“What are you most proud of?” was the question.  The things I feel the best about are the hardest things, when I chose to face my fears, or step up my game, when I did what was right and difficult instead of taking the easy way out.  Those are the things that make me feel good about who I am and who I am becoming.  They have stretched me and shown me what is possible, and they act as a touchstone that gives me hope. Even if something is hard, scary, and requires me to be more than I think I am, I can remember these accomplishments and know that I can do it.

One story stands out because I was so terrified, and persevered anyway.   I had discovered a love of sailing when I left home as a youth.  I wanted to live on and around boats and the water.  When I met the man that I married, he was working as a professional sailboat captain, running charters and deliveries, and managing big beautiful yachts for wealthy absentee owners.  We worked together for several years and sailed all over the east coast and the Caribbean on a variety of boats.  I learned a lot about sailing, but he was always there with his vast experience and stores of knowledge.

We wanted to get our own boat and run a charter business, especially when we had our baby.  We found the perfect boat- perfect because it was low cost, a good design, and needed a lot of fixing up so we could use sweat equity to turn it into a business.  We worked hard to get her going and then had a great year running weeklong trips to the Bahamas as a bareboat charter.  We also sailed Pegasus off shore 600 miles to Belize where we had some guests meet us and we spent a beautiful month touring the amazing waters there.

We made plans to spend the spring, summer, and early fall chartering in the Bahamas and then to go to Belize for 4 months the following winter.  We lined up several groups who could join us there, so we were set with a full season of work.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, things did not go well in our marriage and we separated that summer.  I was left with the boat and the business, but I had never acted as a captain before, although by now I had my coast guard license and lots of time on the water.

I should tell you what it takes to do what we were doing….you had to be able to navigate in places well off the beaten track where there were no aids to navigation. No buoys, or lights, or channel markers.  You had to be able to read the color of the water to determine the depth and whether the boat could slide through the shallows.  You had to have the confidence to operate where there was no coast guard or rescue available.  You needed to be able to fix anything that broke, as there was no one to turn to for repairs and there were lots of systems to maintain on our floating hotel.  To get to Belize, you had to go off shore and navigate successfully for hundreds of miles, sailing day and night and this was before GPS- we had very primitive electronics.  You had to be prepared to land on a reef-strewn coast in the night and pick your way into an unfamiliar harbor in the dark.  You had to be ready to deal with any weather that happened while you were out at sea including winter storms with big waves and strong winds.  You had to have a seaworthy boat and to run charters, you had to have it well equipped and well stocked.  You had to be able to show people a good time and confidently tour them around.

Well I was pretty sure I couldn’t do all that.  I was terrified to try.  The possibility of sinking or crashing was very real and very frightening.  Knowing that things would break and I would have to fix them was a very intense responsibility.  I also knew that if I didn’t sail down to Belize and meet those guests that we had lined up, I never would do it, and I would have to give up my dream of being able to have a sailing business.

I decided to go forward, even though the thought of it made my heart pound and my mouth dry.   Luckily my talented and experienced friend told me he would sail down to Belize with me.  I was so relieved.  I could do it if I had someone like him that I could count on.  Then he told me that he really couldn’t get away, and my heart sank.  I remember climbing into a bunk and sobbing with desperation.  I knew I had to do this and I knew that it would be just too hard.

I advertised for someone to help me and I did find an experienced and competent mate.  He was a talented guy, he was nice, and he had a great resume.  I was so relieved to have someone that I could turn to.  I still had all the responsibility for making sure the boat was ready, that everything worked, that we had all the supplies we needed, and all the spare parts to fix anything that could go wrong.  It was incredibly stressful.  I was going to be hosting groups of up to 10 people on board and had to have menus planned and dry goods aboard, plus deal with all the navigational and mechanical concerns- the rigging, the electrical system, the pumps, etc.

In the days leading up to our departure, I couldn’t sleep.  I made list after list and had endless things to check and pack.  Ross was a big help but I was beginning to see that, despite his wonderful resume and all his experience, I was the one with the answers and the know-how.  I began to realize that I was more competent than he was.  And if his resume looked so good- what would mine look like if I really wrote up everything I had done. 

There was definitely a gender issue here.  I had never been raised to be confident in my mechanical ability nor to practice with tools and solving problems.  I had been deferential to my husband, letting him do the “glory grabbing” things like docking and undocking, navigating, and calling the shots, while I handled the lines, cleaned up and made the food.   I had to face the story I had been telling myself about needing a guy to help me, and I had to step in to my own capacities.

When we finally cast off the lines and started on our 600 mile journey, I felt a huge sense of relief.  It was great to actually be going.  I could stop fretting and preparing, and relax and enjoy the trip.  And I could be confident that I was well prepared and ready to face what ever came.  And I did. 

It wasn’t perfect or totally smooth.  We had some weather to deal with, we ran aground, things broke, we had challenges finding our way into rock-strewn harbors.  But I had what it took to deal with all of it and I always managed to get where we were going, to fix everything, and to give everyone on board a good time. I had a great relationship with Ross because I could give him the choice of fixing the water pump or making breakfast, and I didn’t have to rely on him to do things for me, just to do things with me.  My guests were happy, and after all, what I was marketing was “adventure cruises!” 

All my years of learning and my hours of preparation paid off.  I truly became more than I thought I was, because I gained the confidence to know what I knew, and to do what I could do, which was way more than I had given myself credit for. I succeeded because I had decided to try, and because I did everything I possibly could to make it work.  It was super meaningful because I did it despite a pounding heart and a dry mouth. 

I sailed to Belize every winter for 5 years, and those trips were some of the best times of my life.  I am so grateful to my husband for leaving, because I would never have stepped up to be in charge if he had stayed.  And I am so grateful for all of the challenges I faced because of the growth and learning I experienced. 

One moment particularly stands out.  We were arriving in Belize after our long offshore sail.  I was on the dawn watch and the sky was pinkening, the early sun’s rays reflecting golden on the sparkling water.  We were dancing down wind on a broad reach and I was at the helm, feeling the roll of the boat and the waves, the rush and glide as we were lifted up to race down the face.  A smudge appeared on the far horizon to break the endless line between sea and sky.  It was the tops of palm trees in the distance and it grew into an island as we sailed closer.  An island that was right where it was supposed to be, right when we were supposed to be able to see it, letting me know that we were right on course and that my navigation was spot on. 

And I remember thinking how alive I felt.  And how lucky I was.  I was clearly aware that not everyone gets to have such stellar moments where natural beauty combines with accomplishment to bring up this bursting feeling of gratitude for this life and these opportunities.  I was grateful for the moment and for how I felt and I knew that it could be a touchstone that would stay with me my whole life to remind me of who I am and what is possible.

I wish for everyone to have that experience of aliveness. My mission now is to encourage everyone I meet to be all they can be, because the reward of facing your fears is immeasurable.