Gibraltar again!! After 15 years it is so wonderful to be here, (even if only for a week) actually living the dream Shirish and I spoke of when we were last here together. We said to each other, “When we have children, let’s take them here. Let’s take them sailing and show them the world from the deck of a sailboat. Let them learn different languages and the European way of life; working to live rather than living to work, Siesta in the afternoon, month long family vacations .” “It would be so good for them to learn the humbling lessons the sea and its variable weather have to offer. To learn to work together as a family in everyday life. We want them to know there is so much more to the world.” We want them to see for themselves the Parthenon, Cape Sounion, the Greek Islands, the Costa del Sol.” “The Caribbean and the charming inhabitants and natural splendor of those beautiful undeveloped islands.”
Of course that was long before we had actual children. Before we had two noisy boys who love to argue. Before real life; diapers, car repairs, house repairs, appliance repairs, baseball, band, piano lessons, yard work, bills….. well, you get the picture; in essence, the American dream.
Then one day we realized that if we were going to do this, we would need to get busy. After 10 years as a stay at home mom, I was ready to restart my career and Shirish was more than ready from a break from his stressful career situation. So began the odyssey.
It started with the Starbucks tour of the eastern coast of the U.S. So titled because “mommy” required a stop at every Starbucks we passed along the way. We examined many boats of varying degrees of disrepair. One boat seemed perfect except for one small detail – it had gotten a hull breach (hole in the hull) during one of the many hurricanes that hit Florida the year before. I just couldn’t get my head around sending my children off to sail in a boat that had been breached. Was the workmanship really up to par? All sorts of scenarios flashed through my brain as I tried to come to grips with the idea. Most of them involving life rafts in high seas.
Finally, we found an Alden 44 named Juno II that had been “on the hard” (out of the water) for two years. The Alden in an extraordinary boat, aesthetically pleasing and well made. Most of the repairs needed had to do with the effects of sun and weather on a boat out of water. After fierce negotiating that mostly involved reminding the owner who lived in England of things that were not on the boat. (Sending pictures of the absent waste treatment device for the head (toilet, for normal people), the non-working water maker, certain sails that ended up in someone’s barn somewhere in England, the missing life raft, etc.), the happy day finally arrived! We bought the boat, I immediately experienced buyer’s remorse. Maybe the breached hull wasn’t so bad after all.
Shirish spent most of the winter repairing everything he could, replacing vital hoses that had hardened and cracked during the two years out of the water, gaskets that unexpectedly failed. Hairdryers use too much electricity and hair can dry naturally, but I finally convinced Shirish that this one appliance would make my life so much better that it would be worth the 4 square inches of space. Ironically, this one hairdryer ended up being one of the most important electronic “tools” on board in the 30 degree weather in Virginia winter – making stiff rubber hose pliable enough to get onto fittings.
As the countdown to the leaving date continued, we were lucky enough to find two friends to help bring the boat down to Jacksonville from Virginia. The tales from the journey were hair-raising: fog, freezing rain, navigationally challenged crew. Surprisingly, both friends later voluntarily chose to help with other crossings.
The boat still required a lot of work and we spent every weekend discovering the exits on I-10 between Tallahassee and Jacksonville that housed a Starbucks. But eventually, the boat was ready for the shakedown trip across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. Unfortunate weather conditions tested the boat to its limits. Many thanks to our good friend Tod, who helped Shirish wrestle the inner forstay back into place after the stainless steel pin holding it in place sheared in two, leaving it swinging wildly in the 40 knot winds. They literally had to wrestle the heavy sail under full canvas on a heaving deck with 25 foot seas and 50 knot winds. (The numbers keep getting larger with each telling of the story.) They cleverly tied it down using their combined ingenuity and some shoelaces.
To make the story shorter, I’ll skip our hilarious docking attempts against the wind, to swing on an anchor up to a dock Mr. Chester allowed us to use practically for free. The only drawback was that it was on an outside facing pier and vulnerable to a Northeasterly wind – thus the need for the anchor.
Several thousands of dollars later, a wonderfully ingenious heating system, water heater and fresh water maker, almost a completely new head, (I was just too busy to go to Jacksonville the week that particular repair was done,) the boys were ready to set sail.
I’ll never forget the day I watched my children and husband sail away from the Amelia Island Yacht Basin, full of excitement for the journey ahead, while I stood on the dock waving goodbye, knowing that it would be two years before they returned home. I knew I would see them periodically, but also realized that they would be very changed and possible extremely independent when I saw them next. Who would they be when I could see them again?
I have to say, Shirish has done a wonderful job and the boys have stepped up to the challenge with remarkable agility. They are now seasoned sailors, have sailed more 6,000 miles, weathered many a challenging storm. They speak many different languages, Rigel is particularly fluent in Italian, and both are proficient swimmers and dingy drivers. They can take apart and diagnose many electronic and mechanical failures that most adults would find baffling. They won’t realize all that they have learned until many years after this trip has passed.
So here I am, preparing to say goodbye once again. My one comfort is that they will be heading for the Caribbean, which is much easier to reach from the States. We’ve had many spectacular adventures together in the limited time I have been able to spend with them. We toured Bermuda, the Azores, most of Italy, many of the Greek Islands, and now Gibraltar. (Orion really did get robbed by a monkey!)
I have so much more to say, but no time now to because I need to get this posted before I have to get moving to head home to my day job. This has been a wonderfully relaxing and joyous trip. The boys are so happy, they have found some friends, and we got to eat some terrific food. Once again, I’m probably not going to fit into my clothes on the return trip.
The crew is about to arrive at the boat for the next leg of the journey. A young man about to enter the Royal Navy, and a friend who found herself in a life situation that allowed her to join Shirish as a live-aboard crew will return from a trip to South Africa where she visited her relatives. Repairs, cleaning and provisioning progress at an intense pace.
I wish I were going –I don’t want to miss my boys, but I am anxious to return to my job. People have asked me what I have learned from this experience so far. Well I can say, I’ve learned to deal with loneliness. I’ve learned that it is difficult and challenging to be the sole source of income supporting a family of four. I’ve learned to live life in segments, one day at a time. (Yeah, I think AA has something there.) I focus on the good things in my life. I’ve come to appreciate my neighbors and friends who step in to support me when I need them. Sometimes I feel like the neighborhood charity case. I am fed by many kind-hearted souls and invited to participate in many lives that I would not have otherwise had the time or opportunity for. I have really had fun with my neighbors and other friends. I’ve learned to find joy in little things, and learned to find peace in difficult situations. I’ve regained my independence and realized that I can still learn and succeed in the business world (yes – just like riding a bicycle). And what a relief to know that my brain has NOT turned to jello as I had feared!! I’m actually able to learn and retain large amounts of information. I’ve been offered jobs based on my abilities alone. I feel empowered.