First, a tiny bit of my history:
Forty-three years ago, when I was a little girl—never you mind exactly how old—my father moved his family out to Kwajalein (“QUA-ja-len”), Marshall Islands (in the central Pacific region of Micronesia), to perform his job as a radar design engineer for RCA. We stayed two years, moved back East for two years, then returned for another four years. During that time, he learned to sail.
I was 14 when we moved back home to southern New Jersey, purportedly for good (by this point, we’d relocated a total of seven times). I was thrilled. Finally, I could settle in and find my place.
My father wanted to continue sailing. Soon, he encountered Art Willis, who had a boat for sale. Willis also divulged he was purchasing a fixer-upper marina called the Sailing Emporium (www.sailingemporium.com) in Rock Hall, Maryland.
Dad, much more impressed with Willis the man than with his advertised boat, went to look at the place, despite it being more than two hours’ drive from our home. Dad quickly succumbed to the siren calls of the Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern Shore, becoming Willis’ first slip customer.
My parents drove down to Rock Hall nearly every weekend during the season. Then, two years later—like the ending of most of my childhood stories—we moved again.
Yes, I was pretty ticked about that.
But I probably would’ve been ticked about something, even if we hadn’t moved. I was 16 and way too cool to bother with his dumb sailing obsession. I had important stuff to do—you know, like hang out with my friends.
Still, it wasn’t lost on me how much my father loved to sail. He came ultra-alive, a resonating thrill buzzing off him whenever he talked about it. He could shed the pressures of work and feel human again as he manned the tiller to come about, hard alee!
Sailboat “drag races”—which I’m sure are much more exciting to be in than to watch—stoked friendly competition and tested his skills. In the winter, he’d repair sail rips, practice knots, study charts, and watch nautical things on TV.
My late mother didn’t exactly channel the spirit of Poseidon like Dad, but she was a trooper about sailing, and she did admit to enjoying many parts of it. She even worked through a lifelong water phobia—especially when the sailboat heeled sharply or the boom threatened to knock her overboard. Fear being a great motivator, she became a competent first mate.
I had been sailing, too—I didn’t just look up those boating terms on Wikipedia—back when we were in the islands, because Dad wanted it to be a family affair. My three sibs enjoyed it, but not pouty, protesting me. I share my mother’s water dread, and also, something might bite my foot. In the tropics, that’s a very real concern, with sharks and moray eels happily stepping—er, swimming—up for the job.
In the Chesapeake, okay, not so much. But it could happen.
My father, 81, now lives in Florida. His sailing days have long since ceased, but he still talks fondly of Rock Hall, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Bay Bridge, under which he’d sailed many times.
He visited me last fall. On a whim, I suggested we drive over the bridge, just because. He agreed, so off we went. Rock Hall memories began resurfacing. We ended up driving 90 more minutes to the Sailing Emporium, arriving just before 5 p.m.
Well, why not? Beats going home and staring at each other.
The marina was stunning: Art Willis had made good on his vision. This is a premier facility that achieved the family goal and then some, moving into boat repair and custom yacht refurbishment. It was white-glove clean and offered a host of amenities, including spacious restrooms/showers you’d feel okay using without flip-flops.
But it was also deserted. Who owned the place now? Dunno—there was no one to ask. Then, a pickup pulled up. Yes, Willis was still at the helm, said his son-in-law. A phone call produced Willis himself.
Amazingly, he remembered my father and all the details about his boat, including the exact, original slip location. My father began resonating with that same excitement I hadn’t seen in years. They reminisced and laughed for a long time.
As I witnessed this astounding and touching scene, I thought about my teenage self and all that I had missed out on. Do I regret it? Sure, a little. But I had to go through that normal recalcitrant phase like every other teenager so I could figure out my adult self.
And I ended up living right here in Maryland, anyway, just 30 minutes from the Chesapeake Bay. No, I have not been sailing…but I’m ready now. Any volunteers?
Ahoy, mateys! Seriously, someone please take me sailing! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.