Off Watch: A Road Trip Reestablishes the Bonds Between Father and Daughter

I'd been living the life of a yo-ho-ho sailor, right up until we sidled alongside the docks in Seattle, where a 12-year-old with an attitude awaited me.

Maggie kayaking in the mangroves
Paddling the mangroves along the Gulf Coast. Parenting, at times, can be just as challenging as a circumnavigation. Herb McCormick

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After a winding weeklong road trip from New England to Florida—with meanders through the Shenandoah National Park, the charming city of Savannah, Georgia, and more—my daughter, Maggie, and I were spending the first night aboard my Pearson 365, August West, in a slip on the Gulf Coast barrier island of Longboat Key. It was a bit windy, and the boat was tugging lightly at her dock lines, a sensation I couldn’t have found more pleasant. So, I was more than surprised when Mags said, “Um, D, I’m starting to feel a little queasy.”

Uh-oh. My kid, on a visit from Australia where she’d been living since the early days of the pandemic with her Aussie mum, was going to be living aboard with me for the next month. Was this going to be an issue?

The road trip had been our attempt to re-create an epic adventure that we shared in 2010, right after I’d finished an expedition “around the Americas” that started and finished in Seattle, and that included a 28,000-nautical-mile spin around the Americas via the Northwest Passage and Cape Horn. When my wife and I had divorced a few years earlier, I’d felt that a daughter belonged with her mom, and I didn’t object when it was decided they’d settle in Oz. 

Though I didn’t know much about it, really, there’d been difficulties between them from the outset. This I learned in a late-night email on a stormy, awful evening off Cape Horn. A fresh plan was hatched: Maggie would come live with me if and when I returned to the Pacific Northwest. To put it mildly, I’d been living the life of a yo-ho-ho sailor at sea, right up until we sidled alongside the docks in Seattle, where a 12-year-old with some serious attitude awaited me. 

For the next six weeks, we ambled across the country in my Chevy Silverado back to my Rhode Island home, checking out several of the national parks and visiting friends all along the way. And while it wasn’t all rosy—the kid can be a handful at times, and I wonder where the hell she got that from—we slowly but surely became best mates. We formed a relationship that only got stronger in the ensuing decade as she, well, we, negotiated middle school, high school and college. Looking back, I’d once thought that nothing could’ve been as hard, challenging or rewarding as completing that circumnavigation of the Americas. Now that I’ve been a single parent, I know differently.

The pandemic happened as I was on my way to pick her up for the spring break of her senior year of college, which she ended up basically finishing in my kitchen. Then, because we deemed it safer, she returned to Australia to sit it all out. Now she was back, for the first time in a couple of years. Which is when we again hit the road. 

Though she hadn’t been on a boat for a while, she’s ­actually a decent sailor. She’s had sailing lessons, and she took plenty of daysails and charter trips with me back in her adolescence. So the queasiness thing was definitely a shocker. 

But it lasted only a night. She had her sea legs back the next day, my chip off the old block. The next few weeks flew by. There was plenty of boating, daily swims, and several kayak forays through the nearby mangroves. 

But the best part of it all was our nightly ritual, which reminded me (once again) that some of the best times you can have on a sailboat are when you don’t actually go anywhere. Each evening, I’d crack open a beer and she’d sip a wine cooler as we torched the grill, enjoyed twilight, and watched the first stars twinkle overhead.

On more than one occasion, she said to me: “I love this, D. Someday, I want to live on a boat.” And you know how much I loved hearing that, right? 

Herb McCormick is a CW editor-at-large.

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