The Worst Part of Sailing
Saying goodbye to friends and six months of awesomeness…
I am grateful that it is raining as we depart from Fort Lauderdale. It will be way harder for Ren to notice that my uncontrollable sobbing is punctuated only by brief calls back to reality, a look at the depth sounder, a glance around for boat traffic. The tears are not even leaving streaks down my face because the rain is washing them away too quickly. Down to the cockpit floor and out the drain. The tears become a perfect illustration of the impermanence of the sailing life.
As with everything good in life, anything worth mentioning, the parts of sailing that are so great area also the parts that make it so terrible. A perfect yin and yang relationship. Where there is light there must also be dark. Impermanence means seeing new places and meeting new people, a life of adventure. Impermanence also means you must leave and say goodbye. Goodbyes are not all created equal. There are those you leave with a smile. You smile and laugh thinking about beers with these people in the cockpit of a boat. Sailing stories and maybe even a night swim…clothes optional! “Fair winds,” you say as you bid adieu. “Catch up with you down the road,” a half-hearted side note. Not because you do not want to cross paths again. It is just a little unlikely in this great big world with so much to explore, besides, you are a sailor. You are no stranger to goodbyes. Then why do some goodbyes feel like you just swallowed a golf ball, lodging it about halfway down the throat. You try to choke it back, swallow it, for two or three days but only time will push it down to your gut…which feels empty. You try to fill your empty gut with food but that does not work. These goodbyes leave you feeling lonely, isolated.
As we travel North, I look to the left. The buildings are perfect tall rectangles. Like towering stacks of Lego blocks they stretch down the South Florida coast as far as I can see. There must be a million people over there, working, eating, playing with their kids. But just offshore, Ren and I are on our own little island. Both of us are bittersweet that we are saying goodbye to an adventure that has lasted six months and led us to two World Records, a communist country, a religion of our own, full moons in the middle of nowhere, two crew members, new friends and even a little money along the way. We are bittersweet. I look to my left, where the rest of American lives and I feel nothing except the damn golf ball in my throat. It has always been hard for me to say goodbye. I have a knack for sensitivity, thanks Mom!
Today I say goodbye to a six month chapter of our lives. Six months where we lived more and lived closer to the earth than some people live in a lifetime. I will be able to swallow the golf ball eventually. It will happen, it always does with a little time and immersion in a good book…or two, depending on the length of the passage. But distractions are few on a boat. With nothing but miles of open ocean to focus on. That and your own thoughts, a daunting proposition for most. Part of you does not want to heal, not yet. It is like the sweet pain after a good workout. The pain becomes a physical way to measure the intensity of your workout and to mark your progress. You know, by the very existence of the soreness that you are better for having worked out at all. Your future left just a little brighter.
Seven hours later
I took my own advise and decided to avoid myself with distractions. Five episodes of “This American Life” and two chapters from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” and I look out at the glassy ocean and feel at home again. The overwhelming lights off the Florida coast have faded into a thin sparkling horizon and my throat does not hurt…right now. Yin is creeping back in and is ushered by momentary peace. My body, finally, relates again to the passage, the lonely night watch, the ocean, and reminds my mind to cooperate. Maybe now I can wake Ren up and take my turn with sleep.