They say that offshore sailboat racing is like standing in a cold shower tearing up hundred dollar bills. I also think it may be like childbirth. While you're in the middle of it all, you're asking yourself why in the heck did you ever think this was a good idea. But then when it's over, you can't believe how really amazing it was and how alive you felt, and you can't wait to do it again.
The downside (and upside) to childbirth, of course, is that doing it repeatedly results in many chirping little mouths to feed and no time to go racing offshore. Such has been my situation for some time now. I didn't give up sailing when the kids came along; actually, I think Johnny and I bought our sailboat as a sort of allergic reaction to suburban parenthood. We had to sail, even though it was hard with the babies sometimes. It was a necessity, like breathing . . . and Huggies. But going offshore on a racing boat, without the sound of those chirping little mouths? I kept running aground on some strange new psychic shoal there. And year after year, I didn't go.
Then this spring, it happened: Lord help me, I became a soccer mom. In my defense, our boat was still on the hard getting a new bottom and new wiring, and it was raining every weekend anyway. So I thought, hey, Kaeo will have fun playing soccer for a while, I'll sign him up for the spring league. But the first day I was standing on the sideline, listening to some father bellow at his six-year-old daughter, Try going for the ball, will ya, the ball! and watching a youngster evidently off his meds take a swat at my son's face when Kaeo made a goal, I realized I had to kedge off that shoal. For all of our sakes.
If it offers nothing more than a jolt to your perspective, then sailing offshore even just for a couple of days must be one of the most valuable things you can do on your boat (or on someone else's who invites you along). Embedded in the steady pace of the watches, in the hissing sea beside your ear as you fall off to sleep on the leeward bunk, in the rhythm of earth's turning played out in the wheeling stars overhead, is a kind of clarity that I've never quite found anywhere else. (Well, maybe in childbirth, after all. You certainly come away from that knowing what matters, and what does not.) What a relief it is to let go of land and all of its relentless noise for a while, to narrow your focus to the sky above, the water all around and the clear energy of simply moving the boat safely and quickly onward. What a relief to know that offshore is still a place apart.
So, I'm heading out again, on another Annapolis-Newport Race. Next year, we'll ready our boat and head out for a few days, let the kids taste the sea for the first time. But for now, I'm the one who needs to get reacquainted with standing in a cold shower tearing up hundred dollar bills. And thanking every star in the pin-pricked ocean sky that I am there to be wet, cold and very alive.