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Shaking Off The Remoras

By Shangri-La - Published October 01, 2007 - Viewed 791 times

When you plan a trip, you can sit there imagining you’re taking every little detail into account until the cows come home. You can do all your homework, read the magazines and books, attend boat shows and seminars, but no matter how thorough you think you’ve been, once the plans start taking shape, they can also keep changing shape. In fact, they can just keep eluding any shape at all until you finally set off, and then you look back to find the shape for what it ended up being.

Shangri-La in Curacao

I knew that. Once I made the decision to take the kids out of school for a year, and calculated how long and when to do it, and where the three of us would go, I knew it was only the beginning, the first step of the journey. I knew there would be pitfalls and obstacles and things I hadn’t thought about that would complicate the equations, that would test my ability to be flexible. I knew there would be no end to the unforeseen particulars that would show up unexpectedly along the way. I knew full well this is what traveling, sailing, and life itself are all about. It’s part of the fun and challenge. But, there were certain details I considered as givens that wouldn’t change.

First, the trip was going to last a year, one school year divided up into two segments. I would spend half this year sailing with my boys, just the three of us, and the second half they’d do with their father, just the three of them. Second, it would happen on a smallish boat, somewhere between 34 and 38 feet, enough to comfortably accommodate three. The make of boat wouldn’t matter, as long as it was affordable. We would only need it for a year, and it would only have to be good enough to get two groups of three across the Caribbean and South Pacific. Simple enough. Short of something really dramatic happening, I could see no reason for either of these two points to change.

Nicholas and Tania, in the forest behind their house – a forest that connects friends and families.

On the other hand, plans such as the itinerary and route could be edited and revised any number of times, within reason. For example, originally, I thought I’d find a boat on the East Coast, but when it came time to really figure out a schedule that factored in winds, hurricane seasons, distances, and time, the East Coast became impractical. The Caribbean started sounding like a better place for the three of us to start the trip, somewhere like Trinidad, below the hurricane belt, and on the way to where we wanted to head, which was, ideally, downwind. So, I decided to concentrate on finding a boat in Trinidad. No problem. I thought I was following a perfectly sane and rational approach. But then it happened. I started talking too much.

Sam’s good friend Jonah went with Tania and the boys on their first shakedown sail on Shangri-La.

While these plans were taking the shape, I was going for frequent walks in the forest out back with my neighbor and best friend, Kathy, and on one of them, broke the news we’d be leaving for a year. At first, as I kept feeding her updates, in her typically reserved and laconic New England way, she didn’t say much, and I interpreted the silence as her way of saying I was nuts. One afternoon, trying to keep it light, I jokingly said my boys were saying they’d miss her boy because they’ve grown up together and are almost like brothers. Now that my boys and I had started talking about living aboard for a year, they’d begun to ask if we could bring her boy along. I waited for a laugh, or her characteristic eye rolling, but neither came. Instead, in all seriousness, Kathy looked at me and said, “Now there’s a idea. That would be so great for him.”

Jonah’s mom, Tania’s best friend Kathy, has an artist’s studio nestled in the forest between their two houses.

But, I was only joking, a voice in my head moaned. It never occurred to me that she, or anyone else, would entrust their child with me on the high seas. Plus, I’d never imagined doing this trip with anyone but my boys, just the three of us. What had my big mouth started? A couple of days later, Kathy and I met for another walk in the woods. I thought we were only searching for mushrooms while she was actually waiting for the right moment to tell me that when she mentioned the idea to her husband, he was all for it. “What a fantastic opportunity this would be for him,” he’d said about their son leaving them for an extended period of time. Wow, I thought. I guess bringing him wouldn’t have to be out of the question, but still, wow. What’s happening here?

In the forest behind their house, the boys and their friends have set up a paintball course (harmless to the trees). For those of you unfamiliar with it, paintball is a war game, the national popularity of which has even reached the hinterlands of rural Vermont.

Ironically enough, while these woodsy discussions were taking place, I’d just finished struggling to fill boats for the flotillas I lead as a small business operator with my other best friend. Promising liveaboard fun in exotic locations on a little three-fold brochure sent out to a superannuated mailing list didn’t seem to be a huge draw, and marketing has never been my strength, so the signups were only trickling in. Now, I was planning an unadvertised trip I didn’t need anybody to join, and Kathy’s son was just the trickle that heralded the flood.

Several weekends later, we got together with my father, sister, and brother at my brother’s house with all the kids. The cousins were running around, shrieking and playing on the tick-infested lawn while my sister Jade leafed through the pages of an ancient back issue of a sailing magazine for which I write. I thought she was reading the articles, my column at the very least, but no, she was perusing the broker ads. When she finished, she looked up at her husband for confirmation, he nodded, and they popped the question. “Why don’t we help you get a bigger and better boat,” she asked, “and then we can come with you?” “We” being their family of four. Double wow.

Nick and Jade with Nicholas, Sam, and Tania on Mount Washington.

Then, another friend who was standing there and listening said, “You know what? I can take five months off from work. I want to come, too.” Triple wow, and holy cows coming home.

I sat there at the counter and started laughing and doing the math. Was it possible that the hardest part about planning this trip would be to fend off the piggy backers? I love these people, they’re all my best friends. Having them along, all six of them, including Kathy’s boy, would bring the total aboard up from a crew of three to a crew of nine. Three to the power of two makes nine. Three times three makes nine. Three squared makes nine. From every angle, it was adding up to nine. Why not throw in Kathy as well, make it an even 10? We weren’t talking a 34-38 footer anymore. And, could we even all do this together? Did I want to? Hmmm... Food for thought.

7) Jonah and Sam catch their first fish.

I saw two possibilities. No, three, a dangerous number that, as I’d just learned, could quickly grow exponentially. I could either remind everyone that this trip was about me and my boys, and we’d go it alone as originally planned, just the three of us. Or, I could take being flexible to ever-higher levels and we’d go en masse. Or, I could finally become a businessperson and jump at opportunity when it comes a’knockin and send out feelers, see if anyone else wanted to actually pay to send kids or entire families along with us. No! Just kidding! Really. Though it had seemed possible that the whole plan could blow up to unmanageable proportions, in the end, I just hemmed and hawed and dropped hints left and right that this trip was for me and the boys. The first rank of piggybackers had the grace to eventually let the whole thing blow over and out, and I got the numbers back down to three. It’s been holding steady ever since.





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