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Ghosts, Doubt, and a Green Corduroy Couch

Last night, during my almost-midnight watch they appeared again. We are nearly halfway across the Sea of Cortez. The water is smooth as glass and we are motoring along. Clouds are scattered around the almost-full moon and diffuse the light so it feels like it is a silvery version of twilight. The sea is soft ripples of various shades of silver and the air is so still the hazy shapes of the clouds are reflected in the glassy surface.

I sit in the cockpit underneath the dodger so as to avoid the quickly settling dew, and the noise of the engine, Deb Talen singing in my ears. Suddenly, I am surrounded by them, the ghosts I mistakenly thought I could leave behind when we left to go sailing last year. Here, completely alone a hundred miles from land they loom larger than ever: relationships that are unmendable, phone calls I can’t seem to make, people I’m losing touch with, the eternal absence of my mother.

Part of heading off to sea was to leave these things behind for a while, thinking the farther away from the location they first appeared the dimmer they will become. But that’s the funny thing about the sea: things you want to leave behind don’t fade in the distance, they get magnified and on a night when you are alone with nothing but the moon and a mirrored ocean, they are smothering.

I close my eyes and try to wish them away again, but that’s when the largest ghost of all creeps into the cockpit and sits down right next to me. Doubt. I was tucking Leah into bed last night and she told me, “Mom, I hate dawn watches,” referring to a book we’ve been reading her since she was a toddler about a girl helping her dad on his watch during an overnight passage. “I don’t like rolling around in my bed and the loud noises.” I tried to console her, saying we only had one more night until we reach La Paz, and then no more dawn watches for a couple more months.

But my daughter’s unhappiness haunts me. I know she still misses her friends back in Olympia, her grandpa and his new wife, her uncles. She misses snow and even rain. She is confused by the seemingly random way we say hello and goodbye to the new friends we are making in this nomadic life. I can relate, I miss all this too.

Michael and I have talked about whether this life is right for our children, to be constantly on the move without a real sense of home except for our small boat. Cruising is so full of highs and lows, amazing places and experiences. But these come at a cost that is sometimes very dear.

Then again, this will all be over before we know it. We’ll be at work and school again wistfully reviewing our memories and photos of the amazing years we spent on the sea. And be dreaming of leaving again. But still, some nights the doubt looms largest and it sounds so delicious to just stop, to settle in another cottage in the woods and spend the winter in front of a warm wood stove, safe and content. People that say, myself included, that the most difficult part of cruising is tossing off the dock lines forget that the hardest part is really keeping on.

When we lived ashore, we bought this used green overstuffed corduroy couch from Craigslist. We loved that couch; it was already well worn in when it came to live with us, so soft. A huge L shape, so it could hold everyone with their legs stretched out even. Sometimes, Michael and I will reminisce about sitting there again: warm, dry, still. But it was on that couch that this whole plan was hatched; we rented Michael Palin’s old BBC travel shows one winter, when Holly was just a newborn. We watched them sitting on that couch and a fire was lit. We realized our tucked-away dream of sailing again was what we really wanted, not the security of our small quiet home. We wanted adventure, to leave it all behind and sail the world with our small children. I’m sure you can see the irony too, of craving that couch while on the deck of our sailing boat.

So here I am, at sea, having adventures. So very far from any sense of home, so much more riding along in this boat with us than I ever thought there was room for.


  1. Doug Archbald says:

    Wow, that was a beautiful post. Thank you.

  2. Trevor says:

    There are always times when “the grass is greener” but you are so right; you’ll be back before you know it. You all know you’re doing something most people only dream of and that no one will ever be able to take away. You probably can’t imagine a wool sweater just like I can’t imagine being barefoot almost all the time as we were during our 2 year trip. Our trip has given us so much perspective and you’re right, we are dreaming about going again. But for now, it’s just a dream, much like our last cruise is feeling like. Nothing happening “back here in civilization” is really all that interesting – when we came back I didn’t feel like we missed much. Your friends will still be here!

  3. Tom & Jeanne says:

    Such an insitefull piece writing…beautiful! We are here in La Paz and sure hope we are able to connect before we move on towards the islands and the continueing search for our dreams…much the way you and your family are doing.

    After a month in La Paz, we have it pretty well scoped out so if there is anything we can help with please let us know!

    Tom & Jeanne

  4. B says:

    I found myself re-reading your thoughtful, reflective post. One of the beautiful things about sailing, especially on extended journeys, is that one has the time and space to settle into their own thoughts. On the long calm stretches, deep in the night, our ghosts come and sit with us in the cockpit and we are face to face with our past. Enjoy the beauty of it all – it sounds like you are.


  5. Kyra says:

    Thank you for sharing this insightful post with us Sara, I very much admire your thoughtful and open approach. The challenges and questions that cruising can bring forth are not often shared on Cruising Blogs, I wish they were. When you go off the beaten path, you are bound to have moments of confusion or frustration. Stay present. And keep listening to your heart. 🙂

  6. Marie MiCasa says:

    Oh my! I’m soooo glad I found your blog (via Aaron and Nicole’s blog!) and to think, there is an entire world of bloat bloggers out there!

    I loved this story, the ghosts that haunt us. I also have a nagging ghost of Doubt. Do you think when he’s with me that means he’s not haunting you?How can he be at more than one place at a time?

  7. JoDon Rawls says:

    Just read your blog on night watches. My husband and I have been cruising 5 years thru Caribbean and Pacific. I do a 6 hour 10pm to 4am watch and have always considered it a tribute to those away. A time to honor the memories. So much of life is rushing thru on to something new that we don’t have the time to really reflect on the memories that we already have. Those dark cosseted night shifts were my time to revisit the happy, sad, nostalgic, and even embarrassing moments already experienced with friends so highly treasured… The best of luck on your journey. JoDon

  8. Gordon says:

    Wow. Great post. The human spirit is always seeking, seldom satisfied. While you and your family think wistfully of the life you left behind here, I think wistfully of the warm air, the fine sand on my feet and washing the salt from my body after a swim in the sea. I want to wish away the snow and the cold and the absence of electricity here, to cast off the responsibilities of making a living and to sail alone, at night, waiting for the ghosts to visit and remind me of what living is all about.