Heart like a feather

When my kids were little, I took them to visit a special museum exhibition on ancient Egypt. We learned was that Egyptians believed that only those, who have a heart that weighs no more than a feather, can enter heaven. That means this is what those people strove for, lightheartedness. To have a light heart means one looks on the bright side, laughs easily, forgives others, behaves with integrity, and atones for mistakes.
I have long said that heaven and hell are right here on earth; they are our choices for what we make of our lives. Now I combine this with what the ancient Egyptians believed, and the result is that those, whose hearts weigh no more than a feather–because they look on the bright side, laugh easily, forgive others, behave with integrity, and atone for mistakes–can live in heaven right here on earth.
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The great give-away

In some Native American cultures, people perform a ceremony called a “give-away” as a public recognition of a new personal status–such as through a wedding, or the naming of a baby–or to express thanks for blessings received.

Last year, I gave away virtually everything I owned. This included furniture, kitchenware, clothing, books, music, artwork, decorative items, photos, jewelry, and mementos. Letting go of belongings was difficult at first, but became easier as I felt the increase in lightness that accompanied the cutting loose.

As I went through the stages of unburdening myself of material goods, I recognized that most of the value of our belongings is in our emotional attachment to them. That was part of the reason I gave away most of my stuff, rather than throwing it or selling it. The Great Give-Away took longer than if I had had a yard sale, and did not bring me any cash, but I found much satisfaction in the ability to be more generous than I could otherwise be, giving nice things to friends–and strangers–who wanted and could use them.

Sometimes, these generous gifts strengthened an existing friendship, if mostly by offering the impetus to get together and hang out. When I gave my small collection of quirky foreign film DVDs to my dear friend, Beckie, she cried with gratitude. Other times, my give-aways spawned new friendships, or re-connected me to  something that had been important. For instance, one stranger, who picked up my herbs and spices, is the new director of a local non-prof that had helped me out years ago, and for which I had volunteered in a serious manner. She accepted my invitation to come in and chat for a bit, during which I told her how much the organization’s work had meant to me. Also, we discovered that she sees daily the four pieces of artwork I had made and donated to the organization. When I told her I was the artist, she gasped, teared up, and got goosebumps, because she loves them and finds them so meaningful, and even more so, having met me and heard how the organization had greatly helped me in years past. The new director later invited me to speak at the organization, and after that event, to a regional group of such organizations.

Another recipient turned out to be a homeschool mom that I had helped years ago. Though we had not been in touch since, she still remembered and appreciated my kindness in taking time to allay her fears. I was gratified to hear her update on her homeschooling and her children’s progress.

One person was so grateful for the things I gave away–some long curtain rods for her new home, as well as some perennial divisions from my garden–that she insisted on repaying me for my kindness by coming to my house with her cleaning supplies. That is how a total stranger came to spend most of a day washing windows and scrubbing the floors on her hands and knees, so my house would be ready to put on the market.

These encounters were enriching in ways that money and material goods cannot reach, and affirmed that for me, the connections with people are the most valuable of things. My great give-away also proclaimed my new personal status, that of a traveler whose belongings are light enough to take her into a whole new life, a childhood dream come to life.

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When pinched for time, slow down

Free range organic eggs from the farm market.

I was running late for an appointment in another state, and realized there was no way I could make it on time. Not even close. Instead of stressing and trying to get there as fast as possible but still failing by at least half an hour, I decided to slow down. Slow down instead of speed up.

My route brought me to a farm market that I had passed many times in the dark when it was closed. This was the first time I had seen it open, so I pulled over. Lured by the signs proclaiming southern peaches, local tomatoes, eggs, asparagus, mushrooms, and honey, I thought I would stop and buy something to bring to my friend Jean, who is letting me stay at her house for a few days while I’m ashore. I wandered about the little store, appreciating the beautiful fresh produce and local goods, and settling on a dozen local free range organic eggs, and some of the most beautiful peaches I have seen in years.

Striking up a conversation with the cashier, I was sold on tasting the ruby red tomatoes that sell for $2.99 a pound. The saleswoman told me that they were the best tomatoes ever, and she described how they were grown by a local man who carefully starts his plants in January in a greenhouse on warming beds and provides the gorgeous globes starting in April. The woman said that her customers come from miles around to buy these tomatoes, which are expensive but evidently worth the cost. She assured me that I hadn’t lived until I had tasted one of these tomatoes, so I decided to buy one to eat right there. She rang it up and asked me if I wanted her salt shaker. “Sea salt,” she noted, “so it’s even better.” I accepted and I stood at the counter, shaking sea salt on to each bite of that luscious, perfect tomato.

We chatted as I ate. She told me about working in the farm stand greenhouse all winter long, and asked me about life aboard my ship. The woman informed me she had seen a reality TV program about people living aboard yachts, and they show how there’s no privacy and lots of drama. I said we have much less drama, but no more privacy.

Having eaten the red fruit, I told the woman that she was right; it was the most luscious best tomato ever. I collected my eggs and peaches and went happily on my way, glad that when I was pinched for time I decided to slow down instead of speed up.

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Picking all the flowers

Birthday bouquet of all the flowers blooming in the garden at My Palace of Peace

Picking flowers can be a radical act.

My former husband would “forget” my birthday and other occasions, long before the formal divorce process began. About 10 years ago, a friend, who knew this about my then husband, asked me what I was going to do for my upcoming birthday. I said that I was going to “pick every rose in the garden, put them in vases, jars, and glasses, and fill the house with their beauty and scent.” My friend laughed with delight and approval.

I did do just that. Since we had 1/4 acre, which I had turned into a great and lush garden with a variety of healthy rose bushes, the rose bouquets were bountiful and their mix of scents intoxicating. My husband came home from work and acted like he had not noticed the bounty of flowers. Nor did he acknowledge my birthday in any way.

I was used to the man’s passive-aggressive behavior and knew from where it came. This was the man whose mother sent me birthday cards addressed to “MR. [HIS FULL NAME]’S (‘WIFE’)” just like that, all caps, quote marks, and parentheses. Like I did not have my own name, and as if I was his wife only by title, perhaps a sort of pretend wife. This because she was angry that I had taken back my own last name after seven years of using his. (My last name is awesome and I love it, while his is bland and never felt like mine.) The passive-aggressive ex-mother-in-law did this to goad me about my personal choice, an attempt to darken the anniversary of the day of my birth with her bitter cloud, but I had become immune to that, too. My policy was to immediately throw such envelopes in the trash, unopened.

Picking all the flowers was, in a way, a radical act, a milestone. It meant that I had finally accepted the reality of my situation, and decided that I would be kind and generous to myself instead of waiting and hoping for crumbs from my husband. The lovely sprays of roses stood in defiance against what tried to demean and undermine me as a person.

The following year, I did the same thing, picking all the roses, for the same reasons, and with the same non-response from the man I married. That fall, I signed a contract on a house of my own, leaped back into the workforce after 17 years of absence. I also convinced my husband to sign a separation agreement that included I would have sole physical custody of the kids, and my girls and I moved out.

I called the 1970’s brick townhouse My Palace of Peace. The soil there was sandy clay loam, a gardener’s dream, and the perennial divisions I transplanted from the heavy clay at the marital home flourished. When my birthday came around, I picked some of every kind of flower blooming in my yard. There were Dutch iris from my dear friend Jill, hardy orchids from my cousin Elena, pink cabbage roses from my grandma’s garden, yellow evening primroses from my former neighbor Evelyn, crimson mini-roses from my old friend Barb, lavender mallows I had grown from seed, and sprigs of lavender from “My Little Provence,” a row of lavender shrubs I had planted in the back yard.

It felt decadent and rewarding to pick all of them, to give them to myself, and recognize that they had grown thanks to my own hand. Adding to that richness was that these had grown in my own place, My Palace of Peace, that I established for the benefit of my children, a reasonably quiet and safe place to finish raising them.

I raised kids, flowers, and food at My Palace of Peace for eight years, and in that time I became practiced at meeting my own needs, fulfilling my own desires, and making myself happy. Last September, I sold the house because it had served its purpose and I no longer needed it. Though I had given away many plants and divisions, the yard was still rich with flowers for the new family to enjoy. I wish them the ability to create their own kind of beauty and love in their home.

This is my first year without a garden of some kind since I was a teen. Being a nomad has its disadvantages. Without a garden, I could not cut flowers for myself this year. I miss my garden, so on my birthday I spent some time in the garden of my dear friend, who is hosting me for a while as I play landlubber between sailing gigs.

My friend is a teacher, with a busy life and three boys at home, but still made time to stop on her way from work, so she could bring me a lovely bouquet of flowers. Gail didn’t know the story I wrote here, but she knew I would love the alstromeria. I do. They mean more than she can know.

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Leap into the void

During my transition from single-parent-homeowner-commuter-office-worker to itinerant sailor, I often said that the process was a kind of suicide, a killing off of an old life, of what no longer served me, of the person I had been. Like one preparing for suicide, I lost interest in my life, gave away my belongings, let go of attachment to things and people and places and situations that were no longer positive.

timesheetI was earning income through the one job I had found after 1.5 years of job seeking, which included 14 months of unemployment. I had also renewed my job search shortly after the federal raid on that employer’s home and business. Yet, three years later, I was still “chained to a desk” in a basement doing work I didn’t like, for an employer that was ​mean, ungrateful, devious, and involved in some illegal activities.

I knew the stats on older job seekers, on those without a college degree, and those who had been unemployed for more than six months. I didn’t just know the stats; I experienced them first hand. I had applied for a few hundred jobs over the course of five years, and tapped out my network, too. In that time, I had seen the number of job listings fall off sharply, the pay level decline and qualifications rise. Jobs for which I had qualified seven years ago now required a B.A. and they paid $10,000 less than they did back then. I recognized that this Engineered Austerity Economy pushed The Great American Dream out of my reach. My options were to keep making a 75-minute commute to spend most of my time in an isolated and ​increasingly ​abusive work environment in order to pay down the underwater mortgage on a house I no longer needed, or blow off everything conventional and do what my heart desired. Though the thought was terrifying, the latter was my only true choice; to stay was to die a little every day, and it made my life a misery. There was a lot of fear involved in making the choice to live and to have a life, and some danger, too. However, I did not base my decision on fear, but facts, and on listening to my inner voice.

I walked away from that horrible job in the most professional manner possible, fully aware that I would have to sacrifice everything — all I had spent 30 years trying to build — in order to move into My Whole New Life.

Leukemia Cup Regatta 2015A year later, I completed the arduous process to shut-down my life. I gave away nearly all of my belongings, fledged my young adult children, fixed up my house, and turned it over to new owners. All I had left were a car and a few bags of belongings. Also, a whole new self, the person I had yearned to be, but was prevented by the traps of convention and my unhappy attempts at a conventional life.

I leaped empty-handed into the void, having to trust that I could fly, and I found that I can. Most people do not need to take such leaps, but many can find smaller hops that make their lives turn for the better. What about you?


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The 4th grade lesson for all

With an increase in hateful behavior in America, apparently inspired by presidential candidate vitriol known as “the Drumpf Effect,” perhaps it is time to change our schools’ curriculum in response, and bring back the exercise that my 4th grade teacher used as an object lesson in the ugliness of prejudice.
My teacher told her students that science had just proven that people with brown eyes are superior and people with other color eyes are inferior. She said we brown-eyeds are smarter, more attractive, and had better character. As she went on extolling the virtues of brown eyed people over those with green, blue, or hazel eyes, I felt myself puffing up and looking with a sense of disdain toward my previously equal classmates.
I saw my classmates deflating around me, but that did not matter much. To a kid with low self esteem it was more important to enjoy the elevated feeling of this sense of entitlement.
After a short while the teacher stopped and asked us to look around the room at our classmates. Those of us with brown eyes — the majority — sat tall, feeling smug, superior, and full of ourselves. The minority of children with eyes of a “wrong” color looked sad, ashamed, hurt, and degraded. Our teacher said “this is how prejudice feels.”
She went on to inform us that what she had first said was a lie. Of course, there was no scientific basis for brown eyed people to be superior in any way. “That was propaganda,” she told us. “Lies designed to make us hate other people for no good reason.”
I don’t remember my 4th grade teacher’s name, but I have never forgotten how ashamed I felt at my readiness to consider myself superior for no good reason, to hurtfully look down upon my classmates based on nothing but a quickly spoken lie.
Now I understand that prejudice — the willingness to believe one has inherent superiority — actually stems from low self esteem. It is a way to feel better about oneself, at others’ expense.
This is a 4th grade lesson for all.

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Hands empty, heart full

heartcookieMy mother taught me to never show up empty handed, so I stopped at the Whole Foods in Silver Spring to pick up something to take to a Servas event. Parking was scarce on that Sunday afternoon in late January., which meant that I had to park about a block away and limp my way to the store, since I had a recently fractured toe. On the way to park my car down the road I saw a homeless woman standing next to the stop sign at the edge of the parking lot. Everybody was ignoring her, probably out of discomfort.

In the store I looked at fresh fruit, hummus, salsa, and other delicious foods as I tried to decide which to take to the potluck. But the image of the homeless woman would not leave my mind, so I decided to spend that money on something for her instead. Then I spied the cart with the tea cookies, some of which were decorated- or cut in heart shapes for Valentine’s Day. That was it! I chose one of each of the Valentines cookies and went through the checkout.

The homeless woman was still on her corner when I came by again. We greeted each other with a smile and when our eyes met, I saw that she was a kind person, worthy of being one of my friends. I said “I’m homeless too, but I wanted to give you these Valentines cookies so that you know that you are loved.” Her eyes and face registered surprise and gratitude, and we hugged each other, blessed each other, and wished each other a good day. As I walked away, I noticed the cars in the queue at the stop sign were pulling up to give money to the woman. It seemed my small act of kindness had broken the spell of indifference in onlookers, and I hobbled back to my car, beaming.

The pot-luck host welcomed me warmly, though I had nothing in my hands. Her home offered long and bounteous tables of food, more than the guests could eat. I met many wonderful fellow travelers and travel hosts, made new connections, learned a lot, felt encouraged, and had a highly enjoyable time. At the end, the host was asking her guests to take away the leftovers, including a box of heart shaped cookies. But in this case, my hands were empty, but my heart was full.

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Night of the speed demon

P1150462During my 11-½ day epic offshore sailing voyage of over 1,700 miles, I began to gauge my performance as crew on whether it woke skipper Matt Rutherford from sleep on his 5-hour off watch. Some days and nights, he did not wake once. Those were the easy watches, when little was happening and the wind conditions were stable. As the passage wore on, I felt greater confidence in my ability to make the right decisions when things did change. Increasingly, I found myself thinking I should change something, and as I was thinking it, Matt directed me to that very thing. This stoked my ego a bit, until the night of the speed demon.

I was enjoying solitude and the splendor of waves lit by the waxing moon, perhaps an hour into the late night start of my 5-hour watch, when the speed demon struck. It was near the end of Day 8 of the Hunter 38 delivery voyage. The skipper woke within minutes.

Before he had gone to bed, Matt told me that the wind was likely to come back, probably off the stern quarter, and if so, I should set the sails. As usual, he had been right. As the breeze came in, I put the Hunter 38 under full sail on a broad reach, a point of sail that seems best for Hunters. There was none of the severe heading up into the wind that we had found with a beam reach.

I was sitting on the starboard bench seat, legs outboard, feet against the lifelines, an expression of glee on my face. “Making the boat sing,” I had just said to myself, clapping quietly. I felt my skipper looking at me, and turned to see him standing on the companionway ladder. “Hello,” I said. “It’s a magical night!”

Matt went to the helm to check our speed. “Eight-point-one,” he said. “We need to slow down. No more than six point five,” he instructed, and then he went back below, knowing that I knew what to do, that he could trust me to do what he said, and leaving the work to me.

Without delay, I moved from the bench seat to the forward part of the cockpit, adjusting lines and line clutches in order to reef the jib and main. Being that the main is mast reefed–rolling inside the mast for storage–it takes a lot of “grinding,” or cranking on a winch handle, to bring it in. This always felt like a workout to me, but by then my muscles had become more used to it. I smiled to myself as I thought “this is one of Matt’s ‘that’ll learn ya’ lessons from the ‘figure it out yourself’ skipper.” After all, it was my watch- and my actions that made the work necessary.

When Matt was back on watch in the morning, I said, “I apologize for that speed demon thing last night. I honestly did not notice the boat speed was so high, but that was partly because I was too absorbed with enjoying it.”

“You just develop a sense for the boat…after about 100 days,” he said, noting that he “would not have been able to go back to sleep” with the boat going that fast. I wanted to know why.

“Part of the reason I didn’t notice the speed was that, unlike at higher speeds before, the boat was not rounding up like it did on a beam reach,” I explained. “Would you please tell me why the speed was a problem, since the boat was under control? Because I have trouble with the concept of ‘too fast.’”

The skipper explained that surpassing hull speed, when not surfing swells, could damage the rig by straining it beyond its capability. “I never push a boat beyond about 80% of its ability, and that’s why I have all these safe deliveries. Others think they are in some kind of race and they push the boat too hard.” I understood. First, a delivery captain does not want to break his or her customer’s boat. Secondly, if even a small part of the rig gave way, it could make for dismasting, which would be a disaster, especially on the high seas.
I learned my lesson, and was sure it would be invaluable at some point in my sailing future. No more speed demons for me. 

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A secret wish come true

"Nothing but a whole lotta' waves."

“Nothing but a whole lotta’ waves.”

On Day 9 of my epic sail from Galesville, MD to Ponce, Puerto Rico, at about 1435, I was sitting on the port bench seat when I heard what I thought was a dolphin blow. I jumped up, looked over the starboard stern quarter, and saw a shiny black back, with a small dorsal fin, as it arced and slid back into the water. “A dolphin!” I called, to alert skipper Matt Rutherford. He was topsides in a flash and went forward to look for it. We had seen “nothin’ but a whole lotta’ waves,” and a few distant flying fish for days, so this was big excitement!

The creature surfaced again, and I thought the body seemed too thick- and the tail too large for a dolphin. I was so not expecting it to be a whale that it took me a while to comprehend that it was one. Matt was at the bow, pointing to the water near the boat’s port midships. “It’s a whale!” he yelled. I saw it swimming toward the boat, down deep, so it could pass under our keel. I could see its streamlined shape through the clear blue water, and most distinctively, two white oarblade-shaped pectoral fins–which appeared azure in that blue water. A humpback! “That was my secret wish for this trip, to see a whale,” I told my skipper when the whale seemed to have gone on its way.

I thought to take pictures of the whale, but immediately realized that my chance was slim for getting a good shot. Also, I was aware that running for my camera and becoming the photographer would take away from my experience of the whale, so I decided to skip the photos and just enjoy.

After some minutes, the humpback returned, seemingly larger than before, because it was swimming near the surface. I watched in amazement as its wedge shaped head lifted out of the water, the huge upturned mouth like an elongated smile. The young animal was yet unblemished with the barnacles typical to its elders. It blew loudly before gracefully arcing back into the water, its back curved, with brown, black, and gray skin so smooth and shiny it almost seemed to be made of liquid itself. In that moment it seemed I had not seen anything so beautiful, magical, and perfect since the eyes of my newborn babies.

We watched the whale for about 30 minutes as it swam alongside, up ahead, away, and back again. It often kept pace with us along the starboard side and showed us its white belly, azure in the water. Matt stood on the foredeck, balancing lithely as the boat rolled in the swells. I held onto the furled jib, bouncing and jerking out of rhythm with the boat, but I didn’t care. I had seen a whale! A humpback whale! So close, in its natural environment, without any touristy trappings.

“I got my secret wish!” I exclaimed. Matt said that if I had mentioned it to him before he would have said there was little chance, as he’d never seen any whale while on a delivery, except a pilot whale, once–and that didn’t really count because a pilot whale is really a dolphin. Matt and I felt lucky that we had each seen it; it had come when neither of us was catching up on sleep at our off watch. Although highly unlikely, my secret wish came true; in the middle of “nothin’ but a whole lotta’ waves,” a young whale found us, and was curious enough to hang out with us for a while, giving us a grand show. I do appreciate a little lagniappe with my sail. 

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I saw that the world was flat

View through the dodger.I was sitting in the only dry-ish spot topsides of a Hunter 38 sailboat, hundreds of miles from anywhere, surrounded by sapphire and cobalt waves with crests of rolling white foam. Bracing myself next to the main hatch, in the shelter of the dodger–a windshield-like structure of flexible plastic panels sewn into canvas stretched over a stainless steel frame–I was pushing my feet against the other side of the companionway, making a bridge with my legs over the opening.

From my perch, I saw that the world was flat, except for the blue, blue waves–which rolled as high as six feet, looking like advancing walls off our stern. Occasionally, one of the rollers would hit the boat broadside, slamming into it like a bull, and throwing spray up and across the cockpit. Sometimes, a wave would hit so hard and high that it would splat forcefully against the dodger, water running under it and dampening my seat. Everything topsides was flecked with fresh ocean spray or crystals of white salt, including me. My black jeans had been doused by a wave and were swirled gray and white, dotted with salty stars, making a miniature galaxy along each pant leg. This was a few hundred miles through an 11-1/2-day journey of over 1,500-miles, in which I was helping to deliver a private yacht from Annapolis, MD to its new owner in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

We made it down the Chesapeake Bay in under 24 hours, and on our first night in the Atlantic, the continent slipped away, and land already seemed only a concept, a smudge of light that faded in the horizon behind us. The sky was clear and the Milky Way quite visible.This was a treat that I had seen only a few times in recent years. On some nights during the transit, thick cloud cover blocked out the stars and even the moon, making for an uncannily dark night. To save battery power, we sailed in “stealth mode,” with no running lights, so the only light was from the autopilot console at the wheel, and from the bioluminescence in the sea. I watched that aquatic light show for long moments, leaning my head outboard to see, and it seemed as if the boat was casting and recasting nets of foam to catch tiny green twinkling stars.

On one such veiled night, it was 2 AM and skipper Matt Rutherford was asleep while I stood my five-hour watch. Under full sail, we were traveling at around 6.5KT, a respectable speed for such a vessel. I had the sense that the boat was hurtling through darkness, time, and space, and felt connected to all the sailors before me, as I thought about ancient mariners and understood why they believed the world was flat, and that “there be dragons” at the edge.

Weather was the chief determining factor every day, and in most decisions made aboard the boat. It determined our course away from the Dominican Republic, but then also determined our need to divert course toward the Dominican Republic, but that is for another story.

A storm cell in the distance, with rain visible.

A storm cell in the distance, with rain visible.

We seemed to be constantly encircled by clouds on the horizon, even on a clear day. Large puffy white ones with flat bottoms, that roamed the sky above in a semi circle, like a herd of grazing animals. “You don’t see clouds like these anywhere on land, not even in the middle of Kansas,” Matt said, and I believed him. Periods of rain were a near-daily occurrence. I quickly fell into the habit of scanning the horizon, noting the movement of clouds and calculating what action to take. For instance, on day eight of the delivery, an apparent squall was off the port bow. It looked to be dropping heavy rain, which meant we could meet substantial wind if it came near. I anticipated this and prepared the main for reefing in case I needed to furl it.

Things look different in the dark at sea. On moonlit nights the clouds seem to be closer, just out of reach overhead. Toward the end of the transit, the nights were mostly clear, sometimes with falling stars, and with a waxing moon so bright that we did not need to turn on a flashlight.

Our time was regulated not by day and night, but by watches, five hours on, five hours off. After a few days, I was used to sleeping whenever I could, though I still found the wee hour watches a challenge. Being the crew, I had the easier end of the bargain. Yes, sometimes I was helping with refueling or washing dishes in my off watch, but the skipper’s “off” time was much more taken with necessary tasks. Matt was in regular communication with Pat, his weather watcher on land. He also had some conversations with the boat owner, as well as other satellite phone calls pertaining to his non-profit, Ocean Research Project. Matt was often calculating fuel consumption and determining the motoring speed we could afford. In addition, the skipper generally cooked at least one hot meal per day for us to share, most often starting by sauteing garlic and onion. Mmmmm! I gladly took care of the dishes in appreciation for the cooking.

Matt had made numerous prior deliveries, and has spent so much time at sea that I ended up teasing him about being “jaded,” though he was clearly not, just deeply familiar. For me, this was a journey of firsts: twice the longest stretch I have been offshore, the greatest number of miles in a voyage by 50%, the farthest south I had sailed by about 450 miles. It also included the roughest ride and strongest storm I have experienced while sailing.

Though I had sailed offshore twice- even passing the notorious Cape Hatteras once before, that was in a vessel about 90’ longer. The effect of weather is greater on small boats, and during the two days and nights we beat to windward on this journey, I was banged around, and my hands and arms became sore from holding on so much. Also, I had difficulty sleeping due to the motion and sounds of the boat under these conditions. Imagine trying to sleep while clinging to an incline. One that rocks, rolls, yaws, bounces, shakes, and vibrates. Accompanied by sounds of water swirling like a toilet flushing next to your head, thumps like sharks or killer whales attacking, various vibrations, and the hull flexing and bowing. The boat bouncing so hard that you are occasionally airborne in your bunk. But when you’re dog tired, you sleep when and where you can. The bouncing became so familiar to me that I would rouse from consciousness enough to know that I was in the air, then fall back asleep as soon as I was on the mattress again. At one point, I woke up from an off-watch nap in the saloon and Matt was a few feet away in the galley, saying we were no longer beating to windward. I had noticed and said, “Yes, I am just laying here enjoying the not-bouncing feeling.”

Poor sleep made it sometimes difficult for me to stay awake on night watch. I would sing, stretch, and climb around the cockpit–quietly, so not to wake Matt, whose berth was right below. On motoring nights, I would sing to myself to stay awake, often repeating “A Sailor’s Prayer,” which had become one of my anthems through the arduous task of killing off my old life and building My Whole New Life. Even so, it was sometimes hard to keep my eyes open. “Just two-and-a-half more hours,” I would tell myself. “You’re halfway through. You can do this.” Applying such determination sometimes minute-by-minute, I properly kept my watch.

As the passage went on, I gained confidence in my ability to make the right decisions when the wind or weather changed. Increasingly, I found myself thinking I should adjust something, and as I was thinking it, Matt directed me to that very action. This stoked my ego a bit, until the night of the speed demon, but that is for another story.

The most we saw of other human life while offshore.

The most we saw of other human life while offshore.

During the nine days out of sight of land, we saw only about seven ships, all far in the distance, and no other sailboats. We saw few other signs of life while offshore, only a few sea birds, occasional schools of flying fish flashing like little flocks of silver birds, and large mats and ribbons of sargassum. Aside from the visiting whale, but that is for another story.

Many times on this 11-1/2 day journey, I would giggle from the magnificent joy of being there. I marveled at my situation, amazed and delighted that I had ended up being the sole crew for this transit, with such a remarkable skipper. Some of my friends said I was lucky, but I was not the winner of some dollar ticket lottery. Rather, it seems that I was the best qualified candidate for a short-notice adventure. This was not mere happenstance, but due to years of effort, time, focus, networking, expense, and sacrifice.

A sea voyage typically includes many hours of monotony, giving one time to read, write, scrub the boat, and to think, think, think. “How many people get to do this?” I wondered, and guessed that the number is very few. I wondered how many people would truly want to make a voyage this, to put up with the daily discomforts, long hours, tedium, lack of conveniences, and being cut off from the rest of the world. I realized such people must be extremely rare. But I am one of them, and glad to be so. I also rediscovered parts of myself that I had neglected and almost forgotten, such as my youthful interest in being a marine biologist, and my particular love for whales.

As the journey spun and our days left were progressively smaller than the number ahead, again I felt connected to sailors through time, those called back to land by the yearning to see loved ones. I began to start thinking about what I would do ashore, and how I wanted to structure the week immediately following the delivery. I imagined how excited I would be to see land, other human faces, have a real shower, clean laundry, and eat a salad.

We made land two days before originally planned, because we had to take an unscheduled detour to a foreign land. How strange and new and wonderful that place looked after land had been only a concept for days. But that is for another story.

Heading into the storm off Puerto Rico.

Heading into the storm off Puerto Rico.

As our little boat entered Puerto Rican waters, a storm began to build. We had a lovely rainbow and sunset off the stern before the clouds darkened, the wind picked up, and the wave action increased. After darkness fell, the storm hit, with driving rain, and strong wind on the nose. We were beating into the waves, but the slamming motion was not nearly as bad as those earlier two nights and three days. Matt and I both felt this storm was the “grand finale” to a trying voyage. Between the beating for days, the side trip to the foreign land, becoming entangled with a fishing line on the way in, and the ensuing immigration matter in that country, the stealth ship encounter, the number of things that broke on the boat, and this storm, the delivery was challenging in unexpected ways. Matt and I were relieved to find it coming to an end. Once the boat was secure in its new slip at 12:21 A.M., Matt opened a bottle of wine in his own special way, poured some into two ceramic mugs from the boat, and we went onto the dock to clink our cups and drink. We stayed on the pier, talking and feeling excited and happy, for perhaps an hour or 90 minutes before we wound down enough to get some sleep, with great relief that neither of us had to be on watch.

It has been said that sailing is “long periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror,” but for me this voyage was one of long periods of reflection in solitude, graced with learning-by-doing, some direct instruction, and periods of joy, peace, delight, pleasure, amazement, and wonder. Despite the bruises and sore muscles it left me, I would do it again on a day’s notice.

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