A Life of No Regrets
One particularly nasty winter day, Joy and I, were looking for something fun to do. Since we’d just about outgrown our 14-foot Force V sailboat, we decided to brave the elements and we went to the Boston Sailboat Show in February 1979, with me carrying our not quite 2-year-old daughter in a backpack, and Joy pregnant with our second child. We’d just about finished for the day and were heading towards the exit when Joy took my arm and said, “Hey, we can afford that boat!” She was looking at a crimson red 24-foot Venture of Newport, a swing-keeled, cutter rigged sailboat with her multi-colored sails hoisted.
Not long after climbing aboard to look at the boat and talk with the salesman, we signed a contract to purchase our first “big boat” that also promised if we traded the boat within 3 years on a new boat at Havencraft Yachts costing at least twice as much, we would receive our full purchase price in trade towards the new boat. As they say, the rest was history.We named the little cutter “Windsong” and for the next two years, we sailed her all over the north shore waters. Not an offshore boat by any means, but she was the perfect little boat for our young family to learn about coastal cruising. We kept her at a slip on the Essex River, not far from the famous Woodman’s waterfront seafood eatery, and we would meander down the five or six miles of the Essex to sail in the open waters of the Atlantic. Our memories of that little boat and the summers we spent sailing and cruising on her are special.
While the photo below is not of our “Windsong”, she looked just like this one with multi-colored sails. She had a crimson red hull, tan decks, and for her size, she was an amazingly stiff little boat. I suspect the bulb at the bottom of the 6-foot deep swing keel had a lot to do with her stability.
Two summers passed, and on Christmas day 1980 as we were huddled under comforters in our living room with blankets hung over all the windows to help keep the heat in and the cold out, Joy looked at me and said “What are we doing living like this? Let’s think about getting a bigger boat and sailing to Florida.” Whoa there, where did that come from? Sure, we’d been talking and dreaming about a bigger boat, but I never expected such a life altering thought from Joy. Well, we went to another boat show or two, looked at everything in the 30 to 38 foot range that we could afford, and we ended up back at Havencraft putting down a deposit on a brand new 30 foot deep draft Hunter. We told the broker we were making a really big decision, selling our house, quitting our jobs, and sailing to Florida with two kids who would be 2 and 4 years old. Wow, I guess! Oh yes, they did allow the full purchase price of our Venture towards the purchase of the new boat. Those were different days.
I guess some of you reading this would have agreed with many of our friends and my parents – were we nuts? Taking our two little babies, carrying them onto a small boat, and placing all our lives in imminent danger meant we had to be crazy. Thankfully, a few friends were very supportive, and all our sailing buddies were jealous. Joy’s Mom and Dad not only supported the idea, but also told us that Paula, Joy’s 13-year-old sister, wanted to spend the summer sailing south with us!
Everything fell into place quickly; we sold the house, sold most of our worldly possessions, commissioned and equipped the boat, and named her the “Meg Jen”, after our daughter, Megan Jennifer. Finally, we quit our jobs and set sail for Florida on July 5th, 1981. Oh yes, right in the heart of hurricane season. But we were young, a little naive, and didn’t really know anything about hurricanes. After all, we were New Englanders. Our trip south was one of the greatest times of our lives.
There was a huge learning curve for both of us, and the challenges of sailing and navigating every day while at the same time caring for two little ones sometimes was daunting. I remember lining up to shoot through the tremendous current at Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, hoping some other boat would go first, but no, we took the lead with all the others following like we knew what we were doing. Then there was Hell’s Gate in New York City, followed by sailing past the Statue of Liberty while being overtaken by huge freighters on either side of us. Countless hours spent laughing, exploring new places, riding to the top of the Empire State Building, visiting historic sites, reading stories to the kids, romping at the wonderful kid’s playground in Beaufort South Carolina, taking a ride downtown in a pickup truck to buy groceries at a little town in Georgia, and shedding a few tears here and there along the way.
We discovered what hurricanes were all about near Jacksonville, Florida. Fortunately, the storm turned offshore, but we still spent a bone weary night at anchor watching lights on buildings ashore to be sure we weren’t dragging in the strong winds. Before we knew it though, the trip was behind us, and we pulled in to the Holiday Inn Marina near the airport in Sarasota, Florida.
We lived on Meg Jen for the better part of two years until Megan and Rory had to trudge off to school every day. We made a reluctant decision to move back ashore, join the “real world,” and put our cruising dreams on hold. Not to say we didn’t sail and cruise locally, because we surely did. I kept improving the boat, adding hull stiffeners, finding hidden spaces for stowage, installing an autopilot, a GPS, a better rudder, all kinds of things to make the boat safer. We sailed her just about everywhere along the Gulf coast making multiple trips to the Florida Keys, the Dry Tortugas, and in 1998, sailing to Cuba with our son, Rory, as part of my crew.
We kept Meg Jen for 20 years until both kids graduated college and were out on their own. We felt like we’d just received a gigantic pay raise, and we began the search for a newer, bigger boat.Over the years as a marine surveyor I’d looked at hundreds of boats of all makes and sizes, and I knew a lot of boats to avoid. I searched the Internet, pored over ads, talked to Joy, and talked to brokers and owners. I corresponded with two long distance cruisers who had sailed around the world with their young families, and based on my emails with Andy and Liza Copeland, I gained huge respect for a select group of Beneteau yachts, the “First” series. We narrowed the search down to three possible models, and we began driving all over the southeast looking first at one boat, then another, all of which were supposed to score a 9 out of 10. Yeah, right!
One day while searching the Internet I found a beautiful, lightly used 1986 Beneteau First 42 for sale by owner in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. After spending lots of time on the phone, looking at many photos including these two, and after completion of a survey, I boarded a plane to Wisconsin to see if we could close the deal. In the freezing cold (28 degrees) of a Sturgeon Bay morning in May 2001, I inspected and sailed the yacht, falling in love. The owner, his wife, and I went to dinner that evening and closed the deal, signing a bill of sale on one of the restaurant’s napkins.
That day, in 2001, I’d found what I believed to be the perfect boat for us; Joy never saw her other than in photos until the day the transport company delivered her to Snead Island Boatworks, just around the corner from our home in Florida. At that point we began another search, this time to find a name fit for this beautiful vessel. Joy stumbled upon it in a small book she was reading, and our 1986 Beneteau First 42 was christened in a proper renaming ceremony as our “Ocean Angel”. And so she has been ever since that day.
But let’s jump back in time nine years to 1992; one evening Joy and I were power-walking around our neighborhood, and as we were talking, she started slurring a couple of her words. Neither of us gave it a lot of thought that day because we were exercising pretty hard. Time passed, and the slurring became a little more noticeable; a few more symptoms developed, and Joy decided she better go see our family doctor. That first doctor’s visit turned into a marathon of consultations with a number of neurologists, two of whom were the leading experts in their field. Those two independently told us that Joy had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive, degenerative, incurable disease.
As I’m sitting at the computer in 2015, that death sentence was pronounced twenty-three years ago. In spite of the initial shock and emotional devastation, both of us refused to give in to that diagnosis; we made a pact to fight it together, a promise similar to the ones we made 45 years ago. Joy has defied the medical odds and is what the doctors now say is one in a million, her overall health excellent, her outlook on life incredible. So we go on living life to its fullest, never giving in to whatever this disease may be.
No matter where our paths may take us, we will have no regrets when all is said and done.