Call For a Tow

June 15 , 2007
Portsmouth, Rhode Island
41° 37.25 north
071° 16.12 west

Many Thanks And Fair Winds

By Douglas Bernon

To the many generous people who’ve included us in their lives over the past six and a half years, we extend our thanks. This, the 219th Log of Ithaka, is our final Internet posting. Last week I went on the web — a sentence I couldn’t have written when we were cruising on Ithaka — and downloaded a series of songs about saying goodbye. Of course there was Roy and Dale singing Happy Trails. (I also found a version by Van Halen that I liked even better.) I also grabbed Leonard Cohen’s throaty That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, Linda Rondstadt singing Goodbye and Gloria Gaynor’s throbbing I Will Survive. I’ve been listening to them over and over again as I’ve thought about this log. Bernadette and I have said goodbye to Ithaka. We’ve said goodbye for now to many cruising friends. We’ve said goodbye to the extraordinary lifestyle we’ve lived these years, and now it’s time to say goodbye to this log and to the people who’ve been reading it.

When we first left Newport, Rhode Island, to go cruising, we had no idea how long we’d be gone or even if we’d like it. We told our friends and family to figure at least a year and then we might be back, but we hoped for much more than that. We hoped we’d take to this cruising life, that we’d manage the transition reasonably well, and would stay out longer. The very open-endedness of the whole adventure both thrilled and unnerved us.

In truth, several times we thought we’d turn back. Sometimes we felt overwhelmed — not up to the task before us. Many times in the early days of our voyage I felt frightened and unsure that I could handle the boat or the maintenance, the responsibilities or the intense relationship that is inevitably a part of a couple spending 24/7 in a small space and needing to rely on each other. But we persevered. We learned. We survived intact. Bernadette and I know how lucky we are to have had the health, the resources and the support to manage this experience.

When people ask us now how we’re different, I am immediately at a loss for words. I don’t think we’re very different, really. If change were that easy, all of us would be vastly different people. But change is always hard-earned and rarely major. Who we are as people is pretty well formed by the time we’re in our fifties. That said, I think Bernadette and I both have re-ranked some priorities. Surely some of this is inevitable as one gets older, but more importantly, our experiences cruising have also led us to re-examine what’s key for us.

For example, I never want us to live anywhere now that’s not physically beautiful and close to nature. I’d rather we had less house, fewer possessions, a shorter list of obligations, and more of the outdoors around us. Making oodles of money also seems less important to me. It’s not that we’re rich — in fact we more or less spent a chunk of our retirement in the middle and now are returning to work — but now I think there are fewer things it’s crucial to own, and I’m keenly aware that there are fewer years left before me. From now on, I’d rather we spend time than dollars.

I want my friendships to be more like the ones we enjoyed with folks on boats. So often on land, I recall that we’d phone up friends and say, “Hey, let’s get together.” Each couple would check their calendar and finally a date, perhaps as far out as a month or more from then, would be inked into the calendar. We’d look forward to it with pleasure, and then once together everyone would sit and eat and talk about what it is we’ve been doing. Pleasant yes, but forward-looking and in the moment? Not very.

Cruising relationships are more participatory, more playful. More often on boats, you row, motor, or swim over to another boat and say, “Hey, let’s go spear fishing,” or “let’s go ashore together and take a hike,” or “let’s get together later.” There’s no calendar involved, there’s not much planning, and more often than not, some project quickly follows in which the guys are taking out tools and working on some challenge together. For the women, it’s the same. The projects on boats tend to break down more stereotypically into pink and blue, but the process of actually doing something with someone instead of just talking about what’s been done, changes the feeling and the relationship altogether. I want more of the sea-based version, more of the shared activities, and I’m struggling still to figure how to build that into our land lives.

Writing these logs over time has been an extraordinary privilege. It’s been a creative outlet for us, a discipline, and also a source of income for our trip. We’re grateful to BoatUS for taking us on, giving us the latitude to write about whatever we wanted, for never complaining when we said something that was politically incorrect or unpopular. To our friend Jim Ellis, past President of BoatUS, who first extended to us the invitation to write these logs; to Nancy Michelman, current President of BoatUS who’s kept us on, and encouraged us; to Terri Parrow, the head of the BoatUS internet department; and to Alyssia, who handles our internet layout every other week, we’re especially thankful.

Over these six years we’ve heard from many hundreds of readers, and we’ve always been touched that you’ve let us enter your lives, that you’ve taken us into your homes and offices on a regular basis, and that you’ve included us in your dreams and sometimes also your prayers. When we write a log — and more often than not the logs serve as a way for us to make sense of what it is we’re doing and experiencing — we send it off into the ether, not knowing at the time how it will be received, what people will think, how they will respond and why. Often we’ve then heard back from people that something we said touched them or amused them or brought up memories of their own. I had no idea that the Internet would offer us such intimate dialogues, that it would bring so many people aboard Ithaka. Yet that’s been the case. As much as we’ve provided a glimpse into our world and our cruise, BoatUS readers have offered us stunning invitations into their lives as well. In many ways this give-and-take has been the most satisfying part of writing these logs.


Bernadette and I sat down the other night to talk about this log in particular and asked ourselves if there was any advice we thought we wanted to offer in a last essay. Other than to encourage you to live your dreams, that if we can handle something as challenging as cruising, than you can too, not surprisingly we have no boating suggestions whatsoever. There are plenty of other people who can do that better than we. But there are a couple of notions we want to serve up for your final consideration.

First, despite a great deal of practice in our lives, from the earliest moments on, saying good-bye is inherently difficult. There’s something so wrenching in separation that people beseech their deities for enough strength to accomplish the painful separation. Think of the words you know in various languages for good-bye, which is a contraction of “God be with you.” Via con Dios (meaning, “go with God” in Spanish), adieu and adios (both meaning “with God” in French and Spanish), and my favorite, the Hindi word Namaste, spoken with a slight bow while one’s hands are fused in prayer, translates as “I salute the soul within you.” Inherently, cruising is often about saying goodbye, and it’s been one of our most challenging experiences out there. This goodbye, to you, is one of the most difficult of all.

Second, i t doesn’t matter a whit whether or not you ever go cruising on a boat. But it does matter in so many ways whether or not you will let your mind travel, whether you will permit curiosity — that most beguiling but subversive of tendencies — to lead you to places and thoughts that you do not now know. Wherever that turns out to be, we hope you go there with safety, with grace, and with good health.

Be well, and stay in touch. From both of us, thank you, and Namaste.