The days have been really, *really* sunny lately. To the point where this West Coast girl has hidden in the shady salon, practically hissing at the glowing orb. Here in Seattle, we aren’t used to that much sun. I acclimated to Seattle’s clouds in about the time it takes to pull on a comfy sweater and get a French Press ready to serve. Since then, direct sun makes me slightly nervous and it hurts a bit. I tan really easy, so within 15 minutes I can have all manner of lines and swathes of pearly virgin white next to brown, and it stays for months.
A few days ago, Shayne and I walked into the package store to pick up some items. A squatty, friendly little Corgi leaped (or whatever you’d call that with 3-inch legs) and said “hello! Hi! HELLO!”. The owner confirmed his friendliness, so knelt down to pet the pup. As my eyes adjusted from the sun, I saw he had a fairly sizable pile of mail and a few small boxes. He was finishing up his transaction.
Shayne was there, he’s much better at starting random talk than I. We chatted with the man for a few minutes. He was headed out for a three-year trip to starting in Annapolis, Maryland, going through Caribbean and Panama Canal. The word epic truly fit his plan. He asked about our boat and then we saw his face questioning as we talked of it.
Soon, he realized that we have the boat of his friend. He asked about Doug, the previous owner. We realized then that we’d be breaking the news to him about Doug. He’d sailed with Doug, and sadly, Doug died of cancer last September. I immediately kicked myself. It’s such a small community. Of course, someone here might know the couple that owned this boat before. The boat was still for sale as he took his final breaths. It’s not like we could do anything about it, but we felt so bad delivering the news.
One of the couple’s friends and the boat broker, the very kind and awesome Steve, brought the boat down to La Conner from Alaska last Fall. Doug had specifically asked if he would. The entire story makes me want to group hug everyone involved and hoist a drink in Doug and his widow, Paula. I’ve never met them but I feel as if they are friends.
I can feel the life this boat had, it was happy before us. Every day, I hope we can infuse into it as much life as it had, and make our own stories to add to the life that’s infused in the grains of the wood.
This sweet man stood in front of us and told us how just a year or two ago, he’d sailed with our boat, La Rose, in a large group for some weeks. They went up to Alaska I think. I could barely hold it together as a tear formed quietly in his eye. He was in shock. We apologized as much as we could that he found out that way. We gave him our names, hoping he’d stop by the boat before he left. We didn’t see him, but it’s difficult to fit those things in when provisioning for a trip like that.
This moment drove home so many things about this experience. You never ever know who you are talking to and what they might know about your own situation. This man we met sailed with not only the previous owners but also a woman who had sailed our same type boat from Finland (where they are made) to the U.S. This community is like being thrust into the National Library and seeing the conveyor belt deliver story after story from its endless stacks into the gilded circular reading room. Many lifetimes of stories and wisdom, heartache, and learnings at your fingertips, one after another, some strangely directly related to you. Others just sage findings.
We said our goodbyes to the man whose name I cannot recall sadly, and walked back to the boat. It was a somber walk as the sun blinded our way. I thought about all the stories this boat had of the lives of these people, and how we’ll be a blip someday – just another set of previous owners of a boat. I sit in a vessel that’s engineering has been perfected over thousands of years, millions of stories and trials – what I add to this boat and this life will be but a few sentences of the novel. When we walked onto it after the sale, there were still contents from the owners before (unlike a house sale, boats come with stuff). A piece of art, some books, and thankfully, a lot of oil and fuel filters and other tools that help us initially see what we need to buy or stock up on. They left their marks, and they were good ones.
We kept some of the art and books, all the oil filters and tools. The books are based on stories of settling Alaska and the art is comprised of amazing totem characters that pervade the West Coast. I imagine the previous owners moored in Ketchikan before Doug was diagnosed. Perhaps, they would have awoken super early to the adolescent crackling voice of propane sensor like we still do at times. Or perhaps complain about the bald eagle that apparently sat on the mast and defiled the deck. Maybe they’d sit in the pilot house and read about the native tribe in the books they left while they drink coffee, and watch the world go by.
This boat is an amalgam of so many people, so many intakes of breath, within the grain of her wood walls. The people that have interacted with this boat are entities of their own, yet we are all connected now. She’s got Finnish, Californian, Alaskan, and now Washingtonian air that’s swept her decks. All these experiences and people, in the grand scheme of things, may be a small blip, just a few sentences in the book of this world, or even this vessel.
Even so, I want these sentences we write to be the best and brightest lines of the book. Each moment is like one more 15-minute bout in the sun, we are slowly bronzing the boat with layers of our own experience.