Is it a love story when a widow and a widower fall in love—not with each other, but with the Chesapeake Bay? Two years ago, at the age of 55, I became a widow and got my U.S. Coast Guard license to operate a 50-ton vessel. Herb, 81, recently widowed, and once an expert sailor on Canada’s Georgian Bay, moved aboard Ticketoo II, a 34-foot Catalina, on the Chesapeake Bay. He was hoping to singlehand it to Florida.
After meeting at a marina on the Sassafras River, we decided we were compatible enough to spend a month together aboard Ticketoo II, exploring the Chesapeake from the Sassafras to Norfolk, Virginia.
We had both enjoyed long, happy marriages with landlubbers, and we hoped the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay would wash away our grief. If we could not have our first loves, then we would have our second: sailing. What we discovered was a new suitor: the bay itself.
Sailing south, we covered some of the same water that Captain John Smith explored 400 years earlier. We became engaged with American history. The past was present in the Native American names for places, the traditional watermen’s workboats, and the old schooners that graced the harbors. We saw mansions on the shores of old plantations where tobacco had been loaded onto ships bound for Europe. We peered at the murky waters that were once filtered to transparency by a massive oyster population, which is now sorely depleted. History was alive in Yorktown and Jamestown, Williamsburg, and St. Mary’s City.
All too soon, autumn came to the Bay, and with it, that twinge of sadness that overcomes sailors when summer is ending. In the evenings, Herb and I sat in the cabin listening to Beethoven and Mozart, Bach and Mahler. We read books. We remembered the people we had lost and wished they were with us. But, we discovered while on a broad reach in a 20-knot breeze, or in a quiet anchorage at sunset, even without them, life in the Bay was magnificent.