The flying fish of fate

2016 NC to RI - 813 milesA year ago today I met a delightful elderly woman on the train when I traveled from Wilmington DE to Wilmington NC on my way to help with a private yacht transit to East Greenrich RI, over 800 miles away. I had decided to sit next to Addie when I walked down the aisle in the train car. Some other passengers next to open seats had sprawled their belongings across the adjoining cushion, were absorbed in their electronic devices, or offered unfriendly facial expressions. Addie was different, though. Her head was up, bright black eyes welcoming, her expression open. That made my choice for me. I asked Addie where she was headed. She told me she was going back to North Carolina, where she was from. Her children and a 7-year-old granddaughter, were there, and she planned to stay for weeks. She hoped to bring the girl back to NYC for a month or so this summer, to show her a world outside of small-town southern life.
She told me she was 68-years-old, her first job was in a chicken processing plant when she was 18, and she had made her life in New York City as a nursing aide. Addie said she had been married once, but found it to too much trouble to try to please a man, so she vows to never marry again. Addie said she wanted to go back to live in NC, but kept her N Y residency and house because of the access to medical care.

I wondered aloud how fast our train was going, pulled up Google Maps, and showed Addie the blue dot that was us, speeding along at 85 MPH. The earth view map showed the terrain, and we could almost simultaneously see the swampland through the window and on the map as if from space. My elderly companion’s reaction told me she had not seen a map app before.

Feeling ready for some lunch, I pulled a small bag of shelled sunflower seeds from my daypack. I offered to share them with Addie, but she declined.

“I could really go for a bit of chocolate,” she said wistfully. I brightened and pulled out the little bag of foil-wrapped dark chocolate pieces that my shipmate Ann had given me as part of a kind farewell gift when I took a break from KALMAR NYCKEL for the yacht transit.

As we enjoyed the chocolate, Addie asked me the reason I was going her home state. I told her about the upcoming yacht transit, in which I would crew aboard a beautiful Passport 43 for over 800 miles, from Wilmington NC to East Greenwich RI.

“Aren’t you afraid of being out there on the ocean?” my companion asked.
“No, I love it out there!,” I replied. “Last fall I spent 11-½ days on the ocean, aboard a smaller boat, with just one other person. We took turns, called watches, five hours on, five hours off, around the clock.” Addie’s eyes widened. “And we saw a whale! And, of course, flying fish…” The elderly woman’s expression was incredulous.
“What?” she asked, “Fish that can fly?”
“Yes!” I answered. “They can fly for an amazingly long time, and their fins make an indescribable sound as they go.” I pulled up the fabulous BBC video, “flying fish hunt”, so Addie could see for herself. I enjoyed watching her expression as she watched the video, which was clearly a window into a world she had not imagined.

Addie asked how I had become a sailor, and I gave her the thumbnail sketch: fell in love with sailing at age 10, sailed often in my youth, had owned two boats in my youth, always wanted to sail tall ships. I told her that a year-and-a-half earlier, I completed the transition to a sailor’s life, that I had sacrificed everything to follow my lifelong dream. I had quit my horrible job, fledged my children, fixed up my house, gave away my belongings, sold the house at a loss, and went off to live my lifelong dream of sailing tall ships. Addie and I continued to enjoy each other’s company on the rest of our train ride together. My stop came too soon.

“Addie,” I said, “I’m afraid it’s time for me to go. But it has been wonderful talking with you and getting to know you. I wish you all the best, and hope you have a wonderful time with your family.”

“Well,” she replied, “You taught me something important.” I looked at her, questioning. “I decided I’m going to do what you did,” she announced. “I’m going to get rid of that house, move back to Carolina, and live where I want to live!” Her face beamed, and I’m sure that mine did, too. Addie gave me a sweet and gentle hug. I kissed her cheek lightly, wished her all the best, and smiled the entire way to the stop where I was to catch my bus for the next leg of my journey.

Since that day, I cannot see or think of flying fish without also thinking of Addie, and the expression on her face when she had decided to chase her own flying fish of fate, to sacrifice everything to bring her dream alive. Here’s to you, brave Addie! May you long enjoy your life with family in North Carolina.

Copyright 2017 by Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

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HEAVEN under tow USCG-approved bacon-chipotle stovetop granola bars

20170228_165310Although the 1,555 mile delivery of HEAVEN–a leaky, creaky, stinky, noisy, and unseaworthy Lagoon 42 catamaran–was greatly trying and a minor disaster, a few good things did come of it. Like the recipe for HEAVEN Under Tow USCG- Approved Bacon-Chipotle Stovetop Granola Bars.

So therrre I wuzzz*, aboard what amounted to a floating cocktail lounge, crewed by skipper Dave, Bob, Beth, and myself. It was Day 8 of the voyage. The day we lost the main sail, which is part of another story. Except for a few toasted almonds, the crew snack bag was empty. We had eaten the fresh and dried fruit, cookies, crackers, and granola bars that Dave and I had stocked while provisioning. This seemed to make Bob sad, and I like Bob, so, during my off watch I was determined to make something good out of whatever ingredients I could find.

The owners of the boat, a couple by the name Fearnow, are clearly not much into cooking. Their galley was poorly outfitted and meagerly stocked. No flour, no baking powder, no cocoa powder, few spices, and no sweetener but white sugar. However, they are apparently into oatmeal, because there were two cannisters of rolled oats. With that, I devised a recipe for skillet granola bars, made up with the limited ingredients found in the galley: rolled oats, eggs, sugar, the remaining nuts, and the cinnamon I had brought. Beth, Bob, and I had made a number of jokes about eating the piece of sargassum seaweed that Beth had plucked from the trampoline at the bow of the boat. So, just for fun, I also included a tiny piece of finely minced seaweed in the mix.

By the time I cut the bars and removed them from the pan, the cinnamon scent of the pan toasted treat filled the galley/saloon. I carried the plate down to Dave, who was working on his computer down in his cabin. The skipper looked up, clearly interested.
“What have you guys been doing?” Dave asked. “It smells great!”
“I made some skillet granola bars,” I replied. Dave gave me a suspictious look.
“Did you put seaweed in it?” he asked. I couldn’t lie, but I also couldn’t answer.
“Um…” I said.
“Then I’m not eating it!” our skipper proclaimed.
“It’s only a tiny-winy little pice, minced up fine, so you can’t even tell,” I offered.

The bars were cake-like, mildly sweet and cinnamon-y good. Bob seemed quite happy with them, and I was glad we had enough of the ingredients, except the nuts, to make more as needed. The next opportunity arose on the day the Coast Guard rescued us.  Unfortunately, the howling wind and rough sea made the voyage to safe harbor arduous and frigid. Bob, Beth and I took short turns at the helm, each relieving another when the helmsman was chilled.

20170302_112508As soon as I went off watch, I hung up my foulies and warmed up by making a second batch of the skillet granola bars. This time I left out the milk for a less cake-like product, and with Bob’s encouragement, increased the sugar. Okay, I doubled the sugar. After the Coast Guard had us safely delivered to Cobb’s marina, I brought out the skillet granola bars, still warm, and shared them with the Coasties, who gave their approval and quickly ate them up with pleasure.

Poor Bob was disappointed the granola bars had disappeared, and he gently hinted that he would like it if I made another batch there at the dock. “There is some cooked bacon in the reefer,” he suggested, implying that bacon skillet granola bars would be good. I took the hint, and decided to also add some chipotle powder from the boat’s stores.

US Customs arrived right about then, and that bacon-chipotle smell enticed one of the officers to have a taste. It seemed Dave’s suspicion about seaweed kept him from tasting the latest recipe, but Beth, Bob, and I found them delicious. You can, too, because here is the recipe:

HEAVEN Under Tow USCG-Approved Bacon-Chipotle Stovetop Granola Bars (AKA “Bob Bars”)

2 cups instant rolled oats
2 medium eggs
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of chopped nuts (optional)
1/4 cup oil
One speck of seaweed, minced (semi-optional)
1/8 tsp chipotle powder
5 strips of bacon, cooked, finely chopped (optional)

Mush all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Pour into hot, lightly oiled nonstick skillet. Lower heat and cook until it looks pretty good and smells yummy. Cut into squares and eat warm.

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How to recognize a pervert

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to determine who is a pervert.  I’m talking about the kind of perverts who sexually assault other people. They don’t come from any given ethnic or socioeconomic background and they rarely look like a creep. Indeed, the most successful perverts are masters at disguise and deceit.

These people are predators, who work hard to appear normal, and may be considered “pillars of the community.” They present such a façade that other people—potential victims and potential critics alike—cannot believe they would do this.

The pervert could look like a sweet old man with twinkly blue eyes, the kind one would expect to be a beloved grandfather. He is likely to be generally friendly, and extend courtesy or kindness to others—but that is a ruse, to throw off both the predator’s potential victim and those who might support the victim if she or he speaks up about the assault.

I know about this kind of evil person first-hand, through the sexual abuse I endured as a child. When I went into recovery in 1997, I learned that I was not alone, that it was not my fault, that these disgusting people molest anyone they can, and that they studiously position themselves for access to as many potential victims as possible. These perverts carefully scope out their prey and plan their assault with precision, so they can take advantage and strike when their target is most vulnerable.

Through years of recovery and reading, followed by being an active writer and speaker on the topic of childhood sexual abuse, I thought I had come to know the predator’s mind well enough to identify predatory behavior and avoid becoming a target again. But I was wrong.

I know that the common pedophile is skilled at confusing his potential victim with kindness, in order to disarm his prey—and to deflect off any blowback with, “I was just being nice.”  I thought that, as an aware adult, I would be able to discern good touch from bad touch, friendly person from creep. But I was wrong.

A seemingly kind old man, whom I met on a sailing weekend in 2011, gave me advice, helped me learn some new things, and otherwise displayed friendly behavior—which turned out to be the key to his plan. Rodney’s goal was to gain my trust so he could violate me.

This many years later, I recognize that part of the molester’s twisted pleasure comes from his ability to deceive his target into trusting him, the setting of his stage where he will act out his perversion. His deceitfulness itself is a turn on for him, a kind of one-sided foreplay. As is his ability to instantly turn from “nice guy” into pervert when the opportunity is at hand. He gets his rocks off by building trust that he can violate along with his victim’s bodily integrity. How deeply sick!

After I sustained an injury, the kind old man helped me find the urgent care facility and said he would stay to make sure I was OK. How kind! When I was finished there, Rodney* offered to take me to dinner because it was after 9 p.m. and we had not eaten. How thoughtful! We had a nice dinner and interesting conversation. How refreshing! After that, Rodney said he wanted to follow me home, to make sure I got home OK. Again, how thoughtful! Finally, arriving at my house around midnight, Rodney offered to help bring in my bags, since my injury caused me some difficulty with this. How helpful! This nice old man with twinkly blue eyes had been so kind to me that, I was thoroughly taken aback when I hugged him good-bye and he touched me in an inappropriate manner, committing a sexual assault.

I was exhausted, in pain and my guard was down, so I did not react strongly. Just as he had planned and expected. I stepped back and gave him a serious warning look, said, “You. Need. To. Leave. Now.” which sent Rodney on his way. Later, I told a friend that, “I wish I had slapped the hell out of him.”

In the following days, the old man perp kept trying to engage me by email, as if nothing had happened. I let days pass before I answered one of Rodney’s emails, including the warning, “I assure you that, should you ever again touch me in any inappropriate manner, you will wish you had not.” As I expected, he has not attempted to contact me since. Rodney didn’t even respond to the email I sent to notify him that I had provided in this post his 15 minutes of fame. Sexual predators are often bullies, who, when confronted, scuttle back into their dark holes. Temporarily. Until they spot another potential target.

This predator’s method of operation is that of the classic child molester, so I am certain that this “kind old man” has assaulted many other women and girls—and perhaps boys and men, too—and likely in much, much worse ways.

Some may wonder why I did not report Rodney’s sexual assault against me. I didn’t call the police because I well know that we live in a rape culture. As Clementine Ford noted in The Sydney Morning Herald, a rape culture is one in which “the impact and reality of sexual violence is minimised while the perpetrators of it are supported by a complex system built on flawed human beliefs, mythologies about gender, and good old fashioned misogyny.” We women, and girls, are expected to accept that sexual assault and rape are “just part of life,” that “boys will be boys,” that we somehow deserved to be assaulted or raped because we wore the wrong clothes, went to the wrong place, stayed out too late, or, whatever excuse can take the blame off the pervert. Our society will, as Ford noted, “bend over backwards to defend and diminish culpability of perpetrators, despite recognising the reality of their predatory and violent actions.”

Ford’s article points out that “someone who makes the choice to rape or sexually assault someone isn’t acting out of character – rather, they are expressing a central part of their character,” and with that thought in mind, I wish I had responded differently to “the kind old man’s” sexual assault against me. For the sake of Rodney’s past victims, and for that of his future targets, I do wish I had slapped the hell out of him.

© 2011, 2017 Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

*Rodney is the pervert’s real name. I use it to publicly call him out for his disgusting and perverted sexual predation.

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That time the Coast Guard rescued us

coasties and crewSo therrre I wuzzz*,  unaware of what would soon begin as I stood my 4 a.m.- 8 a.m. watch aboard a 42’ catamaran that was 24’ wide. Two fellow crew, our skipper and I were charged to deliver the boat from St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands to the owners in Annapolis, Maryland.

Our last glimpse of land had been seven days before, when Puerto Rico became a smudge of light that faded off our stern as I completed my evening watch at 8 p.m. Since then, we had made it through one crew member’s day of serious seasickness, my own sudden and brief surprise bout with mal de mer, and adjusted to life at sea, including this boat’s unusually loud creaks and groans as it bucked and whomped through the ocean waves.

By then we had learned that the privately owned former charter boat had a number of minor and moderate issues–most of which were little more than annoyance–but we didn’t yet know it had some serious problems, too. Our crew of four had quickly discovered that the boat lacks sufficient handholds, because it was a trial to make it across her wide spaces, or to even stand in the galley as the boat bumped and twisted over the 5-to-8-foot ocean waves. Due to the lurching, I needed to time my effort with the movements of the boat to climb onto my bunk.

We had learned that the hatches and port light in my cabin leaked. I had stowed my sea bag in the shower and later found it had been soaked by the leaking hatch. My sleeping bag had become damp from the leaking hatch over the bunk. I noticed a smear of silicone along the aft edge, which means the owners had tried to fix it, which means they knew it leaks. The fan in my bunk also didn’t work, so I had to dry my bag in the saloon. I had begun to bunk there, too, on wet days and nights, to avoid dampening my bag and gear again. Also, we found out that for the giant “patio roof” on the boat, there is little protection from rain, and, that there was no place to hang wet foul weather gear, either, and we had four sets of them.

We also knew that three of the four the heads (toilets) had faulty valves that let the wastewater return to the bowls, from which it would sometimes slosh out. Some of their hose connections also leaked into the boat.

On Day 4, a block on the traveler broke. In the middle of the night. In the rain. This meant our skipper, Dave, had to go atop the boat, in the dark, in the rain, waaaay out in the ocean, on a boat that lacks handholds, to rig safety lines that would allow us to keep control of the boom even if the other traveler block also failed. The rain had intensified while Dave readied to go up. It became a torrent while he climbed across the cabin top and onto the rooftop. The danger was due mostly to the lack of handholds on the boat; there was nothing to tie into or even hold onto. If he fell, he could be badly injured before falling into that immense sea. Of course, we would execute the Man Overboard maneuver, but a sailor in the water is instantly at great risk from hypothermia and difficult visibility in high seas.

As Dave’s spotter, all I could see were the bottoms of his feet and a couple of reflective patches on his gear. It was almost as nerve wracking for me as it was for him. About the time our skipper came down off the rooftop the rain had suddenly stopped.

On Day 7, as we had alternately motored and sailed according to the wind’s dictation, I was doused by sea water while down below. In a cabin, where it is supposed to be dry. We were about 250 miles off Savannah, Georgia when I went to the fore starboard berth. Just then, a wave hit the bulkhead and came through the fixed window as if it were open. I was suddenly soaked from the hip down, and seawater crept across a wide swath of the cabin sole. I proclaimed, “This is one leaky-ass boat!”

The morning of the first big disaster, on Day 8, the boat was sailing at about 7 knots on a starboard beam reach, under mostly cloudy skies, with wind from the south southeast at 12 knots. I was alone at the helm while my three mateys slept as the sky began to lighten. Just after 6 a.m., when we were about 150 miles offshore, I heard a faint pop, then watched, incredulous and helpless, as the sail quickly flitted down, dousing itself mostly into the sail bag along the boom. The main halyard parted about two feet below the masthead. I ran below to tell skipper Dave and he told me to wake Beth and Bob. I got to open their cabin door and yell “All hands on deck! All hands on deck!” and then tell them that the main had come down. The surprised and uncomprehending expressions on their faces were hilarious. I wish I had thought to video that.

Dave had no choice but to risk going forward and up to the patio roof again to pack the clew of the sail into the bag at the foot. Once safely back on deck, Dave also rigged an alternate lead from the jib clew which improved its trim and acted like a preventer. We sailed downwind on a run under the headsail only at about 5 knots in 12-knot wind on mild seas. Our course was 324, aiming us at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. During my off watch I devised a recipe for skillet granola bars, made up with the limited ingredients found in the galley: rolled oats, eggs, sugar, nuts, and the cinnamon I brought.

That night, just after my watch ended at 8 p.m., a huge wave broke over the boat and water poured in the latchless aft port hatch into the head. Bob used the last dry towel to clean it up. Shortly after this, I went to my bunk to sleep. About two hours later, I woke up as the bow plowed into a wave. I heard the sound of plastic Jerry cans zipping back and forth across the deck over my head, and water gushing into the shower in my berth. I thought I imagined a faint smell of diesel but I was wrong. One or more of the Jerry cans was leaking. The diesel fuel mixed with the seawater that poured into the port aft and forward heads. My berth smelled like diesel so I tried to sleep in the saloon. Even with the challenges we faced so far, I was unaware that on the following morning the scene would turn increasingly more urgent.

As I took my watch at 4 a.m. on day 9, we motored with the Genny in wind from the SSW at 25 knots while we bounced along at about 7.5 knots. I was wearing foul weather bibs and jacket because there was a lot of spray, and waves sometimes even crashed into the cockpit. The sky gradually lightened to reveal heavy clouds. The wind rose to 30-33 knots, so I called Dave up to help furl the jib.

Our little catamaran climbed waves higher than the boat as we motored against heavy seas, making little headway as we tried to cross the Gulf Stream. I was hungry when I came off watch, but conditions were too rough for cooking, so I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Beth and me, the other crew member who was awake and hungry.

Around 10:45 a.m. the skipper called a strategy meeting, because we were not making progress due to current, windage, or both. Our team agreed to partially unfurl jib and try higher RPMs. That made the boat bounce a bit more, but we were making headway and the autopilot was not blowing out like it had been. A couple of hours later, Bob was on watch when he pointed out several small black dolphins cavorting the big waves around our boat. It seemed to me they were a sign of hope in our deteriorating situation.

I took a decent nap before going back on watch. During that time the temperature dropped more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I put on my wool long johns and Gill base layer top on under my foulies. Wind speed had dropped and the waves were smaller, but we were still bouncing around. The Jerry cans were somewhat more secure since some of them had fallen into the trampoline between the two hulls. The improperly wired bilge pump alarm sounded off every 10 minutes or so with the volume of water we were taking on through the seriously leaky hatches.

So, therrre I wuzz, at the start of my evening watch, with wind from the South-Southeast at 21-23 knots. Big swells pushed on our port quarter. The boat speed was about 8 knots. All was well, despite loss of the mainsail. Less than 15 minutes later, the port engine suddenly quit and the engine alarm sounded.

I turned the engine off at the panel. Bob and Beth left their port aft berth and came topsides. They said the engine had made an awful grinding noise before it quit. Bob went in the engine hole to check it out and said it seemed the port sail drive failed.

With the wind SSW at 23 knots on relatively calm seas, we could motorsail at 7 knots on a beam reach under our single sail and single engine, but we could be in serious trouble when those ideal conditions changed, as they surely would.

Dinner was late that night, about 40 minutes after my night watch ended, so nearly 9 p.m. While we ate, the wind shifted to the nose (directly on the front of the boat). This caused the jib to flog, so Bob and I furled it. But without the jib’s stabilizing effect, the the autopilot couldn’t hold on. Instead, it let the boat spin around, so we had to hand steer, which takes a lot more energy. When I got off watch, we were about 35 miles from the mouth the Chesapeake Bay, moving at only 5 knots. I figured that meant we would get into the bay around dawn, and I expected to feel elated when the floating cocktail lounge of a boat was tied to a dock.

With waves breaking on the bow and leaking into my bunk, I tried to sleep in the saloon, but calls on the VHF radio intruded. I heard various bridge-to-bridge communication and the USCG weather advisory for thunderstorms. As I drifted to sleep I heard Dave quietly call a Pan-Pan, to notify the United States Coast Guard and vessels in the area of our state of urgency with no immediate danger. He gave them info about our boat, crew, and situation, so they would have it in advance in case our safety was in danger. Though I knew we were at risk, I figured there was nothing I could do about it by staying awake, and it was best that I try to rest when I could, so I would save energy for when the time came to rally.

I slept fitfully from about 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and woke to cold and rain. Since I was wide awake, and Bob was cold, I relieved him early so he could go to bed. Dave and I had to douse the Genny as we turned to head toward the entrance to the bay, because the wind was then too far forward. Again, I had to steer by hand since the autopilot couldn’t handle the pressure without the Genny. Steering was difficult as we motored through the blackness at about 3 knots in winds around 30 knots and gusts up to 40 knots, blowing almost on the nose. Any time the wind caught the starboard fore quarter, she swung left almost uncontrollably. We were closer to the Bay and Little Creek, but progress was slow. I hoped we could make it.

The rigorous conditions required that we shift from regular watches to relieving each other from the cold. I became chilled by about 4 a.m., so skipper Dave roused Bob and Beth. I nestled in my sleeping bag with hot tea in the saloon. The tipping point came about an hour later. The wind continued to howl and throw up spray. Bob was trying to steer, but with one engine out and no sail, we were only going in circles. Our options were to call for aid or blow southeast to Bermuda. Skipper Dave called Towboat US. They took about 40 minutes to decide whether they were coming. Around 5:30 a.m. they informed our skipper that the wind was too much for them and they could not help us. Dave called the United States Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, which he had previously informed of our situation, and soon they were on the way. I got out of my sleeping bag, slipped into my foulies and PFD, and went to my cabin. There I considered what few things I most needed to keep in case we had to abandon ship, and tucked into the pockets of my foul weather gear.

The pre-dawn sky lightened to a strange color green as we saw the lights from the USCG 45’ cutter coming toward us in the distance. I felt a mix of apprehension and relief, as I did not know what would happen, but felt I could trust our Coasties to keep us safe, even though a rescue is also humiliating to a sailor. Using a heaving line, the young Coasties sent over a bridle, which Bob attached to the two forward most cleats on our boat, one on the bow of each hull, to keep the boat pointed ahead for the tow. The Coasties let out the tow line a long way before cleating it off. Their boat was hardly more than a dot in the water ahead.

Unfortunately, the combination of howling wind, rough sea, and the 42’ catamaran’s great windage were almost too much for the 45’ USCG cutter, which was towing us at about 3.5 knots. The voyage to safe harbor was arduous and frigid. Our crew had to hand steer, which was chilling and exhausting in those conditions. The helmsman had to wrestle with the wheel to keep the boat in line with the tow rope, and deal with constant cold salt spray hitting him or her in the face so hard that it stung the cheeks and sent chilled fingers of water down the necks of our foul weather gear. Therefore, Bob, Beth and I took short turns at the helm, each relieving another when the helmsman was chilled.

Once I was off watch, I hung up my foulies and warmed up by making a second batch of the skillet granola bars. This time I left out the milk for a less cake-like product, and with Bob’s encouragement, increased the sugar. Okay, I doubled the sugar.

Once inside Little Creek, the Coasties had us shift lines so they could tie along side us to bring us to the dock at Cobb’s Marina, where skipper Dave had called ahead to make arrangements. The USCG conducted a safety inspection and completed the paperwork. I brought out the skillet granola bars, still warm, and shared them with the Coasties, gave their approval and quickly ate them up with pleasure. The catamaran travail continued the following day, but that is for another story.

* "So therrre I wuzzz" is the proper way to begin a true sea story. 


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To those who think they envy my life

“If you can’t handle pain you can’t be a sailor.” – Shay Seaborne

Off Cape Hatteras

Periodically, people tell me that they envy the life I lead, but those who think they envy the sailor’s life rarely want to live it. Rather, from a safe distance, they envy the romantic image, the idea of freedom in the beauty of nature.

The romatic dreamers don’t consider that nature can be the greatest foe, and that life in a small vessel in the immense ocean is inherently dangerous. Much less, do they consider the constant demands of life at sea: environmental fatigue, frequent lack of sleep, lack of customary hygiene, work in the wee hours, always on call, life in close quarters with and relying on others you may not even know, lack of privacy and space, working through heat, cold, wind, sun, rain, salt spray, sleeplessness, and sea sickness, enduring tedium, terror, frequently sore muscles, blisters, and bruises, and constantly striving to stave off the serious threat of dehydration.

The sailor’s life also lacks certainty; she often doesn’t know where she will be or even sleep in the weeks ahead. In addition, a sailor must haul around with her all that she owns, which means she may have to sleep with it in her bunk, or worry about where to leave it ashore.

Timeless moments of exhiliration and sheer joy wrapped in discomfort, pain, uncertainty, and danger, that is the real sailor’s life. Want it?

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The day I sailed a patio lounge chair

The day I sailed a patio lounge chair, six years ago, I was recovering from the flu and enjoying the unseasonably warm day by resting outdoors. I tried to nap in the sun, but the wind kept calling me to play. Ensconced in the patio lounge chair, I let the breeze take me to the river in my mind. I felt the gusts lifting the boat as she cut through gurgling water on a port tack across the wide Potomac. And I felt such joy! I vowed that “tomorrow, weather willing, I will go down to the dock, if only to sit aboard a gently rocking boat.”

Since I was a kid, I wanted “to run away and sail tall ships.” In more recent years my chant became, “I wish I could go off sailing.” About 10 years ago, when someone asked me if I wanted to run a political campaign or run for office, from out of my mouth flew, “Neither! I want to jump aboard a wooden ship, sail around the world, ride my bike through every port, and get paid to write about it.” I covered my mouth and wondered aloud, “Where did that come from?” and later realized it was my heart’s desire.

The lounge chair on my patio and my vivid imagination were my “boat,” my escape from reality. At the time, my reality was harsh. I was a single parent with two dependant children, sole signatory on a deeply underwater mortgage, owner of a home that needed constant repair, and an unemployed job-seeker for 10 months (with 16 weeks still ahead) when jobs disappeared during the Great Recession. In the next four years, the challenges I faced would change, but they did not become easier. Indeed, some of the new hardships would nearly break me.

When my unemployment ended after 14 months, it was with a job that became increasingly unsuitable as my employer faced numerous legal and personal challenges, and took out her frustration on me. She knew I was stuck between her hardness and the rock of an abysmal economy, and she took advantage of that to pile on the work and broaden her abuse.

During those years of dreadful challenges, I often said, “I want to walk out of this house, close the door behind me, and never come back.” I held fast to my sailing dream through the tumult of that period. I used photos of gorgeous schooners under sail as my computer desktop photo, said “yes” to every sailing opportunity I could (including the patio lounge chair), built a “Best Songs for Seafarers” folder of music on Spotify and listened to it constantly, planned a 2-week tall ship vacation in the Exumas, and kept reminding myself that one day I would leave that horrible job and awful commute forever.

Soon, I will fly to St. Thomas, board a private luxury yacht, and help sail the boat to the owners in Annapolis. If luck is with me, I will spend the summer crewing aboard a historic wooden ship. Or, with a different kind of luck, I might find another opportunity, which seems to happen one way or another.

Six years ago, My Whole New Life was “just a dream.” But it was a dream I kept alive, by feeding it bits of anything that would sustain it. Today my sailing life is a dream I have been living for 18 months, and My Old Life has diminished off the stern, the fading memory of a nightmare from long ago.

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Homeschooling as a UU Journey

Delivered August 8, 2004
at Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church, Burke, VA

Take a moment to think on a time, maybe not too long ago, when you were excited about learning something that interests you—perhaps a new hobby or a craft, a class here at AUUC, or even when you were reading a book you couldn’t put down. How did that feel, that unbridled enthusiasm, that thirst for knowledge and the joy of pursuing it?

Chances are you felt that way not because someone told you “it’s time to learn this, now,” but because at that moment, in that time and place, that knowledge resonated with some inner part of you that was ready to receive and absorb. And chances are, you came away feeling enriched, empowered, and energized.

Such wholehearted, unbridled education doesn’t often happen in an orchestrated setting, for no one—not even the learner—can predict when the soul’s ear will hear the call to learn.

Now imagine for a moment that you grew up always free to respond to your heart’s yearning for truth and knowledge, whenever you felt the spark of desire to learn. Imagine, too, that your educational experience affirmed your inherent worth and dignity, and helped you feel accepted for your unique personhood, as it fostered your acceptance of others. And what if all of your learning was guided by your conscience, and took place in a diverse, creative, collaborative, community setting where you had a say? How would your life be different now? How would you be different?

The scenario you just pictured is borne out in real lives, across the county. What you imagined is UU homeschooling.

Oh, yes, you know the stereotype of homeschoolers: ultra-conservative sorts, somber with religiosity, “sheltering” their children from the evils of “secular humanism” and, perhaps, beating and/or starving the children between Bible verse memorizations. But homeschooling’s diversity is reflected in the make up of our own statewide organization, The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. VaHomeschoolers’members hail from varied backgrounds, observe a wide variety of faiths, and utilize a broad spectrum of homeschool methods. Each has the opportunity to participate in the democratic process through an annual member survey and by voting in the board elections.

Although Unitarian Universalism supports and encourages diversity, many UU congregations have difficulty accepting homeschoolers among their members. Perhaps because of the assumption that we are “anti-school.” But choosing to take on the responsibility of educating our own children does not make us anti-school any more than one’s choosing not to visit a park makes a person against public parks. We realize that supporting the education of all children benefits the entire community and we can support public education even when homeschooling.

Home educators have a remarkable community, which offers tremendous support for those who dare step outside the entrenched social norm of institutional education. For instance, there are over 450 families on just one of several national UU homeschool e-mail lists. And our new AUUC homeschool group provides localized, face-to-face, real life support. Although we have met only a few times, this group is already creating a fellowship for liberal homeschoolers in the area.

The educational goals I had for my daughters were deeper than academic success. Although I was raised Unitarian Universalist, it was only after about 9 years of homeschooling that I was able to identify my homeschooling as a UU journey. Indeed, until I began to write this homily in 2004, I hadn’t paused to isolate the UU from the rest of our lives. But once I started thinking in that mode, I realized that UU principles were part of the essence of my family’s educational path and life, inextricable from the fabric of our days, as natural, desirable and necessary to our lives as water.

Homeschooling helped my family grow together, as we became increasingly respectful of ourselves and others, developed our compassion, found and spoke our truths, worked toward acceptance, developed conscience, participated in the larger community, and sharpened our environmental awareness and sense of social responsibility.

Homeschooling firmly anchored my family’s rhythms in the “shared meals, unstructured activities, intergenerational gatherings, [and] just hanging out” that, as David Whitford wrote in UU World, are essential to family life. Thanks to our educational choice, we have the luxury of much time together, and the ability to create what Steven Covey calls “a beautiful family culture.”

Many home educated children have grown up to fashion for themselves a handmade life, including or instead of college, creating their own definitions of success. One researcher wrote that homeschooled children have “the chance to think about who they would like to be and to work at becoming that person,” and that “they had found ways to resist” cultural pressures and “follow another, self-selected path.”

Most of today’s homeschoolers have experienced public school education firsthand, and their dissatisfaction with it probably plays a role in their choosing another experience for their children. But for many of us, homeschooling is also an extension of a parenting style that includes enjoying our children and wanting to be a major part of their educational experience. We love learning with them. Home education has also offered me an opportunity to re-educate myself, to follow my own path in the search for truth and meaning.

Often, we meet parents who are supportive of the idea of homeschooling, but who believe they could “never have the patience.” But I see how homeschooling has given me the opportunity to become a better mother. Parenting my children in this intensive way gives me extra incentive to develop my patience muscle, learn to use my “pause button,” and to lead the family forward in functionality—to be more loving, kind, forgiving, compassionate, peaceful and just. Rather than passively accepting the status quo, we are proactively using what we learn to form our own beliefs, define our own culture, and formulate our own ideas. Homeschooling has made our lives more meaningful.

By strongly connecting me to my children, homeschooling links me more vigorously to the larger world, inviting me to help make it a better place for my daughters. It encourages me to actively live my spiritual beliefs.

Brain research shows that human beings learn best through hands-on activities and one-to-one interaction. Homeschooling allows a great deal of both, every day. Children of UU homeschoolers are living in the real world, with connections to many kinds of people, involvement in the community, and practical, real-life experience. To my daughters, learning is a natural process and an inner urge. They are the driving force of their education, determining virtually everything they learn, including religion. My daughters’ UU RE is as inextricable from the rest of their education as the rest of their education is inextricable from life. UU principles are not just learned; they are experienced through hands-on encounters that are relative to their lives.

Collaboration is frequent among homeschoolers. We often pool resources, work cooperatively, and find creative solutions. We must construct whatever it is that fills our children’s needs: theatre troupes, French clubs, science fairs, sports teams, etc., and we model the innovative and cooperative spirit.

These group endeavors also provide true socialization, which I define as the ability to get along with people of differing ages and backgrounds. Homeschooled children are socialized not by other unsocialized people, but by their parents, who have the benefit of experience and a more advanced socialization. For over a decade, my children have closely watched how my friends and I support and nurture each other, how—homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike—we have handled our disagreements and misunderstandings, and the work that long-term friendships call for.

Being that we have to lobby our own cause, homeschoolers are also often politically active, and we include our children’s contributions, making them generally much more aware and involved citizens than their public- or private school counterparts. Last fall, my kids and I spent some time helping with three local political campaigns, and, being that the girls always accompany me in the booth on Election Day, they are well aware of the importance of voting.

Unitarian Universalist homeschooling is part of our commitment to living the tradition of a liberal democratic faith. We trust our inner voices, and the guiding spirit within our children. We affirm our children’s right to make decisions about their lives and education. We strongly believe that raising loving, peaceful, ethical people contributes to a just and loving culture. I smile when I picture the positive effect as increasing numbers of our homeschooled UU children grow up and draw upon their inner riches as they give generously to their communities—and to the world.

© 2004, Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

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Fingerprints on the land

Flowers that bloomed in my gardenRalph Waldo Emerson was right in his assertion that success includes, “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch…”

Last year as I winnowed my belongings when I downsized to “two bags and a smile,” I came across some papers and photos to return to my ex-husband. I dropped them off while he was at work, leaving them on the back stoop, for protection from sun and potential rain. This meant I had to walk through the backyard, which used to be my beautiful 1/4 acre permaculture garden, lush with fruit trees, cane fruits, berries, herbs, 10 raised vegetable beds, and laden with a diverse variety of perennial flowers. Sadly, little of it remains.

After our daughters and I moved out, my ex-husband cut down the Asian pear and one of the apple trees. He also removed the trellis with the hardy kiwi fruit, killed the passion vines, the huge wisteria that sheltered generations of robin nests, and nearly all of the flowers. He removed the clothesline, with its a trellis on one end, supporting a red climbing rose that is no longer. The sandbox is also gone. It had been full of perfect sandy clay loam soil after I turned it into a garden bed when the kids had outgrown the sand. The beds of bulbs and perennials are mowed down. The yard is nearly as empty as it was when we bought the house in 1991, the landscape hardly more than a plain of grass.

The morning after revisiting what was once my garden, I woke thinking about that piece of land and realized that while there I hadn’t even thought to take a picture of it in its current state. I wanted to remember it as the beautiful and magical place where pink cherry blossoms floated in a copper birdbath, tiny box turtles hatched, rabbits gave birth, robins multiplied, and children played among the flowers.

I also reflected on the great quantity of perennials I had given away in advance of moving. I hosted quite a few Subversive Garden Convergences, in which friends and total strangers took divisions of lilies, roses, daisies, echinacea, verbena, lily of the valley, hardy orchid, German- Dutch- and Japanese iris, columbine, winter jasmine, forsythia, daffodil, saffron crocus, and more! These are spread from Fredericksburg to West Virginia and all over northern Virginia. I remembered how those free perennial garden digs introduced gardeners to each other, preserved and propagated long loved plants, and even garnered me a few new friends.

I recalled that, as I had planted and tended the spacious yard, I saw evidence of its impact on local biodiversity. The rabbit population boomed, which brought hawks and owls to the neighborhood. Other birds came in, too, as well as snakes, turtles, dragonflies, butterflies, and bees and more beneficial insects.

I then thought of a garden I knew in my early years, owned and tended by a keeper named Dr. Culpepper. I remember him as an old man whose legs were slow and thick with elephantiasis, but who knew his flowers and talked about them as others speak of friends. Sometimes my mother would take us there to buy daffodils to share at church. I remember how I loved to explore the winding paths through his woods, and the delight of coming upon a patch of dahlias, camellias, kalmia, or other bright flowers. Dr. Culpepper had wanted his property to become a home for seniors after he died. It is that now, for low income elderly, and the name is Culpepper Garden. When my girls were little, I took them to Culpepper Garden one day, and found the old man’s fingerprints on the land. Out in the woods, away from the high rise building, the garden paths still wound, and the flowers bloomed as they had in my youth.

My ex-husband’s destruction of my garden was motivated by his need for simplicity, as well as to spite me and erase my mark on the property. But even in the barren lawn, I could see the outlines of the raised beds that I had carefully tended for 17 years, as I grew organic food to feed my family, so we could manage on one blue-collar paycheck. Interestingly, my ex had not mowed the alleyway behind the back fence, so it is grown rampant with day lilies, hibiscus, iris, and primrose. One of the dominant species in the alleyway is the elderberry that I planted from cuttings I made when the children were small. It seems that no matter how long I am gone from there, some fingerprint of mine will remain on that land.

A garden can be a metaphor for most things in life; we plant and tend, and time changes everything in the end. But we can keep the beautiful memories, can’t we?

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Star of wonder

A concept I came across in recovery from childhood abuse and trauma is that of going back to one’s childhood, to meet the child you were, and give her a gift with some words to go with it. Tell her the things that you wish she had known, that you wish someone, anyone, had told you back when you were suffering so deeply, silently, desperately, and alone.

Abused children often feel terribly alone, even if they have siblings who are also being terrorized by the people who are supposed to love and protect them the most. The experience of abuse is so profoundly personal and wounding that it makes the child feel like an alien on her own planet. As well, the family system and the system of our culture serve to further separate the child from the truth of her abuse experience and the harm it did her.

The abusive family culture’s prime directive is to perpetuate itself. It does not allow deviation. It prohibits the expression of the individual self, in thought, word, and need. The abusive family clearly prohibits the child from having her own feelings, her own needs, and even her own thoughts. She is relegated to a role that was assigned to her perhaps at birth, and maybe even before she was born. Her assigned role is designed to keep the system stable at all costs.

This cost is heaviest on the child but also on her parents and the society at large. Abusive families raise generations of children who are disconnected from their feelings, from being able to express themselves, or even to know what is going on within themselves. Often times the only example of emotion that expressed by their elders is anger, and very likely, rage. Rage that is often misplaced upon the children, taken out on their tender bodies and their impressionable minds.

When I recently found a little glow-in-the-dark star, I wished I could give it to the little girl I once was. I wanted to give her something she could hold onto through her whole life, that would give her strength and hope where none was to be seen. If I could take this glow-in-the-dark star back in time to a little girl who was maybe six years old, I would give it to her as a secret present. The good kind of secret, the kind that made her happy. Not the types of secrets that her family culture pressed upon her, the ones that were cruel.

I would show young me how the glow-in-the-dark star works. When exposed to light, even just a little bit, the star takes the light into itself and holds onto it tightly. When dark times come, the little star emits a light that shines into the world. This is the star’s own unique light, that it creates itself. It can create this light in part due to the light that it received from something else or someone else. Even in the briefest encounter with light, that star can draw the light into itself and use it to shine when the world goes dark.

I would tell that little girl who was me to keep the star in a safe place and to show it the light every day. To look at its light in the dark of every night, and remember that she, too, has a star of light inside her, a star of wonder. A star that has the amazing ability to take in light from any source and use it to reflect her own magical light back out into the world in the darkest nights and days of her life. I would tell her to always remember this even if she happened to lose the glow-in-the-dark star, or somebody mean took it or threw it away. I would tell her that the star inside her will never leave her, and nobody can ever touch it, hurt it, or make it stop doing what it was made to do. I would tell her that her star of wonder was made to shine its own unique light that gives something precious back to the world.

I would tell her, “Spend as much time as possible with nice people who are kind, and let them help you. Ask them to help you, because you deserve help and kindness. You know inside you the little voice that says ‘this is wrong!’ When somebody is mean to you, find somebody who kindles your star and ask them to help you.”

If I could go back in time, I would give that little girl the idea that she is special in her own way, has her own light to share with the world, and one day she would find that no matter what kinds of bad things happened in her life, her light would shine brighter and brighter, until it was a brilliant and fierce light of strength and kindness, compassion, justice, and integrity. It was always inside her and she just needs to remember.

If I could, I would give a glowing star of wonder to every child of earth.

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This ain’t no bro joke

A recently created meme on Facebook asks “If American women are outraged at Trump’s use of naughty words, who in the hell bought 80 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey?” This equates the choice to read erotica with deserving to be sexually assaulted.

Calling Donald Trump’s words “naughty” is a way to minimize the nature of the crime of sexual assault. Grabbing a woman’s genitals is no bro joke. It is not harmless fun, and it isn’t “locker room talk,” or “what men do,” or what women deserve. It is sexual assault. If you still can’t understand why American women are outraged by Trump’s behavior toward women, I will tell you.

We are outraged because we have been sexually assaulted by men who think they have a right to grab our pussies, feel our breasts, or squeeze our buttocks just because they have the urge.

We are outraged because our friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters have also been sexually assaulted by men who think they have the right to invade our bodies at whim and will.

We are outraged that Trump is a sexual predator who objectifies and degrades women and girls, and gets away with it because he is “a star.” We are outraged that so many seem to have little problem with that, and even minimize and justify it.

We are outraged because our “justice” system allows convicted sexual abusers and rapists like Brock Turner receive greatly reduced sentences because they are White, or athletes, and therefore a judge doesn’t want “a few minutes of pleasure” to ruin their lives, even though they ruined the lives of the people they violated in a most personal and damaging manner.

We are outraged because one in four American girls and one in seven American boys are sexually assaulted or raped before age 18.

We are outraged because one out of every six American women is subjected to rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

We are outraged because most of us will be sexually assaulted at least once in our lifetime.

We are outraged because an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes.

We are outraged that so many people, male and female, make light of sexual assault and rape and downplay the effect it has on the victims, when 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.

We are outraged because there is too little help for victims of sexual assault and rape. We are left to figure out for ourselves how to recover as best we can, or, most often, to suffer alone and in silence.

We are outraged because the dominant culture is a rape culture, which validates, promotes, and humorizes sexual abuse while condemning those who dare to speak up.

We are outraged because too many of us live in fear of being sexually assaulted or raped by strangers, and by the men we know.

We are outraged that the suffering of sexual assault and rape victims is minimized and dismissed.

We are outraged that after we are assaulted or raped, the police and courts treat us as if *we* are the criminals.

We are outraged that our friends and family members ask us questions like “Why did you let him…?”

We are outraged that the shame of sexual violence is too often put on the victim, instead of the criminal.

We are outraged because sexual assault and rape are such pervasive crimes that if they were caused by a virus, they would be considered an epidemic, and yet, few resources are dedicated to stopping these crimes or helping victims recover.

We are outraged that the lives of too many of our sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, friends, and colleagues are forever affected by violent crimes rooted in the concept that males have the privilege to do whatever harm they want to female bodies.

We are outraged that the world is nearly silent regarding male-on-male rape, and too many of our brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, friends, and colleagues are forever affected by violent crimes rooted in the concept that males have the privilege to do whatever harm they want to other male bodies.

We are outraged by the pervasiveness of the attitude that women are here for men to grab and rape as they please, and if we don’t like it we are humorless and frigid bitches. These men expect us to hush up and let them take whatever they want from us, even our own bodies. A lot of people–male and female–are currently defending that mentality, which means they agree that women should submit to male sexual assaults and pretend it’s alright.

We are outraged because too many people try to dismiss our outrage by characterizing it as unreasonable when outrage is the only reasonable response.

We are outraged that men are largely silent on the issue of sexual assault and rape. They decline to speak up about objectification of women and continue to laugh at bro jokes, cartoons, and stories that degrade us.

I have seen some men speak against this, but not many. Apparently, a lot of them are silent because it’s more important to avoid breaking the bro love by calling a rapist a rapist and a sexual predator a sexual predator than to acknowledge the real and horrific impact of rape and other sexual predation. As our fathers, brothers, sons, friends, and coworkers, men should be outraged, too.


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