demon, I slowly picked up my head. I cringed as I looked over in Dan’s direction. Dan was standing by the open trunk of the car, water dripping off his face and body, everything in the trunk clearly wet from the recent spray. I froze, waiting for the eruption of verbal lashings for soaking my husband and all his tools. I knew I deserved it and hung my head, feeling stupid, ashamed, and less than capable of even the easiest task.
Ever so slowly, Dan’s frown turned into a grin, and I took a huge sigh. Then, to my great relief, he erupted in laughter. He remained doubled over for a few seconds, obviously amused with my evil hose encounter. I stood up and composed myself, relieved that he had found humor even after being doused because of my stupidity. And that, is why I love this man so much. Not only is he strong, capable and reliable, but he finds humor even when I have my moments of ineptness, which are quite often. I make a lot of mistakes, and will make many in the future. But knowing I have a partner that can smile though it all, well, that is priceless.
So when you come and sail with us on our beautiful Dove, she will be shiny, clean, and in beautiful condition, but just like having a kid, we have labored and toiled to make her so beautiful and well behaved. And like a child, she is a labor of love and our pride and joy.
30 April 2014
Many people have asked me the question, "How do you decide on a boat to live aboard and sail around the world on?" This is a very complex decision as there are so many brands of boats to choose from and the possibilities are endless. But seeing as how Dan and I are not independently wealthy, and have to go the "used boat" routine, this narrows our options considerably. Of course, we would love to commission a brand new boat with all our dream features, but starting at $500,000, this is well beyond our budget. To complicate matters more, Dan and I have very different areas of focus when it comes to features we feel are important. His are related to performance and outstanding sailing features, and mine are more... let's say, related to creature comforts. After all, this boat will be my home for many years and I have to love where I live. This being said, here is how the typical boat shopping experience goes when Dan and I look at a prospective boat.
When we find a boat we would like to consider, we contact the boat broker and set up an appointment to see the boat. This search as taken us as far north as Rhode Island, as far south as Florida, and all the way across the country to San Diego and San Francisco. Dan will have done the initial research on the boat and will have selected the boat based on his approved list of potential brands. Once we arrive at the boat location, our brains are immediately pulled in two different directions as our focus is now, "what he sees" and "what she sees."
The moment our eyes spot our potential home on the ocean, Dan stops and stares at the lines of the boat. He notices features like the freeboard, how much room there is between the water and cockpit which effects stability and whether the cockpit will stay dry in rough seas. He looks at the shape of the keel to determine how much water will be required to get into and out of harbors, how stable the boat will be in rough water. He quickly assesses the bottom of the boat; has it been well maintained, is there any algae buildup or paint blistering. Meanwhile, the first thing that draws my attention, is the color of boat. Is she pretty? Does she have a good name because I am not sailing around the world in a boat with a goofy name.
Next, we board the boat and walk around the deck. Dan is immediately looking at features such as the anchor. Is it a manual anchor system of does it have hydraulics that raise and lower it with a push of a button? He checks rigging, sails, how well organized the lines are and do they all lead to the cockpit so the boat can be managed in heavy weather without having to go out on the deck. I immediately look for wood. Modern boats are made with fiberglass and have reduced the amount of teak on the deck. If there is a lot of teak, that means hours of maintenance keeping the wood shining and bright-looking. And more importantly, deck space. Is there space for me and my many girlfriends to lie unimpeded on the deck in the sun to work on tans?
The progression then proceeds to the cockpit. Experienced live-aboard people say that 80% of your time on board a boat is spent in the cockpit. Dan immediately sits behind the helm and gets a feel of the comfort level knowing he will spend long hours crossing oceans, seated behind this wheel; are the seats comfortable and how is the view of the boat from behind the helm. I look for the folding cockpit table. Since many of our meals will be spent eating from this area, is the table sufficient, does it have drink holders for happy hour? Bench cushions are a must, as I have to be able to lie across the benches comfortably to read, write and take in the amazing views we will encounter. While I am pondering the comfort of my naps, Dan is checking that the cockpit enclosure has a hard dodger, which will protect us from crashing rogue waves and allow him to stay dry in even the worst weather. My question to the boat broker is, "does this have removable screens for those buggy islands?" We could tarry in the cockpit for quite some time as Dan checks electronics, navigation systems and all the important systems aboard the boat, and I am usually the first to descend into the cabin of the boat, my element.
As I descend the steps into the cabin, my eyes first and foremost go toward the galley. As my feet hit the floor of the cabin, I dash directly to the galley area. How much cooking surface does the boat have, is there a fridge and a freezer, and what type of storage is there for all food needed for the 4-week crossings? I stand in the area, checking for secure handholds for when I need to cook when the boat is moving. Dan will arrive behind me a few minutes later, and the first place he ventures is the navigation station. All the important instruments like GPS, radios, gauges, autopilot, are located in this manly compartment. He parks himself in the chair behind the chart table and inspects each component with scrutiny.
When each of us have our fill of our gender related areas, Dan will head to his next destination, which would be the engine compartment. I have no idea what he looks for, but I imagine it is the cleanliness and maintenance of the engine, the make, model and how many hours of use it has seen. I travel directly to the salon, or area that contains the seats and table where we will be relaxing below and having some of our meals. I have to know that at least eight people can fit around the table as it has to accommodate a visit from my entire family. I notice the color of the cushions and what shape they are in and make a mental note if they are a hideous color that will need to be recovered. I look for cabinets to hold my books and photo albums as I never want to be anywhere I can't take my family with me, at least in photos. Dan will eventually pass through, pausing to look for two items, the liquor cabinet and maybe a flat screen t.v., which is usually on a wall or tucked into a cabinet.
Amazingly, we almost always arrive at the master cabin at the same time. Sleeping is one area of great importance to both of us. The bed must be large and comfortable, but then our focus once again departs in different directions. Dan is looking for fans, hatches for ventilation, head room when he sits up in bed. I am looking for how many compartments there are to store things like my riding boots, dress up clothes for awesome evenings on shore, and shoe space. And please let there be a good size mirror of course, because, I have seen the way I look after spending a day in the sun and wind and it is not pretty. I need to be able to fix up that mess with a descent mirror and some makeup. There has to be a makeup storage area in my bedroom.
Lastly, we venture to the other areas, like heads (bathrooms) and the guest sleeping areas. I immediately calculate how many places people can sleep on the boat so I know how many people we can have visit at once. Dan is more concerned with the "sea berth" the place he and I will nap when we are underway, between our shifts on watch.
After we have poked, prodded and inspected every element and satisfied our curiosity on what we deem is essential in a boat, we migrate back up to the cockpit and sit to talk. Somehow, we are drawn to sit close to one another in the spot we will be spending much time together. Mysteriously, the boat broker will make some brief comments and then leave us to reflect on what we have just seen. Having sold many boats, I am sure that the brokers instinctively realizes the importance of the moment when a couple who will be living aboard a boat, contemplate the reality, "Is this the boat we have been searching for? Is this the one, our future home?" We sit reflectively, imagining the two of us alone, aboard this vessel, with nothing but the ocean and each other as our friends and companions, and we look at one another. No words are necessary, just the comfort of the seats, the view of the deck before us, and the vibes the ship is sending. Is she safe, is she seaworthy, will she protect us at all costs? Is this the place we can both love and call home?
While both of us have loved features of the various boats we have looked at, there has not been the magical moment where we stare into one another's eyes and feel, "This is it. This is the one." When that moment does happen, we both will know and there will be no more searching. Until then, we are getting efficient at traveling and searching for our dream boat, and the process itself is exciting and fun. There is a dichotomy of feelings, however, for both of us I think. We love the journey and the process of finding our shared love, and once we do find her, our lives will change dramatically. We will transition from lookers to owners and the reality of selling everything we own and leaving friends and family behind will be set in motion. Such a bittersweet transition, but one we are prepared for and we hope to share with those we know and love. Most of all, we hope to be joined often by family and friends so they many share in our journey and adventures and the boat we will call home.