When I was 11 or 12, my grandfather took my brother and I out to his sailboat to spend the night. His boat was moored in Connecticut. I don’t remember how big his boat was, but I can’t imagine it was more than 26 feet long. I remember there was a cabin in the front, and the ‘dining room’ table came out to make bunk beds, which was really cool! That’s where my brother and I slept that night. We cozied in and swayed with the waves. The next morning my grandfather woke us up very early and we got up and ate cheerios on the deck. I know my memories may not be completely accurate, and may have blurred over time, but those memories are idyllic for me, and that time with my grandfather deeply cherished.
The reason Grandad got us up so early is that across the way from his mooring was the Electric Boat Company, today owned by General Dynamics. They make submarines. We got up early and ate our cheerios on the deck so we could watch the submarines come into the river. It was amazing and memorable, to say the least.
At the time we lived in Florida. Since we lived less than a quarter of a mile from the ocean, my brother and I spent a lot of time on the water. As kids we would spend a lot of time at the beach. We fished, swam, and went out with friends on their boats. I developed a deep appreciation of the ocean, and the allure of her mystery began to grow in me.
The ocean is amazing. She sustains life with gifts of food. Her currents help transport our goods across the world. Her waters temper the climate and drive our weather. And, she can also take life in the blink of an eye. I remember a babysitter we had as children that drown in pretty shallow water, I think he got caught in a rip tide. The ocean demands your respect and will remind you of her power in every wave and tide. Whether you survive that reminder depends on you, the situation you are in, and ultimately, powers greater than us.
As we were on the boat that night with my grandfather there wasn’t much rocking, although I remember loving that gentle sway. We were tied up at slip at a marina, well protected from the elements. I vividly remember the sounds of the waves hitting the boat. The intoxicating smell of the salt air as we ate our cheerios. Watching those submarines cut silently through the water. It was in that moment that I became enamored with the ocean.
It was around that time too that my grandparents gave me a copy of the book, “The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone”. The book recounted the story of Robin Lee Graham, a 16-year-old from California, and his five-year circumnavigation of the world. While there’s not a lot of specifics that I remember about the book, I remember thinking I wanted to take on that challenge. Without a doubt, that story shaped my dreams and started a fire in me.
Not long after that we moved to Germany, where, as a middle schooler, I would sketch out sailboats with living quarters. I was trying to figure out the best layout for a boat. I’m pretty sure now that if any of those ideas were ever found by a boat architect, they’d laugh themselves silly! But, as a young teenager, it was a lot of fun. It kept me connected to the ocean and that fire in my belly to sail the world continued to grow. I remember someone looking at one drawing and asking what I was doing. When I told him I was designing a boat to sail around the world in, he didn’t laugh at me! But he did jump to all of the dangers of sailing.
Life then did what life does. I graduated high school in North Dakota and went on to become a teacher. I fell in love, got married, and had a two amazing kids. I bought a house and joined the great American middleclass life. This life has afforded us some amazing opportunities. Living in Wyoming, there are things that I’ve seen and done that I would’ve never had the chance to do anyplace else. The Tetons are truly spectacular and having had the opportunity to go elk hunting will always be a highlight in my life. But, that fire still burns and the ocean still calls.
As we’ve talked about the live aboard life, I’ve felt something awaken in me that I haven’t felt in a long time. There’s an excitement, and a fear. Not the kind of fear a child has of monsters under the bed, but fear nonetheless. It’s the fear of the unknown. Of all the things that could go wrong. I remind myself, there’s always a path to get through the unknown. And, there’s tremendous excitement! Of knowing we can conquer the unknown and live in harmony with the ocean. The excitement of living out a childhood dream that I long ago dismissed as fantasy.
I’m not at all sure what our sailing adventures will bring. I long to fulfill that dream of a circumnavigation, but I’m not sure if we will complete that or not. I’m not even sure if we will love or hate the live aboard life! We might miss life on land, or, we may sail away and never look back. What I am sure of is the excitement, and sense of peace, and feeling of being alive that pursing this dream brings.