”Now, when I say ‘hard a-lee,’ Rae, you release your line and Dave, you start hauling yours in.”
It was a beautiful afternoon for sailing out on the Chesapeake, and our non-sailing friends seemed delighted to be taking an active part.
The four of us had sailed together once before, but not on the Chesapeake. In fact, not even in this hemisphere. Seven years earlier we’d sailed Australia’s Whitsunday Islands together and that was a day we’ll never forget.
My wife, Peg, and I were on a whirlwind tour of Oz and decided to pull into Queensland, the town off Airlie Beach, to catch our breath. This gorgeous little resort town on the edge of the Coral Sea looked out over the 74 Whitsunday islands, a sailor’s paradise.
Dave and Rae, retirees like us, had recently left their home in Western Australia on a nine-month “caravan” tour of their homeland. With their perimeter journey more than half over, they pulled their camper into an Airlie Beach campground the same afternoon we arrived.
After a day of snorkeling, Peg and I decided to spend another day sailing the Islands on board the 85-foot catamaran Camira. We’d seen her purple hulls and carbon-fiber mast when we drove into town and decided, if the weather was right, we’d go on the advertised day-sail.
Hopping on the shuttle that collected Camira’s passengers the next morning, we took a seat and watched, with excitement, as the tree tops bent in the stiff breeze.
“Are you up from Sydney, mate?” an Aussie voice from behind inquired.
“A little east of there, actually. We’re Americans from the east coast of the United States—a little state called Delaware.”
“We know where Delaware is, don’t we Rae?” the voice responded, and began to sing “Oh, what did Dela wear, boys? Oh, what did Dela wear?”
“She wore a new jersey!” we sang back in amazement.
The next 10 hours were sheer joy. With the wind blowing 20 knots, the captain asked if there were any sailors aboard brave enough to take the helm. I was up in an instant. For a full half hour I sailed Camira at speeds approaching 25 knots and loved every second of it. When my time at the helm was done, I returned to the company of my first mate and the two charming Aussies we’d just met. We laughed, shared life stories, and laughed some more.
As we motored into the harbor that evening, a feeling of sadness crept over us. We’d made two wonderful new friends out sailing that day, but knew we’d probably never see each other again, let alone ever sail together. We exchanged e-mail addresses, said our reluctant goodbyes, and were off. The next morning we headed north, and Dave and Rae headed south.
But our friendship didn’t die. We began exchanging e-mails, text messages and phone calls. In 2007, they came to the States and spent a week with us. We showed them the Liberty Bell and the Constitution, careful to point out that Delaware (sans her new jersey) was the first state to ratify our national charter. We took them to Gettysburg and Baltimore, and down the Delmarva Peninsula, but regrettably, we didn’t take them sailing.
So when they arrived in September 2012 for a second visit, this was one adventure we felt was mandatory: a sail on the Chesapeake aboard Tackful, our 25-foot daysailer. After a champagne toast to Camira, we set sail on what felt like the completion of a seven-year journey. Our friendship had come full circle. We were sailing together again!
L. Alan Keene, a retired mental health care professional turned writer,
sails his Oxford Dinghy and his boat, Tackful, on the Chesapeake Bay