Passages of Another Kind - October 2005

Red Witch and Book CoverThe past eighteen months has been characterized by changes and transitions, and the inherent opportunities that come when one door is closed and another is opened.  Our first mate, Sydney, passed from this life to the next; we became a one boat family; and, after choosing to part ways with a long-time business partner, Jim decided to pursue a decades-old dream of becoming a potter.  On one level these are predictable, natural events and by deduction, inevitable.  After all: dogs die, interests evolve; and, individuals routinely retire from one career and begin another.  The inevitability of these types of life events does not make them particularly newsworthy; but rather, it is the extent to which they trigger a bend or a detour in our lives that takes us to places and people that we might not otherwise have discovered.

The wonders of modern medicine maintained our four-legged first mate in a pain-free state for the last three years of her life and our lifestyle allowed for one or both of us to be with her around the clock.  When living afloat, Sydney could be found nestled at my husband’s feet while he formulated computer code or she snuggled next to me while I churned out words for an article or worked on my next book.  Upon reflection I am now able to understand why those whose invitations we frequently declined believed we were being held hostage to our dogs every whim.  The truth is she created parameters in our lives, and provided the perfect excuse for us to make an exit earlier than we otherwise might have from functions where imbibing late into the evening almost certainly would have left me heavy headed the next day and far less productive than I needed to be.  Adjustments were made to our live-aboard lifestyle ostensibly to accommodate our ailing dog, resulting, for example, in far fewer impromptu sails unless the conditions were pristine, and consequent extended periods on the quai.

Sydney’s death on March 1, 2004 left us even more admiring of the French and their compassionate approach to bidding farewell to their canine companions. 

SydneyDespite the time we had to come to terms with her impending demise, Sydney’s death left a gaping hole in every aspect of our lives.  By the time she told us she was ready to meet the rainbow bridge, our lives had become so enmeshed with her own that we could not differentiate the two.  For days after she left us, we would return to the boat half expecting to see her curled up in the pilothouse and as in the past, hoping she’d slept through our absence.  In the weeks that followed I continued to awake during the middle of the night certain that I’d heard Sydney’s gentle whimper, her signal that she wanted to be helped onto our bed.  One morning after several weeks of uninterrupted sleep, it suddenly dawned on me that it had been a couple of years since I’d slept through one entire night without being awakened by our dog. 

With Sydney’s death came an enormous wave of relief at being liberated from the round-the-clock responsibility of caring for her – and with relief came concurrent feelings of guilt.  I was reminded of a close friend whose aged father’s death released her from years of daily ministering to his every need and how she struggled to reconcile the guilt she felt from the ensuing emancipation.  I had consoled my friend and encouraged her to relish new found freedom; I realized now how naïve I had been.

Between spontaneous bouts of biking and hiking, and day long car trips to places we’d postponed visiting out of deference to our old dog’s diminished agility, we began to see the world around us with new eyes and felt increasingly unencumbered.  The summer following Sydney’s death we tossed our lines and sailed around the Mediterranean for several months.  During that time we took advantage of our dog-free existence and fretted not a second about where dogs were welcome and where they were not, or whether we’d been away from the boat too long and needed to rush back to dispense meds and take our precious first mate ashore. 

When unanticipated circumstances necessitated an extended stay at our land base in Canada, Jim decided to trade his computer for a potter’s wheel and let his fingers mould clay rather than manipulate a keyboard.  I applauded his excitement about pursuing a hobby he’d taken up briefly then abandoned more than thirty years earlier however I couldn’t help but wonder how a potter’s life would co-exist with the life afloat I’d come to relish.  Nevertheless within weeks of our return to land, a gas kiln was constructed; boxes of clay were stacked in a makeshift studio, and in record time chunks of clay morphed into works of art. Before I knew it we were caught up in the excitement of hosting an open house to premiere Jim’s new craft and then preparing to stock a booth at a major art show. 

It did not take long for us to determine that the best venues for potters and their wares are art shows and festivals carefully staggered throughout the summer months to capitalize both on the weather conditions (most shows are held out of doors) and the tourist trade.  Participation in these events would mean forfeiting time on Red Witch, the old wooden cruiser to which we had retreated every summer except for the one prior, and admittedly in increasingly shorter stints since relocating our sailboat to the Med. 

Selling the Red Witch represented a significant milestone in our lives: she was our first boat, the inspiration for an unimaginable lifestyle and the impetus to a best-selling book.  Though our time on her had decreased significantly in recent years as a consequence of our spending increased periods of time on the sailboat, neither of us had dared to say with absolute surety that the time had come to find our glorious old cruiser a new family.  We grappled with the realization that the pleasure once derived from our old boat had diminished; in its place was a growing sense of resentment about the her never-ending need for routine maintenance, the time it took to perform the required chores, and the associated expenses.  A turning point came when we undertook a methodical assessment of how our wants and needs had evolved and how divesting our life of the Red Witch would leave more time and money to enrich other aspects of our lives. 

We enjoyed thirteen unforgettable years on the Red Witch – all of them with Sydney at our side.  The sale of this boat brought closure to that chapter of our lives and opened the door to writing new chapters teeming with opportunities both for us and for her new owners.  Oprah Winfrey once said, ‘You can have everything, you just can’t have it all at once’.  We had the Red Witch and all her glory and it was now time to move on.

We resumed life afloat after a near-year long absence with Jim enthusiastic about experimenting with a variety of ‘liveaboardable’ artistic mediums and me just as eager to continue working on a variety of writing projects.  I have been blessed with a career that is portable and have evolved a process that enables me to undertake necessary field work while we are land-based and then work on the writing components of various projects when we are living afloat. 

Jake as a puppyWith Red Witch being joyfully refurbished by her proud new owners, our lives became more streamlined and more balanced overall.  Jake joined our family a little more than a year ago and his perfectly round, black eyes surrounded by tight, curly, white locks still bring me to my knees.  He is different from his predecessor in many respects not the least of which are his portability and the ease with which he has adapted to life float.  Weighing in at twelve pounds and a pinch he’s able to accompany us (and has already) in the cabin of an airplane.  He’s also proven quite adept at riding in the over-sized basket affixed to my bicycle – something he’ll be doing a lot of when we shop for a baguette and make the rounds at the marché.  We think he’s shaping up to be another perfect first mate. 

In the wake of every passage regardless of how predictable or unexpected these may be, there can be found new horizons that hold untold possibilities and opportunities.  In closing some doors, we have opened new ones and are eager to make new discoveries…create new memories…pursue new dreams.