No Regrets

4:24 PM

I scan the horizon that I can not see, looking for boats I hope are not there. Night watch. Our first overnight passage with just the three of us on board. For two years we’ve sailed close to our dock, but the time has come to venture on to new waters. We provisioned, we cleaned, we made repairs. We pointed our bow towards Pensacola Pass. It was noon. We would sail through the night so as to enter Port Saint Joe during daylight hours. You never want to enter a new channel or pass at night if you don’t have to. And so we set sail… 22 hours to go.

A few hours into the passage, four miles offshore, still daylight. I’m watching a boat on the horizon.  The waters are a little rough. Not dangerous, but far from comfortable.  The boat is a long ways off. It draws near. It turns, approaching us from behind. My heart stops, my breath is held. We see it is the Coast Guard. I can breath. Their boat, big with harsh angles, is a light shade of intimidating gray. It looks mean. Six men in military dress with guns and orange life vests stand on the side, not at attention, but in an authoritative stance. My nerves subside when I see their smiling faces. One yells over the sound of engines and waves, “Have you ever been boarded by the Coast Guard?” That answer was about to change.  Two men took the lead in talking with us. In a friendly manner they tell us what will happen and how. “Turn into the waves and keep that heading. Two men will board.” They did so without so much as a tap from their boat to ours.  Once aboard, I introduce myself with a hand shake. I certainly want them to know we are friendly and they are welcome. They smile, laugh, and joke. John and Joe. They check our documentation and safety gear, then inspect the bilge, making certain we aren’t smuggling anything, we are not. Joe was originally from Ireland and moved to Pensacola as a kid.  Along with 8 siblings, he was home schooled. He talks to me and Emily about home school a little, assuring her that it never did him wrong. After the inspection wrapped up, Stephen asked if we could take a picture. Laughing, John says of course, “it happens all the time, usually by little old ladies!” And with that, the mean looking vessel approaches again, John and Joe disembark Vesper and are gone as quickly as they came.

And so the passage continues. The rough waters are not so friendly to our dog. I only have a touch of uneasiness, from the motion or the coming night, I do not know. The sun set behind us and we run full speed into the darkness, although that is a snail’s pace. As we run into the darkness, the sun tucks in little children halfway around the world. The other half, she gently kisses good morning. We run to meet her on the other side. Eagerly we wait to see her beacons of light like outstretched arms, ready to embrace us and whisper that we have made it through the night. Through the twelve hours of darkness we will travel, she will see the whole world, and I, a mere 50 miles.

Darkness fully envelops us at 1:00 am. The dim glow of the shoreline that has kept me company, fades away. There is no moon, no stars. Just us, in a boat, on the ocean, in the dark. There is nothing to be seen. And so I wait. I wait for the minutes to pass by, though they tick by ever so slowly. I wait for a ship’s light on the horizon. I wait for a blip on the radar. I wait for my shift to be over. I wait for daylight.

Waiting in the dark, everything “looks” like something. Your eyes will play tricks on you.  Once you see a light, there is no mistaking, but if you do not see a light, everything is something. What’s that? A blip. 4 o’clock, 4 miles to our starboard. I blink. It’s at 3 o’clock 2 miles out. “Stephen!” I blink, a mile-and-a-half. “STEPHEN!!!!” He’s by my side, just awoken, trying to focus his eyes on the radar. Oh shit.  In desperation I call out again for Stephen to save us, but there is no time. It is on top of us. I hear a loud, low roar, the familiar sound of a passing barge. Shit! We are on the ocean...a tanker. And on the radar, it is directly on top of us. And then it isn’t. What the hell just happened. Stephen repeats to calm my nerves, “A plane, it’s a plane.” I glance up, out the port side, and see the belly and wheels of a small, Cesna-like plane. Shit. A plane!!! Really!!!  Why was he so low? Was he flying “under the radar” for a reason? There were thick, low clouds, and I never saw his lights. Or perhaps, I never even looked up. All in the blink or two of an eye. Of all the things my mind’s eye imagined, hit by a plane in the middle of the ocean was not one of them. Stephen, it’s your shift.

And so the night passes. The sun, in a foggy haze, is a welcome sight. The fear of the unknown, of the darkness, is gone. Back to a warm breeze on our cheeks, dolphins, and beautiful, beautiful ocean blue. A few more hours pass and we safely anchor in Saint Joseph Bay. I fall asleep hard. When I wake, a sun-filled day of beachcombing with Emily awaits. Sometimes you have to travel through the darkness to get to the light.

We journey on, traveling the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway). We trade dolphins and ocean blue for a more river-like scene, filled with greens and browns, not one bit less beautiful. Cypress trees and spanish moss lead us to an anchorage like we’ve never experienced before. Tonight, we are sleeping with the gators in the swamps of Florida.  We are in the middle of nowhere and wildlife is abundant. A buck comes to the water for a drink a mere 30 feet from our boat. We startle him and he high tails it out of there.  To his advantage, for five minutes pass and a pack of hounds come searching.  One swam out to the boat. Flying fish surround us, startling me nearly every time they splash next to the boat. An osprey or eagle’s nest is in the distance, though we don’t see its occupant. There’s a big log; it takes a breath and disappears into the water. What it was, I do not know. An enormous loggerhead turtle raises his head for air and again is submerged. And finally, swimming close to the shore, we see an alligator. Sweet dreams.

We slept with the gators. A friend noted that luckily we woke up with the gators as well. We travel on. Our next stop, Apalachicola.  As long as we’ve been interested in sailing, we’ve heard about and read about Apalachicola. A quaint little seaside town in the armpit or Florida. A little gem that isn’t overrun with tourist, but has more of a local, laid back, gypsy feel. And indeed, we meet a pair of sailing gypsies. Two brothers welcome us once are tied up at the town dock. Richard, visually disabled, introduce us to his seeing eye dog, which he informs is now more blind than he.  The dog will and has walked right off the dock! Blind leading the blind. And yet Richard, along with his brother Michael, has seen more of this world than most even dream about.  Their stories engulf us and excite them as they reminisce. In Guatemala, Michael once had to pay for a cow patty when his friend’s “woman” stole it from another. She hid it in her Sunday best of all things! Richard knows Spanish, but dialects are so different it didn’t do him any good.  In Maui there was no work for an aerospace mechanic so Michael found, repaired, and sold old washing machines and made more money than any traditional job. They’ve been richer than rich and poorer than dirt. They would pick a new country that had cheap airfare, fly over, buy a boat, set sail, repeat. You see, there are boats for sale everywhere. They’ve been grounded in their boat more than once when they asked a passing barge to “cut it close and wiggle your ass.” The waves would lift them up and they would crash down with a shutter, but every time it worked to set them free. The one place Richard said he passed on traveling was the Congo, because he wouldn’t be able to see if he were about to be eaten by a lion or speared by an aborigine. They invite us to use a slip they own and stay the night, or as long as we want. “It is shallow getting in, but the good thing is, you can just go full speed ahead, straight into the dock, cut the power and the mud will stop you dead.”  Not exactly how we like to dock the boat, but with their happy-go-lucky attitude, it doesn’t surprise me that they do. Unfortunately with a boat, you go where the wind blows, and we have a weather window to make another night’s passage to head home. So while we pass on the invite, we leave full of their inspiration.  Through all their stories, with great big giddy smiles, they kept repeating one phrase, “no regrets.”

Our family loves adventure. Traveling into the unknown, to experience something that is more than ourselves.  With each journey, be it by land or by sea, we learn, we grow, and we become more a part of this great big world, and it, a part of us.  And while I am certain there are many things I would have done differently, I do hope when all is said and done, that over the entirety of my life, I will look back on all my journeys and the life I’ve lived and honestly say, “no regrets.” Until next time, fair winds.

You Might Also Like


Emily's Instagram Feed: