The following was written in response to a request for stories about my dear friend, Suzy Polucci, who moved on from this plane in 2018. We had taken this trip in the Peep Hen in 2007. There are more extensive pictures of that excursion here:

Suzy, on salt water

Suzy at the tiller, off of Groton, Connecticut
Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel

Suzy and Shemaya, at Giants Neck, Connecticut, after five days on the boat.
Photo credit: Stephanie Jo Kent

Suzy and I laughed and laughed. Brave soul, she came with me on a microscopic sailboat, signed on for five days, swapping out as part of the rotating crew on a trip of about three weeks. Starting out was a little tricky. The weather was cold, and it poured. She walked a mile or so into town and found amazing little cans of something like coffee, to stave off headaches from missing her normal hot cups, which were not going to work on the tiny boat. We stayed the night in the marina, which conveniently took care of any worries she had had about darkness in the crew berth, floodlights everywhere in those places. I didn’t know until later just how daunted she was by that tiny space for sleeping in that boat. Brave soul indeed.

In the morning the weather had cleared and we left the marina (by water), just far enough to go around the corner and anchor in an unoccupied cove, to go over how to sail the boat. She was worried, completely unfamiliar with the tasks at hand. It somehow came to me to take an extra moment, and use words that I don’t usually, nowadays, explaining that although we had known each other a little bit through Annie for a while, I knew that she didn’t really know that much about what I did. I looked at her, with focus, and said that she really didn’t know this about me, but that when it came to sailing, I knew my shit. Because it was her language, and I wanted her to know that it was for real. Later I heard her say that back to somebody on the phone, with conviction, in order to give them ease about what she was doing. I was touched, to in fact be held in that regard.

We spent a little while in that cove, there with the boat anchored, putting the sail up, letting it down, putting it up again. Playing word games about which of the million lines were which, as a way to learn them. I loved her quick mind, absorbing the process at hand. A little later she pulled up the anchor, and we sailed down the Mystic River toward Long Island sound.

I should explain that at the time, coming on these boat expeditions with me involved the crew doing almost all the handwork to make the boat go. I provided navigation, and knowledge. The folks who took turns coming with me provided the bulk of the muscle. The boat was 14 feet long… It was an adventure.

One day, in about the middle of the trip, the breeze had died as we passed near a beach along about New London. It’s really the worst, on salt water, when the breeze quits but the waves are still there – it’s a recipe for seasickness, if anybody is susceptible. Suzy was starting to feel queasy, and the breeze was showing no sign of returning. The boat had a tiny trolling motor, with very limited battery power. This was suitable for getting in and out of tight marinas, but not much else. Waiting for wind can go on for a while.

The funny thing is, there was a wedding taking place, at that beach. Gowns and tuxedos, and elegant, happy people. We brought the boat in close to shore, just down the beach from the wedding, and anchored so Suzy could walk on solid ground. It’s the ultimate cure for seasickness: sitting with your back against a tree. By the time she waded back out to the boat she was feeling better, the breeze was showing signs of returning, and all these years later I don’t remember what was happening with the wedding. But I do know we had fun.

Suzy had decided earlier that she wasn’t liking the boat thing so much, and I said that I could make some phone calls to swap out with different crew, which we had discussed as an option from before we started into this. Five days is a long time on a small boat. While she was ashore I was making those calls, and when she came back I had a couple more to follow up on, but so far had not hit the scheduling jackpot. She decided to stay – told me, twice, that really I could stop trying to set up the big switch.

She got so good at sailing. She could steer accurately with the tiller, and wrestle the sail into whatever reefs were needed as the wind rose, unreefing as it died back again. This was not simple, with the rig that was on that boat at the time, and it has given many people, myself included, fits. Suzy made it look easy. There she would be with the wind coming up, and the waves sloshing the boat around, and when I said hesitantly that I was afraid it was time to reef again, she would spring into action, calling out in her energetic Suzy way, fist high in the air, “Queen Ratifa!” That sail couldn’t do anything but cooperate. It was a wonder to behold, not least because three days earlier we had been anchored in that little cove going over the names of things for the very first time.

By the time we met up with “shore support,” for new crew to come on board, and for Suzy to catch a ride home, it had been heavenly for days. We laughed and laughed. Getting ready to say goodbye, Suzy said that it had started a little iffy, but that “we ended strong.” I always remember the sound of her saying that last. And so we did.

Late in the afternoon, the day before that one, we were sailing in the direction of the harbor where we would meet up for crew change, and Suzy was steering. She asked which way to go. We were headed west, and the sun was getting low, throwing sparkles on the water ahead of us. It just happened that our course was right up that streak of sparkles, so I said to her, “follow the shining path.” She loved that.

It’s where I saw her when she went on her way: following the Shining Path.

The picture of those sparkles on the water from that day is so clear in my mind, but I didn’t actually get out the camera at that time. I’ve so wished that I had, and have looked, over these last years when I’ve been sailing, to catch a photo that really shows what it was, including when I was back in that area earlier this year. Amazingly, there has never been an exact match. So this one will have to do. In the original there was shoreline in the distance up ahead, and off to starboard, as we headed westbound on the north shore of Long Island sound. But maybe this one is where she really went, as we do, over the far horizon.
Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel