Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lost in the Fog

My dad is a sailor, a very good sailor. I’ve been told that as captain of the Tufts Yacht Club in the early 50’s he was good enough to make the Tufts sailing team a force to be reckoned with in the racing world. As a child growing up I remember vividly the intensity in which my father took racing. Race day on the water was the only time I can ever recall being yelled at or hearing dad curse.  Thankfully, we won more races than we lost so his smiles far outweighed his cursing. However, the intensity of racing really did not make me love sailing.
My dad always had a dream of sailing around the world with his family. To me this sounded like more of a nightmare than a dream. I’d spent weeks in the family station wagon traveling every summer with my brothers and sister so the idea of months on a sailboat seemed like a terrible idea. However, my dad was sure that he could convince us that it would be an exciting adventure.
In order to convince us that this would be fun he decided that during our cross country camping trip he would read us a sailing adventure at night as we all snuggled into our sleeping bags. Survive the Savage Sea was the book he chose and probably was a lesson in the fact that “pre-reading” is probably a good idea when choosing books with a mission in mind. The basic summary of the book, as I recall 40 years later, was that a family set off to live the adventure of their lives. They sold the family home, bought a boat and set sail for their yearlong adventure around the world. They didn’t make it. Instead their boat was attacked by hammer head sharks and sank. The family survived in a raft in the middle of the ocean for weeks by drinking each other’s urine. That didn’t sound like a fun adventure to me! Needless to say, the family was not convinced to set sail around the world.

But when I graduated from high school I did agree to go on a weekend sailing adventure with my dad, as long as I could bring a friend. He agreed and RuthAnn, Dad and I set sail out of Manchester Massachusetts. We headed north up the coast to an area off the New Hampshire and Maine coast along the Isles of Shoals in our Rhodes 19. This was a racing boat, not a yacht. There were no sleeping quarters, kitchen or bathroom on board, just a small portable pot and an old canvas picnic tarp from our camping gear, a cooler and our trusty Coleman camp stove. We packed sleeping bags and foam mattresses to sleep on under the bow of the boat. The foam pads were not a good choice and quickly became sponge pads not suitable for sleeping.
The day we set sail was perfect. Blue sky, white puffy clouds, warm sun on our faces, I knew it was going to be a beautiful weekend. And then the fog and rain moved in and settled all around us.  The awesome rocky coastline of Maine disappeared, the wind died down and we were immersed in the dense, still quietness of the surrounding fog. And there we stayed for two days. I remember feeling bored and disappointed that my friend wasn’t having much of an adventure. She’d heard the stories of my summer adventures with dad for years and was excited she was finally going on one with us. Sitting in the fog didn’t seem like much of an adventure to me.
But while I was bored, she was in awe of the beauty of sailing. The blue skies, rocky coastline and the quietness of the water as we sailed captivated her. She loved the wind on her face and the feel of gliding through space and time. Well, intitially anyway. But then the fog rolled in and it all changed. She was no longer in awe of the beauty, she was terrified.
She watched my dad sail the boat with a small compass that fit in the palm of his hand determining the direction we would go. We had no visual cues as to our location, just the fog and a small compass.  She had no idea where we were or if we would ever see land again. It never occurred to me that any of this was even odd. It was just life with dad.
 Eventually we did see land again. We landed at Star Island. Well we tried to land anyway, but were not allowed to get off the boat onto their private island. We dropped the anchor and camped out on the boat, but at least knowing land was nearby and seeing the lights of the island provided some comfort.
The next morning with compass in hand, Dad set sail heading south toward home. He seemed to know what he was doing and where we were going until we finally came upon a larger, well equipped yacht. Dad sailed up very close to the yacht and much to my surprise, asked directions from the captain of the boat. I was surprised he asked directions; RuthAnn was surprised he didn’t know where we were.
I didn’t know she was scared. I never felt scared or even worried. I had no experience of fear with my dad. I was just glad we hadn’t been attacked by hammer head sharks and I wasn’t drinking my friends pee.
Memories are funny things. My memories of that weekend sailing adventure are vague. It was one of many adventures with my dad. But for RuthAnn, the memories are much more vivid and exciting. I love hearing her tell the story of our sailing weekend. I guess fear cements experiences in our brains with much greater detail.

 (C)  Martha Reed Johnson 06-01-2013