While on the North Atlantic, Portugal-bound from Canada, a rogue fishing net fouled our prop, yanking the diesel off its mounts and we began to take on water.
For nine more days we sailed on, engine-less, often in mountainous seas, bailing around the clock, during which our weather cloths started to tear, the flag halyard broke loose, the radar reflector too, a fitting at the top of our mast snapped off, and our kerosene stove died.
August 18th we made landfall on the south coast of Portugal, and arrived at the port of Lagos.
After tacking in the bay for two and a half hours, the Policia Marítima came to the rescue. With their monster of a Zodiac, powered by a pair of humongous outboard motors, they towed us in.
At launch, just three months before, Inia was radiant. But she’d been under constant siege by the elements ever since. With her salt-stained canvas, peeling woodwork, ripped weather cloths flapping in the wind, crusted metal, rust dripping from every conceivable seam, she was war ravaged — that’s what she was.
The channel was in the heart of Lagos, with a boardwalk of cobblestone and palm trees running alongside it. As we were unceremoniously dragged along this waterway, passing the hordes of onlookers and gleaming multimillion-dollar yachts, Inia wore her combat wounds as a badge of honour and moved on with dignity. David and I held our heads high, too.
This was our victory march.
It has been said, the rougher the passage, the more joyful the landfall.
What I can say is that our landfall in Lagos is one of the most joy-filled days of my life.
Paciência. Patience. Anyone who has tried to learn a new language knows that patience is required, and a lot of it. But, truth be told, anyone who’s around someone trying to learn a new language could benefit by a strong dose of it too.
When the decision to sail across the North Atlantic was made, my husband, David, simultaneously embarked on a second, different, but equally daunting, journey; to learn to speak Portuguese.
Throughout our initial 23-day crossing to the Azores, David listened to “Speak Portuguese” tapes with headphones on and practised saying stuff to me, whether I liked it or not.
Ah bay say day eh ef … The alphabet? I asked. Sim. That’s good dear. Obrigado. Great. Muito obrigado. How’s our speed? Não entendo. Okay, stop it. Eu não falo inglês. That’s enough! Desculpa, não falo inglês.
When we arrived, David was bursting at the seams to converse with an actual Portuguese person. This was us clearing customs in Faial:
“Bom dia!” David said to the customs official.
“Port of origin?” the uniformed man said, his eyes and hands on his keyboard’s home row.
“Nós…uh…nós estamos… no wait, wait…somos—”
“Canada,” I said.
David continued. “Yes. Somos do Can—”
“Boat registration, please,” the official said.
“Certainly.” David unzipped the document case and handed the man the papers. “I mean, com certeza!” He smiled over his shoulder at Cameron and Leslie.
You get the idea…
And he never let up. Throughout our entire trip he practised with servers in restaurants, sailors on docks, passersby on streets, boatyard mechanics at Sopromar in Lagos — simply with everyone at every opportunity in every Portuguese-speaking place we visited.
What’s more, he became hell-bent on learning to read the language too. While visiting the island of São Miguel, he purchased what he referred to as ‘a new paperback’. Here it is:
“So what’s the plot?” I asked as a joke.
“Not sure, I think it’s about gardening. The suspense is killing me!” he replied, his eyes glued to the page.
When our trip ended, I expected this obsession would too. But no. David continued to practise a little bit every day. And he enrolled in online Portuguese lessons, hired a private tutor, and drove to the Portuguese district in Hamilton Ontario whenever he had an uncontrollable urge to annoy the hell out of the busy merchants.
To what end, I would often wonder. To learn Portuguese, he would often simply reply. But it’s just so hard, I’d say. So what! he’d say back.
A few weeks ago, he showed me a little video he had quietly filmed without my knowing.
Here is a hot-off-the-press Portuguese presentation (about our trip) by David, my husband, the Portuguese-wannabe, and the most patient man I know.
When I wrote Ready to Come About, I expected there’d be sailors who would appreciate my accounts of our improbable, often perilous, year on the high seas. And there are… many. For example, Katherine Stone, of Canadian Yachting, wrote, in part:
I can truly attest this is a great page turner and a MUST read for any woman who thinks that she couldn’t possibly go cruising, cross an ocean, or who needs to get out of her comfort zone to grow and have an adventure—possibly learning more about herself. This isn’t to say men won’t find the book interesting or enjoyable, as they certainly will.
Katherine Stone, Canadian Yachting
Rob Mazza, of Good Old Boat, described my memoir as well-written, pleasurable, and “both an inspiration and a cautionary tale”.
A thoroughly enjoyable seagoing adventure story written with style and precision. An ex-sailor myself, I can assure you that it is highly realistic and includes just the right amount of boating jargon and terminology to be easily understood by all.
Warren, Goodreads Review
Of course I am very pleased with the enthusiastic support by the sailing community. However, I did not set out to write the book as purely a sailing memoir.
I hoped there would be an occupational therapy audience, given that the concepts of autonomy, self-determination and the right to take risks, all values central to the profession, are explored in the book. And that turned out to be the case. In the most recent issue of The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists’ magazine, Occupational TherapyNow, Sue Baptiste remarked:
Ready to Come About is totally awesome—absolutely! It emerges as a powerful metaphor and a testament to believing in self, taking chances, relationships, choice… In short, it is a thesis on occupation and spirit.
Sue Baptiste, Professor Emerita, Rehabilitation Sciences, McMaster University
And I really hoped there would be moms and dads who could relate to our struggles to give our young-adult kids the freedom they needed to grow into themselves. Here’s what Sharon—one of many parents— expressed on that front:
Every thought and questioning she had about her children and their futures were the same thoughts and questions I have/had as a parent.
It is a fun read, a thoughtful read, and somewhat of a study on human spirit. I would totally recommend this book to anybody who wants to, at the end of the book, close it and go, “ahhh, that was soooooooo good.”
Sharon, Goodreads Review
What never crossed my mind, though, was that Ready to Come About would attract crafters. Yet it has. Most recently, I received an email from intrepid knitter and knitting instructor, Lucy, of Lucy Neatby Designs, who said she picked up my memoir at a used bookstore. In her newsletter she described it as a happy pre-pandemic find and stated she was completely hooked when she read the part in which, at a dinner party… having had a lot of wine… I concluded that a knitting project was more important than a life raft on an ocean crossing. Here is the excerpt:
Boredom!” I blurted before she had a chance. “Honest to God. Not storms, not sharks — it’s boredom!” I repeated louder, with more conviction. “Our friend Cameron said his dad told him a friend of a friend —”
“Good grief, Sue,” Colleen said, looking over at Roger.
“Surprising, I know. Ironically, having a knitting project will be more important than a life raft!”
Sue Williams, Excerpt from Ready to Come About
Check out Lucy’s newsletter to read the full review, and, while you are at it, why not browse her incredible website. She is one creative woman!
I am so happy my memoir is speaking to so many people in so many different ways.
June 6, 2019 … A beautiful spring evening, a capacity crowd; family, friends, fellow-writers, classmates (from 40 years ago and before!), sailors (Waupoos B-dock), non-sailors, people I met for the very first time … to celebrate the launch my memoir, Ready to Come About(Dundurn Press). What a night! It couldn’t have been a more perfect start a book’s life!
Here is just a small sample of what Ready to Come About has been up to since:
Thank you all for your continuing support of me and my writing.
In the original draft of my memoir, Ready to Come About, I chronicled all the ports we experienced on our year long circumnavigation of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Writing is hard work. And editing is, at times, painful.
For word-count sake, I had to cut out many sections that I cared deeply about. One was of our time in New York City.
In light of the monumental challenges it’s now facing in dealing with Covid-19, I resurrected that outtake. As a tribute to this great city and its courageous citizens, here it is.
New York City – Early May
By the time we entered New York City Harbor, weather conditions were deteriorating at such a rate that we nixed our plan to anchor at the affordable 79th Street Basin and, instead, set our sights on Liberty Landing on the Jersey side as the closest place to run for cover.
While David went below to radio ahead to reserve a slip, with Inia heeling a good twenty degrees, I sailed on between Staten Island and the city’s famous skyline dodging freighters, cruise ships, naval vessels, tug boats, sailboats, and a myriad of ferries going every which way.
It was exhilarating to be part of this distinctly New York City scene, so much so that I temporarily forgot about the impending storm and began to helm with one hand while snapping pictures with the other, until David resurfaced and his jaw hit the deck.
“Sue, do you have any idea where you’re going?” he asked, a hint of panic in his voice.
“Of course. To the Statue of Liberty. Then hang a right,” I responded, spontaneously taking a photo of him while I was at it.
That’s when he requested my undivided attention for just long enough to drop the sails, after which he’d take over the wheel.
Around 1300 we pulled into the congested Liberty Landing marina, and motored by several finger docks loaded with boats all bouncing in the chop. No sooner were we secured then the heavens opened and all hell broke loose.
High winds blew sheets of frigid rain across Inia‘s deck the rest of the day and the whole night through.
When the front passed, a gleaming new morning emerged, and the two of us sat in the cockpit sipping coffee, staring at the iconic landscape. When we had changed our route to head offshore from the Canadian east coast instead of the States way back when, David assured me we would hit New York City on our return trip. And here we were, aboard Inia, only a short shuttle ride from downtown Manhattan. But, we had time and money when he had made that promise, and I was painfully aware that we had long since run out of both. So I wasn’t about to hold him to it. Just as I was going to say so, he began:
“We are so late and so broke—”
“I know. I know. And I understand,” I interrupted, in an effort to spare us both.
“Hear me out,” he persisted. “What I am saying is this. We are so late that a few more days won’t make a difference in the whole scheme of things. And we are so broke that a couple more hundred on the Line of Credit won’t either. All you should worry about right now is finishing your coffee and changing out of PJ’s. We have a water taxi to catch in less than a half hour!”
Over the next few days, we suspended all our cares and we did Manhattan. For one of the most populated regions in North America, it was surprisingly compact and easy to navigate. Every block or two was a recognizable landmark; the Empire State building, Carnegie Hall, the World Trade Center site, Central Park, and the Museum of Modern Art, to name a few. The skyscrapers, department stores, yellow taxis, billboards, right on down to the manhole covers on the sewage system, were fantastically familiar too. Street vendors sold pretzels and hot dogs from their steaming carts, just like I had expected. And everyone was in a mad rush, just like I knew they’d be. What I didn’t expect was the transformative energy that emanated from it all.
These streets were alive with people from all corners of the earth and all walks of life, rushing maybe, but with a sense of belonging and purpose, as if unified and inspired by the pervasive spirit of human endeavour and accomplishment. It was as though the city’s sidewalks were gathering places; its vibrant arts and music scenes, public temples to human creativity; its trade and industry, pillars to aspirations, hard work and dreams come true; and its cultural diversity a monument to the communal urban soul.
I discovered, one didn’t need nature or solitude or an ocean to experience spirituality; it could be found right here in Times Square.
When I was growing up, if anyone would have predicted that I’d cross an ocean in a tiny vessel someday, I’d have suspected they were high, or demented, or both. I didn’t like boats. I felt no fascination for the sea. And I had zero desire for outdoor adventure of any kind. But, while late middle-aged, that abruptly changed. Suddenly, as a result of a perfect storm of personal events, I found myself on a small sailboat with my husband, David, circumnavigating the North Atlantic Ocean. What’s more, it was my idea!
Also, until I was in my early 50s, I never thought of trying to write a book. Not once. Not even for a brief second. However, that too abruptly changed when, as a result of our improbable, often perilous, journey, I found myself with a story that I felt compelled to tell. Six and a half years, many creative writing courses, and many, many revisions later, I completed my memoir, Ready to Come About. And to my sheer delight, it was picked up by Dundurn Press for publication. Coincidentally, it’s official release date was a year ago today.
And, as recently as a few years ago, I was the least ‘social media’ literate person on earth, and proud of it. Up to my early 60s, I didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, and I didn’t have the slightest clue about video conferencing. But thanks to having granddaughters, as well as having a book published, I’m now liking and sharing and retweeting like it’s old hat.
To top that, just this past week, because of social distancing, my husband, David, and I did a presentation to The National Yacht Club via Zoom. So, I expect I’ll be talking chat boxes and hosting and waiting rooms with the best of them, soon too!
To this day I maintain I’ll never jump out of an airplane. But, I guess, you just never know…
David and I Just rolled in from a couple of days of “clubbing” in Eastern Ontario!
First stop Tuesday morning was the Kanata Probus Club where we were greeted by their friendly team of event organizers and spoke to an lively group in the beautiful sanctuary of the Kanata United Church.
Then a three hour drive in teaming rain to Picton for an event at the Prince Edward Yacht Club. What a great evening, meeting new people, seeing old friends, and enjoying the hospitality of the County!
Bright and early the next morning we headed to Kingston where I attended a women’s book club for an afternoon of thoughtful conversations, and lots of laughs!
That evening we gave a dinner presentation to the Collins Bay Yacht Club, a close-knit group of boating enthusiasts. Thanks to the organizers for a great Greek meal and to the club for its interest in our story and its warm welcome.
This was a whirlwind road trip, with four events in three communities over two days. The only hangover from this kind of “clubbing” is lingering good memories. 🙂
Tuesday night David and I had the opportunity to be part of the award-winning Grand 101.1 FM program, Swap Talk, hosted by Rob Dutton and McKim Eccelstone, in their Fergus studio. We were there to promote our upcoming presentation as part of the Elora Adventurers speaking series.
If you are ever in or around Centre Wellington (Fergus and Elora) on a Tuesday night at 7 p.m., I suggest you tune into 101.1 FM to catch their show and find out what’s going on in the area. Rob and McKim are quite the dynamic duo: informative, inquisitive, and enthusiastic interviewers, and just a lot of fun to listen to.
The Elora Adventurers was founded ten years ago by Rick Goodfellow and Ian Evans. This intrepid pair of adventure-seekers created the group to provide the community with the opportunity to hear stories about all manner of personal adventure by residents of the region, from “worldwide travel to other passionate pursuits”.
We are grateful to Rick and Ian for inviting us to be part of their speaking series. I will do readings from my memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press), and, together with David, will present a slide show of our improbable, often perilous, year on the high seas. Our presentation is Thursday, February 20th, 7:30 p.m., at the Elora United Church, and it is open to anyone wishing to attend.
For those of you who missed the live broadcast, here is a recording of our conversation.
New Year’s Eve, a year ago today, while writing my very first post on this site, I looked forward to 2019 with a mixture of giddy anticipation and fear, knowing my memoir,Ready to Come About, would be launched into the world.
What followed was a whirlwind journey, beyond my wildest dreams. After the phenomenal launch party at the eBar in Guelph, there were interviews, events at libraries and bookstores; talks at book clubs, yacht clubs, and service clubs, hither and yon.
Thank you Dundurn Press for publishing and reprinting Ready to Come About.
Thank you to family, friends, strangers who’ve become friends— simply everyone who has read, shared and gifted copies of Ready to Come About; to all the organizations and publications that have shown interest in hearing my story; to the Guelph Arts Council, Vocamus Writers Community, B-Dock in Waupoos, and Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox for generously spreading the word; and, to my husband, David, who has worked tirelessly, with evangelical zeal, to get my memoir ‘out there’. I feel truly blessed by all the love and support it and I have received.
After a little siesta over the holidays, I will again hit the road running, with eleven book events in January alone.
Check out my new ‘Events’ tab at the top of this page for details of my 2020 schedule. It’s exciting, albeit a bit dizzying, just looking at it!
Once again, thank you everyone! And sincere best wishes to all for the New Year!