The Daddy Diaries
Two dads, five kids, four islands in southwest Florida. What could go wrong? From our March 2012 issue.
The Healing Feeling
My wife, Theresa, and I have a saying about cruising: “It’s not a cruise until someone is bleeding.” We picked it up years ago while sailing the South Pacific in an old wooden boat, when it seemed that each new voyage to paradise began with a stubbed toe and a stream of obscenities yelled at the sky. So we adjusted. We kept a box of Band-Aids by the companionway and told ourselves that blood on the nonskid was a fair price for the passage. Cruising—bruises, torn sails, storms, and all—was our therapy. Sailing gave us strength, taught us patience, and kept us sane. It was this belief in the healing powers of time on the water that sparked my idea of a kids-and-dads cruise.
One year earlier, Jon’s wife, Rita, had died of cancer, at the age of 39. A beloved fitness trainer in our hometown of Sarasota, Florida, she was my wife’s close friend. Her sudden passing left a hole in too many lives—“Even the angels are crying,” Jake explained to me, when it rained on the day of her funeral—and too little time for grieving. Our world, our cozy little ship, had been rolled, dismasted, and left to drift.
As Jon juggled work and the duties of single-parenthood, friends and neighbors chipped in. On Thursdays after school, Evan and Isabella would come to our house and stay for dinner. Over plates of spaghetti, my wife and I shared stories of our cruising days, and the kids seemed to enjoy the tales. Later, when the weather began to warm, Isabella asked her father about learning to sail.
We all knew what the answer would be. Jon had often talked about the boyhood summers he’d spent sailing with his grandfather. He mentioned, more than once, plans to buy a boat for him and the kids to enjoy—someday, when he had the time. That June, Evan and Isabella enrolled in sailing camp. By August, they were tearing across the bay in Optimist dinghies, and Jon started browsing Craigslist for boats. With Rita’s passing, it’d become clear to us all how easily “someday” slips away.
The children’s sudden interest in sailing reinforced the idea of a kids-and-dads charter. It seemed too easy to pass up. One of the country’s oldest bareboat-charter companies, Southwest Florida Yachts, had a base in Burnt Store Marina, on Charlotte Harbor, just one hour south of Sarasota.
A center-cockpit Hunter Passage 42 pictured on the company website seemed like the perfect family escape pod.
The date of departure fell just a few days after Father’s Day—appropriate, and somewhat ominous, timing. If there were Olympic events for fathers, spending five days with a boatful of children would be the decathlon: shotput, pole vault, 1,500 meters, the whole deal—with a potato-sack race thrown in for good measure.
To the dads’ advantage, the Hunter had all the conveniences of a modern cruiser: air conditioning, genset, hot water, electric-flush toilets, and a full suite of electronics. Even the boat’s name, Fortuitous, seemed a good omen. To our disadvantage, the kids had immediately marked us as pushovers. On the first day, they quickly claimed the best real estate.
The girls settled into the owners suite, which had acres of locker space, its own head, and a sit-down shower-tub. The boys piled into the V-berth and spilled out their bags, crammed with puppets and stuffed animals. The antipodes of the girls’ tidy palace, the forward berth immediately descended into chaos. Behind the closed door, the dark cavern echoed with laughter and feral noises, as their cute, fuzzy puppets battled in the spotlight of the brass reading lamp.
Jon and I were left with the drop-down table berth, a prairie-like super-king-sized bed that was just big enough to avert our first skirmish. “Just keep your Red Sox cap on your side of the cabin,” was all that Jon, a staunch—and unrepentant—Yankees fan, said of our sleeping arrangement. With a Maginot Line drawn down the middle of the main saloon, we left the dock at 1400, right according to The Plan.