Saturday, October 23, 2010

A bittersweet memory

As I write this I am sitting in the Montreal airport waiting for a flight home from a business trip to Ottawa.  Obsession is snugly tucked away in winter storage, awaiting a new adventure next year. Our last sail of the season, a month ago now, is just a memory.

It was a Sunday. The air was crisp and clear. The brisk wind had a slight chill, carrying with it the promise of fall. Even the warm sunshine could not completely chase away the hint of the cooler weather to come; but, with a good 10-15 knots of wind, conditions were prime for a late season sail.

Jay and I had offered to bring out some friends for that oft promised sail which had somehow never materialized over the summer, but it was not to be. Our friends were unable to come at the last minute. Though we love sharing our boat with others, we thoroughly enjoy just being the two of us too, so we clambered aboard, did our usual pre-sail checks and readied to make way.

The wind was very co-operative, so we didn't even bother turning on the engine, but unfurled the jib, slipped the dock lines and silently slipped away from the floating dock. Leaving the Montague Marina behind, we sailed down the river under jib alone, enjoying the sun reflecting off the dimples in the water and the warm sunshine. Sheltered from the full force of the wind in the winding river, we drifted leisurely pass the homes and cottages dotting the banks. Off the Lower Montague Wharf, the Montague River widens as it prepares to meet the Brudenell River and then Cardigan Bay. Beyond Panmure Island and Boughton Island which guard either side of the mouth of Cardigan Bay lies the Northumberland Strait. Anxious now to be off, we put up the main sail and sailed out past Georgetown into Cardigan Bay in 10 knots of wind, with the optimum degree of heel, our knotmeter climbing to a respectable 6 knots.

I have often remarked to Jay that Obsession reminds me of a race horse. Her sleek lines and large sails make her a fun boat to sail. Draping the mainsail cover over the mainsail as it lies neatly flaked on the boom after a day of sailing is like wrapping a blanket over the back of a racehorse after a race. That day, I gave Obsession her head. With the sails set and rudder in harmony, Obsession was perfectly balanced. We don't have autohelm on Obsession, but when she is balanced just right you don't need it. She will sail a straight and true course. And that day, she fairly flew across the water, racing for the sheer joy of movement.

I sat on the high side in the cockpit, a windbreaker over my sweater against the slight chill, curled up against Jay's side, the helm in easy reach if the need should arise. But Obsession, she sailed herself. It was as if, on this day, our boat was alive. She knew it was her last sail of the season and was determined to give us a ride we would not forget over the long, cold months of winter.

The water sparkled in the sunshine, the angle of sun's rays causing the small white-capped seas to reflect like brilliant diamonds. The sky was an incredible blue, dotted with cotton-like clouds. The red cliffs of the Island standing out proudly against the dark blue of the sea contrasted with the green farmland, trees with leaves just starting to turn colours and small houses dotting the landscape. I was silenced by the beauty around me. Obsession's sleek bow parted the water effortlessly, dancing over the small waves, leaving a fine mist of spray. The dodger kept us snug and dry as Jay and I sat in comfortable silence, each preoccupied with our own thoughts.

I always feel so alive on the water. I passionately love sailing and when I am not on the boat, my spirit aches. It as if there is a small hollow inside me, a space that is only filled when we are on the water. That day, I was overflowing with joy. I was with the most important person in my life, doing what I most love to do, in absolutely perfect conditions.

As we left Panmure Island behind to our starboard and then Boughton Island behind to our port, neither Jay nor I moved to change course. We let Obsession take us where she willed. She raced over the water, picking up speed to 6.5 knots, sailing by herself out into the Strait. I touched the wheel lightly from time to time, as if to reassure her we were there and still enjoying the ride. Cuddled with Jay in the cockpit, I felt safe and warm, but also incredibly alive. The sounds of the water against the hull and the slight creaking in the rigging as we rose over the waves, the feel of the sun and the wind against my face and the sight of the beautiful scenery around me created a symphony for my senses. It is so easy to take for granted the beauty around us. I feel truly blessed to live in a place as beautiful as Prince Edward Island, but it is so easy to rush from place to place, from task to task and not take the time to enjoy the moment. We lead busy lives. But on our boat I am always fully immersed in the moment.

Sailing requires you to be in tune with what is around you. Your focus must be on the boat, the crew and your surroundings. Whatever the conditions, you must be attuned to the potential for change, the potential for danger, and the potential for joy. This is why I love sailing. It is at once, both so simple and so complicated. And I am always learning.

Skills and knowledge, resiliency, self-reliance, ingenuity, and a willingness to constantly learn are required for sailing. Jay and I have only owned our own boat for three years. In these past three years we have sailed approximately 3000 nautical miles. We have bareboat chartered in the British Virgin Islands. We have sailed around various ports and harbours in Prince Edward Island. We have sailed across the Northumberland Strait quite a number of times, and visited various ports in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. We have faced various sailing conditions, equipment failures and personal challenges. And each time we slip the dock lines or pull up the anchor we are eager for a new adventure and a new life lesson. Whether the wind is light and we ghost across water so still it becomes a mirror, or we are bouncing over waves in a rolling sea in strong winds, I love the adventure of sailing.

But that day our adventure was bittersweet as I knew it would be our last sailing adventure on Obsession for the year. Eventually, we reluctantly agreed it was time to rein Obsession in and point her bow toward home. She seemed reluctant as I took the wheel and Jay handled the sails, as if knowing that there would be many months ahead spent sitting on the hard. As we reset the sails, Jay took over on the helm and I settled back against the cabin, sheltered by the dodger from the wind which seemed so much colder in this new direction. The wind picked up as we headed back in, requiring us furl in the jib part way. As we drew nearer to land, I tried to burn every sensation into my memory, wondering how many months it would be before I would again be sailing.

We lowered the sails as we passed Lower Montague Wharf and turned on the engine. Jay piloted the boat up the Montague River and we quietly talked about what needed to be done over the next few days to ready the boat to come out of the water the following week. I knew it was almost certainly our last sail as I was off to Ottawa on business for a few days; still, I couldn't bear to take the sails off just in case we could squeak in one more sail. So we agreed to leave the sails on but gather other items that had collected over the summer which we knew we would not need. I went below to pack.

All too soon, we were approaching the last bend in the River and I came topside to attach the fenders and ready the lines. As we drew up to the dock and I stepped off with the bow line and made her fast, I felt a tear threaten. After securing the boat, I climbed back aboard and took the end of the main sail cover. I walked across the cabin top to the mast, my hand on the neatly flaked main sail resting on the boom. I pulled the main sail cover over the sail and around the boom and mast. Again I was reminded of putting a blanket over the shoulders and back of a racehorse. With my arms already around the boom at the mast securing the cover, I couldn't help myself from hugging the boat. Thanks , Obsession, for an amazing sail and a wonderful season. I am counting the days till we go sailing again on another new adventure.


  1. I'm not a sailor Michelle - but your writing has brought me to a point where I almost fell in love with it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I stumbled on your blog while doing some research about coming back home for at least summers and ultimately (hopefully) one day to live. I also have a dream of sailing out east and especially back and forth to Cape Breton from Montague. I'm originally from just the other side of Panmure Island and get this: my ancestors are from L'Ardoise in Cape Breton. So I've really enjoyed reading your blog and will be keeping it as a 'favorite' in my browser. Who knows maybe we'll meet sailing one day..I'm still in the dreaming stage though but I figure that, at 40, if I start planning now it won't be too far off hopefully! Keep up the great writing, really enjoying it!

  3. Anonymous,

    Great to hear you're thinking about sailing in this area. When you do make the trip down, make sure you introduce yourself to us.

  4. Loved reading this, Michelle! It is so well written that I felt like I was right there sailing along with you! I'm really enjoying your blog!