To Mourn or To Celebrate

Sometime in the mid 1980s I was returning to work in Prudhoe Bay (in the oilfields on the North Slope of Alaska) and stopped at the airport bookstore in Anchorage. There was a fascinating looking book by a woman named Lin Pardey, Seraffyn’s Mediterranean Adventure. It told of the voyages she and her husband had sailing around the world on a boat they had built. I laid in my bunk during that long cold winter, reading that book and knowing I had to do something like that with my life.

Flash forward some 20 years and I’ve met Rob, we married and bought a cruising boat that will take us anywhere in the world we want to go. Even better, we’ve worked extra hard to outfit it for offshore, saved our money, and prepared ourselves mentally and physically for the life of voyaging the world under sail. On April 02, 2006 we leave Shilshole and head north, sailing towards Alaska first, then down the Pacific coastline to who knows where. Our plans are totally open ended, with no responsibilities that keep us from becoming the carefree sailors that Lin and Larry had been so long ago, and still were.

We spent almost 3.5 years going where the wind took us, down the coast and across the idyllic South Pacific. As we planned the end of the cruising season in the South Pacific, we got word from home that Rob’s dad was sick. It was cancer. We had to come home, there was no question in either of our minds that was the only option. It took another year from that time to get across to the Eastern Pacific, through Micronesia, into the North Pacific trade winds, up to Japan, and then 43 days across the North Pacific.

All the time we were sailing home, in my head I was planning our next cruise. Once home we bought a house, then after Rob’s dad passed away, moved Wilma up to Poulsbo to be near us. Still I planned the next time we would leave, and even always had a date scheduled. Wilma passed away just before covid struck. Rob was still working on the house remodel, so we now were without family responsibilities, but waiting to see what the pandemic would bring. The date in my head was getting fuzzier.

Years ago there was a cruising magazine called Latts and Atts, owned by an ex-biker named Bob Bitchin. He had cruised on his own boat for years. One of his most memorable op-eds talked about having a date. You have to have a date in your head if you’re ever going to get your boat offshore. If you don’t have a date, you’ll never go, no matter how far out that date is. I’ve had that date in my head, and moved it out three times now.

Rob and I are on our annual birthday week vacation. This year with covid and Canadian border issues, we chose to forego Whistler and come to the Northern California coast for some sun and beach time. One of my goals for the week was to decide when was the date, and does it even exist any more? My sister told me nearly a year ago that she already knew I wasn’t going to get to go again. I’ve actually started a spreadsheet with all of the pros and cons. Why, what, where, when, how much time, how much money?

Tomorrow is my Birthday. Tonight we had a very long conversation about this exact topic. I think I already knew the outcome, but it was good to get Rob’s perspective of course. His opinion matched mine, in that we both love to sail our boat offshore. And he would go again if that was what I really wanted. He would do the hard work for anther refit. I know I didn’t get closure last time, but now I needed to decide what was that closure worth, and what were the other choices?

On my spreadsheet is a list of the places I want to sail. Every one, except Patagonia, can be done on a charter boat. I can’t cross the South Pacific under sail and see those incredible starry nights again on a charter, but maybe I can find a delivery skipper who needs an extra hand. The list of what I’ll miss if we don’t go again isn’t huge. And to Rob’s point, we did a really good job of seeing the Pacific last time we were out.

I thought for a while maybe we just do one more lap across the South Pacific, then ship the boat back home. But if we go again, we have to work hard on the boat for another year to get it ready again. But that’s a year of hard work that we’re not enjoying, and a lot of money on new rigging, hardware, sails, life raft, epirb, etc, etc, plus the money to ship the boat home.

Tomorrow is my Birthday. I was so certain that once we made this decision, I would be mourning the loss of opportunity. Some who were out with us when we cruised did complete their circumnavigation, and got that checkbox I so wanted. But now I’m going to choose not to mourn, but to celebrate. We didn’t have a great time while we were out, we had a freaking AMAZING time, for 4.5 years. Something I’ll never have to give back, and will always remember.

So now it’s time to celebrate that. I’ll wake up tomorrow on my birthday and the decision has been made. I’m not mourning, though, I’m celebrating what we did. And all the other opportunities in our future to make other adventures.