Viewing Blog

View All Blogs | View Blogs by Shangri-La | View Blogs in Cruising Log

<- Previous Blog by Shangri-La | Next Blog by Shangri-La ->

Last Letter From Vermont

By Shangri-La - Published December 15, 2007 - Viewed 882 times

This is it. My next letter to you, dear reader, will be sent out from the boat I’ll be calling home. The boys and my father will be with me, and we’ll be preparing for our first hop from Curacao to Colombia. All the anticipation, all the talking, all the question answering, all the second guessing, all the worrying will be over, at least in our world up here. The smells, the sounds, the sights, the temperatures will all be different. As the frosty leaves start turning the colors that lure flatland rubberneckers to these hills every year, we’re down to the wire and ready to go, and the last dangling question is: Why?

The other day, Kathy, my neighbor, best friend, and mother to Nicholas’ best friend and classmate since kindergarten, asked me why I’d made this decision in the first place. She knows this has been entirely my bailiwick,

Tania, just before flying down to the boat with her boys.
from what year to take off, to finding the boat, to outfitting it, to developing an itinerary, to pulling it through. Up until this point, the only, and I mean only, thing the boys’ father has done is agree to show up at the end of February in Tahiti and sail with his kids from there to Australia, then complain how much it would cost until he realized he’d only be responsible for five months of fuel, food and his own airplane tickets, then complain that the boys will be bored with the whole lifestyle by the time his turn comes around. Now he’s making a cutting board to fit one of the galley sinks that will hopefully be done before I leave in a couple days.

It sounds stupid, martyr-like, but it’s what I had to do. After my parents divorced, my mother always said they were still married, and for as long as they had children together, they’d be married. She was right. I am not my boys’ only parent and until they are long gone and leading their own adult lives, the other will have to be accounted for.

Behind our house, through the woods, is Kathy’s studio.
To have a five-month sailing adventure with Nicholas and Sam, I had to pull the whole thing together and then give them five months with their father. I can’t walk away from him, nor can I be hobbled by him. He’s what keeps life from being too perfect.

So, every last little step of the way, and especially in these past couple of months, while he thinks about what wood to use for the cutting board between lodging the complaints over drinks with mutual friends in this small town who’ve reported back to me, I’ve had to make the smaller decisions, with all the justifications, research, rationales, from how to find and purchase an engine manual, to how many courtesy flags to buy, to which charts to choose, to how many boxers the boys should pack. Standing in Kathy’s kitchen, I’d been telling her about Sam’s reluctance, the anxious knot in my belly, saying how tired I was of getting over-tired too often, which always makes room for doubts. Why, she then asked? Why are you doing this?

Olivier and Tania, the day she returned to New York, the youngest woman to have sailed solo around the world.

Sometimes, this is a good question; sometimes, it’s no question. I immediately remembered back to when I was eighteen, preparing to leave everything I knew to sail off and around the world for the next two-and-a-half years. Back then, my father was helping with every last decision and implementation, and none of my other friends were asking me why I was doing it. We were all young, on the brink of adulthood, making choices, figuring out what we wanted, where to go with our lives, and I guess it was obvious to them. My father had given me a choice that would take me away, not to college, but out to sea. Why not? We knew other friends who’d committed suicide, were homeless,

Kathy’s garden – an oasis in the woods.
had become drug addicts. Much scarier. Good luck, they said, and gave me snacks, and letters and music and books, and promised to write.

My mother, who knew she was dying from cancer, and who had never agreed on anything with my father up until then, was completely supportive. She knew all about the Big Limitation and until facing that one, she said, I owed it to myself to live life to the fullest. Friends of the family also took it in stride. My father was unusual, and offering to pay for me to sail alone around the world instead of college — which ended up being cheaper for him than my sisters’ Ivy League educations — was perhaps a little loony, but not absurd, not in our world. Everyone around him knew how passionately he believed, and had already been able to prove for himself, that anything is

Tania, at 18 years old, on Varuna, her 27-foot sloop.
possible, given the will to try and succeed. They understood how he wanted to give me the chance to learn this for myself, through life experience.

It was the other adults, the press, complete strangers who came dockside as I was about to push off and word had gotten out, that started asking me the big Why? Why on earth would I board that little boat and sail out past Ambrose Light and into the future that seemed so risky? I couldn’t understand the question, didn’t have an answer. It was obvious to me. Why not? So young, I couldn’t understand then how settled we become in our lives, our routines, friendships, jobs, and careers, how perplexing it might be to others when someone can just leave all that behind to head into

Tania, at 19, in Varuna’s cockpit in the South Pacific.
the big unknown. And, it does always seems risky and fraught with peril, until you’re out there yourself, living it day to day, making the world your home, new people your friends, new stories your memories.

You know how every once in a while you find the answer to something and it seems so clear you can’t believe you never saw it before? Like, finding your glasses were on top of your head all along? I don’t wear glasses, but here’s my latest epiphany. There is no way, absolutely no way, to predict the outcome, or the future, of any endeavor without actually giving it a shot. Given the desire and a goal within the realm of possibility, anything is achievable, until proven otherwise, though more often than not, once you get going, the universe will fall in cahoots with you. It will help you along. Once you get the momentum, the laws of inertia take over. A mass in motion stays in motion and it’s hard to hit a moving target.

But you have to keep moving. As an eighteen-year-old, for those two and a half years my constant goal was to head west, get back home — then be normal, get married, have kids,


Tania, at 19, playing with the children on a remote South Pacific island.
build a house, plant a garden, and live happily ever after. My every single thought, everything around me, got caught up in that slipstream and conspired to help me along. And, I made it. Perhaps, I really did have enough common sense and pluck to pull it off, perhaps I did learn what was needed to make it happen, perhaps good people did help me out all along the way, perhaps there was some luck involved in the whole process. No matter. The point is that without trying, I would have never known or believed in what it means to trust the process, that even when the sailing isn’t smooth, and the universe takes a day off, this, too, shall pass. Nothing endures and lasts forever, neither the bad, nor the good, and it’s a package deal where the penalty for not trying, for not following a dream right into and through the thickets of despair, is regret, and who wants that?

If I hadn’t taken my father up on his offer, if I hadn’t sailed around the world by myself


Tania, at 21, and her father Ernst. Tania is wearing the Cruising World Medal for Outstanding Seamanship, which she was awarded the year after her epic voyage.
when I was eighteen, if I hadn’t learned all about the ultimate leap of faith, who knows where life would have led? One thing is for sure: I’d have regrets. And, I wouldn’t be taking my own kids off to sea now and believing it’ll be a good thing for all of us. But, does that answer the question of why?

No. And I don’t really believe there will be an answer until we can reflect on the way this trip plays out. It won’t be nearly as dramatic as my first Big One, but it’ll be an adventure. I am the same age my mother was when she died, my kids are the same age I was when I was first introduced to boats and the ocean, my best teachers ever. With all the groundwork laid and preparations made, we are ready to go, to move beyond the philosophical and theoretical. I’ve started really looking forward to ending all the anticipation, answering all the questions, to living the actual and practical reality of our Shangri-La. We have only one life to live. Why not? It’s time to go and I hope Kathy understands. If not, I’ll be better able to explain when we get back.


The world map pinned over the family’s kitchen table.




Blog Comments

There are 0 blog comments.

Sorry there are no blog comments.

Post Blog Comments
Message:

Sorry but you must be logged in to submit comments.