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.