How It Ends

Other sailors have told me – from their cozy position on a powerboat, or from a spot firmly on solid ground – that one day it just changed. Nothing dramatic or bad happened; they were just done. It seemed incomprehensible to me, at the time, in each conversation.

There is another Auklet post, written but not yet put up, from the beginning of this summer. It has to do with considering the possibility of being done, and various reasons for this dramatic shift, but was written while there was still sailing to do this year. I had committed to the Junk Rig Gathering in Penobscot Bay, for one thing. As the organizer of the event, it would not have done, to miss that. Certainly not for a reason as diaphanous as this odd feeling in the back of my mind.

It’s good that I went on that trip, which turned into 37 days, up and down Penobscot Bay, as well as the going and coming back to Gouldsboro. Penobscot Bay is a solid 50 miles from here, or more, depending on route, and how one counts arrival and departure. It was a good trip, better than the previous two, earlier in the summer, this one with lovely wind and quite a bit of fine weather. The Junk Rig Gathering was stellar, and visits with friends and family from Rockport to Swans Island all added to the enjoyment.

Oddly enough, when I got home I still had that feeling, more and more entrenched, that it’s done. A profound relaxation even, as the boat came out of the water, rather than my usual immediate pining for spring. This was good to discover. It wasn’t because of a bad trip, sloshing around with no wind and not enough sleep, or fog and no wind, or bashing grindingly to weather, into too many gusts and too many waves, or any of that.

During that last trip there was beautiful, stupendous sailing, along with the typical interjection of less-than-stupendous harbor issues, those last completely balanced by nights, and days, in gorgeous, idyllic, peaceful coves. There was more to learn – always, which is one of the things I love about sailing – and a chance to feel the familiarity with the boat that has made it possible to sail well in a variety of situations. Sailing onto and off of docks, and out in the wild wind and foaming waves, there is huge satisfaction in watching the boat, and rig, go, with a certain amount of competence, from all these years.

Oddly, and for the first time, this wasn’t enough. The rather cramped space inside the boat – which has never bothered me for longer than the first couple of days after moving aboard – felt constricting, and uncomfortable, ongoing. The long calms were aggravating, rather than meditative. More than all of that, the fear of making a mistake, of ending up on a rock somewhere, or overboard, never really left. I said prayers for actually making it home in one piece, hoping that I might pull that off this one more time, and thinking how ironic it would be to crash just when I was ready to stop.

Fortunately, no rocks were so much as tapped, this entire season, and I stayed firmly on the boat, at all the appropriate moments. Neither of these concerns used to cause me nearly so much stress. In the past I have indeed clunked rocks occasionally, not being that worried about it, while at the same time staying attentively away from the big ones with breaking seas. While I was always careful to not fall off the boat, it wasn’t a big concern, other than being mindful of exercising basic caution. The risk did not particularly worry me after the first couple days of adjusting to being aboard.

Now, I have lost my nerve.

The funny part is that it doesn’t feel like “I have lost my nerve and therefore I am ready to stop sailing.” That might be it, but it feels more like I have become ready to stop sailing, and therefore whatever magic that produced the nerve to do all the wild things I have done afloat has evaporated, along with that underlying, rather driven desire. The desire melted away, and with it the capacity to do those somewhat brave, nervy things. Oddly, I’m not really missing it.

This could of course change, and I could go out again. But I don’t really expect that. Sailing has given me so very much: solitude and self-sufficiency, when my life on shore had neither; travel, and marvelous connections with people; friendships and good times remembered, which all remain; a task requiring such depth and breadth of knowledge as to make it completely absorbing, for years. Connection with the gorgeous ocean, and the light, and stars, on the water. Nothing takes that away.

Meanwhile, there have been other considerations. This last year has been somewhat daunting, from a memory perspective. I’ve written before about both cognitive and memory issues, that have come and gone, and various interpretations of why that might be. It has become more difficult to remember odd things that pass in a day, or a week. On land it is rarely significant, but it remains shocking to perceive such blank spaces where something was once known, or to completely forget relevant, familiar details, in the face of a current question.

On the water, there is a limit to how far one can go, compensating for those kinds of gaps. At some point, extra study, and knowledge, and a rather OCD approach to daily systems, are not enough to tip the balance toward safety. I think that I could still do it, sailing off, but the risks feel palpable, in a way that they didn’t used to.

Perhaps this comes back to the question of nerve. Nothing used to stop me, including obstacles that are not these days as big as they once were. But the drive has left. The boat – and sailing overall – have brought me here, blessed to be in a place where the tide rises and falls outside the window. Or at my feet. The warm weather will come again, and I hope to be swimming.

It’s enough, now.

[Photo credit: Suzanne Jean]


There is more to say, about this and that – a little bit of trip stories, the Junk Rig Gathering, and the article about the Mer Veille radar detector that I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Posting that other entry from a few months ago, about contemplating stopping, is on the list. I’ll hope to be filling these in, over the next while.

Thank you so much to all the many readers here, and especially to those of you who have written back. It’s been such a pleasure.