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  • Whenever I needed time alone to think and lick my wounds, you know, feeling sorry for myself for reasons I couldn’t or wouldn’t put my finger on, I would go to the St. Petersburg Marina. There I could get close up and personal with the sailboats; the sirens of my mistress, the sea. I would smell the salt air and hear the waves gently slap against the hulls.

    For maybe twenty minutes my troubles would get pushed back, not gone but distant, while I sat on the pier and imagined sailing away. I would go through the whole sequence: rigging the lines; dropping the keel board; throwing off the painter and running up the jib until I eased her out of the tight spaces of the marina. I had seen others do it many times. Then setting the main as I stayed as close to the edge of the shipping lanes as I dared. Under the Skyway Bridge and into the open Gulf of Mexico to ….Anywhere. It was a recurring daydream meant to ease a sailors soul.

    One day I had only just raised the jib, when I heard an “Ahoy” from the nearest boat. It startled me out of my reverie and I called back an “Ahoy”. “Can you come aboard and give me a hand?”
    “Aye” I yelled back and moved to board her.

    She was the most mournfully looking craft I had ever seen. The port holes in her cabins forward bulkhead were tilted at an angle like two sad eyes. I was smitten.

    Her mate was a woman of indeterminate age, weather worn and lanky. Her fingers were twisted with arthritis and she was having a time of it with the rigging. I pitched in as she gave me instructions on what needed to be done. We soon had it stowed properly and she thanked me. I thanked her right back and told her I had admired her boat, even naming her “Sad Eyes”.

    She grabbed my arms and pulled me to where she could look close into my eyes. No one’s ever looked at me like that. When she was finished, she gave her head a slight nod and released my arms. She said that “Sad Eyes” was for sale, if I was interested.

    Interested? Yes! But financially unable to make an offer. I told her how broke I was. She ignored me and began to tell me of her life.

    She was in her late seventy’s and could no longer trust herself alone at the helm. Her son-in-law was just waiting for her to die so he could take her boat. Not because he wanted to sail, but to get the money from her sale. She told me that she would scuttle her before letting him have her.

    Her love affair with “Sad Eyes” was thirty-five years old. She had her built in Portsmouth, England. A twin keeled boat meant for the open waters of the North Atlantic. She had sailed her across the ocean alone to the eastern seaboard of the Americas and then down to Florida. She had sailed all over the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, visiting islands that had no names. She always left her painter trailing behind her in the sea. One time she had fallen overboard during bad weather and had to pull herself back aboard with it as her boat kept sailing away.

    She finally ran down and told me she had hoped to get around seven thousand for her. That was a very reasonable price, but I couldn’t even afford the monthly marina fees. We sadly parted company with her making a final offer of thirty-five hundred and she would teach me everything she knew about sailing. “Come back if you change your mind”.

    It is one of my deepest regrets that I was unable to take her up on her offer.

    I went home and, in my Walter Mitty, milk toast way, suggested that maybe we could buy a sailboat. A good one for thirty-five hundred dollars.

    “A sailboat? Why would anyone want a sailboat? There’s not enough room for the whole family. If anything we need a Chris-Craft, bow-rider so everyone can ski and have fun! “

    Why indeed! I tell you the woman had no soul!

    More likely she was afraid I might sail off alone and not return.

    Possibly! A man can dream!
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