Updated: Mar 9, 2021
It’s difficult imagining myself sunbathing in Caribbean while watching snow fall in central Virginia but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Well…at least… that’s the plan. Our plan includes departing Chesapeake Bay in November of 2021. Some people are probably thinking, so what? Sailing to Bahamas for winter isn’t unusual. A lot of people do it. And you’d be right. Is our story different? Is it Newsworthy? Is it worth reading about over morning coffee? I don’t know. And… well… I don’t really care. And here’s why.
Mom and Dad lived on a boat in the 90’s. I lived with them but as an almost-eighteen-year-old young woman I was mostly obsessed with doing opposite of anything Mom and Dad were doing. I remember the day they returned from dinner laughing and giggling. I was (and still am) cynical and suspicious person. Their laughter had an unfamiliar tone so naturally, I hated whatever they were up to. A few days later the situation worsened when a giant world map appeared on living room wall. It was covered with push pins connected by red string crossing oceans and countries. I scowled. Rolled my eyes and asked sardonically, “What’s that”?
Mom and Dad looked at each other like love infected teenagers. They didn’t sugar coat it or break the news gently. They just said it, “We’re selling the house and moving on to a sailboat.” This is the point when I should stop and explain my parents and their culture of adventure. It was just bad enough that when they said “We’re moving on to a sailboat.” I took pause. My cynical mind new nothing was to far-fetched for them. This is... after all… the same two people who, when I was 9, declared, “We’re flying out to see Grandma.” Little did I realize that statement, when translated to reality, meant Dad got his pilot’s license, rented a 4 seater Cesna, and flew his family from Colorado to Virginia where we did in fact, “See Grandma.” So when they started talking about a boat. I knew one thing… do not underestimate them.
The weeks following their announcement proved my suspicions were correct. The idea of moving on to a sailboat was not far-fetched. They didn’t mean it in a one-day whimsical sort of way. They meant like now. In a month. Soon. I watched in cynical annoyance as our four-bedroom farm house slowly emptied. A garage sale magically evaporated most of our stuff. My pet pig was given to a school 4-H program and I had to choose one of my five horses. The rest were sold. Within 45 days our ninety acre four bedroom farm house country lifestyle was packed into a 30ft sailboat. Of course I protested. Of course I declared I wouldn’t go. And my parents… always supportive… suggested I get a job, rent a place to live and board my horse. My always supportive parents. Note the sarcasm. So…at sixteen I accepted their offer and did just that. Well… sort of. Turns out the only job I could get was at McDonalds. No one would rent to a sixteen year-old (not that I could afford it anyway) and boarding a horse was a lot more expensive than I thought. Long story short… I moved onto boat and learned what an aft quarter berth is.
The years following our move to boat are full of stories. Highs. Lows. Laughter. And tears. Most of the tears resulted from Mom’s health. It just kept declining and after living on board for five years, they sold boat and started another adventure. Over the next twenty years Mom and Dad often reflected on sailing, boat life and life as landlubbers. Their reflection always started with laughter and storytelling followed by hushed tones of regret. They never sailed around the world. Mom’s health just wasn’t stable. So they bought property, built a cabin and settled into an oddly, “Normal” life.
Living on land didn’t magically cure Mom. And after 50 years of marriage, adventures, children, losses and loves, Mom passed away. A year later, my only sister and sibling also passed away. Suddenly it was just Dad and Me. I wasn’t much help with his grief. I never grew out of that cynical, suspicious somewhat crass disposition. After awhile, I liked it. It’s me. My sister was dazzling in every way a woman can be. I never wanted to dazzle, sparkle or light up a room. That was her job. I’m a happy hag. Losing Sister and Mom has been nothing short of devastating.
Fortunately, I have a husband who provided endearing support while I grieved. But Dad didn’t have anyone. And as I’ve explained, warm and fuzzy is hard for me. I felt guilty for not knowing how to fill the shoes left by them and little by little I watched Dad slip away. His bright green eyes that once danced with mischief and excitement were fading. And nothing… I mean nothing… brought him back.
At this point, I should explain that Mom was an endearing artist. Her drawings were full of life and charm. I always loved her art so one year I entered her into a children’s book illustrator’s contest. The contest required illustrators to draw the Chicken Little story about how they went to see the king. Mom drew Chicken Little, Henny Penny and all the critters on a river raft made of logs. It is positively precious. Unfortunately, the competition judges didn’t agree. She didn’t win or even receive honorable mention. But her drawing was, is and always will be my favorite.
In Summer of 2020 I was going through Mom and Sister’s things when I came upon the original drawing. I smiled and cried and missed her all over again. I set the drawing on counter with intent to frame it. Dad came in, saw the drawing, and lit up. I watched him and a plot started brewing. Then it came to me… Dad needs a sailboat.
So I started searching. And searching. As luck would have it I found a boat two hours away that I thought would entice him. It had chain plates down hull, full keel, forty foot, all the things I knew he liked. I emailed and was told, “The boat is open. Visit her anytime,” I asked Dad if he wanted to go look. He was slow to respond at first but the idea took hold and his green eyes did a little wiggle. I knew this would work.
We left at dusk. Drove two and half hours and arrived well after dark. We found a hotel near marina and anxiously slept. Next morning neither one of could eat breakfast. We drove straight to marina. Pulling in marina we were surrounded by boats towering above us, “On the hard.”. Sailboat masts pointing at sky. Motorboats. Skiffs. Boats of every shape and size. We both wiggled and pointed with excitement. We made our way to waterfront. Tires crunching gravel as we slowly passed boat yard, office and made our way to waterfront. I saw her right away. Red stripe. White hull. Green main and mizzen boom cover. I pointed excitedly, “There she is!” We jumped out and walked (half skipped) down wooden docks till we came upon, “Whippet.” It was somewhat difficult to digest her eclectic color scheme. As we got closer we discovered she also had blue bottom paint. She was, without a doubt, the nautical equivalent of Punky Brewster.
Stepping on board we noticed freshly caulked seems on beautiful Teak Decks and long thick chain plates hugging her hull. Walking forward we noticed Bowsprit pulpit was missing stanchions and her safety cabled dangled like shoulder straps on an evening dress that had been slept in. Her Bow sprit beam was painted red. It jutted in front of bow about six feet. On the tip of sprit someone installed a crudely painted silver propeller and dog head statue of an actual, “Whippet”. Our eyes were so conflicted. The deck and chain plates were beautiful. But bowsprit adornments were crudely out of place. At that moment it felt like conflicting banjos playing out of sync. And I loved every inch of it. We couldn’t help smiling even as our eyes struggled to make sense of it all. Climbing into her center cockpit I glanced teak spoked helm wheel, teak covered seats, teak companion way hatch and the most adorable teak double door hatch. We opened it and excitedly went below.
Once inside I slowly turned in a circle bringing my eyes to rest on beautiful teak settee table with white leather cushions. Walking closer too cushions I was shocked to discover someone had painted the buttons Red. Yes. Red. Her white leather settee cushions had red polka dots. The conflicted banjos played a little louder but even that couldn’t take away from the beautiful, sweeping teak interior. Her forward cabin has a V-berth, separate wet head, and separate door. Navigation station to port of companion way has a spacious bench, table and perfectly accessible to electrical panel. The galley on starboard side has lots of space in ice box, sink, gimbaled stove teak sliding doors covering shelves and storage area. Walking aft I opened aft cabin door and fell in love. It has queen size bed, another wet head and another door separating aft cabin from galley. Engine compartment located behind companion way stairs. We opened it and peered inside. More conflicting banjos. Someone had crudely painted engine, hoses and wires with gold spray paint. Dad located keys and started it. Fortunately, ghetto paint job didn’t affect engine. It started and purred. Throughout the day and well into evening Dad inspected boat, became familiar with her systems and we chatted endlessly over dinner.
Long story short… at the end of September, despite concerto of conflicting banjos, we bought her. She needs a complete refit including new bowsprit, and pulpit stanchions, rails, bob stay and chain plate. She also needs a new mainsail and all new electronics. “She” is a 1983 41’ Transworld Ketch. She looks a lot like a Formosa or CT and needs, “A lot of little things” according to the surveyor. But for the bargain price of twenty thousand dollars she’s ours. And for the first time in three years there is pep in Dad’s step, fire in his belly and his green eyes are dancing again. We’re on another adventure.
Mom would approve.
Nicole Black Robey was born in Charlottesville, Va where she lives with her father and husband. She has a Master’s Degree From The Evergreen State College and Juris Doctorate degree from Taft University School of Law. She is an avid equestrian and animal lover. If you’re interested in learning more Nicole has a YouTube channel called, “Saddles & Sails ”