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Saying Goodbye…

Tis a known fact, I tend get a bit growly when a cruise is ending. The prospect of returning to work, to schedules, to the grind, not to mention leaving the boat or having to go through all the work of recovering her. When my mood grows as dark as the gathering cold front clouds I don’t take it out on people but I’ve been known to bemoan the weather, curse a piece of broken gear or snarl at certain situations. My mate Catherine handles me as smoothly as she handles our vessel. Sometimes with perk-me-up treats like an Irish coffee, other times with a captain-needs-relief order sending to me the bunk to nap it off.

Such was the case in ‘07 as we were wrapping up a great cruise having spent about a month aboard our 1986, S-2 9.2C sailing vessel Aquila. We had gone from sunshine and buddy boats, to a long solo slog; from cliff diving and swimming to foul weather gear and PFDs. The weather had turned foul, damp and chill; the wind had been on the nose for two days. Tack after tack we had pushed the boat through it, sometimes reefed down, continually damp and cold. In ugly weather I prefer to be at the helm. In this case the coming of evening darkness along with the weather had slowed our progress and we would not fetch the anchorage we sought until well after dark. 'No problemo mon'. These were home waters and often we sail at night. Considering the weather there was no sense in both of us being wet and cold thus I had convinced Catherine to go below decks, turn on the heater, see to prepping dinner and maybe send up a hot drink. Onward I continued driving the boat and grinding my teeth. Admittedly I enjoyed the thought of Catherine below in our cozy cabin as darkness fell. I could see the cabin light illuminating the side decks. And I knew she had the heater going adding to the warmth that later I would so very much enjoy. Another hour and we would fetch Roper Cove, our anchorage for the last night of this trip. I knew exactly how and where I would set the hook.

And then I heard a strange sound. It was like an electronic systems warning. Ah, the ringing of a cell phone. Of course back in home waters we had cell service again and Catherine had probably turned on the phone to check with her mom and see how her teenage daughter was fairing. Actually Clementine (the daughter) had just been part of our crew a week ago but demands of school had caused us to have a logistic diversion in the plan where grandma had met the boat enroute and hauled said daughter off.  My guess ~  it was daughter calling to check in. I was wrong.  

The hatch opened. Warmth and light steamed out and a pleasant smell with it and Catherine stood silhouetted in golden light on the top step with a steaming mug of Irish coffee in hand. As I leaned forward to take it she said, “Doug died.”

“What,” I asked hearing her clearly but not understanding, or maybe not wanting to. Doug was a good friend of ours. A middle-aged fellow who had dreams of someday buying a catamaran and sailing off into the sunset. He and I had leaned on the counter top in his store just over a month before talking about this very trip I was currently engaged in. “What happened?”

Catherine told me all the details she had received on the phone call.  It was quiet an unexpected occurrence. Many other friends and his family were shocked ~ as were we. Catherine had a mug of Irish coffee for herself which she handed me and then went below decks for a moment more. I looked off to the darkening sky, to the close-hauled sails, to the damp vessel and I took a big breath, inhaling it all. Catherine came back on deck with a glass of wine for Doug. Together we toasted our friend and poured the wine oversides. Now I know this sounds strange but soon after the wind began to ease and clock around to the east and the rain settled and not long afterwards the near full moon shone through a small opening in the clouds. And I knew that bad weather or not, close-hauled be damned ~ we were alive, and we were sailing. We were together on a good old boat, the sails drawing, pulling us across the dark waters and making for a secure anchorage. I eased the sheets just a bit as Aquila settled into a close reach. Life was good, very good indeed…
"If you are going to do something, do it now. Tomorrow is too late." - Pete Goss
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