Call For a Tow

September 15, 2008
Last Letter From Home

September 1, 2008
Saying Goodbye

August 15, 2008
The Circle Closes At Arue

August 1, 2008
Last Days In Rangi

July 15, 2008
The Road To Rangiroa

July 1, 2008
A Social Whirl

June 15, 2008
The Land of Men

June 1, 2008
Sweet Days in Hiva Oa

May 15, 2008
Homing In

May 1, 2008
A Perfect Day At Sea

April 15, 2008
Beating Across The Pacific

April 1, 2008
The Worrier Transits The Canal

March 15, 2008
The Boys And The Hunt

March 1, 2008
Sweet Landfall In Panama

February 15, 2008
Gloom in Cartagena

February 1, 2008
Connections With That Long-Ago Girl

January 15, 2008
Where the Boys Are

January 1, 2008
Life On The Hard

December 15, 2007
Last Letter From Vermont

December 1, 2007
The Final Countdown

November 15, 2007
Welcome Aboard Shangri-La

November 1, 2007
More Bad Dreams Than Good

October 15, 2007
When Our Systems Overwhelm Us

October 1, 2007
Shaking Off The Remoras

September 15, 2007
The Deal Is Done

September 1, 2007
The Search For Shangri-La

August 15, 2007
The Birth Of A Dream

August 15, 2007
Tania And Sons

August 15, 2007
About Tania

August 15, 2007
About the Family

August 15, 2007
About Shangri-La

August 15, 2007
Voyage Itinerary

August 15, 2007

August 15, 2007
Tanias Books

August 15, 2007
Chartering With Tania

September 1, 2008
Saying Goodbye

By Tania Aebi

Saying Goodbye
By Tania Aebi

Three weeks after making our lusciously sultry and Technicolor Tahitian landfall, I was back in the black-and-white land of Vermont, gazing out the kitchen window over a sea of March snow. It was several feet deep, the driveway a trough plowed out between two precarious waves, and the woodstove cranked full bore to bring a little dry warmth to my doomed tan.

Vermont greeted me with snow, frigid cold, and an empty house.

The second day home, I dug out boots, coat, gloves, and hat, bundled up, and drove through a wintry event to get new snow tires before calling the boys on Shangri La’s cell phone. As long as they were in Polynesia, it worked, and I could call whenever I wanted, which was daily. After that, I’d have to wait for their emails, a passive role that I’d yet to experience as a mother. For as long as I could be actively engaged in their world, even if it was via a phone, I would. It’s amazing how much you can run up a bill in a couple of weeks.

Between our extremely-long-distance conversations, I caught up with mail, cleaned, started preparing the taxes, and imagined the muffled sound of Sam grunting through his snorkel just as he spied another treasure on the lagoon floor, his body arcing and disappearing below.

Or, the picture of sleepy Nicholas emerging on deck in the early morning sun, saying he loved me with a grin bespeaking volumes about his contentment. I was home alone, processing and remembering, while they began building a new album of memories with their father.

Nicholas and Tania hike up one of the lush peaks of Tahiti

Given time, the things I’ll remember from this trip will be totally different from what will stand out for Nicholas and Sam. If you ask Sam what he liked best about Tahiti, he’ll talk about all the snorkeling he did, the shells he found, the fish he saw, especially since we shared the lagoon with a marina and a busy anchorage.

Nicholas will talk about how my sister and her family flew in from London for a spontaneous visit, how seven of us shoehorned onto Shangri La for a week, and then how we spent the next four days with them, hanging out in their swank hotel, practicing back flips in the swank Infinity pool, bellying up to the swank trough for meals.

Oh, and Sam will also remember all the room-service-sized pots of jam and condiments, soaps, and lotions that filled his pockets every time we got back to Shangri La. With my sister and the cousins, we sailed to Moorea for a week, anchored in Opunahu Bay under the greenery cascading down the mountains to the edge of the beach, right up until the last moment before the Dad was due.

I bought little gifts for the kids and wrapped them up, to be opened in the coming months. Happy Seventeenth Birthday, Nicholas. Congratulations on crossing the date line, Sam. I love you guys.

My sister Jade, her husband Nick, and their two children flew over from London to visit us for a week.

Seventeen months had passed since I’d started looking for a boat, almost one year since I’d closed on Shangri La. So much had happened already and the last three weeks became slippery, slithering past into days blurring into an accumulation of shared memories we’d sort and compartmentalize once they had a chance to drift and percolate, with different ones bubbling to the surface by future dinner-table conversations, distance, and pictures.

In those final days, though, what was mine alone, what couldn’t be captured on any camera, was my heartache over leaving the boys with their father for the next five months. Goodbyes will never become any easier for me, and this was one of the tougher ones.

After all we’d been through on this boat, I knew Shangri La like the back of my hand

Nicholas stands among a parade of South Pacific totems.

Do you remember the King Solomon story in the bible where two women claim one baby as their own? Neither woman backs down, and the conflict is taken before the King, who says the conflict can be resolved by cutting the baby in half and shared. The real mother is revealed because she says no, she’d rather have her baby go to an impostor than have it be killed, while the other says go ahead and cut, nobody will have the baby.

That’s how I felt, like the real mother who was willing to give up her child so it could live. I had to give up my children and boat to their other parent in order for them to fully realize this adventure.

We all know about looking a gift horse in the mouth. Packing up the souvenirs, clothes, and relics from the past year, I tried to feel lucky that I’d been able to have this experience with my kids, lucky they had the kind of father who could take over and show them another perspective on this kind of journeying, lucky that we all had a well-loved home, friends, and family to return to when it was all over.

I felt grateful for the experience, and tried to hold onto the last moments as best I could.

For the most part, I did feel lucky and grateful enough for the lurking resentment to feel like a subplot, part of a Jackie Mason shtick more than anything that would get too strong of a foothold in the story. Full-blown peevishness would be a bit much, but sadness was okay for a mother about to leave her children. The mother in King Solomon’s story also would’ve grieved if her child had been handed over to another woman in order to live. But, in the end, she didn’t have to see that happen. I did.

For the handover to Dad, I’d docked Shangri La at Marina Taina, where we had a little more space, a shoreside toilet and shower, and we were able to hop on and off the boat at whim without needing to coordinate dinghy schedules. He arrived at 1:00 in the morning, and I was dozing when the boys turned off the computer game that had been keeping them up, and left to meet him at the end of the dock. Suddenly wide awake, I braced myself and rapidly went through the mental list of preparations I’d made for his arrival, surveying my ship one last time as sole captain.

The boat was shipshape when I handed it over to Olivier, and the kids were a great crew

Engine oil changed, everything working and lubed up: Check.
Tanks full of diesel: Check.
All tools and spare parts accounted for and in place: Check.
All rust-control supplies stowed and labeled: Check.
The calendar and maintenance schedule of chores for the boys to do filled out: Check.
Picture of the three of us on our Ua Pou hike framed and hung on the wall: Check.

None of this will be the kind of thing the boys will remember. They were simply happy to see their father, looking forward to the next phase of the plan, to some time sailing with him, too. Excitedly, they carried down his bags and pawed through them for all the goodies he’d brought from Switzerland. They’ll remember unpacking the chocolate, the dried black morels (instead of the yellow ones we’d brought from home), the kite-boarding equipment.

Tania, Olivier, and the boys, in Tahiti, ready for the hand-off.

At that very moment, I didn’t think I could ever forget what it was like to begin letting go of the past year, to then spend an entire week with their Dad in a small space, the first time in almost eight years we’d been together longer than for just a cup of tea, while handing him on a silver platter the dream I’d pulled together all alone.

I wondered if I could ever forget how usurped I felt in his presence, how he moved right in and immediately set to provisioning his way, filling the fridge and freezer to overflowing with meats, cheeses, bottled water, and beer, how he opened it nonstop while Sam looked at me with alarm, and I shrugged. It’s a whole new world order, I told him, not necessarily a bad thing, though I was glad my younger son had become so energy-conscious. Dad took over Sam’s forepeak, and Sam moved back into the main saloon with me, where we’d last been roommates when Grandpa was aboard.

Panama felt like another life. I kept trying not to think about how their Dad’s girlfriend would be joining them soon in Samoa, cramming herself and their relationship for three whole months onto my little boat with my two sons, presenting a family face to the world while I sat at home and waited for email updates.

The little world we’d created on Shangri La was turning upside-down.

While the boys sailed with their Dad, I went home and worked on the house

I didn’t voice any of these thoughts while Olivier and I took “le truck” into Papeete from Taina to do all the handover paperwork, transfer of bond funds, signing me off the boat and him onto it. Instead, I told him stories from our crossing, about what it had been like to have Grandpa with us, how Sam had been giving me 14-year-old grief, about the process of getting the older engine back into shape, how well Shangri La performed, how much the boys were enjoying themselves and the lifestyle now. He was affable enough and we got along as well as I could’ve hoped for, which was the least we could do for the boys.

Nothing could explain the strange feeling of packing my bags and handing my boys and my boat over to their dad, and flying home.

In the early mornings, I got up and wrote letters to the both of them to be opened after I left. I reminded them to make the most of every moment, to suck everything they could out of the next five months because when it was over, they’d be home again, back to the workaday routine of split homes, high school, and life. When I wasn’t going through all the lockers and equipment with Olivier, I prepared for the next big distraction that would bridge leaving Shangri La and returning home to an empty house.

In my working life, which has been on hold for several months, I run women-only sailing flotilla charters around the world. Forty women were about to arrive from the U.S. for one of these trips, which I would lead starting the next day with my business partner Jill -- around the islands of Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha’a and Huahine. I knew many of these women, knew they’d want to hear all about my trip with the boys, knew they’d be a source of understanding and comfort, and for that I was grateful.

The women on our flotilla gather for a photo

On the last night of the charter, our four catamarans anchored behind a small motu and rendezvoused with Shangri La. The boys had come for last hugs and farewells. I dinghied them from boat to boat and proudly watched as they politely answered the barrage of questions, smiling for the cameras.

They excitedly accepted all our leftover provisions. And then, one more hug, no fussing, and it was all over. The four cats motored back to the charter base and several hours later, the first flight of four from Raiatea to Burlington, Vermont, flew over Shangri La, just another boat at anchor in just another beautiful lagoon to everyone else on the plane, and to me, my world.

I’d shown them the tools, given them the pens and paper. It was time for my boys to start writing the next chapter without me, while I shoveled, and waited for my world to come home.

Shangri La, anchored in a peaceful South Pacific lagoon