I've Left It All | Cruising World

I've Left It All

The New York State Canal System unveiled a world of possibilities for the crew of Tevai. "Under Way" from our January 2010 issue

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The New York State Canal System unveiled a world of possibilities for the crew of Tevai.

Courtesy Of Pattie Bittel

Aboard Tevai, as my husband, Tim, and I moved into the quiet rhythm of motoring from lock to lock in the New York State Canal System, I felt my mood sinking. Somehow, the dank and gloomy lock walls seemed to reflect my situation, and they felt like a prison. "I've left it all," I groaned, picturing my tennis buddies slamming that little yellow ball at each other and laughing afterward in the bar. I imagined fun parties at the yacht club, with everyone dancing. I savored memories of heart-to-hearts with my best friend, Claire, over a bottle of wine. The farther away we got from home, the darker and gloomier the world seemed.

Then there was an unexpected and uplifting moment at Lock Six. I was sinking into the bottom of the lock's cavernous dankness, musing about why some folks choose not to go cruising. Then the heavy, metal doors of the lock began creaking open, and I could see a stream of light. I watched, mesmerized, as the looming doors ground wider to reveal a vista of rolling blue hills covered in a feathery, mystical mist. It was a beckoning future of the unknown and unexplored. Finally, the doors thunked flat against the wall in a call to move out into the daylight. The forests and fields glowed in the soft light of humid sunshine, and the trees rustled their leaves slightly in anticipation. Tevai, our LaFitte 44, surged forward, taking my spirit with her.

I was in a marina laundry room in Hampton, Virginia, when I met Maria. Her bored and visibly fidgety son was pestering her. Now she's as close a friend as I've ever had. Funny, I have other friendships going back 30 years. Cruising friendships sprout with blinding quickness.

Sometimes we make a passage with other boats and anchor with them. But sooner or later, someone either can't leave or must leave for a repair. Sometimes a boat has to make a port to pick up a visiting family member or friend. Sometimes folks just want to leave when others want to stay for a few more days. So we part ways, hoping to come across each other in another time and place. With amazing frequency, we do join up with folks in new and different places, and then we pick up where we left off. Reunions are utterly delightful, with stories of all that's happened since last we met.

This relatively bizarre and uncontrolled social life required significant adjustment on our part. Like cruising itself, the security of predictability is gone-replaced by a willingness to just go and see what happens. For the shy, it also requires jumping in the dinghy and knocking on the hull of unknown boats to see if the crew would like to join you for a sundowner.

The nature of these relationships at anchor is so much like life itself: constantly changing and transient, with a melange of the spontaneous, the random, and the inevitable. Realizing that any anchorage can harbor valued friendships has steadied my perspective within the constant change of cruising. Looking back on my trepidation, I now know that the truly sad and gloomy thing would've been to miss the ebb and flow of these spontaneous, anchoring friendships.


The Bittels completed their Caribbean sabbatical in the summer of 2009 and returned to Cleveland, Ohio, with a slew of fond memories.

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