Found at Sea

One lost writer’s reflections on the water. From recent Aquatramp initiate, Central Florida playwright Tracey Jane.

“Most beginners oversteer.” Sapphire’s Captain Gary turns the wheel until the heading reads 132, and wind snaps the sail taut again. “You’ll get the feel for it.” His eyes scan gauges, sails and sky. I fixate on the digital number before me, but the sea shushes all around, dark in the clouded moonlight, lulling me to introspection.

Maybe I’ve oversteered my life, too. Especially in the beginning, when I had it all figured out: Get good grades in school, get a good job, get married, get a house, have kids, do all you’ve been told to do, believe only what you’ve been raised to believe. My heading was clear. And I was always firmly focused on the number in front of me — but never on where I was actually going.

The busyness of life becomes the business of living. That’s how it was for me anyway, until one day I looked up and realized I was exactly where I was “supposed to be.” Yet completely lost. I wasn’t following my own inner compass, or whatever else you might call it: each person’s unique heart, spirit, energy … The number dances: 126, 128, 119. I spin the giant rim sharply to the right.

“Small movements,” Gary calls from the saloon, where he’s writing the last hour’s log entry. He never looks up, having apparently felt the boat’s movement more clearly than I could see it. “Give her time to adjust.”

It’s been twenty-two months since my divorce, after twenty-two years married. Half my life and nearly all my adult life. While I can’t worry about the weather behind me, it still chases me, the good as much as the bad. The failure looms, even if shared, even though ultimately without blame. The grief of that loss, of love — and even more, of the dream that it will last forever — still crashes over me sometimes, like an abrupt big wave. 138, 143 … I pull back left, and Gary reappears.

“This is distracting you.” He grins and switches off the illuminated gauges. “See where the moon’s hitting the horizon?” I mumble assent, only then noticing that the clouds have moved, revealing a glowing gibbous moon. Nearly centered over our bow, it splays light across the water. “Stay on this side of it.” I nod, setting my outlook to the shimmering triangle. Gary lies down on a cushion atop the cockpit and closes his eyes.

Sapphire Catamaran making way South.

Like the other crewmembers he’s gathered for this venture, I’m here for a reason. Maybe he knows we’re each in deep need of something, even if it’s just this shared experience at sea …

Meg is the free-spirited gypsy who survived a rare aortic aneurysm in her early 20s. Another real-life badass is Omar. A veteran first responder haunted by the Pulse nightclub tragedy, he’s the gentle giant who’s turned his observant eye to professional photography.

David and Alice are the couple straight out of Eden. (Technically, she’s from Britain, but you get the idea.) Together, this tow-haired Adam and Eve have trekked the globe and faced the formidable, including a precarious collapsed lung and devastating family accident. Onward they choose to sail and are restoring their first boat, a classic monohull.

Gary also invited his longtime friend from their quintessential Southern hometown of Erwin, Tennessee. Easygoing Robbie and his flame-haired wife Nicole, our onboard firefighter and medic, are walking metaphors of everything to love about America: likable, tough, and even stronger united.

Then there’s our buoyant first mate. The brother of Gary’s best bud from Navy days, Dan is the likeable, knowledgeable wingman in every great sailing movie you’ve ever seen. You know, the ones where the adventure goes nothing like planned but changes everyone aboard as they rally together through adversity to the unexpected end. But I’m getting ahead of this story …

The Captain and Crew aboard Sapphire Catamaran, Summer 2020

Dan takes the helm for our overlapping watch. In between the continued lapping of nighttime waves, I comprehend half of all Dan says as he freely dispenses wisdom about wind. Like how you can’t sail right into it. And how it’s more often in front of you and not behind you, hence tacking, approaching the wind from alternating sides. So, in fact, the fastest way to get from point A to B is never a straight line. Nor was our route from Titusville to Miami, which was our intended July 4th destination.

“Asshole,” Dan calls the wind when it shifts again. “It keeps clocking around on us.” The navigational relationship between clock and compass, time and direction, has always been a fascination to me. Movement is measured in degrees, minutes and seconds of the earth’s sphere. Or a person’s lifetime.

At the end of my shared hour with Dan, I go to the logbook, thinking of how I might verbally capture the conditions I had witnessed him contend with. I scribble some jumble about the wind clocking around a lot. Then I look at the line above and see Captain Gary’s perfect summary: CONFUSED SEAS.

The entry could just as well describe my post-divorce mindset. Or all the “unprecedented events” that have marked 2020. But like “these uncertain times,” the mysterious ocean has a way of revealing us, of distilling our brokenness to the surface.

The sea tests us. This pandemic and its destructive wake are testing us. But maybe in the end, these trials that force us to change course will prove to be the unwanted events that also help us change ourselves.

I climb to my cabin bed and close my eyes, exhausted, feeling the waves. They rise and fall in equal measure. Some pass soft and gentle, others sharp and jarring, but with an endless balance that in itself is reassuring.

Tracey Jane

Life’s Full of Surprises

In this guest writer article, Captain Chris describes the most influential day in his and Holly’s relationship. For two people who love nature, travel, and adventure, I can’t think of a better location than Cumberland Island.

June 25, 2015, is a day that will remain treasured in many respects to Us for the rest of our lives; it is the day that Holly first set foot on a sailboat and this one action has forever changed the course of our lives!  The day started with an adventure, we left the theme parks of Orlando and braved a ferocious storm to get to our destination in Fernandina Beach, FL in preparation to join our fellow explorers on the Ferry ride to Cumberland Island, GA.   If you have never been to Cumberland Island, I HIGHLY recommend the trip as it is one that has stuck in our minds for years since and for good reasons:  wild horses frolicking, armadillos at random crossing your path, the Carnegie Ruins from a mansion built years ago that was decimated by fire and left for onlookers to enjoy the history that is still “in-the-making.”

Carnegie Ruins

  Research is key here as the ferry ride is the only way on and off of this pristine island; you want to ensure you have everything when you leave the dock as there is nowhere to purchase items once on the boat.   All of this is detailed on their website as well as the fact that only a limited number of people are allowed on the island daily, but once again, it is very much worth the effort necessary to get to this true gem!  Holly and I spent the day meandering around the island enjoying the Ruins and horses, the amazing beach laden with Horseshoe Crabs, and the plethora of wildlife before making our way back to the mainland of Fernandina Beach.  

The wild horses of Cumberland Island.

One of the grandest highlights in life I have discovered in my few years is the element of surprise when it is sure to create excitement and enjoyment; there was one such surprise in store for Holly the evening that followed our trip to Cumberland Island, her first time being on a sailboat.  After a dash to the grocery store to grab a bottle of wine to go with the steak dinner that I had previously arranged to be aboard with our Host, Captain Ralph, Holly reluctantly made her way down the dock to the anticipated “surprise.”  We boarded the Now and Zen and cast off her lines as we made way out of the marina and into the bay.  The sounds of the salt-water chop ever so gently slapping the sides of the hull, being slightly splashed up onto our feet while sitting on the trampolines really set the scene for what was to be a grand 4-hour sail.  Porpoises led the 42ft Manta out of the cove and into the more open water of the bay and as the sails were raised and the engine shut off, we sailed past Cumberland Island and watched the wild horses, this time from a distance, play along the marsh line.  To put it boldly, we were literally in a sense of “Heaven” and sitting there I asked Holly one of the most important questions to be asked in our lives:  “would you someday sail around the world with me on something like this?!”  Without hesitation, the sun to our backs the reply was as eloquent as any sound I’ve ever heard: “if you marry me, I will go with you on any adventure, Anywhere.”  With that statement the wheels in my brain were turning, elation set in and the promise of the adventures to come were already surging in my mind.  Sitting there leaning on the bulkhead the vision of where life was going to take us suddenly was within grasp in my mind and the plans were put into motion to make these goals and dreams a reality!  

Sitting on Now and Then dreaming of what’s to come.

Captain Ralph suddenly exclaimed that the winds were right for us to make a turn and allow the sails to take us down the beach.  With little effort he expertly manipulated the lines to a smooth transition, once again we were sailing with only the wind driving our direction.  Now a couple of hours into our journey Holly and I were informed that dinner was served to which our Captain had put together an exquisite presentation in the cockpit with a filet steak dinner served with wine and even had it adorned with roses for Holly’s entertainment.  Now and Zen was once again turned toward the inlet and we sat back to take it all in: the beautiful day with all its accompaniments on Cumberland Island, all of the amazing wildlife we had been blessed to witness interacting in its natural habitat, the fact that we were enjoying an amazing meal on an absolutely gorgeous catamaran with a great Captain.  When it couldn’t get any better, Captain Ralph comes out of the cabin with an array of desserts for us to enjoy with the sunset!  As Holly took her first bite I leaned over and asked her if she really meant what she said about going with me anywhere, sailing around the world, and by any other means…. if I married her?  She quickly confirmed her prior words without hesitation which were enough attestation for me to reach into my pocket and pull out that little black box I had been holding onto for the past 2 weeks on our vacation awaiting the absolute perfect time in our lives and ask her: “Holly, will you marry me?!”  To which she exclaimed “When did you ask my dad!?….YES!”   I guess we were all in line for a surprise on this day! 

Captain Chris and Holly, Engaged