Issue: October 2007
OFF THE CHARTS: Saying Good-bye

--by Wendy Mitman Clarke

The first time my seven-year-old daughter saw the "For Sale" sign attached to Luna, the boat she has grown up sailing on, she cried a gale of tears for hours. She is so much braver than I. I couldn't even look at the sign. She looked at it, took it in, and then asked her father if she could go up on the boat alone, would he help her up the ladder (it was on the hard) and unlock the hatch. He did.

We had, Johnny and I, talked to both of the kids at length about why we have to sell Luna. We found a new boat, we told them, better suited to what we want to do. More room for everyone, more capable and comfortable offshore, a traveler with whom we could cover lots of water beyond the Bay. It wouldn't be fair, would it, to leave Luna for years on the hard with no one to sail her or pay attention to her? Just like a person, a boat needs to be loved to thrive. Nothing is lonelier than something abandoned when it once knew voices and laughter.

Words words words. Sometimes I wonder what they're good for, really. When she came down the ladder a while later, her eyes still puffy, she handed me a note and asked me to sign it. Then she asked the same of her dad and brother. She climbed back up the ladder. When she came down again, she told me the note was to Luna, explaining how much we all loved her and would never forget her. She hid it in a secret place on the boat, she said, so the new owners, whoever they might be, wouldn't find it. Luna could keep the note, that little piece of us, forever.

I've known for months now that this would be my last column for Chesapeake Bay Magazine. But I'm neither as brave nor as strong as my daughter. I have had a hard time putting together the words and giving them away.

I started reading this magazine when I was a young teenager sailing on my parents' boat in the Sassafras River. I submitted a couple of story ideas and was politely turned down. Then I went away for a long time, and when I came back I ended up being an editor here and started writing this column. I have wondered many times why I would want to leave that perfectly closed circle. Why does anyone leave the safe harbor, the water they know as well as their own name? To take a chance I guess. To let go of safety for a while. To grow.

These are fundamentally the same reasons we bought the new boat, the same reason we have to sell Luna. The same reason I am leaving this column and trying out a new one at Cruising World magazine. But while I am excited at the challenge of something new, I find it difficult to let go. I'm trying to write my note to you as my daughter did for Luna, hide it in a place where the writers and readers who come after won't be able to find it.

As I think about it, though, I wonder if maybe that's what I've been doing all along in these columns about the Bay and boats and kids and an overarching sense of wonder at it all. More than once I've had readers tell me that the things I write about here mirror their own memories or experiences, that what I thought were just my observations are really something shared. Where better to hide these notes than with you, people who love the Bay and boats as much as I do? Writing this column has been a privilege, and you made it so.

Sometimes I think my daughter is no good at good-byes; she can't even bear to raise painted lady butterflies in spring and set them free without missing them. The way she said good-bye to Luna, the way she says good-bye to everything, is to give them a piece of herself. It's painful to watch. I worry she'll give away too much. But she seems to know better than I that the more you give, the deeper your sea of giving. So, I will try to follow her example. This is my good-bye note to you, hidden in the safest place I can think of. Thank you for reading it.