Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sailing at Night

For over a decade now, we've enjoyed a summer sailing trip; my sister and brother-in-law have a boat, and they generously include us in their boating plans.  Every year, we make those plans realizing that weather could upend it all.  But so far, the worst weather we've endured is bright, sunny, hot, windless days--but we could still take a motoring boat trip across the Chesapeake Bay, so it wasn't bad at all.

But this year was different.

At first, our quick sailing trip seemed doomed before we even left South Florida.  A hurricane lingered off the coast, shadowing our trip north.  The Ft. Lauderdale airport closed down for awhile on Thursday because of a fierce feeder band from the storm, and then when our airport reopened, the Baltimore airport was closed.  We waited, and hurrah!  The Baltimore airport reopened, and we could be on our way.  AND--we got seats in the exit row, so lots of lovely leg room (no such luck on our way back).  AND--the guy sharing our row gave us two free drink coupons.

We had planned to head out for an anchorage on Friday, but it was not to be.  Gale warnings were posted for the Chesapeake Bay, so we stayed in the marina and enjoyed the treats there:  a pool, a cook-out, a trip to the neighboring marina for ice cream.  Simple joys, and a great way to celebrate the 4th.

On Saturday, we headed out for one of my favorite anchorages, the first place we ever anchored out, at the sheltered place where the Rhode river empties into the Bay.  It's got an island, which we dubbed Treasure Island during my nephew's pirate phase.  There's a YMCA camp, so we've often seen campers learning to sail by day, enjoying their campfires at night.

We had a great afternoon.  I got to try paddleboarding.  At first I sat on the board and paddled madly as the current swept me away from the boat.  It was more like kayaking, but what a great upper body workout.  Later, I wanted to try standing; I managed to stand for about 2 minutes--what a great lower body workout, even for 2 minutes.

But all was not well with the boat.  My sister had noticed that the fridge wasn't keeping up with us.  Late in the afternoon, my brother-in-law discovered that the batteries were very close to dead.

You might say, "So what--you're on a sailboat, right?"  Well, yes, but it's surprising how much battery power a sailboat needs--not the least, to park the boat back at the marina.  We made the decision to return to the marina, while we still had the power to do it.  Just before 9 p.m., we pulled up the anchor and headed back as the sun finished setting behind us.

And thus, our first night sail, or to be more honest, a night motor back.  Technically, we had a brief night motor a few years ago when we returned from a fireworks display; it was a horrible experience, full of drunken boaters and much traffic.

Saturday night was different.  During our 4 hour return trip, we saw about 6 boats that were moving.   It was still nerve-wracking, since it's so hard to be sure of what you're seeing at night.  But it was also magnificent. 

We saw fireworks displays from many directions.  We saw more stars than we ever see.  We saw the moonlight on the water, which I've tried to think about describing, but everything I come up with sounds like a cliché.  It was windy and chilly and completely different from anything we'd done together on a sailboat before.

So, though it wasn't the trip we expected, it was a wonderful experience.

During that night trip, I thought often of that quote by Doctorow that talks about writing a novel being like driving at night in the fog and only being able to see ahead a short distance.  We didn't even have headlights, but we had crew members (my spouse and sister) willing to stand in the bow and sweep the way ahead with flashlights.  I thought about how much of life is like that sail:  we don't know where we're going and it's maybe not what we expected, but if we're open to the process, we can have an amazing time.

Our nephew is still thrilled to see us, and that feeling alone is worth the trip.  I know that he isn't likely to always feel this way. 

And more important, this year has taught me (yet again) that we may not have as much time left as we think we do.  While I can be with my loved ones, I want to make the effort to do it.

That night sail will be where my brain returns any time I need to conjure up a calm mindset.  That experience of being on a boat reminds me that there are many ways to live a life--an important reminder in these days of school restructurings.

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