Become a Fan
By Rene D Holden
Monday, November 29, 2004
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Paradise is not always a place, but an attitude.....
Graham steered his little boat across a very large ocean, the North Atlantic to be exact. The stars flickered and gleamed in the heavens and reflected on the surface of the calm waves around him. He felt extremely lucky to have good weather for this return to England, his new home. Australia was his birthplace, the ocean his playground, the Caribbean island of Tortola where he had fallen in love and started a family. It was now time to get serious about the future, he supposed. The kids were school aged and he and Grace had decided over a year ago they wanted them educated in England. And they wanted to be with their children, not have them sent away to boarding school. Although they would have adjusted.
So the decision was made, the ties cut (or anchor lines, as it were). Grace and the children had flown on ahead and Graham half-heartedly looked for a crew. Then he decided two weeks ago to singlehand it. It had been a while since he had been alone. Raising the children, a boy and a girl, on board had been challenging. Most people who lived in houses thought they were crazy.
“Oh, well,” replied the ever practical Grace, “I’ve never raised children in a house so I don’t know the difference.”
Graham admired Grace immensely. They had met in the Canary Islands. Anyone who knew her agreed Grace was tall and handsome. To Graham, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. When she answered his pitifully open-ended advertisement for a cook to “cross the North Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea” he couldn’t believe his good fortune. Grace had been raised sailing in the English Channel and was more experienced than he was in heavy weather cruising. The interview went much better than the one’s with the leggy young girls looking for a free ride to anywhere out of the Canaries. Grace really knew what she was doing.
“I’d like for you to take the position as cook. Would you mind helping with sailing too?” Graham asked hesitantly, hoping he was not pressing his good fortune with this prize of a woman. Beautiful, strong, and able to sail and cook were rare qualities he had searched for a while.
Her answer was just as direct.
“I’ll help with the sailing if you help with the cooking,” she negotiated bluntly.
“I doubt either of us will enjoy that,” he replied, but seeing her motion to leave, he added, “but I will try. Would you settle for my cleaning the galley instead of cooking? You won’t have to wash even a coffee spoon.”
Graham laughed weakly. Grace did not even smile. He felt surely he had blown the interview even though it was his boat and his interview. She was silent for a long thirty seconds staring through him, considering his offer.
“You’ll do all the dishes? Right after we eat? I can’t stand a messy galley.”
“Weather permitting,” Graham said almost in a tone of asking permission.
In his mind he was saying, “I must sound like a damned fool.”
“Oh, of course,” she said finally. “Weather permitting. And what is the weather forecast for this passage, Graham.”
He listened to his name spoken through her confident lips. It appealed to him greatly. Her accent was crisp and clear, no hint of a Cockney intonation, no dropped letters or endings. Many boat people were not overly educated, like himself was not. He had finished public school but never saw a need for a university. He wondered if Grace had attended the university in England.
“No, we could not afford it. So after passing my O levels, I decided to travel. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason really,” he said, feeling like he was prying. “You have a, uh, an air of refinement, as they say.”
“You mean I’m a snob,” Grace laughed for the first time. “Well, wait until you get to know me, ay, mate?”
No, he had never had much use for school although he passed his time there happily enough. Mostly he had fun and frustrated the teachers continuously. Graham intended to sail for a living. His father taught him everything he needed to know on their little ketch that they used for deliveries. Graham had spent every weekend helping his father until the man died at fifty-four from a heart attack. Graham was in his early twenties by then. He missed his father. A life insurance policy left his mother well cared for and enough for Graham to keep the sailboat and continue sailing. A year or so later, he kissed his mother good-bye and set out for the wide world with a girlfriend. The girlfriend grew homesick long before Graham was ready to return to Australia. They parted friends.
But life was lonely for a traveler like Graham. He enjoyed female companionship. Finding a woman who took to the sailing life proved difficult indeed, however, and eventually he gave up trying to find a relationship. He figured he would do that when he settled down. In the mean time he’d just advertise for crew, male or female, whenever the need arose. When he was in a port for a while, he usually found odd jobs working on rigging or painting hulls. He lived conservatively by nature. Two months in the Canary Islands, though, was as long as he had stayed anywhere. The time to move on had started nagging in the back of his mind.
Then opportunities for work appeared in the form of an overheard conversation between two Frenchmen in the bar at the marina. They had found constant work delivering new yachts to the Caribbean for The Charters, a chartering company in the British Virgin Islands. Apparently the chartering business was growing in the smooth, calm waters of the Sir Francis Drake Channel that ran through the archipelago of the partially submerged mountains of the northeastern Caribbean. Novice sailors could practice the art of moving a sailboat from one bar to the next with fair assurance of an easy passage in light winds. For this reason, the tourists and would be sailors flocked to the sunny islands.
Graham was not sure whether there would be work for him personally but he had never visited the Caribbean. The passage from his slip where Regal Lady, his ketch, tugged at her lines to Roadtown, Tortola, BVI, would take about three weeks. It was for this endeavor that he advertised for crew and Grace had appeared. He was starting to feel better and better about his decision to take off again.
The wind began to increase a few knots so Graham roused from his reminiscing long enough to reef in the gib and shorten the main sail.
“No need to get caught in a squall trying to shorten in all this cloth,” he told himself.
This solitude at sea reminded him of the lonely times he’s spent on this little ketch before the days of Grace and the children. It was a feeling of melancholy which Graham did not enjoy. While he often joked with the other skippers at the Charters about the woes of family life, he never would have traded going back to the apparent freedom of the sea for the responsibility he had now. At least, not now. There had been times he wondered if he and Grace would stay together for life.
All in paradise had not been perfect. Grace and Graham held strong opinions about nearly every aspect of sailing. Often these viewpoints collided into loud arguments between two people striving for top position. In addition, after a few years in the “small town” sleepy waters of the British Virgins, rumors flew from time to time. More than once, Grace and Graham were the subject of the gossip. Graham heard once from one of the charter cooks that Grace was seeing one of the other skippers. At first he thought this impossible and waved the prying woman off with his hand. On second review, not so impossible. Grace was bright, fun-loving, and often free for one or two weeks at a time when Graham took a long charter. She also skippered the charter boats frequently which gave her ample opportunity to meet someone alone. He never truly confronted that pain until Grace announced she was pregnant but then lost the baby. The local women said she had an abortion over at East End because the father of the baby was uncertain. Since her alleged lover was from Bequia, the likelihood of the child looking like red-haired Graham was low indeed.
Still, all that was ever said by Grace was, “I’m sorry we lost the baby, Graham.”
After that things between them changed. While before they had bickered continuously over sail trim or the best anchorages or where to buy chain for the anchor, now the competition seemed to have died between them. Grace became pregnant again within a few months and the result was a handsome son. A son that was a reflection of Graham’s coppery hair and freckled skin and Grace’s long bones and brown eyes.
Little James was followed by their daughter Hannah two years later. The Regal Lady began to feel a bit crowded with children’s books, clothes, and toys. Still, Graham and Grace wanted them to remember their time in the Caribbean, so they had chosen to stay until now when James would start school in the fall in England. They planned to sell the sailboat and buy a barge eventually to travel the canals of Europe in the summers when the children were out of school. The thought pained him a little, but Graham chose this. In the meantime, their new life would be land based.
The ocean had given him peace and Grace and two children. Graham was a rare man with no regrets, accepting the sadnesses that life and the risks that love had dealt him. He was glad he had taken the risks and never fallen into the trap of regrets. The traps seemed to lurk everywhere. No, Graham had what he wanted and leaving paradise pained him very little. Paradise, he knew, was in the minds of men searching for an escape route. He needed no escape. He needed nothing more than he had - Grace, James, and Hannah. Only the Regal Lady desired something - a bit of wind in her sails to carry her captain to his new home.
Site: Rene' D Holden
Want to review or comment on this
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Reader Membership?
Click here for your Membership!
|Reviewed by Sandy Knauer
|What a beautiful story, and so well written. Thank you for the pleasure.|