Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Voyaging through life

Oceanus in her new home: Olympia, Wash.
Oceanus moored in her new home, Olympia, Washington.

By Brandon Ford

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
It’s always our self we find in the sea
 -- ee cummings

There is no better metaphor for this journey through life than a sea voyage. It is always a call to adventure. It requires preparation for both the vessel and her crew. It requires a destination. But most of all it requires the courage of the crew to leave safe harbor and strength to see the voyage through to the end.

I first started dreaming about making a sea voyage myself at the age of 13. I read an article in National Geographic about a boy, Robin Lee Graham, who set out to sail around the world alone at age 16 -- only three years older than me! The story and the idea completely captivated me. I wanted to see what he saw, experience what he experienced and accomplish something big.

Instead of 16, I was 61 when I set out on my sea voyage. It wasn’t around the world and I wasn’t alone, thank goodness. My voyage took my wife and me from Newport, Ore., to California, the wild west coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, into the Sea of Cortez, then to Hawaii where, for 13 months, we cruised seven of the eight main islands. It took us 24 days to sail from Ni'ihau to Port Angeles. In addition to my wife and I, we had our 14 year old grandson who flew to Oahu to join us for his first voyage. 

Elijah on watch in the mid-Pacific.
It was not a circumnavigation of the world that I first dreamed of, and it took a little less than two years, instead of the five years it took Graham, but I will always remember and be grateful for the experience.

During our three years of rebuilding and outfitting our 1971 Columbia 43 prior to setting out, we met many would-be voyagers making their own preparations to cut the dock lines. Some spent years working on their boats, most for much longer than us. When we left all but one couple were still dithering on with a list of projects that kept them from leaving.

One old salt liveaboard, who circumnavigated the Pacific three decades and two wives earlier, paid us little attention at first. But as we walked past his boat nearly every day carrying tools, resin, wood parts and cartloads of equipment for months, he slowly opened up to us. He started offering good advice and encouragement. He even got his shy Samoan wife to help us weave true-lover-knot mats for our companionway steps. He saw that we might be different from the dreamers he was used to seeing. When we left on a sunny morning in early February he was on the dock waving goodbye.

When Robin Lee Graham returned from his voyage around the world he said, “At sea, I learned how little a person needs, not how much.” In addition to that, we learned how self reliant we could be and how much we have to be grateful for.

(copyright Brandon Ford)