Sailing Therapy - I hope I never have to sail this much.
I keep my boat on a mooring in New Bedford harbor, north of the swing bridge and Pope's Island. I got on board this last Saturday to get the boat ready to be pulled out on Sunday. I was sleeping over on the boat Saturday night. While I was working in the cockpit, I saw a common sight. A guy with a nice old catboat was raising sail and starting to scoot around this patch of water between the swing bridge and the fixed highway bridge a little further north. Not many people sail in this area of the harbor, because if you are heading out to the bay, you are required to motor through the bridge. The majority of area is very shallow, so it's actually nice to see someone with his sails up sailing this section of water with abandon. And this catboat does sail this area ruthlessly, day and night. When my wife and I are on the boat during the summer, I will often wake her up at night as I clamber up the steps to check out that noise and it is the catboat breaking water nearby, sailing through moorings, running north toward the bridge and then back south along the fishing fleet and then back over to us in Cozy Cove in a rough triangle. The sail is pretty in the dark appearing and disappearing out of nowhere. This often occurs at 10 or 11 o'clock at night when we are on the boat on the mooring.
Anyway on Saturday morning the catboat zipped close enough to me for me to greet the captain and ask about how the season had gone. We had introduced each other a couple of years ago in a similar way, but I had forgotten his name and asked for it again. His name is Kevin. We had short conversation that lasted a couple of hours. We'd begin and carry on our conversation as he approached me on a NE tack for as long as we could until he passed too far for our voices to carry. He would return in about 20 minutes and we would resume again for a couple of minutes as he sailed by. So, he reminded me of his name and told me he had sailed over 600 miles primarily within the harbor. I asked when he was coming out and he told me that he was hoping to stay in until a little later because he was doing a benefit plunge type thing and wanted to sail down to Westport where the plunge occurs - then he was too far to continue talking and I waited until he came around again. I asked what the plunge thing was for and he said for his daughter and he reached back to point out the name of the boat on the port side of the transom "Shannon Lee", and "A Force of Nature" on the starboard side of the transom. He said the plunge was for her and that she died 6 years ago crossing a road at the age of 24 up on Route 1. He was by me, so I had to wait another 20 minutes to ask for more about his daughter and the plunge. I guess since her death, he and his wife, family and friends have taken the plunge to remember their daughter and to raise money for the Salvation Army. He said the first few years they had made about 400 dollars and that last year they had made 2,000 dollars. The next time he sailed by, I asked him about the plunge and how to participate. He couldn't finish answering my question on this, so I looked down in the cockpit to untangle something, I heard the snap of his sail and looked up and he either did an intentional gybe or nice tack because he was laid right over, hadn't missed a beat and returning to finish telling me about his daughter and the plunge and how if I wanted to donate, I could do it through the local newspaper, which always helps out with information on the plunge. He talked about the plunge and said it was a way to keep his daughter's spirit alive. That the money went for gifts for children and that the effort helped him and his wife. He indicated that his sailing helped him keep her in his mind.
The last time he came by, he apologized for ruining my day by involving me in a "grief trip". I told him that he hadn't and that his daughter sounded like a neat person and he assured me she was. I told him that his story hit home because my daughter is 21 years old and I couldn't imagine losing her. The last thing he said on this final pass was "Hold on to her tight, brother. Hold on to her tight."
So, if you are passing over the New Bedford/Fairhaven Bridge and you look north and see a Gaff rig up and sailing, that would be Kevin, out sailing alone to stay close in his own way to his little girl. You won't have to look hard, he is always out there-I really think, he will be out there until he physically can't do it anymore. Similarly, I also got the impression that he and his wife are going to put on their bathing suits every November that they can and jump in the bay, whether anyone comes with them or not; whether anyone donates money or not. They are keeping her close and alive. I wish them the best.
When I got home on Sunday, I fumbled around on the computer to find out how to donate. He mentioned that there is a Facebook page for either the plunge or for his daughter, but I don't do Facebook, so I couldn't check it out. The name of the plunge is "The Plunge of The Faithful". The newspaper that apparently will take in donations is the "Standard-Times", but I imagine there are other ways. The plunge is done in Westport. Shannon's full name was Shannon O'Driscoll and Kevin's last name is the same. Any of those names on Google will pull up some nice stories about Shannon and her parents' continuing efforts to keep her spirit alive. If I find out anymore specific information about the plunge thing, I'll let people know if they are interested.
Anyway, sorry for the "grief trip", but I wanted to write about a real sailor who is using sailing to keep himself steady and to honor his little girl.