THE SWITCH FROM SAIL TO MOTOR. GOOD FOR FISHING. BAD FOR MY SOUL.

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After we moved, we sold the Cal 25, and purchased a 30-foot Wellcraft. It was more than we could afford and I hated it. Aside from the fact that filling up the fuel tanks for a day out cost $300 (which we definitely could NOT afford), it was SO DAMN LOUD!!! I could no longer hear the wind beating my sails, or the constant, rhythmic, musical ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling of the rigging. I couldn’t enjoy…anything.

When I drove the Wellcraft (only twice), I wasn’t working with God’s beautiful elements to push my small craft along. I was relying on two large, loud, obnoxious, man-made motors. Because of the cost of fuel, we only took that boat out twice over several years. Later, my husband took the boat in for some repairs and we couldn’t afford the costs. We never got the boat back. They confiscated it to pay the bill. We did manage to pay off the loan but we never saw her again.

We then splurged (ha ha) on a 17-foot, beat up fishing boat. I think we paid $1700 for her. It was old and pretty ugly and she never had a name but she ran GREAT! We never had trouble with the VERY LOUD outboard, she was cheap to fill up, and trailering was super easy. We were back to spending every weekend on the water, as well as many weeknights. On that boat, two of our children caught IGFA junior world record fish. But, she was also loud and I was not able to enjoy the silent swoosh, swoosh of the wind pushing us through the swells. It just felt…wrong. But, I admit, the weekends and weeknights of fishing were¬†great for the children, who were living in a pretty traumatizing household by then.

After a few years of my husband going into (and back out of) Alcoholics Anonymous, along with a DUI arrest (he had more later, and served jail-time), our arguments rivaled the incessant screams of the outboard. Things got bad. Very bad. Law enforcement was called (several times). An order of protection was issued. And, the children and I had to go into hiding one night in a hotel while the police supervised¬†my husband packing up his stuff, and leaving the house for good. He piled everything into our fishing boat, and towed it away with his car. I never saw her again after that day. (He also took and hid my car, despite the fact that I had primary custody of the children, but that’s a whole ‘nuther book altogether.)

NEXT: ALONG COMES RICHARD, OUR SAVIOR…

THE SEA BECOMES MY EMOTIONAL REFUGE

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My marriage, only a couple of years old, was having severe problems. My ex was an alcoholic and I’d find marijuana and occasionally cocaine in our tiny house. Despite my growing marital problems, I LOVED living on Galveston Bay in San Leon. No matter how bad a storm was brewing under our tiny roof, I could walk outside, onto the dock, sit over the water, and feel protected and happy once again.

I had left my office job after we moved and I spent several months at home with my baby. A neighbor, Mark, was an unemployed recovering alcoholic (no funny business went on Рhe was just a nice guy who was ALWAYS home). My baby and I would occasionally meet him outside to collect oysters, or fish from the long pier out front. Another neighbor attempted to teach me how to sailboard. I failed miserably. I kept running into the pier! My skin turned a deep, dark shade of brown that year and my hair was almost white. The stress from my marriage had caused me to lose a lot of weight. I hid the problems from my toddler as well as I could.

A couple of days a week, I’d pack my toddler up in his car seat, and drive to the local seafood market in Kemah, Texas where all the local fisherman sold their goods. We lived on shrimp and fresh fish back then and I still prefer seafood over all other proteins today.

Despite my horrible marriage, I was raised in the “you must stay married for the kids!” generation. After renting for awhile, we decided to try to buy a house. And, as much as I hated to let that bungalow go, I was pregnant again and it didn’t provide enough room for a growing family. We found a house in a nearby town that was just a few feet from a canal on Galveston Bay. (I HAD to be near the water!) It was in a nice neighborhood but it had been vacant for awhile. There was graffiti on the walls and a lone mattress in the living room. I’m soooo glad I didn’t own a black light back then…

I painted and repaired it as best I could and, while the house still needed a lot of work (the back room, an add-on, was literally caving in at the roof), I made it work.

Our backyard (1.2 acres) backed up into wetlands, which provided the children with opportunities to interact with a variety of critters. They loved catching frogs, and setting up squirrel traps. (They never managed to catch the latter, thank goodness!) We lived there for several years and I had another baby. Living there, the children and I experienced everything from crabs crawling sideways on our driveway, to a beautiful, huge osprey who returned to the same nest year after year, to several tropical storms (one of which flooded our house with only 2 inches of water, but which caused thousands in damage), to hurricanes (that were not as bad as that one tropical storm).

The tropical storms and hurricanes were easy to endure. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for three young children while their father’s drinking and drugging got worse was PURE HELL. It would take another five years for me to get up the courage to file for an order of protection, and for divorce.

NOTE: In these early writings, I refer to the children as “MY” children because my ex, their father, eventually gave up his parental rights. More on that later.

NEXT: THE SWITCH FROM SAIL TO MOTOR. GOOD FOR FISHING. BAD FOR MY SOUL.

A CAL 25 – MY FIRST SAILBOAT!

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Five years after that amazing day on the Catamaran, I was married and the mother of a toddler. I had found a tiny bungalow for rent that was located directly on Galveston Bay. Our tiny living room window overlooked the bay and I set up our tiny kitchen table in front of that window so I could sit there quietly, watching the water’s color and texture change with each passing day.

A few weeks later, we bought a very inexpensive Cal 25, a rather simple, heavy, sturdy boat with a fixed keel, a tiny sink, and a portable potty (that I always made my ex clean out). Her name was The Southern Cross and we kept her at a small nearby marina in San Leon, Texas. I think it was only $35 per month back then.

We literally knew nothing about sailing but the Cal was a gentle and forgiving vessel and she helped us learn the ropes (pun intended!). From that day forward, we spent every single weekend (weather permitting) and many nights after work sailing on Galveston Bay. We had impromptu races, we pulled each other behind the boat on boogie boards, we anchored and fished from her, we collected oysters, and, best of all, we saw amazing wildlife that we’d have never have been introduced to on land otherwise.

NEXT WEEK: THE SEA BECOMES MY EMOTIONAL REFUGE

MY DAREDEVIL BOYFRIEND AND HIS CATAMARAN

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I started dating a boy, Steve (not his real name), who was a daredevil and a juggler. He said his (alleged) overbearing, alcoholic father pushed him and his siblings to learn all about juggling, unicycles, and other circus tricks so they could perform at street fairs and such, earning extra money. He said he hated having his father tell him what to do…but he was very good what he did. He also owned a small catamaran and a small airplane. He was a daredevil and everything about his life was exciting. He was dangerous, handsome, funny, and passionate. And, that’s why I loved him.

The day he took me out on his Catamaran on Galveston Bay stands out as one of the most exciting experiences of my life. We zipped across the swells with only one hull in the water. We saw wild horses on Mustang Island. We tipped over several times, laughing, eager to right the boat so we could do it all over again!

Later, he took me flying in his plane (and he let me steer, which was and still is very illegal!) and, while that was cool, I much preferred sailing. Once, Steve flew his plane low over my home (buzzed me), briefly turned off his engines, and yelled out the window, “I LOVE YOU!” A neighbor reported him, using the identification numbers on the bottom of the plane, and, after an FAA investigation, he lost his pilot’s license for a year. His father was FURIOUS. Steve was far more fearful of his father than he was of the FAA.

To this day, I detest flying. I don’t like red tape, and delays, and sitting so close to strangers. Just not my thing. And, after one particularly bad experience on a commercial jet with very bad weather, I have avoided airplanes whenever possible. I’d much rather travel on the water!

POSTSCRIPT: Steve and I dated for several months, and planned to attend college together in Colorado someday. Time passed, other boys came and went. One caught my eye and I broke up with Steve (which I later deeply regretted Рhe loved me deeply, intensely, painfully Рand it would take another two decades for me to find that kind of deep love again). Steve took risks in life Рhuge ones. I heard he crashed his plane in a river once, and walked a mile for help with a broken back.

He later moved to Colorado without me and, a few years later, he went missing. Later, I heard they¬†found his body in a crack house. He’d been dead for awhile. He was only 33 years old. He hadn’t done drugs when I knew him but I’d heard from friends that he was getting into trouble. He was a passionate person who lived his short life to the fullest, seemingly tempting death at every turn. In the end, I believe his passionate, intense, deeply loving soul couldn’t deal with the pressures from his alcoholic father and, rather than continue to tempt death with his dangerous lifestyle, he finally ended the pain he’d been enduring for so long. I often still think about him and his poor mother.

NEXT: A CAL 25- MY FIRST SAILBOAT!

MY VERY FIRST SAILING EXPERIENCE! Uncle Irwin said, “Figure It Out!”

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I was about 15 years old and my brother was 16 when our family was invited to my wealthy¬†and famous aunt and uncle’s lake house in Canada. Aunt Xenia and Uncle Irwin Miller had a summer home on Lake Rosseau in Windermere, Ontario. The details are a bit fuzzy after all these years but I remember there was a large summer house on the lake, with other beautiful homes tucked away in the pines.

The home was surrounded by woods, sprouting fresh raspberries that could be eaten right off the vine. Aunt Xenia took us outside for a foraging expedition and, for dessert that first night, she had the cook serve the raspberries in bowls of cream with sugar sprinkled on top, much like you’d eat cereal. I still eat raspberries that way to this day.

It was summer and the weather and surrounding scenery was literally postcard perfect. The next afternoon, Uncle Irwin took my brother and I down to the water’s edge. Two small sunfish-type sailboats bobbed in the soft breeze. He handed us each boxy, orange life vests, pointed at the boats, and said, “Figure it out!” He then walked back to the house.

That was a long time ago and my brother probably remembers things differently. What I remember is that he spent a lot more time in the water than I did! Neither one of us had ever sailed before but, to me anyway, it was pretty simple. You first had to step into the tiny sailboat without capsizing. Once you’d accomplished that, you had to untie the boat, put up the sail, and try to figure out how to move it forward. With the tiller in one hand, and the small line in the other, I wiggled my bottom, trying to get the boat into deeper water.

I quickly figured out that if I pulled the sail one way, I moved forward. If I let the sail flap in the wind, I went nowhere. If I pulled the sail another way, I took a swim. It only took one capsizing event for my brain to figure it all out. I happily spent the rest of the day zipping across the lake.

I would not sail again for another year or so. By then, I was dating a boy, Steve B. (not his real name), who was a daredevil…

NEXT: MY DAREDEVIL BOYFRIEND AND HIS CATAMARAN

THE SEA IS GOD. GOD IS THE SEA.

Why are we doing this? Moving our family from a comfortable, suburban, water-front home to a 52-foot Irwin Center Cockpit¬†sailboat? Some have called us “irresponsible.” Others have called us crazy.¬†We’ve never conformed to a normal nuclear-family lifestyle so, honestly, what did they expect? We homeschool our children. We RV’d all over the country for several years. When we sold our RV, everybody finally thought we were settling down. Turning “normal,” they said.

Well, that non-nomadic lifestyle just didn’t sit well with us. We sold our house after just five years, moved into “a deluxe¬†apartment in the sky” (well, it was actually an 18th floor apartment overlooking Tampa¬†Bay), and started shopping for a floating home.

It’s been a long time in the making. And, here’s how it all began…

As far back as sixth grade, I’ve had a deep spiritual connection with the ocean. I attended beach retreats with Second Baptist Church on Padre Island in Texas each summer. Every morning before breakfast, we had quiet time on the beach, each of us spaced far apart, sitting on the sand, looking out over the water with our Bibles at hand. I didn’t do any reading. My Bible lay untouched on the sand. God wasn’t in those pages. He was out there in front of me, around me, everywhere I looked – sailing invisibly above¬†the mist kicked up by the gentle morning swells. He was in the footprints of the tiny terns that skittered along the shore, hunting for their breakfast. He was in the oranges, yellows, and reds of the sunrise, just peeking its head over the horizon, ready to burn my sandy skin later that afternoon. God was the sea. The sea was God. I’ve been spiritually connected to the ocean ever since, addicted you could say. Without the occasional binge, I have withdrawals. Depression. Emptiness. A disconnection from God.

When I was a teenager, having a license meant freedom to get my “fix.” My friends and I would drive the 90 minutes to Galveston every weekend we could, soaking up the sun, sometimes drinking beer we’d stolen from our parents, occasionally tanning topless in the dunes, and skinny dipping after dark. Yeah, I was quite a tart! God didn’t seem to mind. I was more at home on the sand, in the dunes, and in the saltwater, than anywhere else and those were the most carefree days of my life. I miss them. I didn’t know at the time that I’d be living on Galveston Bay just four years later…

Me with my dad, David Phillips, who died of cancer when I was five. We¬†were in Galveston, Texas. Brown sand. Browner water. ¬†I obviously didn’t like having a sandy, soggy bottom (and I still don’t!). Judging from my nip slip, courtesy of my awesome¬†Tarzan bathing suit, I was already working on having limited tan lines.¬†

NEXT:¬†MY VERY FIRST SAILING EXPERIENCE! Uncle Irwin said, “Figure It Out!”