By Erik Dolson
“Can we take the Christmas lights back to Oregon?” Irish asked.
She said once before she wanted to use that storage space under the seat at the navigation station for something else. Storage is always an issue, even on an oversized boat like Foxy.
“I guess. Are we done with Victoria?” I asked back. Irish doesn’t like it when I answer a question with a question, but I wanted some clarification. Sometimes there are other questions, or statements, or requests, hiding under the questions she asks. That she didn’t answer right away meant this was one of those times.
“Okay,” I filled in the silence, “but remember when you said ‘They’re giving away lights for free!’ ” Acquiring those lights and putting them up for Christmas for the last two years had been a bit of effort and expense.
“They have some bad memories …” she started to say, then the rest of her sentence was swallowed by sobs. I took her into my arms as a flood of tears wet my sweater and she went through a deep, body-wracking episode of grief. Not the first, of course, but one of the most intense since the fall two Christmases ago that crushed her face and took her right eye.
Traumatic memories of horrific pain and fear, and the present fear of going blind, blended into a overpowering cocktail of grief that shoved her, shaking, into my arms. She hides it so well, and is so preternaturally cheerful, I sometimes forget and say something stupid like I just did. Holding her close becomes more than just comforting but an act of contrition, atonement.
Eventually her cries became sobs became sniffles and I finally said, “You know we’re late for dinner, right?”
“I’ll call and let them know we’re a little behind. Let me wash my face. Not that it will matter that much.” she said.
“Well, I have to change my sweater, or wring this one out,” I said with another hug.
“You at least have to wipe that off,” she pointed to a shiny we both knew had come out of her nose.
“I was going to keep that, as a badge of dishonor.”
“Oh, just stop it,” she laughed.
That’s how we made it to dinner on our last night in Victoria with our new best friends couple in Canada. We were to meet them where we were leaving our car near the ferry in Sydney. Irish or I would come pick it up in a day or two and take it to Friday Harbor where the boat will spend this spring.
It was an excellent meal with wonderful people and a waiter with just enough attitude and willing to play. Our friends drove us back to downtown Victoria. I asked if we could be let off a little early so we could walk back to the boat through the city one last time.
“I imagine the walk will be poignant for you two,” said our dinner companion. It was poignant, gentle, but a bit chilly. We stopped so I could buy one last chunk of Rocky Mountain chocolate.
The next day we were up and about early, but still a little late getting under way.
“Would you like to take Foxy off the dock?” I asked Irish.
“No, but I’d like to tell you what I’d do …” and she detailed the exact plan I thought we should follow. Irish was pleased when the wind on our port side nudged the bow from the dock while I held the stern in place, then I released the last line and we gently motored away.
“Do you want to take the helm?” I asked, and Irish took the boat past buoys that separate ship traffic from sea planes in Victoria Harbor.
On our last trip, about one month before, Irish had been on the helm. Being a dumb guy, I thought it was my job to tell her where to point the bow, what landmarks there were, what speed, maybe ten degrees to port here… She told me to take the helm at one point and didn’t talk to me for a half hour and wouldn’t accept my apology, either. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake today.
“Do you want to steer us into the wind or have me use the autopilot while we put up the sails?” I asked.
“I’d like to steer,” she said, and held the nose right on the wind while I danced the main sail up through the lazy jack lines.
“Bring her around to port and head to that freighter,” I said as I unfurled the jib. Both sails filled and we were off, the seas a little rough from the stern quarter but Foxy was balanced by the wind. We sailed up the Strait of Juan de Fuca at over 9 knots toward our next home in Friday Harbor, the phrase “fair winds” never more appropriate.
“A year ago I was petrified in these conditions,” Irish said, her smile a blend of surprise and gratitude.
“We’ve learned a lot about boats since then,” I said, thinking of the 2,000 mile trip last summer to Alaska and back. “We’ve learned to love the sails instead of fear them.”
“We’ve learned a lot about a lot of things,” Irish replied.
The wind died as we turned the corner at the light house on Cattle Point on the south end of San Juan Island, and we motored past Goose Island and up San Juan Channel to Turn Rock where we angled on into the harbor.
We checked in with U.S. Customs, bought a celebratory and memorial ice cream cone, then took Foxy out and hooked up to our buoy. We slept hard in each others arms after an exhilarating day.