So High School

It’s the evening before Hazel and I are to depart on 18 days of sailing, give or take. I’m sitting in the saloon on her starboard setee with the dining table pulled out and typing out this post. There’s very little movement of the wind and water in St. George’s Harbour—hopefully, midday tomorrow we should begin getting the north wind to start our eastward sail

Writing in the saloon.

Lil’ Dinghy is pulled up on deck, her two halves nested and she’s covered with her canvas. All Hazel’s working sails are uncovered and her steering wheel is remounted on the binnacle. I spent three or four hours this afternoon readying for sail. It’s always meditative to do so before a long passage. As I lash and secure, I wonder when and where I will be unlashing and unsecuring—hopefully this time in Horta.

Lil’ Dinghy on deck in her cradles and lashed down fore-‘n-aft and athwartships (side to side). Bow-half is rotated 180° and nested in stern-half. Note mainsail cover is still on and the boom is swung to port out over the water.
Here’s a look at the boom (with sail cover on) swung over the water. The main sheet block and tackle (pulleys) hanging down are used to haul Lil’ Dinghy’s 80 pounds up to deck level.

Hazel knows it’s coming. She reminds me of Gretel and Silvie, our Weimaraner hunting dogs when I was growing up. My father, brother, and I hunted with them and they knew—when the season changed, when the days shortened, when the mornings became crisp—that it was time. The two of them would whine anxiously the night before as we packed the brown Buick station wagon with hunting clothes, trail lunches, and shotguns and shells. On this still night in this protected harbor, roughly a third of the way across the Atlantic, Hazel knows that tomorrow she will be doing what she was born to do—I can hear her whining anxiously.

Lil’ Dinghy covered and sail covers off.
Wheel remounted on the binnacle and PFD/harness (personal flotation device) at the ready. Mainsheet block and tackle back in place and ready for sailing.

In many ways, she’s a lucky old girl of 32, our dogs were only given 15 years. All it would take is one or two owners not taking care of her, not using her, and soon she’d be neglected in some boatyard and eventually scrapped for parts. It hurts me to even think of that scenario.

Joshua [the name of Bernard Moitessier’s boat] gathers way and begins to come alive…People who to not know that a sailboat is a living creature will never understand anything about boats and the sea.

Bernard Moitessier, The Long Way

While there are a lot of things that I’m not so good at, I like to think that one thing I’m pretty good at is knowing when to challenge authority and fight back, and when to just accept what is and follow instructions.

I think the situation I’m at the moment demands first the latter, then the former.

I’ve been told that I need to write a subtle blog post that addresses the delicate subject of Rhett’s and my relationship—simple enough on the post itself, I can do that.

The reason I need to write it is because people are talking (since Rhett and I aren’t sailing together): Is there a disturbance in The Force? Trouble in paradise?

As to the subtlety required, I was further told that, at the end of blog post, a reader should get the message without ever realizing that the message was delivered. Hmmmmmm.

After mulling the challenge over for weeks, I’ve concluded that the subtly would require some literary sleight of hand that I don’t possess. Therefore, I need to default to the former and throw the subtlety over the proverbial transom.

On the morning after my first night of sailing to Bermuda I brewed myself some coffee. During the process I pulled out one of our metal coffee mugs and was just about to pour some boiling water into it to pre-heat it for the coffee. Just before pouring a splash of steaming water into the mug, I noticed that there was a small envelope in it. It was purple pastel and about three inches wide and two inches tall. Odd, I thought, What would that be doing in there? As I pulled the envelope out of the mug, I noticed that it had a small heart sticker on it, I started to put two and two together and suspected it was from Rhett. I opened the envelope and found a simple, stiff white card with rounded corners—no design, no fold, no sappy mass-produced “Hallmark” poem, just Rhetts cursive handwriting and a heartfelt message of encouragement.

Since finding that first note, I’ve found about 20 other similar cards and notes that Rhett had surreptitiously stashed throughout Hazel. Rhett knows my routines on the boat and her strategy was for me not to find them all at once, but over time throughout the voyage. It got to the point on my sail to Bermuda that when I was having a good day and stumbled upon a note, I consciously overlook it, not touch it and let it be. I knew that soon enough I’d be having a bad day and need to “find” it.

There are still a couple that I know of left unopened, I saving them as dry powder for the next 1,800 miles.

After I’d found 5 or 10 notes, the cynical side of me—did I tell you that I have a cynical side…or did you just pick that up yourself?—tried to say, Leaving love notes? Get serious—that is so high school. Then surprisingly, I was rescued by the logical side of me. Yes—I said the logical side—the poetic justice is that it’s the logical side that typically gets me into trouble when it comes to matters of the heart.

“Logic” volleyed back to “Cynical:” Now you get serious! How can you claim that receiving love notes is, “So high school?” What kind of revisionist history are you peddling? I’m “Logic” and I know that in high school we never received little love missives from a cheerleader…let alone any girl.

The side panels of Hazel’s saloon (around the portlights) are oiled teak and the ceiling is a vinyl headliner, similar to a 1980s car. Where the two meet circumscribes the saloon at eye level. Early on, I discovered that “boat cards” and photographs can be inserted into the seam between the wood and the vinyl and they generally stay there (after some rough weather, there are always one or two on the saloon sole). Cruisers often have “boat cards” with their vessels name and contact information, it’s a handy way to stay in touch. When I was single-handing in the “BR” days (before Rhett), I had gotten into the habit of keeping the cards I received end to end around the saloon. In the AR epoch, Rhett enthusiastically joined in the tradition and by now the starboard side of the saloon is filled with boat cards and we’re starting on the port side. It’s fun to look at a specific card from time to time and reminisce when and where we met a crew.

Starboard-side saloon boat cards.
Port-side with boat cards in foreground and Rhett’s notes in the background.

Naturally, when I found that first card from Rhett, i inserted it in the starboard-side seam. Now, with the volume of Rhett’s notes on Hazel’s and my Florida to Bermuda passage, I’ve almost filled the port side with them.

While they are oh so sweet and give me just the boost I need, when I need it—the only problem is that they also bring a twinge of guilt. Why didn’t I think of something similar to do for her before I departed Florida?

Interspersed with the cards are a few photographs. The first photograph to occupy the seam between vinyl and wood is of Colleen and my sister Amy. They were fast friends and this picture is from some winter holiday gathering. They both look so happy, so healthy—like they will live forever.

One of the things I appreciate the most about Rhett is how she not only allows, but encourages me to talk about Colleen—both our halcyon early years and the troubled later years—and my emotions around it all and the survivor’s guilt stowed away in my bilges. In our situation, I could see many romantic partners having some kind of jealousy for the dead, some kind of “Stop focusing on her and focus on me.” Rhett’s main feeling for Colleen is sadness. Rhett knows first-hand all the work that Colleen did to get sober and the enormity of Colleen’s victory of a year’s sobriety. The sadness stems from Colleen then not having the time to enjoy the fruits of her labor.

Of course Rhett doesn’t see such a hard dividing line between heaven and earth, between life and death—we’re all together now as we will all be together again someday. Rhett and I also know that if it weren’t for Colleen and Colleen’s death and a friend of Colleen’s suggesting that donations in Colleen’s memory be directed to Wayside House, this fairy tale that is Rhett and Dan never would have been told.

I hope this post—in high school parlance this PDA (public display of affection), can serve as my little love notes to Rhett until we are in each other’s presence again.

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale.

Hans Christian Andersen

10 thoughts on “So High School

  1. Who are you trying to fool? I remember in high school when you were captain of the football team, Homecoming King, heartbreaker extraordinaire. Ah, the days when I admired your savior fare, your bon vivant. You cast off cheerleaders like yesterday’s news. I cannot believe you are trying to rewrite history like this.

  2. That was an amazing, incredibly powerful passage Dan. Every so often someone says or does something that changes your trajectory just a little bit, and for the better. Pretty sure that just happened to me. Thank you and best of luck on your incredible journey – looking forward to the next installment.

    1. Frank, What a blast from the past! I was just thinking of you because from a group of Dutch sailors I’ve been hanging out with, one was a food engineer with Heinz. Jos (Yohus) is his first name—not sure of last. It’s funny with risk taking of sailing in the open ocean, I’m often reminded of our ww paddling days. Let’s talk sometime when I’m in mainland Europe. Would be great to catch up.

  3. Thank you for your beautiful sentiment of love between you, Rhett And Colleen. Happy sailing on the next leg of your journey.

  4. This is so beautiful and from subbing in the high schools for so long I can tell you the response to this is either “relationship goals” or “I just threw up in my mouth a little” lol. I will go with “Goals” 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Lamarr. Rhett’s notes helped keep me going. I only wish I could have been 100% as good to her through my trials and tribulations. Fortunately I’ve made it out the other end and can thus make it back to her. Hope you and the kids are well. Funny, funny comment from the perspective of subbing in the high schools. Must be such a different world today than when we were there.

  5. Happy sailing….looking forward to your updates on this great adventure.

    1. Steph! So great to hear from you. Thanks and preparing a post to make in the next day or two. Best to Kevin. I hope the Lake Erie boating season is heating up for you.

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