Grateful I am that I was raised aboard the 1924 wooden John G. Alden-designed 52-foot schooner Elizabeth, in the bosom of a warm, wonderful family of waterfront wackos. I’m even prouder that Carolyn, my wife, and I raised our daughter, Roma Orion, aboard the 36-foot ketch Carlotta and the 38-foot sloop Wild Card. But what I’m most proud of is that Roma Orion, after an entire childhood spent at sea, returns year after year to sail with us in such places as Tahiti, Australia, Asia, Africa, Israel, Spain, and the Caribbean.
Actions, indeed, speak louder than words.
Her visits have always been the high points of our cruising year, and more so now, since she and her husband bring our new grandchild, Sokú, along as well. (“Sokú” means “swift” in Japanese.)
Last year, we cruised among the Balearics in the Med. Since Sokú was only 6 months old, we timed our smooth-water coastal trips so we had benign weather, minimum cross swell, and safe anchorages at every stop. This worked well. The baby wasn’t a problem. In fact, in some ways, it was highly convenient to be on a boat: After we’d smear Sokú with baby food—I refuse to use the word “feed,” since very little food is actually ingested—we’d just slosh down the cockpit with buckets of seawater.
This year, Sokú and her support team visited us again for two weeks. Our plan was to stay within the tranquil British Virgin Islands. It was a good plan, a sensible plan.
Alas, as we were tacking along the south coast of Norman Island, we received cyber-word that a dream boat in Sint Maarten had just been dramatically reduced in price.
Damn! I itched to do a survey and make an offer, but I’d have to wait until Roma’s departure in order to fly into Marigot and submit a formal bid.
“Don’t be silly,” Roma said, when she heard her mother and I discussing the plan. “It’s only a hundred miles to the east. Let’s sail it, starting right now!”
“It’s not merely a hundred miles,” I said cautiously. “It’s a hundred miles to windward across the dreaded Anegada Passage, or, as the locals call it, the Anegada Pukage!”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” said Roma breezily. “You always say in your Cruising World articles that Wild Card is prepped and ready to go at a moment’s notice, don’t you?”
Roma is difficult to argue with. She knows us too well.
“What’s another night of total windward misery to an experienced offshore sailor?” she chided us. “It’s nothing! Ha! So come on! What are we waiting for? Let’s do it, Captain Daddy-O!”
I can never resist her when she calls me that.
“OK, Itty-Bitty Butt, you’re on!”
Carolyn always has her nose in a book offshore—that is, when she isn’t caressing her Kindle. We’re both bookworms, and we always share what we read, even though our tastes are quite different. This time, she was reading a novel about India and the many gods worshiped there.
“Ganesh,” she said at one point, “is the God of Lost Causes.”
“There’s no such thing as a lost cause,” I yawned.
With a twinkle in her eye, she shot back, “I dunno, Fatty. Having a shower aboard or refrigeration seems like a pretty distant dream to me!”
“Ganesh,” she continued, “is the supreme remover of obstacles. And—you’ll love this, Fatty—he has a special affinity for writers. Plus, he’s well known for his sense of humor and good nature, as befits a lad whose head was chopped off and replaced with that of an elephant.”
I hadn’t checked the weather. And now, the sky didn’t look good. The wind was in our teeth. Worse, it was building. But, hey, Wild Card romps both upwind and down, in both light and heavy air. We’d just finished a 26-day passage across the Atlantic. The Anegada Passage might be uncomfortable this time of year, but it wouldn’t be life-threatening.
And I wanted to bless Sokú Orion with an offshore passage. After all, her mother had 20 stamps in her passport by her first birthday. Sokú needed to catch up.
So we sailed away from the protection of shore just south of Round Rock. It felt great to be at sea again. Our bow dipped and curtsied to the southeasterly swell.
Wild Card seemed particularly pleased to have the whole Goodlander crew aboard once again.
I think our sailboat misses Roma as much as we do.
It’s odd. I read my vessel’s moods like a nervous husband. “Listen to the boat, son,” my father once told me. “She’s smarter than you’ll ever be.”
That’s good advice.
There’s a nobleness about Wild Card that I admire greatly. Yes, we were in the market for a slightly bigger boat, but I knew I’d never find another vessel that sails better or is safer in a blow. Olin Stephens designed two of my favorite vessels, the famous Stormy Weather and the modest Wild Card.
We’d owned Wild Card now for more than 23 years. She carried us farther than twice around the world, perhaps 80,000 ocean miles or so.
She’s a member of our family, and I found it touching that she now carried three generations of Goodlanders in search of their next vessel.
“Change is good” is one of my mantras. But how will I ever be able to walk away from Wild Card?
She’s been our home, our sea shell, our floating castle for so very long.
Once I owned a 10-foot Lawley dinghy, 100 pounds of fiberglass and nothing more, some would say. She was lashed upside down on deck during Hurricane Hugo. But when my vessel floundered and Roma, Carolyn, and I were washed ashore on the wave-battered beach of Culebra, in the Spanish Virgin Islands, she came to us, that dinghy did. She actually nudged me like a faithful dog or porpoise might do, to lift me higher onto the sand.
Suddenly, there was a sucking sound. A large sea was coming. The water rushed away, pulling the half-submerged dinghy from my view with a hasty jerk and hiding her in the frothing gloom. We later found her flattened under a megayacht.
I grabbed the sputtering Roma and dashed for high ground. My boats have saved me.
But back to our voyage in search of a new yacht. There’s something about sharing a night watch with your child on the deep ocean, something precious and indefinable. Perhaps it’s how the compass light plays on soft, reflective features or a look of intense concentration when picking out a star to steer by. There’s stainless steel in Roma’s soul—just like in her mother’s.
We needn’t have worried about the weather. It was an amazingly smooth, gentle, wonderful passage.
“Divine intervention?” muttered Carolyn from between the pages of her book.
In Sint Maarten, we all trooped through the boat yard and caught sight of Her at the same time.
The 43-foot Wauquiez Amphitrite looked incredibly sad. She’d been left to die in a hurricane trench many years ago. It was as if she were half buried. Her engine was a rusted hunk. Her sheet winches didn’t turn. She was a mess, an almost worthless mess.
I immediately knew She was the one. She needed to be liberated. I needed to liberate Her.
We swarmed her and oohed and ahhed over the Amphitrite’s giant aft cabin, her spacious saloon.
“Oh my god!” said Carolyn, so sharply that I visibly jumped. “A dedicated tool room with full standing headroom and a fixed vise!”
I just knew. Love at first sight. Sure, she’d be surveyed. But love is love, right?
Roma said, “The pilot berth is perfect for Sokú!”
We dashed hither and yon, agog with the glory of it all.
Then I startled myself. I hadn’t intended to speak. But I did. And it was a pronouncement: “I will name her Ganesh, after the God of Lost Causes, in honor of the Supreme Remover of All Obstacles.”
Later that day, as the glorious Caribbean sun set, we approached our beloved Wild Card silently, meekly, contritely. She was swinging lazily on her anchor in Simpson Bay. I felt as if I’d been cheating on her, that I was an adulterer.
I shut off the outboard engine. We drifted slowly, each of us lost in a maze of private, flickering thoughts. Finally, Roma stood up slowly, reached out tentatively, and stroked _Wild Card’_s deck like a horse rider might do to a faithful steed about to be put down.
She smiled, a dreamy, faraway smile, as if she were looking at a faded, sepia-tone photograph of her waterborne childhood.
Then her smile flickered and came back brighter and brighter. It was pure joy now: immense, unmitigated happiness. She looked me straight in the eye, adult to adult. We were back in the Moment. It was Now.
“It’s time, Dad,” she said. “Time to move on.”
The Goodlanders have been busily moving their belongings aboard Ganesh, preparing for the next big adventure.