A Year at Sea
My typically wound-up husband completely relaxes the moment he steps aboard a sail boat. Unfortunately, to witness this miraculous transformation I must be there. Sailing for him is freedom and excitement. Sailing for me is boredom and occasionally fear of death. We’ve been together for twenty-seven years. He’s been sailing in and around Boston Harbor for ten. I say, “When we got married, you didn’t sail.” He says, “I plan on spending my retirement on a boat. With you, or without you.” He wants a bouncy boating bunny who hops on and off the dock with the energy of a pixie. He’s got a good-humored, slightly lumpy, middle-aged mom with wonky knees who’s idea of fun day does not include possible decapitation by accidental jibe.
Let me dispel the notion of sailing as a relaxing day on the water. The main must be hoisted and the jib must be trimmed, usually by the first mate, which would be me. I don’t hate it. I just don’t get it. It’s boring and it takes so long. I could drive to Salem in an hour. By boat? Five. The only escape from the cramped cockpit above is the cramped cabin below which, while under sail, will challenge even the strongest stomach. The only way off the boat is to swim but that's not an option. The shore is miles and miles away and New England water is so cold. I swear I once saw an iceberg in Boston Harbor in July. Even worse, it’s so complicated. There are currents, hanks, thrums, squalls, runs, furnows, and beams. OK, I made up some of those terms but it goes to illustrate my point. My husband insists I’ll enjoy it more if I understand the basics, so he eagerly and patiently instructs me. One breezy day on Buzzard’s Bay with Martha’s Vineyard in view, my hat blew into the water. My husband seized the opportunity to demonstrate “man-overboard drills,” or in this case, “hat-overboard drills.” For almost an hour we executed figure eights and quick turns to attempt to save my hat from drowning. Long story short my chapeau was lost to the briny deep.
This is no passing fancy. For my husband, sailing is a deep and meaningful passion. The winds, as they say, will not shift. My husband and sailing are now a package deal. He could easily sail for ten hours or more. For four hours I can be moderately happy. At five I get a bit testy. At six I will push him off the boat, use the radio to call, “Mayday,” and summon the Coast Guard to fish him out and rescue me.
There have been terrifying moments, like the time in the British Virgin Islands with two kids, eight foot swells and forty-knot gusts. My husband was forced to trust me at the wheel when the jib sheet tangled. I turned port when I should have turned starboard and the boat spun so violently that every allegedly unbreakable dish flew across the cabin below and smashed into the wall. I spent two days prying splintered glass from teak planks while muttering curses.
To be fair, it’s not all bad. Off the coast of Maine, a pod of dolphins raced alongside our boat. I’ve looked into the soulful black eyes of harbor seals. An eagle with a wriggling fish in its talons flew so low over the cockpit that I could practically hear the beat of its wings. One of my life’s perfect moments was on a mooring ball in Edgartown Harbor. The water was still as glass and reflected a million stars. As shore lights twinkled, I sipped a cocktail while my husband nibbled on my ear, and I thought, I could get used to this. In my blissful, slightly inebriated state, I whispered to him, “Let’s live on a boat for a year.”
Lord knows I won’t attempt a trans-Atlantic passage, but I can see us docked somewhere warm while I drink rum from a coconut. I don't know if we’ll ever embark upon this one-year journey but my willingness to consider it may be enough. In the mean time, we both make concessions. I have learned that with enough pillows, sleeping in a berth can be cozy. He has learned that if he wants to avoid the fate of my hat he should keep our outings below my five-hour threshold.
Now, even when I stub my toe on a rail or pump the “head,” who’s aroma is a delightful melange of sewage and chemicals, I grin and bear it because it’s really not about sailing. It’s about supporting my partner so he can live out his dream just as he, in the past, has supported me in living out mine.
We’re still years away from when planning such a trip is even a possibility but, despite my misgivings, I won’t change my mind. When there’s no house, kids or carpools, and we only need care for each other, being together on a sail boat might be wonderful. Maybe when the lines (don’t call them ropes!) that now tether us to shore are cast off, sailing into the sunset for destinations unknown could just be the adventure of our lives.