The dark is alive when you are surrounded by water. Black is tinted blue and silver, and sky meets surf with electricity and the lapping sounds of silence. Inside our 36ft catamaran, moored off Cooper Island in the BVI, the raw nature outside, just now settling down from a late afternoon storm, is a stark contrast to the suburban picture of parenthood we’ve created inside our floating home.
At 0100 the eight-month-old wakens, and I stumble, exhausted and slightly off balance, to grab the handwashed bottle from the galley counter. A one-butt kitchen, as my mom calls it. “There’s only room for one behind to maneuver in here,” she would say as she danced around my parents’ Hallberg-Rassy 43. (Although she could always still magically prepare a four-course meal for her cruising buddies.)
My own “one butt” is connected to a torso draped in a half-awake baby who’s unaware and unconcerned with the difficulty involved in thawing breast milk on board a not quite gently rocking floating habitat.
Cracked open to let some air circulate through the humid berths, the sliding doors just two strides away lead to a small cockpit with seating for four. The benches are actually storage lockers holding diving gear in a layout that allows us to step off the back of the boat in fins without having to climb or stumble. It also allows for the cresting chop of the ink-black water to jump aboard on an unsettled night like tonight, spilling over and retreating uninvited.
It scares me. It shouldn’t. Water has always been my favorite place, my retreat, and now, as I always dreamed it would be, my home. But tonight I watch it as one does from the edge of a cliff. No desire to jump, but compelled by a force that suggests “what if?” What if you took a step?
The early years of child rearing where time moves like lava, but the months move like lightning leave you raw and irrational, often on the verge of sleep-deprived tears alternating with euphoric waves of excitement over the reality that this perfect little being is yours. It’s a time for fully-stocked nurseries and baby schedules, sweatpants and automatic coffeemakers. No new mom needs the added stress of using a watermaker for midnight feedings or attempting to baby-proof doors that lead to the open ocean.
And now, tonight, as the baby wakes in the unstill early hours between night and morning, I’m scared of the water. The dark. The open door of the floating shelter I love. Not for me, but because of the little boy in my arms, because motherhood makes you more vulnerable to fear.
Still, as I settle the baby and look out the windows that encase the small cabin, I realize it’s not the water surrounding me that’s creating this anxiety, it’s my choice. How can we raise school-age children and now a baby on a boat? Who are we to pull them from the security of school and community and church and domestic conveniences?
Then again, that doubt is just the fear I’ve fought my whole life to escape. We are a family of adventurers. Not by blood, because that would be too easy an excuse, but because our tribe of five has trained itself to look for more, to thrive on challenges. This child in my arms will feel the healing sun and the water more in this next year than many will feel their entire lives. He will escape the trap of tablets and screens that are robbing his generation of the competence they will need to mature. He will form a bond with us and his sisters that will come from seeing the world and living so close together, so close to danger. We will all build skills from the moment we wake with the sun until we fall exhausted yet accomplished into our gently rocking beds.
We are sailors. We are a family at sea. While I fight back the fear that floats up like the dark, deep water just feet from the most important things in my world, I know this is my lesson for the day: one I’ll likely have to learn night after night on this journey, part of a prowess I am still learning, and which I would never even know if it weren’t for this amazing voyage we’re on.
Kerstin Lindquirst is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and author who sails with her three children