The Disease Called Cruising
20. No way to say goodbye
WE STOOD in hot September sun in the road that runs like a spine down the middle of Hendrick’s Isle, Fort Lauderdale. Our boat, lying in the canal a few yards away, had been sold. Our car was ready to go.
“Don’t you want to take a last look at her?” said June.
“No,” I said, “let’s go.” I knew I would cry if I stood there on the dock looking down on that lovely boat.
Nothing makes me sadder than a farewell. It’s as bad with a boat as it is with people. Maybe worse. I like to slip away quietly without fuss. I’d be okay if we could just get in the car and drive away with no backward glances, no regrets.
One big adventure was ending. Another was beginning.
I started the little Buick and headed west. We had nowhere to go to. And we had everywhere to go to. We had escaped from the oppression and uncertainties of South Africa. We had arrived safely in America.
We had no jobs and nowhere to live. We would just keep driving until we found a city we liked, with people we liked. Some place where there was work.
June put her hand on my knee. “You all right?” After 25 years of marriage, she knew me very well.
I nodded. I couldn’t talk. My throat felt hot and swollen.
I drove automatically, but I didn’t see the road. I saw Freelance. I saw her heeled far over, lying a-hull in a gale off the Cape of Good Hope. I saw her looking frail and pretty at anchor against a background of rugged volcanic cliffs at St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic.
I saw her sturdy 31-foot hull flying through the trades under twin jibs, with June at the tiller laughing with delight, reeling off 142 miles in one day and scattering clouds of flying fish from her foaming bows. I saw her silhouetted dramatically against the palms and mangroves at sunset in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia.
I could hear the sizzle of supper on the stove and see, flooding the cabin, the mellow glow of brass kerosene lamps.
I could smell fresh varnish, hot under the tropical sun, on her iroko caprail, and I could feel the pain of fingertips raw from sanding. We looked after each other, Freelance and I.
Farewell? There’s no way to say farewell. How do you say farewell to a part of your body, your soul, your life?
I never saw her out of the water before I bought her. I never had her surveyed. I never sailed in her. I just took one look and I knew. And I was right.
In the passing years I got to understand her well. I became wise to her few faults, and I forgave her them. I spent countless hours in the dinghy, hovering, just admiring her.
One last look? Oh God, no. I loved her.
No backward glances. No regrets. Keep driving.
To meet, to know, to love—and then to part,
Is the sad tale of many a human heart.
S. T. Coleridge, Couplet Written in a Volume of Poems
Golfer: “You must be the worst caddie in the world.”
Caddie: “Oh come now — that would be far too much of a coincidence.”(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)