The day after my recital, David and I took off to North Carolina to work on his boat – a 42 foot Whitby ’85 sailboat he bought 4 years ago with plans to retire and sail around the world. As is the case for many of us who have had dreams of life going one direction – then being sideswiped by an economic crisis and an unexpected divorce, his world took a sad turn. When the economy fell, so did the value of cruising boats. The boat cost almost as much as our house, so as you can imagine, it has been a burden to sustain, not to mention a painful reminder of a dream gone bust. He has wanted to unload this beast, but he just hasn’t had the time or resources to finish the projects he began when he started to upgrade the boat to ready it for a worldwide cruise, and until the boat was put it back together, he couldn’t list it with a broker. David has the skills to remodel, revamp, rewire, and re-plum the boat, but a much needed job opportunity abruptly moved him to Florida, so he left the project unfinished. With David in Florida and the boat in North Carolina, the boat became a stalemate situation. Saddest part of this story is, David never got a chance to put the boat on the water. Just as he was ready to launch her, his marriage fell apart and his plan to spend a few years exploring the world and writing about it went by the wayside. Now, he has had to pay for the boat for years, but sans the benefit of enjoying his investment. He has not once experienced the joy of spending a day on the water with wind in the sails. Sad.
The boat was financed under his wife’s name, so technically, David could have dumped this problem on her long ago, or let the bank foreclose (dumping his responsibility as so many people do when the numbers don’t add up to their advantage). He could have revisited his initial agreement to his ex and asked her to take on half of the responsibility since unloading the boat has dragged on years longer than they expected when they parted ways. But David has never reneged on a promise, and he is responsible to his debts and contracts, so he diligently chose to live with the stress and responsibility of this sunken dream despite how it has hindered his efforts to get his own life back on tract. Trust me, it hasn’t been easy for him. Harder still after he met me because once he had a new, future spouse, new dreams immerged, making the weight of old baggage feel much heavier.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I too have been frustrated by my boyfriend being saddled with a boat we can’t use slowing up our opportunity to build a life as a couple. There’ve been plenty of days when I secretly wished he was a bit less honorable and not so willing to carry everyone else’s load … but the truth is, witnessing his integrity and how he treats others, (especially his ex) as well as seeing how he handles his responsibilities has been a huge factor in why I love him. Plenty of men talk with sudo-sensitivity of the things they intend to do someday, or would do if only they didn’t have to deal with “fill in the blank”. Plenty of men make excuses to validate their self-serving choices, casting blame on others, acting the victim, or using the economy or a divorce as an excuse to bail on responsibilities. But David has handled all of his problems with grace, tackling his problems head on – no excuses, no justifications, just patience, acceptance and a down to earth ego that allows him to admit he has made some mistakes and as result, it is his task to pay for them without resentment. Watching him handle his problems has given me the opportunity to see just what he is made of, so I guess it is fair to say this boat, while a burden on one level, has been a gift too. It has shown me I can trust this man to do the right thing – to me, to others, to creditors and to the world at large. David has incredibly good karma, if you believe in that sort of thing. (He says living right and true is why he’s been rewarded with me… awwww….)
Anyway, while it is all well and good that the boat has taught us both important lessons about loyalty, responsibility, and good intentions, the damn thing still has to be sold. So, months ago I encouraged him to sacrifice a week of his vacation time to attend to the business of finishing this boat and getting it up for sale. At first, David was resistant- he didn’t want me to feel put out having to give up our scant, valuable free time to tackle more work. He felt we need and deserve a vacation (which we do). But I assure him the most likely path to having a great deal more free time, as well as the money and time to take a real vacation later I (to Ireland) would be by biting the bullet now and do what has to be done now to clean up the residue of our former lives. He agreed, so I took the week off from my business as well, scheduling my teaching and child care around this high priority project, we put money aside for the trip, and the day after recital, despite our exhaustion from months of working 7 day weeks, we drove 13 hours to Oriental, NC to take on yet one more problem that needed to be solved.
I was deeply curious about what this infamous boat would look like…. unsure just how much would be involved with getting it ready to list on yacht world. It was bigger than I expected. Dirtier (because of a recent storm that left every outside nook and cranny filled with black leaves and dirt) and filed with so many tools and parts you couldn’t walk inside. But looking at that huge floating money pit and knowing its history, I was also floored by the reality that not long ago, David bought this big, substantial boat with brave intentions to sail around the world. That speaks volumes about his wanderlust and sense of romantic adventure – about the way he craves any opportunity to live large and design a creative life based on heart-driven goals.
He showed me around and I was impressed with his upgrades. He had already replaced the small stainless sink in the kitchen with a full size ceramic sink, and installed bigger sinks in the two bathrooms. He installed a microwave and repaired interior shelves. He had removed old Formica counters in the kitchen area and now the surfaces were beautifully tiled and butcher blocked. He had replaced cushions and designed creative methods to store things or make areas feel roomier. As David began opening hatches, assessing mechanical issues and organizing tools (grumbling when he found things missing that he had counted on using for the week’s work), I sat on the deck, imagining the sea splashing up against the sides of the boat, imagining the sails flapping in powerful winds, and the roll and sway of a boat on deep ocean water. I imagined David at the helm, employing the skills of navigation, sail craft, and the research involved in planning routes, handling customs, docking, keeping safe on the high sea from pirates or storms, language barriers, and all else that would be involved in a life aboard a sailboat full time. David is a smart guy with diverse skills. But still……as I considered the bravery and competence required to pull off this dream, I was deeply impressed.
To put this boat on the market, David had to rewire some of the electrical connections. He had to finish upgrading the plumbing in one of the two heads. He needed to work on the engine, install hardware, refit safety rails, and finish some woodworking, replacing old peg board with beautiful teak wood in cabinets. In other words, David had a great deal of skilled labor chores to attend to. So, my role was to be the grunt worker. I immediately set to my job of cleaning – scraping leaves out of the upper areas of the deck and scrubbing decks and floors inside and out. I cleaned some pretty gross stuff out of storage hatches, attacking mildew and alga. At one point, David handed me a sander and showed me how to revive the teak and oil the raw surfaces. I was intimidated at first, but quickly took to the task. My feet burned from the hot deck surfaces, I got sunburnt all over, and it got old climbing up and down the ladder to get onto the boat or into the galley to retrieve something he needed from the truck. But every once in a while a cool breeze wafted by. I could see beautiful sailboats docked nearby. All of this inspired me to keep at it.
It was unusually hot in North Carolina that week. With the outside temperature hovering around 96, the boat inside climbed to 112. But we kept at our chores, sweating, dirty, tired, but in a positive mood as we watched the former mess take shape and begin to look like the beautiful yacht it could be. I marveled that David never got short tempered and never complained, even when he was hot, frustrated, and his hands became raw from working with the tools in tight places. We guzzled cold waters from our cooler, and laughed at how our hair stuck to our scalp and our clothing became black with grease or mold or whatever we were exposed to in a given hour. I suppose a full week of hard work in the heat might seem a drag to some people, but I took it as yet another opportunity to see my boyfriend under pressure. As a matter of fact, we worked together so well, that I ended each day feeling excited, thinking that if we can accomplish this much with a boat that in the end, is not for us or about us- just imagine how much we will accomplish when we turn our skills and attention to a project we both love and want!
I felt badly witnessing David’s dream, knowing he came so close to his heart’s desire and had to let it go – more so when the boat started to gleam and take shape. We discussed keeping the boat – moving it to Sarasota so we could take a few trips to the keys or something before he sells it – or perhaps he should never sell it. But the fact is, he doesn’t want this boat anymore. It has bad memories for him. And when we first started dating, I made it clear that I might not be the perfect match for him because I get motion sick easily and while I would love a grand life adventure, I do not believe I could handle long sails, and while I long to travel, I’d never be happy living on a small boat for a year or more. Life has taught me that I am the sort of woman who puts her partner’s dream before her own happiness – to the extent that I will live miserably if I think it is the way to make my lover happy – so early in our relationship I wanted to opening talk about our different ideas of the perfect life- before we ever got to a place where our deepest desires conflicted, perhaps we should discover if we have a different idea of nirvana…. But from the start, David insisted that sailing the world on a sailboat has been a dream, but not the only dream he’s had, and not his highest priority dream in any way. His highest dream priority is building a relationship with a smart, compassionate, talented, fun woman, and to have an authentic and loving marriage that will lasts the rest of his life. In other words, he rather have a woman like me and no sailboat than compromise on a “good but not deeply passionate life love” and a have life of sailing…
So, from day one, how we both feel about this sailboat has been on the table…..
I should mention here that I do love boating. I’ve always wanted a boat. I love the romance and organic nature of a sailboat too if only I had the stomach for it. I love the water and travel. Actually I made a deal with my former husband that I would only sell our business if he agreed we could invest some of our money in a recreational “toy” – and at the time, I was talking about our getting a boat. He agreed, so I began looking at ads for boats – even dragged him to see a few. I desperately wanted a life that wasn’t all about putting every cent we had into a house and never having adventure or travel or fun. But for reasons I won’t go into here, I couldn’t make that kind of life manifest with him, despite 20 years of trying. Even when we had total freedom and a wealth of resources to design a life that included leisure, play and adventure and despite promises and sincere expressions that he wanted a boat too– I could never get him to say yes to even a used, old pontoon. He just wouldn’t devote any energy, time or resources to anything beyond his obsession to have a picture perfect home that absorbed every resource (and more than we had) leaving us stressed and homebound over and over again.
Because of my marriage history, a part of me wants David to keep his boat desperately. I don’t just crave a diverse life that has some fun built in, but I now HAVE to experience a more balanced, adventurous lifestyle to ever trust my life with a new partner will be all it can be – I don’t trust the endless talk about what we will do later when things are less stressed or money is less tight, no matter how sincere or exciting it sounds. I need to see things happen – not theoretically, but in actuality. David knows, I won’t get married until the things we have discussed and dreamed and aspired to as a couple manifest – or at least part of the way. I’ve lived a lifetime of broken promises and plans that are destroyed unnecessarily. No more, please. I’m a bit gun shy on life commitment as result…
Anyway, David and I both agree that while we definitely both want to get a boat someday, it shouldn’t be this one and our time for investing in a boat isn’t now. Not to mention, David still has a 27 foot sailboat in Sarasota in storage that we are also refurbishing to sell or keep – whatever we choose when the project is finished. (Another story.)
Anyway, we spent a week working for as long and as hard as we could and in the end the boat looks fantastic. It is now listed and getting showings. Hopefully, it will go fast.
David did all he could to make our work trip fun. We stayed in a charming Victorian Bed and Breakfast (more on that later – because that sparked a very cool idea…).
We took walks on the peer and looked at boats as dusk fell. We ate dinner on a rooftop restaurant, sipping margaritas under the stars. We even took an afternoon break one day to escape the heat and restore our energy and drove to a nearby family restaurant to down a pitcher of Sangria, sharing stories of our past with boats and the peculiar challenges of life in a small town, and how frustrating it is to get so close to your ultimate dream and have it disintegrate unnecessarily….. While our life experiences have been very different, the themes have been very much the same.
We talked about bed and breakfasts we’ve stayed in before – David has been in many more than I – and what we love about a novel travel experience.
And as we talked, we hatched an idea for a dream of our own … opening a bed and breakfast called the Zen House – on 5 to 10 acres – a yoga-esque place that would be a companion business to ReFlex offering retreats and a novel lodging experience (while also allowing us to live a higher lifestyle and build capitol for our future retirement…) It would include freestanding outbuildings for lodging, Zen gardens, and a star observation tower and other things we are qualified to build and organize. As this new idea formulated– we started doing research on the internet, taking notes and discussing practical aspects and financing and how to make a dream a reality….. We researched code restrictions, Sarasota County incentive plans, bed and breakfast organizations. WE listed our skills and what makes us uniquely qualified to run such a business successfully. We bought books on Amazon to read about opening a bed and breakfast – all of this right from the car while we took turns driving. Ever since we’ve been home, we’ve continued the research, viewing property – seeing a few places with a realtor (one we were crazy for – it was perfect but a bit pricey) and we’ve considering what we can do in my current business and at his work to prepare for the possibilities of future financing, managing the work, scheduling our days to fit more in… etc…….. I’ve started writing a comprehensive business plan….
Who knows how far we will take it. Perhaps we will really follow through and open a new business together, creating a life filled with the things we love (Zen gardening, cooking, yoga retreats, writing, nature and organic gardening, living on a big piece of land where David can have a workshop and I can raise some veggies and chickens too) Perhaps this is the path to supporting a richer, more diverse lifestyle that combines business and pleasure, country and city. We can build a home based business while I keep Reflex and David keeps his job, and in future years we will have it up and going to transition to semi-retirement when we will garden, cook and write. Or, our research and crunching numbers will reveal that a bed and breakfast, while romantic in theory, is not the best direction for us to go. But it has been fun allowing our imagination to soar and exploring all the possibilities and potential. It has been fun seeing how efficiently we work as a couple – how our shared practical nature and combined artistic sense make us idea driven, yet we have the wherewithal and work ethic to make ideas a reality too.
All I know is, as one door closes another opens…..
I love that about life.