It’s 2am and I’m twenty miles out to sea. It’s my shift so I’m alone in the wheelhouse lit only by the instruments on the helm and staring out at the black sky. If I’m lucky, there’s a moon lighting my way, nature’s flashlight I always say, and I’m grateful for it since I don’t feel so alone when there’s a shimmer on the water letting me see just a tiny bit better. On the radar screen are blips that need to be watched. Some are cargo ships hauling their wares from countries far away. Some are shrimp and fishing boats taking advantage of pelagic nighttime fish. And others, the ones that worry me the most, are tugboats towing barges. They have cables connecting all the pieces that, I’m told, if an inexperienced boater didn’t know about and tried to sneak between, would smash their boat and probably kill their crew.
“But you’ll be fine. I’m going to bed. Just holler if you need help,” said my husband after explaining this type of scenario during the first of these many trips that started decades ago. It’s a memory that never leaves me.
All these years later, I’ve traveled up and down the east coast endlessly from Maine to Florida on our many boats, some more rustic than others, all varying in length and amenities, but also all providing the promise of adventures on the open sea and nature that is more spectacular than anyone could ever imagine.
At 4:30am, it’s still usually my shift, a four-hour stint in a schedule that my family and I rotate during the day, on and off. Somehow, I always end up with this time slot. But in the early morning hours when the light starts to change on the horizon, I’m always hopeful. The clouds, just appearing at that line where the sky meets the sea, accumulate in otherworldly shapes reminiscent of Ancient Greek pediments of the Acropolis. You can see what looks like gladiators in chariots with majestic horses charging and crashing into one another, all shaded in the most resplendent array of colors from muted oranges to brilliant pinks, fiery reds and yellows and everything in between. Photographers call it the “Golden Hour”. At this time of day, I’m alway reminded of the scene in the movie, Forrest Gump, when Forrest is describing his travels to Jenny. “When the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heavens stopped and the earth began.”
There are always challenges being out at sea, and more times than I can count, I’ve prayed to every dead relative I have hoping we’d make it through rough waves or a bad storm. But alas, that is what a sea story is all about; tales of successful journeys that are only able to be regaled because along the way, we had an education that prepared us for every type of scenario.
Handling the boat in horrible weather requires knowledge of systems, mechanics and seamanship. Gathering the necessary supplies and provisions to keep the boat and crew functioning, (hopefully happily), are paramount. Having the familiarity and perspective to recognize and appreciate important weather systems, winds and yet also the beauty of nature and sea life are what fills in the bodies of these adventures. Add some serious games of Yahtzee, a few excellent podcasts and great music, and you’ll see what an education means to me. It’s the preparation for the unknowns, the ability to see and experience joy, and the knowledge that there’s always hope when hurdles seem insurmountable.
My husband and I have raised our three kids on our wacky assortment of boats having exposed them to many thrilling and scary times. But if you asked any of them if they’ve regretted their times on the water, they’d laugh and admit they’ve loved it!
Working with kids over the years has brought me joy, compassion and deep understanding about the challenges they face. Being entrusted by parents to help their child is an honor I value more than I can express. My education is their education and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with them while embarking on many more adventures.