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I’ve been very, very lucky over this past year. I’ve weathered the viral storm without getting sick, and most of my friends and relations are doing okay as well. Of course, I’m not bragging here—I’m simply describing my experience. And I’m most certainly aware that thousands and thousands of my fellow Americans and their families have not been fortunate at all, and in writing this column, I think it’s critically important for a guy like me, in my particular circumstances, to clearly acknowledge the immense sorrow and suffering that continues to plague our nation and its citizens.
But then, although I’ve been lucky, my existence over the past year, characterized by social distancing, mask wearing and a great deal of internet-connected, TV-infused homebound isolation, has been anything but normal. In fact, I expect that somewhere down the line, I will look back upon the previous several months and declare the whole uproarious, disease-ridden thing “absolutely freakin’ bizarre.”
Thank goodness I own a boat, a beloved old trawler, the Betty Jane II. Not that I’ve been able to spend much time on her of late. Last May, my wife and I swung the watertight doors of the ol’ ranchero wide open to welcome an 8-pound Golden Retriever puppy, Champ, hoping that, among other things, his presence would constitute a diversion, a project to keep us from focusing too much on the negative. We got our wish, as you’d imagine (if you know anything about puppies) in spades. Champ, who’s still not quite ready for primetime seafaring, has not only diverted us, he’s also diminished the time we have to spend aboard.
But still, my wife and I take a cruise now and then. Just the other day, for example, we eased on over to North Florida’s Fernandina Beach, a fairly short jaunt from our marina but far enough to produce a pleasantly philosophical state of mind. And as our single 240-hp Yanmar diesel thrummed along, I began wondering, “Has the Covid-19 nightmare affected me—perhaps even changed me—in any way or ways and, if so, how?”
Three answers slowly percolated up. For starters, despite my mature age bracket, it seems I’ve become a little less sure of myself, a little less persuaded that I know exactly who I am. My life used to consist of mostly traveling, operating and examining all kinds of boats and interacting with sometimes hundreds of people in a single month. So, who am I now, with all the travel, the boats and the people gone? Am I as sure as I used to be? Time will tell, I guess.
And then, I’ve become convinced—and more convinced than ever before in my life—that, at least for me, owning a boat is both practical and absolutely necessary, even if I can only use her once or twice a month. I can’t tell you how many times since last March I’ve helped myself fall asleep on an especially troublesome night by imagining a fantasy cruise somewhere or a fix for any number of boaty issues, from leaky portlights to the “character marks” I’ve just added to Betty’s hull sides by some inattentive docking.
And then finally, the biggie. The pandemic has also convinced me—and the level of conviction also runs deeper than ever before in my life—that the people I cross courses with on any given day, no matter who they may be, are extremely, you might even say existentially, important to the health of my mind, the health of my heart and the health of my soul. Whether it’s my wife, returning with lunch from the marina restaurant, or the youngster at the fuel dock helping me top off Betty’s fuel tanks, or a slipmate detailing her latest pickleball adventures, I totally need everybody, and I owe one and all the best I’ve got to offer. Because hey, if anything figures as the golden key to unlocking this awful pandemic, they’re all collectively it!