A three year stint teaching English to wealthy South American students proved to be almost impossible during the steamy spring and summer seasons in the sub-tropical Florida panhandle. I was physically knackered and grew increasingly aware of a nagging ache in my gut that refused to go away. I deduced that I still needed some serious down time to sort out my postpartum divorce blues and the place to do this was at sea, on a boat.
What’s so special about boats anyway?
Humans have been closely connected to boats since they first figured out how to create them. Boats and the sea played an overwhelming part in the life and imagination of the ancient Vikings. It was their home, their way of life, their pilgrim’s way and something to fear and love. They referred to their double ended long boats as ocean-striding bisons that sailed and seethed their way to their neighbors’ territory expanding the Vikings’ sphere of influence for many centuries.
My time spent living and working on boats has been one of the highlights of my life. I’ve learned that not all boats are created equal. Some go fast and some go slow. Some bob like floating Clorox bottles while others move like poetry in motion. I personally prefer the organic qualities of wooden boats. They shrink and swell, and squeak and sing. Like people, they have moving parts that periodically need replacing.
Running Away to Sea
Boats are suited for people attracted to the lure of adventure afloat. They are the ultimate ticket to shake off the predictability of land-locked living. For me running away to sea was really running TO a life where you cannot run away from yourself. Each day’s challenges afloat tested your ability to live a life of fewer creature comforts within the context of an unpredictable sea. One learns very soon where the fine line between courage and fear is drawn.
My paternal grandfather went to sea on the Baltic trading schooners before WW II. The navigational skills he had learned would help him save his family years later when they had to escape from Estonia during the Nazi occupation.
Modern day musical stars also run away to sea such as the singer Neil Young from Crosby, Stills Nash and Young fame who purchased one of these schooners and sailed it for 35 years.
A modern day twist on this romantic concept is P&O Cruises Romance with Ceremonies at Sea where couples can get married or renew their vows on a ship at sea.
For me the needed elixir to stop any further plunge into my pity party was to take advantage of what boats and the sea would offer me:
and most importantly . . .
And She Ran Away to Sea!
To this day, I marvel at how well the pieces fell into place. It was almost weird.
With a hastily typed up CV in hand, I went one afternoon to the yacht recruiting agency that matched boats with crew in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
My internal compass in my reliable gut told me I was honing in on what I needed.
“Well, we have a boat looking for a stewardess.” said the matchmaker at the agency.
“She’s a classic yacht about 100 feet long getting ready to head north. You can go and talk to the captain now if you like.”
“Ho boy,” I thought. “This is too good to be true.”
I practically ran to the dock where she was tied wondering if I could be happy on a steel hulled boat.
One look at her sweeping teak deck had me sigh with relief. I liked what I saw. The bright work satisfied my need to keep connected with shiny, varnished wooden skylights and companionways. This was starting to look pretty good.
True, she was a motorsailer with her elevated, center cockpit wheelhouse that gave her a sensible, utilitarian look but would later prove to be a very welcome place for the crew seeking refuge from poor weather. She wasn’t a Ferrari but more like a sturdy VW bus and she was going places!
The bearded, strawberry blond Swedish captain invited me onboard. Smiling and affable he glanced at my resume and asked point blank if I could leave the next day with them for Fisher’s Island, NY? Without hesitation, I said yes and was hired on the spot. (You have to be flexible when it comes to boats.)
In addition to Ingmar, the captain who was about 45 years’ old with a circumnavigation of the globe on a Baltic trading schooner under his belt, the crew consisted of three other people. A young tri-athlete from S. Africa was our deckhand, the British mate was from Cornwall, and the chef hailed from German speaking Switzerland.
The boat was owned by a lawyer who owned a company called Handmade Films together with the Beatle, George Harrison. The thought quickly flashed through my mind that I might actually MEET the famous Beatle this summer.
Keeping on the sunny side of life was starting to get easier and I felt confident that my periodic bouts with grief would be history by summer’s end. Nothing was going to stop me now. I threw away those wine-red pumps that had so bravely propelled me out of divorce court three years’ earlier and pulled out my Topsiders for a Magical Mystery Tour on board Seastar!
For the interpreters of dreams boats symbolize optimism and promising developments. Seastar was to be my “life ship” that would transport me to new ports of call and new ways of living with myself.
(Addendum: My experience living and working on Seastar inspired me to write this speech for the Humorous Speech Contest at my local Toastmasters Club in Chilliwack, B.C. Here it is: )
The Best Cure for the Post Divorce Blues
Do you know what one of the best cures for post divorce blues might be?
No, it’s not winning the lottery. It’s a Storm at Sea!
For those of us who have gone through the trauma of a divorce, the blues that ensue can linger to haunt us for many years. My Prince Charming had turned into a TOAD.
I discovered a cure for this re-occurring nightmare when I hopped on board a 100 foot sailboat many years’ ago.
There’s a saying about life on boats where it’s one third boredom, one third pure pleasure and one third shear hell. It’s the hell part that worked for me.
In the fall the owner of the boat announced that he wanted Sea Star in Cannes, France for the famous film festival in the spring. That meant we would have to cross The Pond.
This was music to my ears. Wow. I was going to do a trans-Atlantic crossing for the first time!
Ingmar, our Swedish captain said, “Vee vould haf fewer hurricanes in October.”
Storms! Oh boy! Just like in the movies. I couldn’t wait.
The first leg of the journey from the US was plotted for the Azores Islands, about 1400 km. West of Portugal. Three days into the crossing The Pond got restless. A power struggle was taking place between Neptune, the King of the Sea and whoever had pissed him off.
One night we were sailing into the wind and pounding head seas, working hard to stay on course. Everyone except Ingmar and I were puking and unable to steer. I decided to go down below and make mugs of tea for the non-pukers.
Negotiating the distance from the wheelhouse to the galley meant gripping onto a swaying line we’d tied from stem to stern.
Hand over fist, I inched my way down the steps, through the main salon and forward to the galley. Each rogue wave would send me flying left and right, banging into the hard surfaces.
Wow, my adrenaline was racing through my body.
Making tea was simply impossible. Each time I jammed a mug of water with a tea bag in it into the microwave, the boat lurched and water would jump out.
I undid my safety line and sloshed over to the footlocker to look for a lid. Sloshed?! Wait a minute. I looked down at my feet and noticed I was ankle deep in water.
Now my heart was skipping beats. The last thought in my mind was my ex.
I opened the footlocker and watched cans of pickled beets and pea soup, afloat and playing bumper cars with the raw eggs I had coated in Vaseline and placed carefully into plastic egg cartons for the long trip.
In fact, why was water pouring in from the fore peak where we had some of our bunks? I took a look.
The glass in the starboard porthole was GONE! Like fatal spears, shards of glass shot across the cabin like ballistic missiles embedding themselves into the paint on the port side.
Hand over fist, I headed back to the wheelhouse only to see smoke pouring out of the toilet. The pounding of the boat into the wall of waves had triggered off the electric flush and the pot was pumping piss and water like mad heating up the plastic empellar in the process.
Frantically, I bolted up the steps to the wheelhouse. By now I was hyperventilating.
“Ingmar, Ingmar, We’re sinking. There’s smoke. My eggs. The soup. And water. And smoke!
“Calm down Viviann, for Gohht’s sake!”
Five minutes later Ingmar was pulling his head out of the foot locker.
“It’s electrolysis and the hull has some wafer thin spots. The pumps will keep us afloat.”
And with that he walked back to the wheelhouse. Stunned, I then heard raunchy sea shanties coming from the engine room where a crew member was cutting out a square patch of plywood to patch the port hole.
I then heard more awful sounds coming from the fore peak. I took a peak and another newbie crew member was holding back the Atlantic Ocean with my pillow while puking all over my bunk.
Needless to say, visions of the Toad had completely evaporated from my memory bank never to return again.
There’s no better cure for getting over a divorce or any other horrible memory than choosing an adventure to start a new chapter in you life. For me it was a storm at sea. For you, it may be something else. When you replace that nightmare with something that grabs your full attention and helps you turn a corner in your life, you are allowing your soul to celebrate life like it was meant to do. There is no better cure for the post divorce blues.