Lying awake in my berth, listening to the roaring wind, I whipped up this little classified ad—or was I dreaming it?—in my mind. “Boat for sale: Beneteau 361 in great condition. Includes dinghy, watermaker, solar panels and wind generator.”
As all sailors can attest, these moments of doubt come around. That night, I would have sold my beloved Liberte for pennies on the dollar.
It had been a day of ridiculous logistics. Some land-based friends in Florida wanted to meet at the Sanibel Marriott for sunset hour. Simple enough, but the hotel dock wouldn’t work. The docks next door were private. There was no anchorage for shelter in the predicted northerlies.
I found a place on the charts that might work, and for several hours, we motored the twisting Intracoastal Waterway against current to go just 2 miles as the seagull flies. We crept around a long shoal and through skinny water to drop the hook. We were far from shore with no wind protection, but in flat water, or so we thought.
A fishing boat came blasting by, so close that our mast rocked in its wake. Then another. It appeared I had anchored smack dab in the middle of a local shortcut. Each driver gave us the stink eye as they hit the throttle. Doubt crept in, the scourge of any untested anchorage.
A TowBoatUS boat pulled up, and the driver hollered over: “You guys OK? Never seen anyone anchored here.”
“Uh, yeah…. Just here for a couple of nights.”
“Wow, you’re here on purpose? All the boats run through here.”
“Can’t believe you got over the bar,” the tow driver said. “I’d get back out at the next high tide if I were you.”
“Thanks! Now go save someone else, pal.” (I said that last part under my breath).
Now the breeze was lively. My wife, Rebecca, and I hoisted the dinghy off the foredeck, and it wanted to sail away. I stepped into the rollicking dink and fitted the outboard, my limbs jerking like a character in an old-time movie. I yanked the starter, remembering to use my left hand because the right arm was tweaked from before. All the while I muttered versions of the phrase, “This is ridiculous!”
Rebecca still had her sunny smile, so much better at these times than me, and we motored upwind in our foulies against breeze and spray. We tied up to the hotel docks with the guilty manner of not knowing if we belonged. Our friends looked fresh, unwrinkled, sensible and sophisticated. We pulled off our wet gear and smoothed our crazy hair.
The sunset was a five-star masterpiece, but we apologized and made the transit back to Liberte before dark. As we tossed about in our inflatable, feeling oh-so-vulnerable, I looked up at the Sanibel Island causeway. There were the smart people, unbound by charts and shallows. To change their weather, they just summoned the heat or air conditioning. They were no doubt destined for crisp sheets in a quiet hotel room. Those lucky people.
Back at the boat, the anchor light was out, so I cobbled together a “nonapproved” version using headlamps. I tried to read a book but instead inserted some more details into my imaginary ad: “Boat for sale. High engine hours. Jib needs replacement. Bottom paint due. Wind instruments behaving strangely. Fridge needs three sharp raps on the thermostat to come back on.”
The wind whistled, and the cabin was colder than seemed possible this far south. There was a squeeze in my chest, the unsettling feeling of making a big mistake. This sailing life made no sense at all. I would have to find a broker in the morning.
I went topside for a look around. That one step still squeaked. The winches needed servicing. My makeshift anchor light was already fading. It would be a great relief to hand all this to a new owner. Let him deal with it.
And then the cool north wind smacked me upside the head. I stood there for a long while, just drinking in the sensation of it.
The wind I chased through hills as a boy and sent me to the islands on my first ocean passage. The wind that silently, wondrously, put Rebecca and me next to a mother humpback and her calf as they dived and surfaced for 20 magical minutes I will remember with a smile all my life.
I smiled now too, in the darkness. Thoughts of the winds that had carried us to so many places. The fragrant land breeze of Pacific Mexico at night and the sea breeze in the afternoons. The clean, sweet wind of the West Indies. The pleasures of the Pacific trades. That epic night off Cape Mendocino, surfing a narrow groove with a scrap of sail, nothing more important in the world than to steer a course and keep the boat in one piece until morning. This little boat named Liberte that had given me thousands of sunsets and a million sparkling memories.
The deck was familiar under my feet. I knew my route over it and could find the corresponding handholds by instinct. Looking around in the moonlight, everything was tidy and in its place.
Even the blemishes had meaning. Who else would understand how that scrape or ding came to be? I had put them there myself over the course of years and adventures aplenty. I knew with a warm rush of memory all the stories here.
My eyes darted again to the bridge and all the cars. Their brake lights crawled along, constrained by tollways, traffic, convention and routine. Perhaps there was one kid, a younger version of me, looking out the window at a lone boat under the moon and dreaming.
Maybe he was thinking, Those lucky people.
“Baby, are you coming to bed?” A beloved voice from below. The gleam of polished wood. The good books, well-appointed galley and simple pleasures.
Yes, I most certainly am. And tonight I will sleep the sleep of a sailor, wrapped in water sounds and rocked off to dreamland.
“Boat for sale?” Not a chance.
You’ll have to pry old Liberte from my banged-up sailor’s hands.
David and Rebecca Kilmer spent this past winter aboard Liberte exploring Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and savoring every bloody moment.