The night my now-husband slipped a diamond on my finger; he teased that if I rejected his proposal, he’d exchange the solitaire for a sailboat. Ecstatic, I listed to port, as if my hand bore the weight of a vessel instead of a ring. Having been with him for three years prior, I thought I knew what I was in for.
From the age of 10, Tim sailed a 12-foot Cape Dory during summers at the beach in New Jersey and by the time I came along, he was piloting his father’s sloop off the coast of the Massachusetts South Shore. Though I’d learned rudimentary sailing during my teenage days skippering a Sunfish on a quiet lake, a 25’ Cape Dory plowing through the rock-strewn coast offers a different dynamic.
Nevertheless, I stretched out on the vinyl cushions lining the cockpit or wrapped my legs around the rails at the bow, laughing as we churned through rolling waves and the frigid ocean spray. I manned the tiller when he raised the sails, but other than that, he was the captain. I was along for the company, and sorry to say, the tan, though a few years into our marriage, when he wanted to purchase that boat from his Dad, I agreed without a qualm.
Then we became parents.
Our daughter arrived in August, so sailing ended for me that year and over the next summer, with a busy toddler scooting around, treading anywhere near the craft was out of the question. By the time I stepped back on board life was about safety and balance. The boat removed all of that.
Each time we pushed off without our daughter, the magnet of parenthood yanked at me. Knowing we had a child on land, I couldn’t shake off my conviction that regardless of my husband’s skill, at sea nature is in charge. Winds rise suddenly, tipping the boat, or shift unexpectedly forcing sail-flinging jibes. Sometimes they die, leaving you drifting at the mouth of the harbor where jagged rocks gnash like monster teeth. My responsibility as a mother amplified these perceived terrors ten-fold. So, while Tim continued to experience unremitting joy as we heeled at steep angles, my knuckles tightened. Gripping the gunwales, I locked my teeth and tried to act ask if my insides weren’t quivering jam.
To make matters worse, when our daughter was old enough, we strapped her into a life jacket tied to a safety line, but seasickness claimed her first journey. The illness was never repeated but as she grew, boredom factored in. As soon as she could speak her mind, I became the sheet line in the tug of war between my spouse’s compulsion to skim across the sea and our daughter who wanted to do nothing less. My escalating panic influenced me to partner with her, so my husband spent many of our summer weekends sailing all alone.
Shamefully, I simmered with resentment at this lack of time with him until a compromise arrived in the form of a twelve-foot dory with a fifteen-horse motor that he bought for a steal. Something about this pretty vessel spoke to all of us. No longer at the mercy of the wind, after church on Sunday mornings, we grabbed bagels and all hopped on for breakfast on the breakwater jutting into our harbor, or we cast off for a water-front tour before Tim went out for a sail. At 11, our daughter earned her boater’s license and became skipper. As a result of these happy family outings, after every few trips on the dinghy, I’d convince myself to take one on the sloop, and thankfully some of the peace that I used to encounter on the sailboat descended once again.
Now a teen, our daughter has a social life and Tim persuades me to join him on the sailboat more often. Although I’m still shaky, he keeps us on an even keel and over the last few summers I’ve even dangled my feet over the bow. There I welcome the salt spray, inhale the sea breeze and embrace the hesitant calmness I’ve rediscovered, along with an unexpected bonus. A six-foot cockpit in the middle of the ocean allows enormous opportunity for one-on-one conversation.
These days, when we come in from sailing together, I take a look at my ring-clad left hand, knowing that now that it supports the weight of the boat, we've both emerged victorious.