Issue: January 2007
OFF THE CHARTS: A Long Goodbye

Wendy Mitman Clarke

It was breezy this morning--some big low-pressure system boiling in from the midwest--and so I went down to the dock to check on Luna. The wind was blowing dogs off chains from the southeast, Luna's most exposed direction, and I wanted to make sure she wasn't stretching her lines too far in the gusts, getting too cozy with the dock. She was slewing around in the slip like a racehorse in the gate, reined in, antsy, wanting to run. But safe, fine.

Perfect, really, even as dirty and dappled as she was with the autumn leaves raining down.

Funny, isn't it, how we anthropomorphize our boats, see personality and character in what is, on its surface, nothing more than an organized aggregate of wood, fiberglass, resin and fasteners? I wonder if this is because boats are capable of bringing us so much consternation and happiness. Something that occupies our thoughts so often, that frees us to dream and lets us escape the ordinary, must have some kind of soul, don't you think? It's more than just the time and money and effort we invest to make our boats exactly right; it's how we feel when we're out there, letting them carry us. Maybe that's why it's so hard to part with them when the time comes. They've become a part of us and our collective memories. Selling them to someone else is like selling a family member.

So how do I get around the alien idea of selling this boat? She has been part of us for seven years. How many moons and suns have we watched rise over her bow, how many big splashy cannonballs have been executed from the transom, how many stories told cozy in the lamplight, how many miles have we traveled? She rescued me from the dreadful ennui of suburbia. My son and daughter have no memory of sailing absent her presence. I sit up on her foredeck, look out over the water for the millionth time and ask myself, how can I do it? (First, get a big box of Kleenex.)

The why part is easy. Our aspirations, as well as our kids, are outgrowing her. We have already found another boat, bigger, stronger, more capable of doing the things we want to do. We're taking this new boat out for a first real sail this weekend. I'm excited, but part of me is resisting the idea for what seems like the silliest reasons. All the towels and dishes and pots and pans and linens and kids' books are on Luna, I say to myself. Such a pain to move them all. (Paper plates, says my rational brain, sleeping bags. Keep it simple. Just don't forget the coffee pot.) I keep thinking of all the things I don't know or understand about this new boat. New systems, new rigging, new sail plan, new everything. Deep down, I know this new boat is going to be terrific for us. But right now she's a stranger to me, and the comforting familiarity of Luna draws me back.  

This is what we do: We fall in love. We have a desire, we beam it out there into the world, we find an object of that desire. We spend years getting to know her. We develop a relationship. We learn about a boat like we learn about a person--what the quirks are, the good behavior and the bad, the things we love most and not so much, what we need (or hope) to change to make things work better. And the more time and memory and emotion we invest, the harder it is to let go. Even if it's the right thing to do.