The e-mail arrived in mid-December under a one-word subject line that read, simply, "Irresponsibility." It went on: "Not sure who I should blame for this. Quit my job, sold my house, and moved my family (dog included) onto a catamaran! Currently 80 degrees here in La Paz, Mexico, and overall we're having a great time. Take care, Patrick."
I gulped hard. For I knew that, though I was certainly not guilty of any transgressions regarding squandered employment or large real-estate transactions, I wasn't entirely blameless here, either. For instance: the catamaran. Um, yeah, that'd been my idea.
But I'm getting ahead of the story.
I'd first laid eyes on Patrick Harrigan last May while delivering the Bruce Roberts-designed 64-foot Ocean Watch from Mexico to San Francisco. Skipper Mark Schrader had purchased the boat for the upcoming Around the Americas' Expedition, of which I'm a crewmember. Mark and I were both anxious to shake the boat down in preparation for the voyage ahead. But Patrick was there for a whole different reason. The brother of Mark's business partner, Neil Harrigan, he'd come aboard to learn the literal and figurative ropes in advance of a monumental decision. He was going to shed his old life and get on with a new one. He was going cruising.
There was only, you know, one small problem. He didn't know how to sail.
From the outset, I could see this wasn't going to be a major hurdle for Patrick to clear. He was clearly comfortable around the water, had done a lot of fishing, was familiar with boats, and seemed to be quite resourceful. But the thing he really had going for him was what I believe is perhaps the most underrated but essential trait for any long-range sailor: He had a great sense of humor.
Patrick peppered Mark and me with every question imaginable before he left the boat in San Diego to get back to work. But the one inquiry he kept returning to was at the same time both the hardest and the most straightforward. What sort of boat should he buy? He'd been looking at all manner of monohulls in the mid-40-foot range back home in the state of Washington, but there was a hitch to all of them. The Harrigans, it seemed, weren't going anywhere without their big Labrador, Rudy, and the matter of getting the pooch up and down companionways and into and out of dinghies presented a serious conundrum.
When I suggested to Patrick that he get himself "a cat," I could see that he considered me something less than manly. No, I said, a catamaran. When we pulled into a boatyard in Ensenada a few days later to the sight of a Lagoon 380 on the hard for a refit, he was off Ocean Watch and up chatting with the 380's owners in a second flat. Still, I didn't really think anything would come of the idea.
And then I got his e-mail.
At the bottom was the URL for the blog () of his journey, the introduction of which starts off with a plain declarative statement: "Welcome to our midlife crisis!" From there, it records a whirlwind series of dramatic events in the collective life of the Harrigan family, which also includes Patrick's wife, Laura, and 11-year-old son, Jack.
"We decided in March 2008 that our life could suit us a little better if we made some simple changes," wrote Laura before launching into the rather complicated milestones that followed. April 29: The house is for sale. July 22: The house sells. Mid-August: They buy a used 2001 Lagoon 380 in San Francisco. October 1: Patrick quits his job of 18 years. October 7: The family moves aboard Just a Minute and continue preparations. October 25: Just a Minute sails under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading south.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally caught up with the Harrigans via the wonders of Skype, and as I watched snowflakes flicker past my window in Rhode Island, there they were on my computer screen, looking tan and happy in the saloon of Just a Minute, which was tied up at the El Cid Marina in Mazatlan, Mexico. Laura's first words, "We love our boat," were music to my ears.
They'd had an eventful trip so far. With the help of a delivery crew, Patrick and Laura sailed from San Francisco to San Diego, and then Patrick carried on down the coast while Laura went back home, collected Jack and Rudy, and caught up with the boat in La Paz. Sadly, Patrick's mother died just before Christmas, and the whole family returned to Washington; once back in Mexico after the New Year, they crossed the Sea of Cortez to deal with saildrive issues at one of the few marinas capable of hauling their boat and affecting a repair. While waiting for parts-welcome to cruising!-they were having some down time and clearly enjoying their time together as a family. Did I mention that they looked great?
Too soon, we were bidding farewells, but before we signed off, I had one last question. Where had the name Just a Minute come from?
There were numerous reasons. It's Jack's favorite, all-purpose expression. Something about the phrase just caught their ears. Then Patrick said something that rather stopped me cold: "And, you know, it's all the time we've got on this Earth."
He's right, of course. And while it was certainly a bittersweet conclusion to the call, it also underscored the simplest of truths. The Harrigans, in their shorts and T-shirts, are making the most of every second.