February 15, 2007
Newport, Rhode Island
41º 29.093 North
071º 19.326 West
Going Home Is Such A Ride
There was one song I wanted to hear as Ithaka
passed the Brenton Reef navigational buoy headed toward Newport Harbor,
and we sailed the last hour of our homeward-bound leg. It was by Mythical
Kings and Iguanas by Dory Previn, and I knew the song well enough to know
that the lyrics were what I was feeling, and I wanted to hear her sing
“Going home is such a ride,” Dory sang. She
is oh so right.
It was about 7 a.m. as we passed Brenton Reef, and old
memories rushed through my head – of summer days sailing our little
24-footer out from Newport to Block Island, of major international yacht
races that had used the old tower there as a finish line, of gentle weekend
getaways. How many times have we sailed past that buoy in darkness and in
light? We soared along under main and genny, and passed the beautiful old
summer houses that line the shorelines of Jamestown and Newport.
Newport's Cliff Walk, with its mansions and
promontories, faces the sea.
We passed the Inn at Castle Hill and I recalled lazy Sunday
afternoons on the lawn there, listening to jazz and we swept by the Castle
Hill Lighthouse, tucked into the rocks. I remembered all the other times
we’ve felt the warm familiarity of that little light, and imagined
all the decades of boats heading in and out of here on their way to who
We passed fishing boats headed out to work,
and tankers headed out to sea -- everyone going about their business, no
one knowing that the two people on the white sailboat had many miles beneath
their keel, and were about to complete a voyage that had so changed their
lives. Douglas and I were giddy with excitement over what lay ahead, and
at the same time filled with nostalgia for what we were leaving behind.
Newport was home, and we longed for so many aspects of that. But wasn’t
our boat home, too, and all the places she’s taken us in the last
Newport Harbor at sunset. Day or night, the
harbor is home, and is totally familiar to us.
But time marched on, Ithaka turned
the corner of the harbor entrance, and there ahead of us was the display
of boats for which Newport is famous. America’s Cup yachts, superyachts,
racing yachts, cruising yachts, classic yachts, all bobbing in the mooring
field, lit by a bright sunshine.
We rolled in the genny, fired up the engine, took down
the mainsail, and puttered into the scene. It was the same scene we’d
known before. But on this new day, with the layer of excitement we felt
at being back, everything looked extra beautiful, and we noticed the details
– the greenness of the grass on the New York Yacht Club lawn, the
delicate spire of Trinity Church rising above the rooftops, the line of
Optimists crewed by happy children already out sailing on this beautiful
morning. This heightened awareness of the details would dull over time,
of course. You can’t stay hypervigilant forever, so I enjoyed the
moment, and tried to hold these visions in my mind’s eye, knowing
it would be fleeting.
Bernadette and her Dad
When we lived here, we kept our boat on a rented mooring,
which we gave up when we set off cruising. Now, like the other cruising
boats visiting this international harbor, we headed over to anchor in the
only area clear of moorings, off the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. There were boats
around us hailing from all over the world – fellow cruisers, fellow
travelers, people moving through. We were one of them, and then again, we
weren’t. The feelings of confusion set in again. We found we couldn’t
let ourselves anchor immediately. Instead we motored leisurely around the
harbor, a personal victory lap.
A fishing boat ghosts out of the harbor for its work days on the
We called my
family on our cell phone, and the excitement in their voices made me cry.
My dad said he’d jump in his truck and be right down to the harbor,
and we told him where we were anchored. My brother said he’d be
right down too. We called a few friends. The whirl began.
It’s been two weeks now, and one of the things
I’ve noticed since we’ve returned home has been the absence
of silence. There is always something to distract us now – phone calls,
visits, people, options. Our “to do” lists have radically changed.
Instead of tasks completely related to our boat, and our live-aboard lifestyle,
our lists include the chores of land life: “Buy shoes. Buy a car.
Buy a laptop…” Our heads are spinning.
Bernadette's brother owns an Irish pub on Long Wharf, near the Newport
Yacht Club, named Celtica, the site of many homecoming gatherings
of our family and friends.
and I have a house in Portsmouth, which is a few miles north of Newport
but located on the same Aquidneck island. The house has been rented while
we were away. The tenant just moved out. After being home a couple of
days, we head over to the house and start cleaning, and painting, and
making new kinds of lists. “Buy a bed. Buy a couch…”
We start moving things off Ithaka and into the house.
Load by load, day after day, the boat begins to rise up on her lines as
the garage fills with boxes. She’s feeling emptier, like her traveling
days with us are done, and this feels so sad to me. Douglas and I start
to talk about what we need to do to her to get her ready to be put up for
sale. It feels strange to talk about this while we’re onboard, like
she’s got a life too, and she hears us talk of abandoning her. For
me, I know it sounds crazy, but it’s easier to talk about selling
the boat when we’re in the house. Everything is happening so fast.
“Buy car insurance. Buy shelf-lining paper. Buy a lawn mower.”
"Bonniecrest" glistens in the sunset
When people ask us about our cruising experiences,
invariably some inquire if we’ve weathered any big storms. Normally,
we say no, not really. When we say this, they seem disappointed. So, we’ve
come up with a couple of stories we can tell, of squalls, or storms, or
whatever. It’s not how we really remember cruising. But when we
drum up a story or two, there’s a sense of satisfaction from those
friends, and I wonder if their seeking these stories is a way they can
confirm to themselves that they would never want to do something such
as go cruising.
People keep asking us what we’re going to do next.
We notice, after a week or so of this, that we’re both coming up with
a set of answers that are succinct and as complete-sounding as possible.
We find it’s best to give cheery answers that make it sound like we
have it all sorted out. That way, we won’t get into our confusions
and fears about re-integrating into land life.
Bernadette and her brother Mark
be doing lots of freelance writing,” I say, which seems to be a
“Do you want to go back to your old job?” They
all seem to ask.
“No,” I say, “you’ve got to go forward.
I’d like to just explore all my options now that I’m home.”
I discover that this answer doesn’t work, and I start to modify
it, as it always ends up being a long discussion about my options, and
this starts to exhaust me.
I’d like to work again as a psychologist, but
with child refugees overseas,” says Douglas. People are interested
in this, although they look a little alarmed, wondering I suppose why he’d
want to turn around and fly right out of here now that he just arrived.
“And I’ll be opening up a limited practice again,” he
adds, and then people calm themselves down.
realize before too long that our deepest cruising memories are our own,
and that they can’t be shared easily and still remain completely
true to the experience. Thank God that Douglas and I have each other with
whom we can share these more nuanced memories and feelings and our logs
to look back to.
Douglas and I decide that we’re going to give ourselves
six months to regroup, move off Ithaka and into our house, settle down
again, and sort out some of our options. This calms me down from the tree
somewhat. We’ll have time to experience and think and plan and re-consider.
The Pell Bridge,
during the day, and at night -- in a time-release photo by Douglas
- our view from Ithaka's cockpit while we were anchored off Ida
Lewis Yacht Club with the other international cruising boats.
We’ve been home two weeks now, and already I’m
seeing that you spend a lot more time remembering your experiences than
you spent having them. As I hear myself tell the same story for the third
time to different friends, about the squalls we faced while sailing home
from Virginia, I realize that I am etching this spoken version of the
experience into my own mind as well. I make a mental note to try to hang
on to all the other details of the story for as long as I can.
One sensitive friend asked me the other day, “I thought,
when you came home from cruising, that it would be because you were done
with it, ready to move on to something else. But it sounds like you miss
it. I don’t understand, why did you come back?”
“I do miss it already,” I answered. “You’re
right. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes when you’re cruising,
you get a feeling that it’s time to see and do other things, challenge
yourself in a new way. Get re-involved in something that matters more than
counting the gallons of water we’re using. It’s not that the
cruising life isn’t good. In fact, it’s great in most ways.
Something was just pulling at us. We’re still young enough to make
a difference somehow, I guess, get involved in something bigger than ourselves.
Does that make any sense?”
Bernadette and our niece Hannah, making costumes out of paper --
the simple joy of spending time with loved ones.
Well, it sort
of did. But then I could see by the look on her face that it sort of didn’t.
Normally, middle-aged people don’t need to come face to face with
these questions of re-invention. Sometimes I envy them that certainty
or that inertia about their lives – call it what you will.
“And I really want to get into more freelance writing,”
I said. And this brought the conversation back on track. Dory Previn’s
lyrics had it right: Going home is such a ride.
Sailboats ghosting along the Portsmouth coast, in front of our house.
|Now that Bernadette and Douglas are back in the
U.S., any groups or corporations interested in booking them for slide
shows and talks can reach them at SV_Ithaka@hotmail.com