Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Connection & Celebration

Boats, like airplanes, seem to take on lives of their own, with unique histories and distinct personalities, at least in the minds of their owners. Boat ownership, for most, has a certain emotional component, with the accompanying highs and lows, bouts of love and hate, joy and sorrow. But you try to keep emotion out of it when you buy a boat (or, for that matter, when you sell it). You make lists of boats, crunch figures, ascribe pros and cons, enlist the help of impartial brokers and surveyors. But the reality is that very few will pull the trigger on such a big purchase unless they like the boat, if not love it. Windbird wasn't the cheapest boat we looked at (most certainly not after refit) nor the best equipped, or even the most ideal for the type of cruising we'll be doing - but we liked her. And worse (from an "impartial buyer" standpoint), we really liked her owners.

I'll be honest, Windbird wasn't love at first sight. My first thought when I saw her was that she looked used. The broker had been frank in my initial discussions with him and so this didn't come as a surprise, and I tried to look past it knowing that cosmetics are a rather small component of selecting a boat - but I came away from that initial look without a great deal of enthusiasm. And then I started reading Judy Handley's blog, and the more I read the more I was impressed with what they did with Windbird, and I started to see the real value of many of her features. When I went back to see the boat with Dawn, it was after having read about half of Judy's circumnavigation logs, and I seemed to see Windbird with different eyes. I was aware that reading the logs were giving me an emotional attachment to the boat - and to Mark & Judy - but I kept reading anyway and pretended that emotion didn't influence the final decision. It undoubtedly did. Now I look at Windbird, and while I still see the "used" bits (really, the bits that are awaiting our attention), she looks beautiful to me. I imagine her rocking at anchor in exotic landfalls during her circumnavigation, and surfing down greybeards in the December Atlantic with Mark at the helm. I dream of our future life aboard her. Every time I walk away, I turn around to admire her. My "like" is turning into "love."

As Dawn and I formed this connection with Windbird, we've also formed a connection with Mark and Judy that I think is stronger than most owner-buyer relationships. During the negotiation & sales process they struck me as very fair and reasonable people, and I tried to act in kind. I read the rest of Judy's logs and we started corresponding regularly via email, while Mark and I mostly talked on the phone. I often read new emails and logs to Dawn. Mark and Judy showered us with books, tools, equipment, and advice. We were really looking forward to meeting them and having them down to the boat - the request was actually included with the purchase agreement - but the sale dragged on and we waited longer than we should've to put it together, and then Mark's health took such a downturn that we scuttled the boat plans and decided to travel to Cape Cod instead - but alas, we were too late. Mark's death hit Dawn and I a lot harder than you'd expect considering that we'd never met the man in person. Nevertheless I felt a real connection there, and knowing he was gone left a really hollow feeling inside - almost like an early preview of losing a parent.

Dawn and I were really honored when Judy invited us to attend the Celebration of Life hosted by New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord, NH, and even moreso when she asked me to read one of Mark's favorite passages at the event. The timing worked out really well and we flew up from Charleston to Manchester via LGA yesterday morning. We checked in at the Concord Days Inn, which is where Judy met us yesterday afternoon (with another two tubs of tools, books and equipment to bring back!). It was oddly like running into an old friend. She has a personality that immediately sets you at ease - something I later also noticed about her daughter and son-in-law, and several old friends we got to know over dinner. I love that.

The Celebration of Life took place at the Capitol Center for the Arts in downtown Concord and featured a number of speakers who had worked with Mark during his years at NHPR and NPR, both in management and on-air roles (Mark was President & CEO of NHPR for 15 years and also Chairman of the NPR Board of Directors for several years). Most had been sailing with Mark on Windbird or other boats, as he clearly loved sharing his passion for sailing with others and treated his work colleagues like family. As they spoke, I realized that I couldn't really go up there and read the piece without somehow explaining my connection to Mark as something other than just the guy who bought his boat. So I scribbled out a few sentences about how I'd come to know and admire Mark in the last months of his life and how I continue to discover more about him as I become more intimately familiar with his boat, the physical embodiment of an ambitious lifelong dream that he and Judy actually made come true. Shortly after I was done writing, Heather (Mark & Judy's daughter) gave a really wonderful, remarkably composed eulogy, and then it was my turn. My speech wasn't polished and the delivery wasn't practiced so I basically read it, but I think the audience understood what I was driving at. And then I read this selection, which was James Kavanaugh's introduction to his 1970 book of poetry "There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves."

Afterward Dawn and I hung around a while talking to Jed and Heather and various friends - including quite a few names that rang a bell from Judy's blog - and then her friends David and Susan invited us to dinner with them, Judy, and three others at a nice bar and grill a mile or so away. It was a quite enjoyable time with some very smart, friendly people. Our discussion veered strongly into politics for most of the time - which these days is mostly a really cringe-worthy topic for me - but this stayed quite civil if for no other reason than that all of us (Republicans / newly-ex-Republicans included) were sane enough to recognize that Donald Trump is a stark raving lunatic. But we didn't get to talk to Judy a ton, other than an entertaining discourse on how to best lug a full supply of beer around the world! The evening wrapped up fairly early and we retired to the Days Inn.

We went to breakfast with Judy this morning and had more time for discussion, mostly boat-and-weather-centric (yes, Matthew is still bearing down on us) plus a little more politics. We made plans to have Judy down to the boat once Windbird is back in the water, exchanged hugs, and took a group picture (send a copy, Judy!). It was really special meeting Judy and spending time with her and her family and friends, and Dawn and I were both very happy that we were able to come up to NH for the Celebration. Our flights back down to Charleston went fairly smoothish (ok, if you don't count the stop in Raleigh-Durham for a medical emergency), but on the drive back to the boatyard we were surprised to see the streets are already almost completely abandoned. A lot of people have already evacuated, and every inland hotel in the state is reportedly full. We'll do a little more storm prep tomorrow, and then head out of town to visit friends up in Maryland, do the Annapolis Sailboat Show, and attend "Cruiser's University" next week.

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