August 15, 2007 By Tania Aebi
The Birth Of A Dream
By Tania Aebi
The years fly by, and here I am, 40 years old, with an ex-husband, two boys, and an unfulfilled dream. One son is 16, the other 13, my days of hands-on mothering and influence are almost over, and so is the time I have left to take my children on the adventure I’d always hoped we’d have together. That is, the family adventure I dreamed we’d have, before the complicated twists and turns of life got in the way.
Nicholas and Sam had always known that I had sailed around the world when I was 18 on a 26-foot sloop named Varuna. Over the years, they’d heard me talk about it – publicly, in the lectures and slide shows I was hired to present; and privately, as I told them (more than they would have liked, I’m sure) what I’d learned Out There. I told them about how life at sea engenders self-sufficiency and resourcefulness, about the commitment it takes to set a big goal and reach it, despite the sometimes-fearsome hurdles that block our paths. The boys knew that I’d met their father Out There; that he’d circumnavigated as well, and for the second half of my young trip around the world, he and I would meet in far-flung harbors, work on our boats together, and then carry on separately until the next landfall. And of course the boys knew about the book, Maiden Voyage, which I’d written after coming home, which chronicled the whole experience. To them, the trip I’d taken as a teenager was a reality, sure – I mean, they had read the book and seen all the pictures, the newspapers, and the magazine stories -- but it was a long time ago, and very, very far from their reality.
|Tania and the boys live in Vermont, surrounded by trees and nature|
My kids lived a quiet, normal life in our house tucked away in the Vermont forest, as distant from boats and the sea as you can imagine, and they were perfectly content as armchair adventurers. I even admit to being a comfortable armchair dweller myself, especially over the past few years, happily nesting within the patterns of my single-parenting routines, with my cozy little house in the woods, with my small-town community, my chickens and organic garden, with my work; I’m a writer and columnist, run a couple of chartered flotillas in different countries every year, and have renovated a couple of houses for investment. All was well, except for one increasingly nagging thing: I knew in my bones that time was running out to take my children on a voyage of discovery, something my ex-husband and I used to talk about as though it would certainly happen. There was a huge, fascinating world over the horizon. We wanted our kids to see it, and for a while we wanted to see it with them, as a family. But it never happened.
But fast forward now, well away from those younger dreams and hopes. Two years ago, it hit me that they’d faded from my view almost entirely, and that I was almost out of time. At that point, I’d been divorced for six years and the boys’ dad and I found ourselves in disagreement about almost everything we discussed, except of course the shared priority of our boys and our commitment to spending time with them on a structured and regular basis. Their dad lived two miles away, which made predictable schedules workable for us both. But I needed his help and co-operation – no easy task -- in creating a plan that would take us out of our established routine and that could rekindle a bit of our old dream, and make it happen.
When the seed for all this began to germinate, my first theoretical brainstorm depended on me finding a cheap boat, taking off a year, and crossing the Caribbean and the South Pacific with the kids. The catch was how their father would react to hearing he wouldn’t be seeing them for so long, not unless he wanted to fly in for remote island visits every once in a while. It didn’t take much for me to realize I’d have faced another storm alone in the Gulf Stream over engaging in this discussion. A little more diplomacy and consideration were in order if any plan was to grow any legs, hence the first ingenious and articulated proposal.
|In the forests around her house, Tania collects and dries chanterelle mushrooms.|
It was inspired by a book called My Old Man and the Sea, and if you haven’t read it and like a well-written sea tale, then by all means, fetch yourself a copy and enjoy. In it, a father and son build a boat together, then go around Cape Horn together, then write the book together. It is a co-authored account of a great sailing adventure as well as a beautiful father-son story. I started thinking about copycatting them, rounding the Horn with my boys, co-authoring a book with them, titling it My Old Maid and the Sea. My first book was called Maiden Voyage, so what could be more perfect?
The people I ran it by said it was a cool plan, so I thought it was, too. One even informed me the best time to round the Cape falls between March 7-14. “Guaranteed calm,” he said. “I heard this from a guy who works one of those charter boats that take people out to the Horn.” I started planning an itinerary around these dates.
In order to involve the boys’ father, I thought Nicholas, Sam, and I could get the boat south, he could join us in Punta Arenas, Chile, and we could bury our differences long enough to do Cape Horn to the Falkland Islands together. Then, he and the boys could bring the boat north to the Caribbean. Our one adventure as a family could be the big one. Oh, the memories we’d all have! What a gift for the kids! I felt myself getting carried off by the possibilities. Excited because I had a plan that included their dad, I shared the idea with him, and his reaction was nothing like that of the other people I’d told.
“Are you out of your mind?” he asked. “There’s a reason why people don’t sail down there. It’s cold. It’s windy. It’s wet, and no way am I doing that boring trip north. No way.”
What do you do when you’ve thought up the most excellent plan and the person upon whom depends the success of pulling it all through says, “no way?” No discussion. No way. Well, you might start off really mad and frustrated, rehashing every last example of how an ex-husband can ruin your life. Then, when you calm down, you might move on toward thinking about all the reasons why he could be right.
First, you’d need a really good boat, which would cost way more than you’d want to, or be able to, afford because a cheap boat is the only part of the plan that can’t change. Secondly, it would be a major endeavor involving lots of suffering above and beyond the mere prospect of being cooped up on a small vessel with somebody you divorced because of incompatibility. And lastly, maybe the lessons gained from some suffering were something the kids would learn on their own, without Mom trying to convince everyone that an adventure is better in hindsight if it is also an ordeal, a masochistic philosophy that smacked a bit too much of my own father’s influence. God forbid.
What was a good alternative then? Maybe a Great Circle Atlantic route? But, the timing, season-wise, would be tricky to fit into a school year, and it wasn’t exactly the trip of my dreams. So, what about back to Plan A, the South Pacific to Australia? The South Pacific was the place I remembered with longing from my own trip, the one place I’d always meant to return to, until being temporarily derailed by the lure of Cape Horn and a good book title.
Yes, most of the daydreams featured a mountain towering over an anchorage, a waterfall slashing through the emerald green cover of tropical vegetation. Beneath it, a sailboat is floating on a crystal blue surface, a short swim away from the sparkling sand beach with swaying coconut palms. The gentle trade winds are ruffling the flat lagoon waters promising wind for the journey ahead, the coral heads undulating below the surface, dark blobs surrounded by colorful fish. Penetrating the dream a little deeper, the kids are jack-knifing off the deck, snorkeling, catching langoustes, fishing, meeting kids on other boats and ashore, discovering as much of the world that can fit into one school year.
The South Pacific. It all became crystal clear to me, and I could see exactly what needed to happen: I would take the boat and the kids for the first five months of the voyage, from the Caribbean to French Polynesia. Then their father would take over, and take the boat and kids for the second five months, from French Polynesia to Australia. Already, I felt a maternal panic to think about being apart from Nicholas and Sam for such an extended period. But in the end, I resolved, it would be worth the world to me to be able to spend my own time with them in such an intense way, and I knew what the experience of the whole voyage would mean in their lives. The hurdle was their dad. I needed to convince him to join the plan.
So, one day just over a year ago, I summoned up my nerve, and presented the whole idea to him, while he listened soberly. I even offered to buy the boat myself. Then, on top of that, I offered to do all the work that would be needed to prepare it, and outfit it. All he would need to do is show up and take over when it was his turn. I reminded him about how much he’d loved cruising when we were younger – “My God, I can’t believe it,” I said, “but that was 20 years ago now. Perhaps this is not exactly how we imagined things working out, but it’s still not too late to make a trip happen for the kids, in a slightly different version of our old dream. And think about how it would be to spend those months together with your own boys. It’s not too late for that…”
He stayed silent a long time, looking dark and put upon, as he often does with me. I sat quietly, waiting. Waiting. Not knowing which way this would go, the kitchen clock ticked, and ticked, and ticked. Then he turned to me.
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll do it.”
|Tania in the White Mountains in nearby New Hampshire.|