Missing the Boat

Missing the Boat

I can remember the exact moment I decided to ditch my trimaran. We were motoring down the channel to Whittaker Creek after a turbulent passage back from Beaufort. My friend Tina lay basking in the sun on a beach towel, her head resting on a mildew-stained seat cushion positioned at the base of the mast. My sister and her boyfriend were sitting in lounge chairs on the bow waving at the skipper of the towboat. I stood in the cockpit with my hand on the tiller, looking east towards the dinghy beach. With the sailboat headed back to its slip, I was already missing the boat, missing those days of sailing, missing my dream.

The thumbnail of sand wrapping around the curve of the dinghy beach appeared wide and white, as it had been so many other days when my sons and I had collected an assortment of buried treasure and bug bites. Those had been good days fashioned into fond memories, but they were at least two boats ago and now my boys were driving and shaving and no longer interested in exploring the dinghy beach — or any other stretch of shoreline — if it meant spending another night aboard that trimaran. I studied the curb of sand at the water’s edge that had been our imaginary pirate’s paradise, and my heart ached to admit that I had squandered five years of their youth on a boat-building project that had soured their love for sailing.

Sick of spending money, I was missing the boat.

My sister stood from her lounge chair and hollered across the cabin. “He wants to know which slip is yours.”

“North Dock,” I shouted over the roar of the towboat’s engine. “Tell him to take us to North Dock.”

The skipper of the towboat throttled down as he rounded the last marker, allowing the line to our bow to go slack before reeling us in. I pointed up the creek and we surged forward, continuing our journey back to Slip None. This final passage had begun six hours earlier when I had lost my last good outboard and second motor in two days to a series of bad decisions. A BoatUS towboat operator had found us drifting with the tide at the base of the Grayden Paul Bridge in Beaufort, North Carolina, and so, I followed the towboat back to port as I’d done many times before.

I was done missing the boat. I bought Kontigo on a whim. It sat across the dock from our Ranger 23 and my two boys convinced me that it was just the kind of boat our family needed. It sailed flat, was cheap, and had more character than a whole fleet of Beneteaus. I remember the evening my wife and I considered making an offer to purchase it.

“If we buy that old trimaran we had better learn to love everything about it because there’s no way we’ll ever be able to sell it,” I’d explained to the boys. “It’s just too odd and ugly.” But I was wrong. It turns out there was at least one other couple that liked our odd-looking trimaran and by the grace of God, they found us. But that would be a year later. A year after my final passage on Kontigo. A year after I gave up on my dream.

I was finished with sailing

“Beauty and affliction are the only two things that pierce the human heart,” Simone Weil says, and my passion for sailing had left me vulnerable to both. I had seen the sands of Cape Lookout sparkle white as sugar as a cool northeast wind swept across the point. I had seen the shallow waters off the beach fade from teal to cobalt and felt the warmth of the sun on my face as I lay on the deck of that boat.

To love is to lose because we cannot hold onto the things we love. Not the beauty of a sunset, not the laughter of our children, not the life of our spouse. Our time on earth passes quickly, but thank God this life is not the real meal. It is just a sampling, a smorgasbord of the heavenly banquet that awaits those who have responded in the affirmative to his invitation. When we snack on the meager rations we’re issued and believe that is the feast, we miss the point. Beauty is a gift we cannot keep. Affliction is a curse that does not last. And both drive us into the arms of God. Cruising with that trimaran had led me closer to God because my prayers for relief had become intense.

So I sold the boat on a whim, of sorts, to a couple from the West Coast. We had scheduled the sea trial for a Sunday afternoon that called for fair skies and light winds, but when they arrived to test-drive the boat a small gale was brewing off the coast. Since I no longer owned an outboard, I had hoped to sail the boat from and back to the dock but with the deteriorating weather that was no longer possible, so I commandeered a friend’s four-horsepower Johnson. It was hardly the right tool for the job but it was all we had.

I was about to suggest we reschedule the sea trial for another day when Wym stepped aboard. He looked across the cabin and his eyes sparkled as he felt for the hand of his bride. I watched the wrinkles on his face fade as his smile widened. He was anxious for the boat to depart. Anxious for his dream to begin. Anxious to take his bride on a boat ride.

This couple had a love for my boat that I lost long ago, and time was running out on their dream too. Wym had just turned eighty and Gail was in her mid-sixties. They would have only a few months to prepare the boat before embarking on their first winter cruise to the Keys.

I explained that we might not be able to leave the creek due to the strong winds and the fact that Kontigo motored into the wind like a dock box towing a crab pot. They nodded, as if being polite, and then asked if they could untie the dock lines. As Gail tossed the bowline onto the fuel dock the wind stopped. It was as if someone had unplugged a very large fan blowing in my face.

There was nothing left to do but trust God so I motored out the creek, down the channel, and into the Neuse River. We made better speed than expected given the size of the channel chop, and when we reached the final marker the wind returned, providing a broad reach across the river. Wym and Gail were still smiling, still holding hands, still waiting for the sail they’d been promised — so I hoisted the main and relaxed as Kontigo surged forward the way she had years before when she and I were still in love. I passed the tiller to Gail and then carried my lounge chair to the bow for the final time. I already knew, without being told, that Kontigo had passed her final test.

Looking towards the village of Oriental, a little of the brown “Neuse juice” splashed up through the netting of the trampoline and onto my bare feet, cooling my toes and warming my heart. I began to reflect on all the hard work we’d put into this boat — the tinted windows my oldest son, Win, had helped install, the galley sink my youngest son Mason had found in the trash heap, the bunks in the salon my buddy Pat had built from a set of plans he’d scribbled on a napkin at M & M’s.

Those had been fun times and some great memories. Suddenly a flood of tears welled up in my eyes, washing away the pain of disappointment and leaving only wonderful memories of days spent working and sailing with family and friends on an old boat that I’d thought I’d keep forever.

God, I’m gonna miss that boat.

Missing the Boat

I sold my old trimaran but I did not give up the dream. At least, not all the way.

I’m in phase five of a twelve-step program that my probation officer (my wife) hopes will cure my addiction to boats, sailing, and sandbar hopping. Right now I’m learning to ride a Jet Ski and race around no-wake buoys. Next week I’m going to buy a used Bayliner. By the time I reach step twelve — the rank of yacht broker — I’m certain I’ll never want to own a boat again.

But until they release me from “the home” I have to face the fact that I’m a recovering boataholic. I wish cruising wasn’t my passion. I wish I loved golf or bowling or cooking, but I didn’t choose this affliction. It picked me. There isn’t a cure for people like us. There’s only tough love because you have to be tough to love a dream that continues to break your heart. That’s why I wrote this book. It’s a love story between a God who places the call of the sea in our hearts and our desperate need to see his world from the deck of a sailboat. It’s a motivational guide for those who long to get their life unstuck and their dreams soaring again.

Perhaps long ago you were going to quit your job and sail to the islands. You schemed and dreamed, and then bought the boat. But somewhere between that first time you wrapped the dock line around the propeller and that final family vacation you spent navigating It’s a Small World at Disneyland you ran aground on the shoals of family, finances, or failing health and ended up missing the boat. You gave up on the dream, and now you’re stuck or worse: You’ve come to accept life in the mud. Well, take heart.

Noah had a hundred years to plan his first cruise and he still ran aground at the end of the passage. The Apostle Paul dreamed of harbor-hopping the coast of Italy but wrecked on a reef and had to swim ashore. Even the great and powerful Moses got stuck in the weeds of the Nile. Running aground is nothing to be ashamed of, but staying stuck is.

Sandbar hopping has taught me to pray in ways that church never could. So if your dreams are stuck and you are wondering if God is faithful, remember this: Noah didn’t have charts, GPS, channel markers, or guidebooks, and God called him to the sea.

Perhaps God is calling you to some great, fun, adventure too.

Eddie Jones

Eddie is an award-winning author of middle-grade fiction. Father of two boys, he’s also a pirate at heart who loves to surf. His Caribbean Chronicles is a humorous time-travel pirate fantasy adventure series. The Caden Chronicles series is wholesome, humorous reading with a flair for unexpected adventure. Each story has a spooky but spiritual message based on real "monsters" found in Scripture. Hints at werewolves, ghosts, mediums, vampires, walking dead, mummies, demons, witches, and phantoms are all mentioned in the Bible, but are they real? Nick Caden doesn't think so. In each episode he sets out to prove who the real killer is. Eddiejones.org  — Readersareleaders.coWriterscoach.us

More Posts - Website

One comment

  1. Great article, Eddie. I can remember camping out in that old boat and just trying to get it to sail. Lots of bruises, cuts, and arguments, but great times, too. You may be hard aground now, but you will always be a sailor at heart. -Pat

Comments are closed.