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Ode to a sailor…


Over the many years in our travels, we have had the pleasure of meeting many different men and women; only occasionally do we meet other families. You see, families aboard a boat are a rarity and always have been. I wonder now, looking back, if that was why I was picked out from the many other boaters? I wonder now, looking back, if that was why he liked me?

It is not to say this old sailor wasn’t a friendly man. He was. I saw him sit on other boats and enjoy a beverage. He would say ‘hello’ to any that passed him by. If you needed an extra pair of hands on a project, he would be there in an instant. But for some reason, this old sailor seemed to take a special interest in me. One day he told me, in his typically quiet voice and cocked smile, “I would like to show you some pictures… when you have time."

‘Time?’ I had a lot of things, but time was not one of them. We were trying to get out of Saint Petersburg. Our window was closing for our run to the Bahamas or places further south. We were pinched between life, reality, and dreams – with each taking a higher priority depending on the moment and the project. Days passed, then weeks. I dare say a month or two went by when one afternoon, while I was hanging upside down from my solar panels, I looked out and saw him standing beside the boat - a picture album in hand.

“Are you busy?” he asked.

“No,” I lied. “Come on aboard.”

This old sailor opened his well-worn album and began showing me a series of grainy photos. He showed me a boat he had made with his own hands. He showed me his wife and his children steering a course in tall seas. He showed me remote islands across the pacific, bananas given to him by a distant tribe, and his kids running along some exotic shore or swimming an uncharted reef… few of which I had ever heard the names of. Yet the old sailor knew them all, especially the tribes and locals that took his family in as one of their own. These cracked pictures were the exploits of a cruiser over half a century earlier.

He did this without a color chartplotter. He did not have a GPS. There was no radar, no watermaker, no IPOD or Satellite phone. He didn’t even have a life raft. There were no such things back then. He sailed across the ocean using the stars and sun to guide him. He read old maps by lamplight, if he had the map at all. He got his drinking water from the clouds and prepared for the storms by studying the barometer. And while this achievement alone was remarkable, that he took his young family with him was extremely exceptional. Why? Because when you go to sea with your family around you, the tiller in your hand holds everything precious in life. There is no, ‘I am sorry’. They pay for your mistakes with you. So a father who takes his children beyond the safety of land must know his boat, he must know his capabilities, and he must know himself. It is a thing hard to explain to those who have not done it, yet he had. Not only had he done it, he had done it in a time and in a way few others dared to try. It is a mark of seamanship beyond the stretch of most of us today. Certainly my pitiful little accomplishments and life raising children afloat did not scratch the surface of what he had achieved. It never would.

Yet, all things come to an end and as the afternoon waned, so did the pages of time. He stepped off the boat and thanked me for letting him share his past – and I quickly corrected him that it was I who was thankful. I don’t know why, but he walked down the dock with a curious spring in his step, as if the conversation had somehow given him new energy or lightened an invisible load he carried. I watched him walk away with a new found respect for the quiet sailor who accomplished so much but spoke of it so little. That was almost a year ago.

A few days back I heard the news: the old sailor, whose cocked smile and picture album I will never forget, had died. He now sails through a sea of stars towards the wife he so badly missed. It is a destination we all make alone, through an ocean whose only boundaries are those of our memories, to an island whose shore is filled with those that went before us. Yet back here, where that sea still rages wild, I wonder how many more old sailors sit quietly by the wayside - their exploits in life spectacular but unheralded? Behind all their eyes is a photo album, waiting to be opened. And while their camera may no longer take the same breathtaking shots, I plan to see more of their pictures before they have completely faded.

Brian
 

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Great post! Thank you!
 

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Great post.

Here’s tae us
Wha’s like us
Damn few
And they’re a’ deid –
Mairs the pity!


 

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Damn Brian.
 

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Captain Obvious
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Wow . Brian that was beautiful. Tender, sincere, touching. Well said. Great writing. And he, like you, was able to experience the sea with his family. Which is so much more meaningful. What could ever be more worthwhile?

Take lots of pictures.

Thanks.
 

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This was incredibly moving.

As I sit here planning for my first kid, this almost made me cry. Thinking of when my family and I cast off for the first time out of Miami headed to parts unknown, and my dad sat me down at the tender age of 10 to explain how to navigate the Bahamas. We had some of the modern convienances, but nothing like what's available now. I hope one day to be able to give my kids the type of experience this sailor gave his, and pass on my families love of the sea.

Excuse me I need to go wipe my eyes.
 

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Daniel - Norsea 27
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The old guys who have been there done that are the ones with the amazing stories to share. He lived the dream so many wish for. His sharing of some stories and photos made his day. Good way to inspire another generation.

There is this poem I found a few weeks ago that basically talks about those who never sailed their dreams.

THE BOAT THAT NEVER SAILED
by Alban Wall

Down in the harbor of Broken Dreams
On the shores of Yesterday,
Her hull half-buried by sands of Time,
A schooner lies rotting away;
And her broken beams are the broken hopes
Of plans that have somehow failed -
And the tide drifts in and the tide drifts out
Past a boat that has never sailed.

Her timbers were made of the finest wood
From the forests of Caribee;
Her sails were like wings of the albatross
That glide o’er the southern sea;
And her decks how they echoed her builder’s song
As he fashioned her, plank and nail -
Now only the seagull’s lonesome cry
Haunts the boat that has never set sail.

She never answered the siren call
Of coaxing wind and tide;
She never breasted the Spanish Main
With the seas coming over her side;
And the pennant that hangs from her broken mast
Never shook in the lashing gale -
For the tides of Destiny waxed too full
And the schooner never set sail.

Somewhere there are men with snow-white hair
Who sit in life’s twilight years,
And often their thoughts drift wistfully back,
And often their eyes fill with tears
As they think of the dreams that have gone astray
And the plans that have somehow failed -
God, heal the hearts of the men who have built
The boats that have never sailed.
 

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Kynntana (Freedom 38)
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Poignant. It was great that you were able to give the gifts of time and attention, and become the benefactor of such a wonderful story. May we all be so enlightened.
 

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First String
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Great post Brian,
If you had another 500 pages I could see this on a best seller's list. Its the kind of story that drew me into the sailing life.
thanks again.
 

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Thanks Brian. A great ode showing us that stopping for a few moments to interact on a personal level enriches our lives and the lives of others. It was obvious that you moved him and he you and now us at Sailnet.

Thanks again

Ed
 

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Thank you Brian. Very moving.
Yes, real people are much better than best books. What stories they hold. We just need to find a way to open them up. The old man probably saw himself in you. We are all connected in so many ways.
 

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MikeGuyver
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I'm thinking there's one of those old sailors in just about every marina. I know there's one here. Maybe we all should find a little time for them.
 

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Great post dad, you too ( believe it or not ) are well on your way to being that old dog with lots of stories to share

It's tails like this that make one wonder about the stories the old guy heard in his younger years that drove his desire

Thats truely playing it / paying it forward
 

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Blue Horizons
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I also thoroughly enjoyed this read. I only have one question- How did he finance this lifestyle? See- if I had the $ id already be doing this.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Thanks everyone for the really great comments. It really means a lot.

Harborless, I do not know how he got away. That never came up, though his fulltime profession afterwards was rocket propulsion I think. Not entirely positive about that though.

Brian
 
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