A Year

A year and a handful of days ago (January 18, 2020) Hazel James and I embarked on our first extended voyage. In preparing to write this blog post, some 372 days later, I reminisced through the HJ Sailing site and was struck by this passage on the home page. It was some of my very first blog writing…

While I’ve done a lot of small-boat inland lake sailing and coastal ocean sailing, seeing the fragility of life first with Amy and then with Colleen has given me the desire to go further. I may love this initial cruise, and on my return already be planning my next voyage. I may come back in several months and be glad I did it but want to do other things. Who knows, it’s a beautiful story whose ending has not yet been written.

In re-reading that passage, it occurred to me that while one thing has become crystal clear over the past year, another thing has remained just as elusively fuzzy as it has ever been. …don’t get me wrong, although they are different outcomes—clarity and opacity—they are both on the good side of the ledger of life.

The thing that has become clear is that I loved that initial voyage. When I returned on Mother’s Day 2020, I was already thinking about my next cruise. However, after living aboard and living with Hazel James for 119 days, there were many structural, safety, sailing and creature-comfort projects I wanted to do to improve our future life together. Between that list of projects, pandemic restrictions, wanting to do some serious writing and—oh by the way—owning a house, I stayed put for the summer and fall of 2020 working on Hazel, writing and preparing to sell my house.

Now, in late-January 2021, the work on Hazel is almost complete (let’s be honest, it’s never totally done), I have a solid draft of my book Heeling is Healing completed and I have sold my house. Given all of that progress, our goal is to depart in the next week for a three-month voyage in The Bahamas. Given the pandemic’s effects on international travel, I’d rather minimize the number of borders we cross, so our plan for this winter is to stay within the island-nation of The Bahamas and explore extensively rather than sail through them and push into the Caribbean as I did last year.

Back to what I had written on the home page of HJ Sailing, what remains fuzzy is the “ending” of the story—and I’m thankful for that. It’s a fortunate thing and something that I have become even more grateful of after living through last summer and fall and the terrible loss wrought by the coronavirus. While 2.1 million people have had their endings on earth written by COVID, I’m fortunate that I have been safe and healthy and able to write more chapters in my book of life.

Speaking of writing more chapters, many of you had suggested that I try to take the themes of Hazel’s and my 2020 voyage and develop them into a book. I’m in process of doing just that and am very happy about the status. The title of the book is Heeling is Healing, it’s a story about two deaths, two voyages and two loves.

I’ve completed a first-draft of the foreword and all 19 chapters (approximately 100,000 words). I’m midway through a “deep read” second-draft which includes significant revisions. Hats off to my cousin Tom who is my “friends and family editor” providing invaluable literary advice and edits, and moral support.

Here’s a “preview of coming attractions”, an excerpt from the foreword…

…“heeling” and “healing” are homophones—two words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Healing, as we all know, is the act or process of curing or restoring to health. Heeling is when a sailboat leans over the water due to the effect of the wind on the sails. While I considered other names for this book, I was smitten by the serendipitous homophone. While my healing has a long way to go, I hope to have the good fortune of health and the blessings of the sea gods to continue my heeling for a long time to come.

In my research on the process of writing a book, I ran across the aphorism that “95% of writing is re-writing” and I couldn’t agree more. I’m looking forward to some quiet days over the next month in some secluded Bahamian anchorage to finish my second-draft and then explore the process of dealing with literary agents and publishing!

I’ve heard it said of a former president that, “He has a loose relationship with the facts.” Similarly, some have commented that, in my blog writing, I have a loose relationship with pronouns. That is, when writing in the first-person about my single-handed sailing, I tend to use the pronouns “we” and “our”, instead of “I” and “my”. I realize it might have been a bit confusing but my intention was to convey Hazel James’ spirit and soul, and the partnership that she and I have.

With that in mind, I’m happy to say that my use of plural pronouns in our 2021 voyaging will continue. However, I’m not sure if it will get more confusing or less confusing—we’ll see…

The reason I say this, is that “my” upcoming voyage will not be single-handed! I’m delighted to report that my girlfriend Rhett will be joining Hazel and me on our Bahamian voyaging. Rhett and I started dating soon after I returned from my voyage last spring and, after much discussion and reconfiguration of our lives, we’re going to try sailing off into the sunset together. How is that for a beautiful story whose ending has not yet been written?

When I texted my friend Keith about Rhett’s and my plans aboard the 31 foot Hazel James, he replied, “Either you are the greatest salesman in the world or she is in the witness relocation program.”

You may be tempted to ask the very good question, “Just how does a 56 year old person meet someone during a pandemic?” The short answer is that we did not meet online and further (and I think most touching about our story) is that while Colleen and Rhett have never met, it was through Colleen’s life and Colleen’s death that Rhett and I were originally introduced. Writing about this fact brings tears to my eyes. It also reminds me of deep conversations that I have with my friend Jody about God, religion and spirituality. While I tend to draw a hard line between life and death, Jody’s worldview includes a much more fluid boundary between the two with those who have died taking active roles in our lives on earth. When I “channel my inner Jody,” I think about a part of Colleen living-on in Rhett’s and my relationship and it brings me peace and joy.

After asking the good question in the previous paragraph, your next thought may be, Geez, going from dating to sailing-away together in less than a year, sure is quick. What I—or better said, what we—would say to that, is that dating during a pandemic is dating in dog-years. From a relationship perspective, Rhett and I have covered a lot of ground in a short period of time. Also, given the losses, recoveries and redemptions that Rhett and I have experienced in our separate lives before meeting, if there’s one thing we’ve both learned it’s that none of us knows how many chapters any of us have been given in this book of life.

For those of you who haven’t met Rhett, over the next month or so she’ll add some of her background to the About page of the HJ Sailing site so you can get to know her. With that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise her and her flexibility here. While I had already been directing my life from land-based to sea-based, this is all new to her. Her sailing away with me has involved her turning her life upside down. It will be an adventure, that’s for sure—one I look forward to documenting on future blog posts.

While I’ll fill in more of the details of our story over time, suffice to say that Rhett’s and my relationship has made the pandemic and the concepts of social-distancing and sheltering-in-place not only survivable but—dare I say it?—wonderful!

Last week Rhett and I had Hazel hauled out of the water to do some below-the-waterline work on her, and now “she” (Hazel) is happy to be back in her element.

Hazel coming out of the water via overhead crane (note our newly built “Lil’ Dinghy” nestled on Hazel’s coachroof)
The overhead crane

“We” (Rhett and I) are now deep in the midst of finishing some small projects on Hazel and provisioning her (loading her with food). When we say “provisioning” it’s more than just a, “Run to the grocery store.” We’re talking about enough food to be relatively self-sufficient for three months (think: 10 pounds of peanut butter, 20 pounds of dried rice and beans, 5 pounds of raisins, 20 bags of coffee, etc.). It involves many trips to wholesale and retail grocery stores, and farmer’s markets. Also, just before we depart, we’ll do a final run for perishable food (apples, citrus, onions, potatoes, garlic, etc.).

One of many provisioning runs (with a name like Restaurant Depot you know you can buy in bulk)

Finally, we’ll need to get clean COVID tests (fingers crossed there) and look for a good weather window to depart for The Bahamas. It’s a 12-18 hour mini-passage to get from South Florida to The Bahamas so we’ll plan to embark in the afternoon, sail through the night and make landfall in West End, Grand Bahama the next morning.

We’re hoping to depart later this week or early next and will keep you posted. Until then…

Fair winds and following seas!

PS: One quick housekeeping note for 2021. I’ve reconfigured the site a bit so that the “Voyaging Blog” menu item on the home page of the site is a drop-down with options for 2020 and 2021. If I’ve done everything correctly, all of my posts from last year should be on the 2020 page and all posts from this year (and our upcoming voyage) on the 2021 page. Bear with me if it’s not totally correct to start. It may take a little fine tuning.

14 thoughts on “A Year

  1. My heart is very full reading this Daniel. Cheers to a successful sail with Rhett – No matter how big the sea may be, sometimes two ships meet.~ Chinese Proverb. Keep writing, dreaming and recovering.

  2. Dan,
    I am so happy for you and Rhett. After the book I predict a screenplay and movie. Looking forward to your next blog. The adventure continues!

  3. Love the title of your book. What I enjoy most about your blog, aside from the sheer romance of it all (and now “romance” has an added meaning) is that you combine the poetry and the technical sides of sailing. I appreciate both. Best wishes in 2021 and beyond to all the plural pronouns aboard Hazel James!

    1. Marc-Paul, So good to hear from you and thanks so much for the comments. I find it so fun and rewarding to slip between the technical and the artistry. Thanks for noticing. Take care.

  4. Well everything looks in ship shape and Bristol fashion. Glad I didn’t see bananas on that provision list.

    …nose in the wind and eyes along the skyline…

  5. Glad to see you are heading back out and still blogging your adventures! You inspired me to document ours too- walkersramble.com.
    Looking forward to reading more. Safe travels!

  6. You say in your blog that the Bahamas are a British protectorate. That is not correct. The Bahamas is a sovereign state that gained independence from the UK in 1973. It is a member of the UN, the Organisation of American States and the Commonwealth. May we hope for a correction?

    1. Anthony, Thanks so much for the correction! I had mistakenly thought that with Queen Elizabeth II’s involvement in The Bahamas that the archipelago was not a sovereign state. I will certainly correct in my next post. Thanks so much and any other insights into the Queen’s role in The Bahamas would be appreciated.

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