Today’s post is the introduction to Sailing Faith: The Long Way Home. I plan on making the book available for purchase in time for Christmas, and wish to have an idea of how many to order. Please click here to express a nonbinding interest in ordering.
Just because you’re a great nobleman, you think you’re a great genius! Nobility, riches, a title, high positions, that all makes a man so proud! What have you done for such fortune? You went to the trouble of being born, and nothing else.
Pierre Beaumarchais from David McConnel, A Path Between the Seas
A Question of Values
The feeling grows in intensity over a period of six months, a sensation between a dull ache and numbness. When I grab a knife in the kitchen or a steering wheel just so, the pain hones itself sharp, radiating toward and diminishing, as it nears the crotch of my elbow.
Of the physical and emotional discomforts I experience, of course my wrist is the easier operation; it’s only carpal tunnel. But I know that. Given the choice, I’ll carry physical discomfort over emotional baggage any day.
The doctor cautions I might, because of some obstacle, need full anesthesia; or I can skip the local altogether and start with the full. Reaching this point in life with not unpleasant memories of recreational anesthesia, I choose the full approach. I wake – sore, groggy, and refreshingly stoned – and Lorrie drives me home to lounge guilt-free on doctor’s orders until we both realize I’m taking advantage of the situation.
Drugs, cut, sort out the problem, stitch, and heal; that’s the process. What I would give to have it so simple for the discomfort and numbness in my sense of direction, my sense of fit, and in those barely audible whispers of inadequacy, worthiness, and value as a human being. I only progressed enough to experiment with an assortment of the available drugs of the day before settling comfortably into the legal side – alcohol and cigarettes.
What was I thinking? My solution could never work. Without cutting into the mix of emotions, sorting out the problems there, closing the wound and taking to heal? How could I deceive myself into believing anesthesia alone possessed healing powers? They told me during my relatively successful rehabilitation for alcoholism that the drugs were talking.
The loafing of recovery gives me time to reflect. It isn’t as if the surgery and the time off is costing money. I struck out on that years earlier and have known long enough that I’m no financial wizard. Time away from a job making no money costs nothing, and my self-employment, building seawalls and waterfront improvements, isn’t making money.
I never proved successful. Sure, I graduated from college. Never mind that was after several failed attempts and I was 35 years old. I found college good, and two years later I received my master’s degree. The eighteen years between high school and college graduations saw my success limited to taking a 1970 Triumph motorcycle around the country, marrying the best girl in the world, and starting our family with Emily’s birth in 1987. Following college, my success was in growing our family with Amanda and Gregg II and accepting Christ’s promise.
My successes hinge on youth to manage a motorcycle tour, being introduced to the girl I would marry, an ability to shoot something more than blanks on three known occasions, and openness to Christ. None has much to do with me, and none fit the American definition of value.
I am gifted with my hands in a world where such giftedness is devalued. I know what works and what doesn’t, and changes that enhance waterfront property, and those that don’t. But I’m cursed with the honesty to tell customers in the hardware store I owned that this or that product is junk, and I refuse to build stupid things just because people think such things might work. To survive in business you’ve got to sell stupid stuff, an act I found sufficiently distasteful to affect my performance.
The world is changing from a place where production of real goods and real services and real value are esteemed to a world where perceived value and brand are more important. My perceived value and brand are similar lies; my bubble suffers the fate of Wall Street bubbles on sad days when only real value matters. Producing real value requires physical attachment to the work. How can the wholesale transfer of value from those who offer that physical attachment to brokers, financiers, marketers, advertisers, and organizers – those engaged in creating perceptions of value – not result in the destruction of moral values, family values, and community values? It’s a dream to believe devaluing productive man doesn’t devalue man.
The idea of sailing around the world is the result of a confluence of ideas, but even then, a catalyst is required.
Summer, 2002 brings graduations, Father’s Day, Emily’s fifteenth birthday, Amanda’s eleventh, and my wrist surgery. Somewhere in the mix comes the wedding. My niece is getting married. The ceremony is a good wedding and an expensive wedding, just like we’ve been told by people in the wedding perception industry that weddings are supposed to be.
The catalyst is the wedding. Not that there’s anything wrong with the celebration, except the unearned pomp. My whole life to this point is unearned pomp, and maybe that’s why it affects me so much; either that or the lingering effects of the anesthesia earlier in the week.
As a parent, I think about my children, and their own weddings in the future. God reveals my inability to provide that sort of holy matrimonial spectacle for my own kids; He’s given me other gifts to share with them, and uses my discomfort to get His message through.
I think of Jesus’ parable of the servants entrusted with talents, and thoughts ring louder and louder that the talents entrusted to me have the names Emily, Amanda, and Gregg II.
On my way home from the big event and in the company of my three-year-old son, Gregg II, who stays awake for the first couple minutes, I ponder the contradictions. I beat myself up and take myself away from my children to build a business that provides for us, and to one day give them. Considering my business history, this qualifies as my grandest self-deception.
Arriving home, I carry Greggii to bed – parents know the debate – do you wake him or carry him? Sleeping babies are easy, sleeping toddlers are manageable, but sleeping preschoolers are like a big bag of water. Depending on how long they’ve been sleeping, chances are good that they are a big bag of water so the trip detours to the bathroom, and with a sleeping little boy, I’m just glad he hit the room; putting the seat up isn’t going to make a difference.
In the hour it takes me to drive home – Lorrie and the girls are driving separate because of their special wedding jobs – I have two inspirations from God. The first is to stop taking myself away from my family, pretending to provide for them. I’m not good at it and not getting ahead. Even if I could get ahead, I would only have stupid stuff like the wedding to display that getting aheadedness. What’s the point? The second is that it isn’t socially acceptable to drop out to take care of my family, so why not buy a boat and sail around the world? That isn’t socially acceptable either, but the reminders won’t be so constant.
After spending the past thirty minutes on this life-dream, I can’t wait to tell Lorrie. When she gets home, we stand in the kitchen and I say, “I had a revelation. I think we should sell everything and sail around the world.” She gently strokes my forehead for fever, maybe from the drugs or surgery earlier in the week. Everything I feel is shared except the excitement. She thinks we should sleep on it.
Good strategy! We pray about it, and soon, she starts believing that what was first attributed to drugs is God’s plan for our lives.
We now have direction. It’s no longer a maybe. Within weeks, we watch people’s eyes roll when we tell them our plan. The drugs and self-pity and frustration and rolling eyes need to take a seat on the sidelines, as God reveals what we are about.
I don’t need to know too much about sailing because God blows the winds, creates the currents, and makes the seas behave. He’s brought us this far, and He won’t abandon us now.
I don’t have a clue when it comes to buying a boat, though. I need help, and one day I walk into Anchorage Yacht Sales in Holland, Michigan. I hear a warm baritone voice, “Hi there. What can I do for you?” while soaking in my first yacht brokerage: two nautical charts hanging on the wall, two desks, two windows, a door, and the smell of burning coffee. The only difference from any other kind of brokerage is the listings taped on the windows and the magazines on the desks.
My eyes find the source of the voice, Tom Rodenhouse, and I say, “Hi. My wife and I want a boat to take our family sailing – around the world.”
“Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.” He turns into jolly old Saint Nick, “Who put you up to this?”
“N-n-nobody. What are you talking about?”
“You’re serious? Nobody told you to come in here and say you’re going to go sailing around the world?”
“No. What’s so funny?”
“Oh man, I’m sorry! I just got back from circumnavigating two years ago, and thought you, that someone told you to come in here and, come on now, tell the truth – are you sure nobody told you to come talk to me?”
“I just saw your sign, and here I am.”
“So, you’re going to sail around the world. How many of you are there?”
In Tom, I find someone to help locate the right boat, and someone with knowledge of what we’re getting into.
I kick enough tires in Michigan to become aware of my ignorance, but I do learn a few things. From the magazines, I see the lines and looks, but now I hear the creaks and groans, feel the joinery, and realize that every boat has a smell. The smell of new boats is chemical – paint, fiberglass, woodshop, or cleaning solutions. The smell of other boats can be anything: sewage, rotting wood, mildew, cooking grease, or just the stale smell of old air in a closed space.
I also learn that the Great Lakes don’t have the boat we need.
Tom lines up an agent in Annapolis to show a boat there. This agent first shows me one at the dock, Antipodes of Sydney, before driving to the specific boat I came to see. Once I see the layout, I know Antipodes is perfect. I look at a number of others, but now have Antipodes from which to draw less than favorable comparisons.
Later, I learn the interior paneling isn’t teak, but nyatoh, another rich Asian wood. The floor creaks, but less than the others. The smell, not unpleasant, is of stale cooking grease, especially in the galley that serves as the corridor to the aft stateroom with its own head and a separate, stand-up shower. A bow cabin with a single bunk is accessed through the starboard cabin that holds two bunks; a private port cabin has a double bunk; a large salon wraps around the companionway, with a navigation desk and bunk on the port side, opposite the galley.
I return the next weekend with Lorrie and Greggii. While we make the decision to purchase Antipodes, a pep rally across the river for the opening home football game of the United States Naval Academy sends a fireworks show overhead.
As a family, we need to choose a name so she can be documented. Antipodes is a good name, but it’s not ours. We don’t hash around too many before settling on Faith. Faith satisfies several criteria: it’s one syllable, easily pronounced and phonetically spelled for radio transmissions – Foxtrot-Alpha-India-Tango-Hotel – easy on the eyes, and we don’t know any other boats by that name. Most of all, it reveals how God brought us to this point and is a constant reminder of our approach to this adventure. Faith says it all.
We have a plan to depart in about a year, and to sail around the world in two. All we must do is get ourselves and Faith ready for the trip.
There aren’t many people saying, “Wow, that’s really something, go for it!” There really aren’t many people who think we’ll be going far at all. I hear my father has been telling people that, given my history, he doesn’t expect us to get past the Caribbean before quitting.
The most telling story comes while sitting at anchor in St. Lucia after our Atlantic crossing, the final passage that marks our circumnavigation. Rich and Samantha approached in their dinghy and asked, “Did Faith used to be Antipodes? Do you recognize us?”
“Hi. Yeah, you were the captain and mate on Antipodes when we bought her.”
“People asked us whatever became of her. What have you been doing with her?”
“Our stop here marks the completion of our circumnavigation of the world, just like we said we were going to do when we bought her.”
Sam said, “Nobody ever believes that. People always say they’re going to sail around the world, but nobody ever does.”
We find, while preparing for our voyage in Hampton, Virginia, a number of folks planning voyages of their own and a few who have actually left the dock. The planners are dreamers, conjuring obstacles to maintain the dream. As soon as the boat is all ready; boats are boats, and will never be all ready. As soon as they have accumulated enough money; there will never be enough. As soon as the kids are older, or the kids have moved out, or …
I recall a man I worked with years earlier who refused a sizeable Christmas bonus. “I always wanted a Cadillac,” he said, “but as soon as I get my Cadillac, the dream is gone. I just think the car can’t be as good as the dream.”
People know when they leave the dock, the dream is gone.
Regarding our experience, even we admit it’s a valid concern. Not many people upgrade from a sixteen foot Hobie Cat on Gun Lake, Michigan to a fifty-six foot monohull on the blue waters of three oceans. For us though, the prize is making this journey as a family, and precludes any normal progression toward that level of competence.
I always ask, “So, how do you think we should go about getting experience?”
“You’ve got to sail,” comes the reply, and I shrug that off the list of concerns. If nothing else happens, we are going to sail.
The other concern that people express is about our itinerary. A recurring theme surfaces:
“You’re going to a lot of places where they don’t value human life like we do.”
Nobody, least of all me, with my conservative Republican roots, my Reformed religion, and my resistance to change, could foresee the unintended truth of that statement.
We will learn that where joy is concerned, more is less. The farther we travel into worlds where less stuff drives people’s lives, the more joy there is.
We will also learn that fear of the world makes us prisoners of our borders, and we will grow a healthy suspicion of the proponents of that fear.
This is our story.