Washed Out to Sea

I have been a river runner most of my life.  This is where I find passion for life, my monetary livelihood and the place I just can’t pull myself away from.  I own a whitewater rafting business, Mountain Whitewater Descents, on the officially labeled “unnavigable waterway” of the Cache La Poudre River in Colorado.  Years ago, I even paddled from the Cache La Poudre down to the navigable waterways of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  I didn’t learn much about navigation except that it is difficult for a canoe to avoid an ocean-going freighter.   Once to the sea my voyages stopped.  Rivers have been my life as I amassed over 18,000 river miles (about 1600 days in sailing jargon).

the Colorado flag waves across the Gulf Stream

Last week I finally figured out where all those river droplets were cruising off to – the allure of the sea.  Oh sure, I had been sailing a few time

before and even sailed through cool spots.  My first ever sailing was crossing from the Pacific to the Caribbean through the Panama Canal, which I did five times before ever hoisting a sail.  So back to last week, a friend and I enrolled in Blue Water Sailing School to learn the basics of sailing out of Marsh Harbor, Bahamas.  There are schools all over the States to learn sailing, but why go to a community college when you can go to Harvard?  Sailing in the Bahamas was like getting my SCUBA certification in Utila, Honduras with the second largest reef in the world, compared to a swimming pool session.  Having fun in a beautiful area while going to school.  I want the full adventure right off the bat.as

Lindsey about to swim back to the boat in the BVI's

The first thing we couldn’t help but notice was the luxuriousness of the 43-foot Fountaine Pajot Belize catamaran.  Bryce and I started backpacking together over 15 years ago.  Once we became rafters, we laughed at how difficult things were when we could only hike into an area with our house on our backs.  With a raft, we could carry tons of belongings, float into remote wildernesses and do day hikes from there.  Life was easy.  I haven’t done a remote backpacking trip in years.  Rafting has taken over.

Sailing raises that comfort level exponentially once again from rafting.  The kitchen and tables and tents and toilets and chairs and food and games don’t need to be packed up and stored each day.  Everything is bolted into the boat and ready to go.  Large tables are surrounded by comfy couches that can store more stuff than you can haul.  Actual refrigerators and freezers; are you kidding me?  We even had a coffee maker and microwave.  Hot showers, of course.  Close a few hatches that brought in a nice breeze, pull the anchor and get ready to hoist the mainsail.  That’s a piece of cake compared to rafting.

Once those sails are raised, the wind flows through your hair and there is no feeling like it.  Harnessing nature in such a primitive and unharmful way is empowering.  Why can’t everything be like this?  But it’s not and your bones feel life’s worries melt away.   Why can’t I live like this all the time?  Why isn’t this home?  Why not?  Hmmmm?


My Great-Grandfather Thibodeau had a poem that he would quote often:


One ship goes east,

Another goes west,

By the self same winds that blow;

T’is the set of the sail

And not the gale

That determines the way they go.

I can now feel what that means.  I want to reset my own sails for the distant coasts and the nearby coasts.  I want to see it all.  I want to bring my wife Lindsey, 2 ½ -year-old and six-week-old, they deserve it.  Lindsey really deserves it.  She was the one who gave me this school for a Christmas present.  I was overwhelmed.  Especially when I realized what I had done.  She had told me the cost, about $2500.00 and was adamant that it was for both of us.  She even made me promise not to spend more than a hundred dollars.  Because of some previous efforts, I was certain that a pop-up camper would be in the driveway, so I bought her something that she truly wanted, would be totally unexpected and I didn’t think we needed.  I thought it was overpriced plastic– a Dyson vacuum.  Yep, she got me a trip to the Bahamas learning how to sail, without kids and with my best friend Bryce.  And I got her a vacuum.  I was drinking rum and cokes while she was knee deep in diapers.   The vacuum does kick ass but most women wanted to kick mine at that point.

I can honestly say that it is better to receive than to give sometimes.  I had the time of my life sailing in turquoise green waters from harbor to harbor.   Learning all the new vocabulary like luff and rake and clew and plunker can be a bit overwhelming.  We studied hard by day, snorkeled and played hearts at night.  The world is there to enjoy – so we did.

Raising the mainsail and then our Genoa we started learning.  Tacking and jibing either against or with the wind became familiar.  We could take our boat, Cataway almost anywhere.  At low tide and me as helmsman, I steered the boat into Hope Town Harbor and went directly aground.  We steered quickly off and then learned another lesson from our Captain.  There are sailors that have gone aground and sailors about to and liars.  At some point everyone will go aground, even America’s Cup racer Dennis Conner.  That mishap out of the way, I am ready to learn more.

We took the American Sailing Association tests, both written and practical.  We passed.  Now as licensed skippers we can rent a monohull or catamaran throughout the world.

My wife took a big hit being at home alone with the kids and I was in a deep hole with the vacuum.  Practical isn’t always better than romantic even at 10 times the price.  Lindsey knew what she was doing; a skipper certification can provide a lifetimes worth of romance as we sail to deserted isles and beautiful coastlines.  We can’t wait to bring our family on sailing trips to Croatia, San Francisco, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Tahiti, Virgin Islands, Thailand and every port in between.  I have a rare wife that all sailors want: she wants me to sail and she wants to sail with me.  We won’t ever stop running rivers, but now when we get to the rivers’ mouth, we’ll keep on going.

We’ll leave the vacuum at home.