We're Off

6 April 2000; by Tom Waid

At anchor in the Rhode RiverFinally there’s nothing to do. We’re aboard Bellatrix anchored in the Rhode River just four miles from the marina that was our homeport and for the first time in many months we have nothing to do. It’s all been done: launching and loading Bellatrix for the voyage, settling our personal affairs, and moving out of the house. Bellatrix is now our home and we’ve finally departed on our long anticipated voyage. In no way do we expect life to be easy. Things will probably start breaking tomorrow but for now we can sit in the cockpit, sip the wine that was given to us for this occasion by our good friends, Gwen and Bob Powers, and enjoy the moment.

It was in mid March when we vacated our house and moved our belongings to a storage facility in Florida. When we returned in the middle of the night on the 22nd we moved aboard Bellatrix. It was cold and things were disorganized but otherwise it went smoothly. Packing our belongings was more emotional than I anticipated. We kept happening upon artifacts and photos from our past and there were moments we had to stop and linger over these little treasures. We would sometimes sink into the nostalgic sweetness of reminiscence and I began to understand how quickly I could settle into an easy chair and live the rest of my life in the past, the stereotype of being retired. This is, of course, a trap. It’s good to have memories but there is a future and there’s more living to do and that’s one of the goals of the voyage. We’re setting out to make new memories.

Shady Side, MDBecause of family commitments and last minute preparations we chose to stay at the dock for a couple of weeks before setting out. This gave us time to settle in before we had to start thinking about navigating from one place to the next. Working out a storage scheme for all our stuff was quite a challenge. Some items were moved three or four times before finding a permanent home. The cockpit locker was my supreme achievement. There are two configurations for this place. When we’re wandering amongst Islands and inshore waters we’ll tow the dinghy. This frees up a lot of space in the cockpit locker. However, when venturing offshore the dinghy must be deflated and stowed. Additionally, the dinghy and everything else stowed in the cockpit locker must be arranged in a manner to allow instant access to the emergency gear such as the life raft and abandon-ship bag. If I couldn’t get it all in we’d have to settle for strapping the life raft into the cockpit well, which neither of us found appealing. It took a full day of moving things around but, in the end, I was victorious.

The other reason for staying at the dock was to make it easier to say goodbye to all our friends. We decided to have an "Open Boat Party" on the Sunday before our departure where our friends could pay us a visit sometime during the day, see what crazy thing we’ve gotten into, and say their goodbyes. It was our intent to set up on the marina lawn where there would be ample space but when it started to rain everyone piled aboard Bellatrix. There were times when up to fifteen people were crowded aboard. It says at lot about the quality of our friends when they willingly put up with such crowding just to say goodbye.

Linda and I are not the most sentimental people but we did find ourselves getting unexpectedly emotional about leaving so many wonderful people behind.

First there were members of the Army Band many whom we’ve performed with for our entire Army careers. A military band many times presents you with performing situations that are very difficult. Situations where you and your fellow musicians have to give everything you have just to produce acceptable results. You can spend a career not getting particularly attached to the band but you cannot avoid getting close to your compatriots. It was good to have so many of our friends from the band show up to our party. There were too many to mention them all but I do have to tip my hat to my co-conspirators in the Tuba section, Jack Tilbury and Ross Morgan. Great musicians and even greater friends I’ll miss you both and, oh by the way, Jack, I do know what you want.

Of course there was a strong contingent from the "Old Farts Yacht Club." Our sailing buddies with whom we’ve had so many good times together. These are people who know boats and understand our endeavor. Their advice and help over the years has been invaluable. Most of all we’ll miss their friendship.

The day after the party we went to New Jersey to spend an evening with Linda’s brother, Joe, and his wonderful family. The day after that we went to Philadelphia to visit with Linda’s Mother , Anne Schiff and help her and her twin sister, Sunny, celebrate their seventieth birthday. We were glad to have had an opportunity to be a part of this. Here the goodbyes were the hardest and were quite emotional mostly because it was family but also because not everybody completely understood what we’re doing and were afraid for us. We did our best to explain that we are not setting out into the void and will be staying in touch.

On the way back to the boat we stopped by Annapolis to pay a final visit with the folks at Annapolis Scuba Center. It’s here that Linda and I were given the opportunity to make a real contribution to the success of an endeavor and the trust that Heather Powell has shown us over the years has made a significant impact on our lives. Amongst the staff that was present when we walked in were people who have worked there for years and others who have just begun. Nevertheless all were part of the "same old crowd." Acceptance is pretty much immediate when coming to work for Annapolis Scuba Center, which is one of the things we like about the place. Always a group of intelligent, fun, and loving people. As divers they all understand our venture and share in our excitement. We wish we could take all of them with us. It was very hard leaving and we will miss everybody at Annapolis Scuba Center very much.

So, finally everything that there was to do had been done. All the business and the goodbyes. The final thing was to drive our old, rusty pickup truck over to the back of the boat yard to where Ron lives in his diminutive travel trailer. I don’t know Ron’s last name. I don’t think anybody does. Ron insists on living a life free of the attachments that most of us accept as a necessary evil of living. I do know that he has a master’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan and once worked for the Library of Congress but he chucked all that to become what he is today. A great friend to anyone able to see him for what he truly is. His expertise on boat construction is second to none and his advice has been invaluable over the years. Even more I will always treasure the enlightening conversations I've had with him over the years. As an attempt to thank him we decided to give him our old pickup truck. He was actually doing us a favor by taking it off our hands but we hope finds some use in it. It took a while but we finally said our final goodbye and walked back to the boat.

We started the engine and took in the lines. Because the slip was so narrow our usual procedure was to push Bellatrix out the slip and not put her in gear until the widest part was beyond the pilings. We were busy with this so we didn’t notice that Ron had walked up the dock with a video camera. We really didn’t want anyone to be around when we shoved off because a fatalistic sense convinced us that if there were anyone watching we’d run aground or something else embarrassing. But there was Ron getting everything on videotape. Against our inclinations the departure went without a hitch and it was good to say one final goodbye to Ron.

So, we’re off.

For the next month we’ll give ourselves a farewell tour of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s been our intent to travel as far south as Beaufort, North Carolina and take our departure for the Caribbean from there. That may still happen but we are considering departing from Norfolk and giving ourselves more time in the Bay. As retired military we can avail ourselves of the marina facilities at Ft. Monroe. Since the commissary is close to the marina it may be an ideal place to provision for the passage. One of the beauties of our lifestyle is that we don’t have to make a final decision about this too far in advance. We have flexibility

Shady Side, Maryland

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