In what seems like a very long time ago now, I ‘ran away to the sea’.
It wasn’t something I had always dreamed of. I didn’t grow up in New England nor did we vacation there in my childhood, the lure wasn’t generated by something in my DNA or family history. Running toward the sea and all she held so enticing and healing happened in one of those odd confluences of events that start when people decide to divorce; a place where things are empty and vast and terrifying.
I didn’t find a therapist (even if I had the financial resources my attitude toward this remains ‘physician heal thyself’). I didn’t turn to the reckless consumption of alcohol or men or shopping – all of which seem a potentially dangerous cocktail when feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. No, I learned to sail and it not only saved my sanity, but taught me skills and refined others I didn’t know I possessed. It expanded my fearlessness, maybe, sailing even saved my life. Running away to the sea came about for me because my ex-husband expressed wanting “someone ordinary” (his words) and for me that meant I somehow needed to prove that being “extraordinary” (at least to myself) would be ‘more than enough’. The path to this was illogical to everyone around me, and a point of contentious arguments with my parents with whom I happened to be living at the time. It was quite literally the biggest of long shots odds-wise on the planet (perhaps the whole galaxy) and I was going for it regardless of what anyone thought, suggested or declaimed as being ‘beyond my grasp’. Here’s the truth, those closest to us, and even those in our immediate sphere of influence, wish to keep us small because it makes them feel better about their lives. Do not listen. Your life is not about accommodating others, it is about filling your journey up so that at the end of it there is nothing left undone. No regrets. Ever.
Learning to sail gave me enormous, focused calm. It gave me ink black skies devoid of light pollution but filled with shooting stars and the Milky Way as I navigated in darkness on Lake Erie. I pointed up the 33 foot (roughly 10 metres) Catalina I was being taught on – not with a compass, not with the tell tails but in closing my eyes and feeling the wind and adjusting accordingly. I scrubbed boat scum and reefed the main. I took the helm and winched until my arms ached. I was rail weight and hauled sheets. I stood in the bowsprit sighting race markers as we heeled at 15 degrees clinging to shrouds in breathless exhilaration and joy. I tacked and jibed my way through May, June, July and August, at least three times a week and in the process something magical happened – I found an exit strategy to the life everyone around me wanted me to live but that I had either outgrown or was wrongly born into.
‘Randomly’ I met a captain. John Rumsey was certified to sail everything (and as is evident by this article he still does), all the way up to Super Tankers, and he told me that if I could sail on Lake Erie I could sail on any body of water – anywhere. After five months of stomach lurching nerves each time the phone rang I became the Operations Manager for the HMS Bounty (not crew, but still having a dotted line reporting to John) then owned by Turner Broadcasting Systems in Atlanta, Georgia. The remarkable thing about having a job like this is the sailing world automatically assumes you are a world class yachtsman and you get invited to helm (or crew) boats like America’s Cup 12 metre yachts the Heart of America and Stars & Stripes, and 130 LOA, 130 gross tonnage replica of an 1847 revenue cutter owned by San Diego Maritime Museum called The Californian.
If you sail, if you love the sea, you understand its pull. And so, two things I must ask of you dear reader – rather I implore you to help.
Every two years something called the Transat650 is raced by a fleet of a mere 80 sailboats. These are 6.5 metres in length and sailed solo, without any technology save for a VHF radio for approximately 30 days crossing the Atlantic leaving Douarnenez, France and finishing in Point-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe. I have a Croatian friend (he’s the one closest to you in the picture at right) who aspires to do this in September of 2017. He, unlike I, has sailed his whole life. He is more than sufficiently competent to accomplish this, and as an extreme sportsman is physically fit and mentally acute enough to take on such a challenge. He has an @IndieGoGo campaign and has realised 48% of his funding goal with 22 days remaining is his campaign. I would like to ask you to donate $5 (of course you can give more, even line up a corporate sponsor for him! if you would like). Just because.
Just because you know that you would love to do this as a sailor and life has gotten in the way of doing so, or long ago you recognised your limitations and while still in love with the water and harnessing it a Dark & Stormy is the most tempest you wish to face. You will find Slobodan Velikic’s campaign here. His success is directly tied to my next ‘ask’ (but you will have to wait to find out what I mean by that late this summer). So, thank you for participating in this inspiring man’s timeless quest to test himself, to be in harmony with, and against, the vastness offered by the Atlantic.
My second favour costs you absolutely nothing but a couple moments of your time, and requires the same Internet connection you are already reading this blog post on. Some months ago I wrote a blog entitled “The only oil that goes with a Croatian bikini is olive” and as a result I now serve as the volunteer Chief Strategy Officer for the Clean Adriatic Sea Alliance, CASA. The lovely folks at Avaaz.org have made CASA part of a Survey Monkey campaign to secure a grant for $10,000 USD. All you have to do is vote for us (go here). We plan to dedicate the use of the grant for our lobbying efforts to stop the proposed oil/gas drilling in the Adriatic Sea! Hopefully enough of you will do so and we will be able to expand our efforts to ensure that for future generations of Croatians (Italians, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Bosnians and Albanians) and vacationing tourists alike the Adriatic remains free of gas and oil platforms, tankers and pipelines and all of the horrific toxins and environmental hazards which accompany such. Thank you, in advance.
We never know exactly where we will be called to service as a result of something as random as going through a divorce. For myself, and my own journey to Ithaca, it took a couple of years (back in the 1990s) to move through the pain and to actually feel gratitude that my ex wanted someone ordinary. As I sit here today, writing this, I have the presence of mind to know I am exactly where I was always meant to be.
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