The little boat skipped across the water, her sails filled with warm summer wind and her owner standing proudly at the helm. Today was the first day they had ventured beyond the bay into the ocean together and she quivered with anticipation, surging forward with all her might.
She missed the ocean, having spent her early years on a long coastal journey with her first owners. They were a young couple with a penchant for adventure and had sold their cars and drained their bank accounts to buy her and sail to Mexico. They spent several seasons sailing in the Sea of Cortez, happily moving between calm anchorages, diving and fishing from her deck and taking tourists on day sails when they ran short of cash. Eventually, they made their way back up the coast where they got jobs and a home.
The times between sails became longer and longer. Oysters took up residence on her keel and strangers came down to wash her every so often. One day a family came onboard. They opened all her cabinets, poked around the engine and climbed onto the bunks. A few days later the husband and teenage son came back with another man. They reversed her out of the slip and raised the sails. She wasn’t sure how she felt about this. She missed her owners but was excited to be sailing again. Weeks passed and then the whole family came back. They brought armloads of nautical themed bedding and galleyware. The little girl squealed with delight as she helped her father wash the decks and the boy went step by step through the engine manual to change her oil.
They didn’t leave the slip again for almost two months, but they came down every weekend, spending the night at the dock. So many new gadgets came on board and she felt her svelte waterline dip deeper into the water. She came to realize that her original owners weren’t coming back. She had worked hard to keep them safe in storms and carry them to exciting ports. She had loved them. They hadn’t even said goodbye.
The family were new sailors and motored more than they sailed. They often took her away for weekends in small coves in the bay, venturing as far as the delta for a week over the summer, but never crossed under the bridge into the deep blue waters of the ocean. They were good to her, keeping her stainless steel polished and her wood varnished and her bottom brushed and clean. They brought friends along for day sails and dockside barbecues. She settled into a content existence and loved watching the children grow. She was happy.
A decade passed. Although she was well maintained, her parts had gotten old. She didn’t mind sitting at the dock more often than she sailed. The children had grown into lovely young adults and went off to college and she only saw them on rare occasions when they were home visiting and would bring a six pack of beer with their friends to laugh in her cockpit. The parents visited less and less often until one day they came onboard and packed up their bedding, galleyware, books and personal items. The wife carted away one load while the husband secured the hatches. He stood for a moment at the helm, then climbed off, giving the hull a pat. He walked away. She knew that she was alone again and she was sad.
Over the next year, strangers traipsed her decks and peered inside. But she remained at the dock. Her sail covers became tattered and she looked and felt dinghy.
“Hello, old girl,” a voice called out. He stepped onboard confidently, whistling as he opened her hatch.
It took a few tries for her to awaken, but with a couple of coaxing turns of the key she coughed and sputtered and her engine came to life. The young man took off the sail covers and raised the sails at the dock, shaking out the cobwebs and dirt that had accumulated.
Another new owner, she thought. But as the young man went about his work, she recognized his movements. It was the boy who had grown up sailing on her. He knew her and made quick work of tidying her up. He slept on board that night, cleaning below decks and cooking on her little stove. It felt good to be cared for but she didn’t want to get her hopes up and when he left the following day she settled back into her mooring.
The next day he returned and motored her to the boat yard. This is it, she thought. They are going to haul me to dry land and leave me to rot. She’d seen it happen to so many other boats that had grown old and tired and deteriorated at the dock and then abandoned in a boat yard. A strong crane hoisted her out of the water and positioned her on stilts. She felt naked and scared out of the water.
But the young man came back and a long discussion was held under her bare bottom. He rubbed her undersides and keel, turned the prop with his hands and examined her thru-hulls with the boatyard owner. A few hours later a team arrived and the work began. They sanded and patched and painted for four days. On the fifth day, they splashed her back in the water and the young man returned her to her slip.
For the better part of the summer, the young man worked diligently on her, replacing old parts with new and dismantling and cleaning others. New sails and lines were installed and he kept her clean and tidy. She began to believe that she would once again be sailing.
The young man brought his father and mother to see her after the work was complete. They were so proud of him and sat for hours reminiscing on the wonderful family trips they had taken. This was when he told them his plan. He was going to solo sail her in the next Pacific Cup, a fun race to Hawaii. He had done the research and would spend two years preparing for the adventure.
Today was their first ocean sail together. There would be dozens more up and down the coast before they set their course for the Hawaiian Islands. They would brave storms and float peacefully on still, sunshine filled afternoons. She knew that this love affair wouldn’t last forever. He was a young man and would fall in love with another someday. But for now, he was hers and with her sails filled and his hands on her helm, this was enough.
Written January 2017; Read at To Live & Write in Alameda’s Story Slam, February 2017