Hearing the words “You’ll need to cancel your schedule for the next four to six months” was quite sobering. Little did I know that I was actually facing nine months of treatments for lymphoma. Since graduating from college 30 years ago, I’d been on a nonstop whirlwind ride of racing, television commentary, and, during the last 10 years, cruising. I never considered stopping. But I was feeling bad. I had difficulty walking. Once started, the early chemo treatments had a brutal impact. The days of lying on my couch stretched into weeks and months. It was frustrating not to be able to focus my eyes to read or to watch television. Visualization of sailing became my companion.
My head was filled with images of racing, waves, and boats of all kinds. I was amazed how many races I could resurrect from years past. After a few months, my health started to improve. I could stand up straight. It was an encouraging feeling. It dawned on me that I should spend more time on the water taking in the sights, enjoying friendships, and being at one with nature.
My emerging sailing plan called for a slower pace than what I’m used to, but it seemed like a worthy goal. The concept gave me a renewed priority on getting well. Overcoming a serious illness is hard work. There are endless doctor’s appointments, debilitating treatments, and, worst of all, setbacks. It seemed like there was always one step backward after every two steps forward. It’s hard to function when your blood counts are low. The whole exercise becomes a mental tug-of-war. It reminds me of many races.
It’s easy to give in. To help fight the disease, I thought about pounding into the wind during hard ocean races. At the time, you can’t wait for the race to end, but eventually you cross the finish line.
The incentive to go cruising kept me going. After four months, things were looking up. I spent one week in Maine sailing on the beautiful J-class yacht Endeavour. It was a magical time. And, as it turned out, a teaser for the future. Three weeks later, I found myself back in the hospital with a rapidly growing tumor. The prescribed treatments would take another four to five months!
I desperately needed to look ahead so I could get past this hardship. By now, my mind was made up to acquire a cruising boat. I recruited a friend, Dick D’Amato, to become a partner in the enterprise.
My criteria were that the boat should be easy for two to sail, have room to sleep a family of five, and be organized, nice below, and comfortable for two couples. Most important, it had to sail well. It had to be nimble in the light winds of summer and capable of handling a strong blow while you’re doing an offshore passage.
The boat had to be big enough to accommodate our planned crew but small enough to anchor in remote gunkholes. A shoal draft seemed like a priority. Why not use the innovations learned from the America’s Cup? A bulb or wing keel was the solution there. After much thought, 40 feet seemed like the right length. But which boat? There are many good ones in the marketplace, both new and used.
I’ve struggled with faulty equipment on bareboat charters, and I’ve persevered through owning a wooden schooner. This time the word “new” sounded attractive. We decided to look for a new boat.
By the time a decision was near, my health woes kept me completely occupied. Over a 100-day stretch, I visited the hospital 73 times, including a 23-day stay following a stem-cell transplant. During this time, I spent endless hours thinking of sailing in the Caribbean, Maine, and other places.
At this writing, I’m happy to report that my health has improved and that Dick and I are the proud owners of a new Sabre 402. My time on the water will seem a little more special after the problems of the past year.
In the summer of 2004, Gary reported that his most recent scans showed him to be cancer-free. Though the aftermath of the treatments made for a slow recovery, he says he looks forward to being on the water often through the fall.