Sweet salvation: Chris Caswell does some soul searching by dinghy, chatting idly with passing yachties he finds relaxed while moored at anchorages half a world apart. What he finds though is much more; in fact no less than salvation offered every man by simply sailing the sea as the years slip by in our wake.
We were on a charter in the BVIs, sitting at anchor late in the day, sprawled in the cockpit in a total repose that we had assumed ten seconds after we'd cleared immigration. To say we were relaxed is like saying Everest is a mountain.
So it was with interest that we watched a sailing yacht come around the point under mainsail alone, and we could almost imagine the skipper looking at his choices.
Hmmm, nice spot next to that powerboat, but his generator is going to run all night. Next best is alongside that bareboat with people lying all over the cockpit. Hopefully they'll pass out early.
He was, of course, looking at us.
Anchoring in a bareboat paradise like the BVIs is a spectator sport for those already anchored, but this was a textbook example.
The sloop rounded up neatly and we could see just a single man aboard. The main came down and, with the easy grace of experience, it was quickly secured as the boat made a wide circle with the diesel just ticking over.
He put the bow where he wanted his anchor, strolled forward to release it with a clatter of chain, and let the boat drift back. He sauntered aft, gave a short burst of reverse to set the hook, and shut the engine down. No muss, no fuss. It was so boringly perfect that I was even more intrigued.
And so I found myself in our tender the next morning. I'm an inveterate dinghy-hopper, and can amuse myself for hours in a busy anchorage, just looking at boats. Some great friendships have been formed with two sentences: "Great looking boat. What is she?"
As I neared the mystery sloop, could see the man propped in the cockpit, reading a book. He looked up as 1 said. "You gave a great lesson in anchoring to all the bareboaters yesterday."
He laughed and said modestly, "Well. I've been doin' it long enough ..." And thus was launched a most fascinating conversation.
He looked like any other sailor ... khaki shorts, faded t-shirt and bare feet, although he was no spring chicken. I'd guess mid-70s, but clearly fit and tanned. Invited aboard For a glass of juice, I was intrigued as his story unfurled.
A sailor all his life, from dinghies through ocean racers and into more comfortable boats, he'd looked forward to retirement and cruising with, his wife. It was their dream, but she died suddenly before it was His kids were grown, and he found that most of his friends were really couple-friends, with little interest in him as a single. He was at loose ends and depressed.
One day, I thought, what the hell? Go by yourself!" He grinned as he recalled that turning point, and the rebirth of enthusiasm that followed. He found a suitable yacht, threw himself into fitting her out and was soon ready to east off.
"My God," he recalled, "So many naysayers. So many who went tsktsk, both in private and to my face. How silly of him, they'd say. How dangerous. What if something happens to him? What about his kids?"
"I thought, phooey on the kids. They've got their own lives, they're in the will, and now is my time".
He's been sailing for several years now around the Caribbean. Some exciting times, a few storms, but mostly just pure pleasure. His cabin was stacked with paperbacks so he wouldn't run short of reading, and he seemed a man who was supremely happy.
"If I hadn't gone. I'd be dead by now. I would have had dry rot of the soul, and I would have let grief and loss take over my life. Yes, of course, I miss my wife. But this renewed me."
Sailing can be salvation.
A couple of years ago, we met a young man while we were chartering in Greece. He and his father were aboard a small sloop next to us in the harbor at Hydra. The young man was not just visiting, though, but taking his father home.
We sat one evening and listened to his plan. He was worried that his father, now well into his 70's, might hurt himself on the boat. His idea was to sell the boat, take his rather back lo England, and put him in a home for the elderly. Of course, his father didn't want to go.
The father's arguments were good ones. "It's my life." "I'm not harming anyone." "I don't want to go to an old folks home." "So what if I kill myself ... I've got to go sometime."
The son was torn between doing what seemed best and what his father wanted. We waited to see the outcome, and it was Mother Nature who provided the answer.
One afternoon, a meltemi wind blew with a hot ferocity, and the boats in the harbor started to bang around. Out of nowhere, hall' a dozen men arrived at the old man's boat, reset the anchor, added fenders, and generally made things right.
The next day, the son stopped by our boat to say goodbye. His mind had been put at rest by his father's many friends who were clearly looking out for him, and he had seen that taking the old man home probably would have killed him. It was a tough decision to make, and the two hugged for a long time on the quay as they parted.
Sailing can be our salvation.
With more than 40 years as an award-winning boating journalist, and as a former editor of both Yachting and Sea magazines, Chris Caswell is a well-known racing sailor in the USA with silverware in everything from Lasers to ocean racers. The author of six books on boating, Caswell is a dedicated sailor who says he's owned more boats than he wants either his banker or his wife to know about.
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|Title Annotation:||THE PIN END|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2012|
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