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Never Lost, Just Hard to Find

2008 December 5
#1 Hers, Mine, Ours, All Aboard!

It was late afternoon when Quetzal sluiced between the massive breakwaters of Puerto Sherry, a huge marina complex just across the bay from Cadiz. We were finally on the other side of the Atlantic. My sixteenth crossing had been challenging as we coped with calms, gales and breakdowns. Now another challenged loomed, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for it.

I heard them before I saw them. "Daddy, John, Daddy, John." They were charging down the Quay at full speed, all four of them, waving, smiling, pushing and shoving. Nari, Nikki, Nicholas and Alex, ages 14, 12, 11 and 9. My daughters and stepsons, it was a race to be the first aboard. Yikes what a family, what a crew. My lovely wife Tadji trailed astern. She wore an expression of mixed relief – our long separation was over at last and, it was my turn to deal with the stinking kids.

"Hey guys," I shouted, thrilled to see them and a bit overwhelmed. "Grab a line."

Within a day my crossing crew departed and the family moved aboard. Our plan was to head west, into the Med, and see where we ended up six weeks later. I confess, I was less concerned about the Med's fickle weather than I was about the potential storms that might erupt aboard Quetzal.

Although Tadji and I had been married for a year, the kids had rarely spent more than a week together before returning to the other parent. To further complicate matters, Quetzal had been a sanctuary for the girls and I after my divorce from their mother and they had proprietary feelings about the boat. They also were used to having their own cabins. But something was happening, something good.

The kids worked out the accommodations. Nikki moved forward with Nari and the boys took her quarter cabin aft. So far so good. What was going on? Nari, explained things to her old man. "Daddy we want to get moving, we have a lot of places to see and only have six weeks." Was I dreaming?

Our passage through the Straits of Gibraltar was exhilarating. We blasted into the Med at 14 knots over the ground. I was nervously dodging a steady stream of freighters as the kids cheered every time we set a new speed record. The boat was rocking, rolling and flying. I had suspected seasickness, boredom and bickering. Instead, they kept pestering me for me quick quiz geography questions and marveled at the dry mountains of Africa. I pinched myself.

We made landfall in Morocco in a dust storm. No problem. The shimmering desert landscape and bewildering medinas drew them together. Something else I hadn't expected was taking place. Isolated by language and culture, they felt safe as a group. They needed and counted on each other. They discovered that they really liked each other.

On the three day passage to the Balearic Islands they paired up. Nikki and Alex played for hours below, no matter the conditions. Nari and Nicholas sprawled in the cockpit reading and talking. Nari and Tadji teamed up for night watches and Nicholas sometimes accompanied me. The kids plotted position on the chart. They rarely argued. I wasn't sure if they'd been drugged or I had. We were having a great time.

We made it to Barcelona before it was time to send them home. Tadji and I watched proudly and with an ache in our hearts as they boarded the plane. Two fair headed girls and two dark skinned boys, brothers and sisters. Sailing had turned us into a family and we knew we'd miss them terribly. Of course, for me at least, the prospect of another six weeks of sailing in the Med with just Tadji helped ease the pain.