Uncertainty upon arrival.
Land ho! August 6th. A strange bird foretold a new land. Long neck, white with and black wingtips, a gannet. We were a weary bunch as rocky cliffs grew up in the drizzling cold clouds. Tested to the end, with three more days of swerving swells that ran along with us and winds that rose in the night when our big sails were set.
My last watch I gnawed on grumbly thoughts, battling negativity, when a dolphin leapt triumphantly from an approaching wave. It breached like a bullet towards the boat, then another, and then several at once, as if all the dolphins we had met were joining to parade us the last 60 miles to Ireland. They surfed the swells I fought to ride, and surrounded us in white streaks and jumbles of fins and twists and turns. My hobbled mind was suddenly overwhelmed with joy, and I remembered the pure excitement I used to feel at these jubilant creatures. I was flooded with gratitude for my companions, who had come once again to remind me that in everything, I am looked after. And that as long as I can see beauty, I am OK.
Iconic Irish landscapes slid past. We sailed through rain patches to make Crookhaven before dark. Tall cliffs topped with sweeping green pastures, and blocks of old stone houses and castles. Through binoculars I saw a golf course clinging to the sheer hilltop and wondered how many balls lay in the water below.
We anchored offshore in Crookhaven. Unable to clear customs, we stayed aboard and retreated into solitary celebration rituals. Peter preferred a Guinness in a pub, but settled for a scotch in the cockpit. Dana rested and read. Dad reviewed charts and logs. I cleaned and organized and then feasted on hot cabbage soup that finally sat still in it’s bowl. Then we slept a full night for the first time in 2 weeks.
The next day we set off for the tourist haven of Kinsale, for customs and showers and Guinness. We sailed into the harbor past the old Charles Fort, guarding the bank. A swarm of small boats buzzed around bouys, tiny children manning the tillers, and instructors yelling advice from outboard inflatables. Kinsale was a popular vacation town, just a few cobbled streets lined with classic shopfronts, restaurants, and a lively yacht club.
After weeks at sea, I was disappointed that Ireland didn’t assault me with the smell of trees like had Newfoundland or Cape Cod. It was one of those back-to-land sensations I looked forward to. My legs swayed for a day as I tried to stand still. I sipped an obligatory taste of Guinness and then ordered an orange juice. We washed our clothes in shifts in the club’s one machine as sailing camp kids ran around in wetsuit tops and life jackets. I stood under the warm shower, pressing the timer button again and again, washing off salt and stress and plotting my next steps.
I had no plans beyond crossing the ocean. No strong interests or desires for Europe. My tired mind winced at the idea of traveling alone and aimless, and whimpered for the temptation to just go home. But that was not an option. That was the only thing I was sure of. I crossed an ocean to be here, damned if I was going to jump on a plane and head straight back just for some temporary comfort.
Pushing my overheated brain to formulate ideas, it just sputtered back. Prodding my motivation to wake up, it threw me a nasty stare and rolled away. I criticized myself as the others hit the ground running, meeting locals, visiting pubs. I turned to the internet for salvation, but found an overwhelming blur of options that would not focus.
Invited to walk to Charle’s Fort, I declined. A walk seemed wise, but I was drawn towards the beach trail and solitude. I watched the others, feeling lame, vowing to be productive. But once the boat was empty, stillness enfolded me like warm gel, and my stomach fluttered down from my throat to my rib cage, as every cord in me relaxed and slackened. God how I need solitude and comfort.
I collapsed on my bunk and stared up at the white ceiling and through the hatch at our homemade Irish flag fluttering on the stay. I turned off my engine and listened to it hiss as it cooled down. My mind wandered into its dark cupboards that stay locked for guests. I analyzed the stale state of my fine china, sank into self pit, dusted the plates and teared up, cried a little. I allowed my sulking thoughts some space to breathe, without guilt (the only way sulking can be restorative). I acknowledged and allowed it.
Finally I rose and brewed a small cup of coffee. Oh coffee. The medicinal mood enhancer. Used occasionally, I’ve found it to have profound alleviatory effects on the tricky condition of despondency. Then I covered my raw eyes with sunglasses and stepped into the late afternoon light, onto the boat-lined dock.
As a child, marinas were a special treat. They cost money, and rent was not a permanent ledger in the boatie checkbook. Food, yes, fuel, yes, customs, engine parts, natural…but rent should be exempt, on account of that big metal barb attached to the chain hanging from the bow. If a sheltered bay only offered moorings, we would weigh the costs against anchoring for free somewhere else. How uncomfortable could the rolling swells really be?
So, when we did occasionally dock, or better yet, raft up to someone else’s boat, we rejoiced in the freedom of not having to wait for the dinghy to walk on land or play with other kids, or just be more than 30 feet from another human. That first week in Kinsale, as I stepped on and off the boat according to my own needs, I silently thanked Dana a dozen times for choosing to dock at the marina.
Left at the main road took me along a low stone wall beside the river, towards the bridge with a fish-and-chips food truck on the corner. I settled into the calming rhythm of one foot in front of the other and smooth, full breathes, motions so ingrained and ancient they evoke a primordial relaxation response. Meanwhile, my mind chewed on little bits of crumbs that had settled during my rest. Across the bridge the road shrank into a quiet, winding lane. Lush foliage pressed in on me, imbuing the narcotic effect of soil and greenery. I was comforted to see familiar weeds. Dandelion, dock, nettles, blackberry, hazel.
Identifying these herbs gave me a foothold in a strange land. I felt immediately enchanted by the undeveloped, readily accessible beauty that I would come to know as Ireland.
My goal was a beach somewhere, but soon my sea-loosened legs tired and I ducked down to a tidal flat beside the road, to sit still and settle. I ran my hands over fragile shale slivers, looking out over the sandy flat while a long-legged shorebird high stepped through the mud. I picked up two stones and mindlessly rubbed them, for the pleasure of texture, and then saw that they fit together perfectly, like soulmates. I slipped them into my pocket, desperate for some symbol of connection, and started back for the boat.
I forget to rest. I neglect it as an essential nutrient. I think I am scared of it. I am scared for my mind to catch up. And I am scared that I might never get going again. That I will lose motivation forever. Not so absurd if you’ve ever tasted depression. But time and again, I push to my limit, and continue to push, frustrated when I stop moving. Only to realize that my battery needs recharging. And everybody recharges differently.
So as my nerves settled down to nest in my core, my power center, from which all resolution and decisions must arise, I relaxed back into patience. Accepting that I was in a new land without a plan, and that I was uncomfortable, tired, and scared. That I craved certain people and places that I could not have, even though after such an accomplishment one feels entitled to anything. But some things you cannot control, and you can’t always get what you want…
I reminded myself that the crossing was supposed to be my last big plan. Upon accomplishment, I had promised to release myself back into the magic of the unknown. Unknown? Check. Magic? Anytime now! Ah yes, but I neglected that magic must be earned. With the persistent practice of juggling uncertainty gracefully, and of opening to each moment. To do that, I needed to know and give myself what I needed. And those first few days, what I needed was rest.
It is often hard to heed the wise advice of the healer. How, for example, was rest going to help me with loneliness? Tied in my tangle of cravings was the hope that my love interest might come travel with me. The idea of him had shimmered like a mirage for over a year. But here the road curved, and I finally caught up to that illusory spot to find it empty. The fantasy evaporated, revealing a long road ahead, empty but beautiful.
I indulged in another day alone on the boat, seated on the smooth teak floorboards, stretching and sighing and singing and crying as the tremors of change rocked me in waves. As the new reality settled into my bones. As I saw my life work stretching beyond impressive journeys in search of respect and love. It now demanded a different perspective of myself and my ability to shape my own future. To become a woman confident in her ability to create her ideal life, free from the hope that a prince would come save her.
Watching my thoughts cycle, I saw clearly my habit of falling into the soft arms of fantasy, arms so comforting they held me from establishing strong passions and coping skills. A thought pattern that had become a crutch, justified by an excuse that I deserved male support. After all, I had spent so much time supporting myself. But had I really, with that fantasy always around?
The boat tilted as Dad stepped from the dock. I was calmer now, numbed and tranquil. He sat across from me in the salon and I did something I haven’t done much. I told him that I was sad. And he did something amazing in return. He listened completely, and replied compassionately, and stayed and talked as long as I needed, open and present.
The father, the quintessential male in a girl’s experience. As the void left by one guy emptied, he stood in to lay a new foundation. Exposed and restored the hardware floor that was covered by linoleum. The real deal. A wound slightly salved, a trust affirmed.
Clear and clean, I decided what I needed now was a brownie. I sat in the Poet’s Corner, at a small table next to the big window looking out on the tiny lane. The waiter delivered a whole pot of tea with two tea bags, and a chunky gluten free brownie with unsweetened cream and strawberry jelly garnish. I dove in. Nibbled and sipped and typed and just lost myself, or at least the self that dwells.
I walked back in the dark, down the ramp to the boat docks. I hardly noticed a smiling dog rushing up towards me. A boxer with a pink bandanna around her neck. Her owners called her back, in French, and smiled up at me. Three handsome young men.
‘Well, what do you know?’ I thought. ‘And what boat might they be coming from.”
“Bonsoir.” “Bonsoir.” We exchanged, a little flutter bubbling up my ribcage. I grinned as they passed and stepped down on the dock, strutting.
But as I raised my eyes to the sea, my grin fell open into a wide mouthed stare. “Whoaaaa,” I whispered, looking up and up at three grand wooden masts standing right before me. At their tops, glowing mast lights spilled soft light back down to 140ft of sweeping varnished teak and a dark blue hull. Sometimes the beauty of a thing can blast all worries from your mind. I stood gaping at Mariette, the 1915 Herreshoff schooner who had just arrived an hour ago. Perfectly timed to surprise and stun me into much needed mood-lifting awe. She came from the states as well, traveling south as we had gone north to avoid the giant low pressure system.
I crept shyly towards her. A blonde sailor squatted on the deck among tools and safety gear. He glanced up eagerly and greeted me in a British accent, beaming a smile. I replied politely, then hurried past. Giddy, like a student at an all girl’s school. I hoped he watched me step onto our own beautiful wooden sloop just two boats down.
As I fell asleep under my soft duvet, in the dark, peaceful cabin, I sighed heavily and smiled. “I’m going to be alright.”