What happens when you fall in love too fast, or you just think you’re in love, or you’re in love with the idea of someone? For me, taking things slow is a near impossibility. My boat moves slow while my heart beats fast. I’m always just coming or going. Running aground hard and then floating off with the tide. Luffing loudly in irons and then silently sailing away. Time is sped up when you’re traveling around on a little boat. Strangers become friends. Friends become lovers. Lovers become strangers. A new port becomes home and then you leave it all behind. I call it boat years. Like dog years.
It seemed like we had met long before we had met. I was the only young, live aboard sailor on Lake Champlain, but there had been one before me.
“Too bad you weren’t here a few years ago, there was a sailor boy just like you.” “You remind us of this sailor boy that was here. He left. You would have liked him.”
One night my dearest friend on the lake regaled me of stories of this seeming kindred spirit sailor. The stories he told were meant to warn me, but they just made me like him more.
“He went south on someone else’s boat. He was always sailing on and off the dock. Never using his engine. When he left he got in an accident and lost the use of his right arm. He learned to sail again with one hand. Got another boat and headed south again. There’s all these stories now of him sailing engineless through bridges along the ICW. He has excellent boat handling skills, but he’s reckless.”
Engineless? Through bridges? One working arm? I was intrigued.
I made a film about sailing in an effort to raise money for my trip south and the sailor boy saw it. He messaged me. Then we emailed. Then we talked on the phone.
“You remind me of me,” he said.
He was helping as crew on an Alberg 30 headed south at the same time as me from a different lake. We just kept missing each other. He was always a few days or weeks ahead of me. We tried to meet on the canasl, on the Hudson, in New Jersey. By the time they reached the Chesapeake it was too late. I was too far north and they were quickly moving south. We’d have to try again some other time.
Eventually I ran out of money. I had tried to recoup some of it in a city further north, but still had everything to do to get my boat actually seaworthy. I was tired of the intracoastal waterway. I wanted to go to sea, but everyday I meandered down the straight waterway in search of a place to rebuild my bank account and my boat so that could actually happen.
Then we met in person for the first time in West Palm Beach and it felt like I had met my soul mate. We were both Gemini. We weighed the same amount. We both had eaten too much salt on our journeys down the coast, alone, which caused our poop to turn the color of sand (and both, subsequently, googled it and feared we were having liver failure). He was my lost twin. He was going to be my third hand, I was going to be his right hand. Who else could have gotten into the same taupe poop sailing scenario? It was clearly meant to be.
I had a feeling like I was falling too fast down a flight of stairs. I knew that I should tread lightly. I was not where I wanted to be with my boat, and therefore myself, and it wasn’t the right time to be entertaining romantic entanglements. Especially with a person equal in intensity to me. But I also knew I was going to do it anyway.
I looked at him and said, “you remind me of a mistake I made in high school,” and we decided to sail together down to the keys.
We anchored in front of the lighthouse and jetty of Hillsboro inlet and flew a kite. I washed his hair. He made a gourmet meal out of my humble provisions. We slept in separate port and starboard settee’s, whispering into the wee hours about sailing around the world. When the wind picked up that night and the swells became uncomfortable I just pretended I was at sea. In the Bay of Biscayne we reached along in 25 knots under double reefed main and working jib. The sail combination was perfect. There was saltwater all over the cabin floor which had come through the hawse pipe, I’d deduced. But I was prepared if it had come from below the waterline. I didn’t panic. While he sailed my boat and I tended to her elsewhere I remember thinking, “I could go to sea with this person.”
Or was it, “could I go to sea with this person?”
But despite all this, I knew it wasn’t right. I reminded myself to tread lightly. I was still broken. My boat was still broken. My friend and his boat were also, essentially, broken.
So I tried to break it off in key largo. We were both broke, underfed (obviously we had too much salt in our diets), and needed to get our shit together before we could actually ever be together. But instead we decided we’d try to get our shit together while being together.
We stayed in the keys a while, and then headed back to West Palm Beach where his boat was, and where shit started to break down. There were positive things that happened there and while we were together; like the stepping of my mast and new standing rigging, a few friendships that were my saving grace, finding a little bit of work, getting offered a free boat and selling it—but mostly it was the wrong situation for me and my boat.
In the worst of times he was manic, I was depressed. He drank, I didn’t. He wanted a big boat, I wanted to rebuild my small one. He was reckless, I was cautious. He wanted to be a captain, and so did I. It became explosive. I threw a plate. He screamed at me about bottom paint. We could not be on the same boat.
He got an offer to crew on some blue water, and I limped out of town having learned a lesson. Sometimes having the most seemingly uncommon things in common, isn’t enough. Sometimes even taupe poop isn’t enough. We were the two most incompatible people on a tiny boat together. We were still the two most incompatible people between two tiny boats. Even on land, we learned later after trying to do long distance, we remained the two most incompatible people.
We had been surrounded by water, but were fire and gasoline.