It was November 15, 1997, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. A man went to his mailbox and found Cruising World.
He was not a sailor. He had subscribed to the magazine after visiting a boat show. He also had visited a sales promotion and gone on a short sail aboard a Hunter Passage 42. He enjoyed reading about the adventures, the boats on the market. In the back of the magazine, he read the ads about chartering.
His eye was drawn to a section on sail-mates. Most were men seeking women to join them for long term-cruising, but one ad was from a woman. All she gave was a Texas post-office box for responses.
My response to that ad included my phone number. I was that man.
Two or three weeks went by, and then one night, my phone rang. I looked at the number: an unknown area code.
That phone call led to many questions, some about our personal lives and goals, but most about sailing experience. I had none. Even so, Joanne and I formed enough of a connection to put me on an airplane from New Orleans to Houston.
She picked me up at the airport, but we did not immediately spot each other. Joanne thought I was shorter, and I couldn’t make out her face behind her aviator sunglasses. We walked right past each other and then, at almost the same time, turned around.
“Dwight?” she asked.
We spent a wonderful weekend together. We ate, drank and danced, and finally made our way to her boat, Aurora, which she kept at a marina south of Houston. Joanne had made a hotel reservation for me, but I never used it.
I would learn over time that Aurora was built for long-range cruising. It was a sturdy craft with a draft of 7 feet. It was easy to run aground if you were careless with navigation.
For the next few weeks, Joanne and I spent almost every day discussing plans for the future. My retirement date moved up from two years to a few weeks. I gave notice at my job and prepared to ship my household goods to my daughter in Florida. I was in New Orleans long enough to celebrate Mardi Gras. I still had the house, so my place became party central.
Joanne joined me for one week. My friends from law school came for a few days. My son, Mathew, also found some time to enjoy the celebration.
Finally, I was driving west from New Orleans to Texas to join Joanne on her boat. Once again, I gave thanks to Cruising World for having brought us together.
Joanne had picked a day that she wanted to leave, and had hired a captain and mate to assist across the Gulf of Mexico. I had talked my friend Roger into joining us. The trip across the Gulf turned out to be quite an adventure, especially for a novice like myself. The winds averaged 40 knots, and seas were rough. At one point, the captain wanted to abort and make way to Mississippi; Joanne called us all together and, in no uncertain terms, said that since it was an equal distance to Florida and she was the owner, we would continue to Florida.
We set our course for St. Petersburg Beach. I happened to be on watch when land was first sighted. Our navigational aid was the beautiful pink hotel, the Don Cesar. I woke everyone up with a loud hoorah!
As we left the boat after our seven-day journey, Joanne and I hugged, and briefly discussed our future together. We were tired, but we were truly excited about the known and unknown. We identified projects to make Aurora fit for a one- or two-year trip.
We married on November 14, 1998. Ultimately, we were able to complete some of those projects. We had to hire help for others. Years later, we said our goodbyes to family and friends, and left for Key West. We planned a stop in Fort Myers Beach to visit with Joanne’s daughter and our grandchildren.
After four beautiful days in Key West, we set off for the 50-mile sail up to Marathon Key, our staging spot to go out into the Atlantic and, then, the Bahamas. It would be another first for me, but not for Joanne.
The Gulf Stream is powerful. It can push the boat north at 8 to 10 knots. After a night of alternating watches to compensate, we watched a beautiful sunrise. We could see our destination about 4 miles ahead. We made coffee and congratulated ourselves on a successful start of our trip.
Wow, what a feeling—especially for a first-timer like me. As we lowered our dinghy to a dock in the Bahamas, we began our next adventure. We have many more countries on our horizon.