In 2017, my husband and I will be selling our horse farm on which we have spent the past 28 years. Our lives here have been amazing and we wouldn’t change a minute of raising our 3 wonderful children in this lifestyle. However, our destiny was determined on the day we met, and in our hearts we know our biggest adventures are yet to come. We have much to do in the next two years to prepare for this trip, but the story of how we met has to be told in order to put this journey into perspective.
That Chance Meeting
In the mass of swirling, evolving, chaotic life upon our planet, do we collide with one another through fate or destiny? Many married couples look back with fond memories of their first encounter, a mutual friend’s party, a crowded bar, a coworker in a nearby cubicle. That chance meeting, that twist of fate, or destiny, brings two souls together and they connect. Thus begins the courtship dance, the flirtatious discovery of one another and the complicated decision; do we belong together?
My decision was never difficult as I battled for my husband before I ever met him. My sister, Carol, and I lived together in a condo in Charlotte, NC. Her husband had recently separated, so I offered to live with her and help with her 2 young girls. My weekdays were spent in college, my weekends and evenings I helped with the girls and spent as much time as I could on a sailboat. I crewed in sailboat races on Lake Norman, an 80-mile man-made lake, just outside of Charlotte. Racing was my passion. My love of sailing was passed on to me my by my mother, the only female captain in the fleet of competitive sail boats in New Bern, NC. It was a special and rare event that I made it to New Bern to crew for my mother, in her weekly battle to retain her title as the fastest captain on the Neuse River. One such weekend, my mom called to tell me that my cousin was bringing a colleague of his from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to crew on her boat. This friend of his, an engineer and three-time national sailing champion, also happened to be single.
During the 4 hour drive to New Bern, Carol and I fought relentlessly about who was going to land this fine catch. Her argument was that she needed a husband more than me. My argument was that she had her chance, and now it was my turn. As it turned out, my mother’s boat could only take two more crew members, and since my sister and I already had the two spots, my cousin and the fine young engineer from Philly, could not be a part of our crew. My mother called a friend who had been looking for people to sail with him and arrangements were made for my cousin Greg and his friend Dan to be his crew.
The morning of the race arrived and sailboats of various makes and sizes began vying for position near the starting line. The winds on the sound were brisker than usual and chaos ensued. 25 sailboats, swarmed like angry bees, trying to jockey for the best angle to fit through the two buoys that marked the starting line. Skippers screamed orders to crew members, booms heaved from side to side as the captains tried to get the best angle on the starting line. Sails flapped angrily in the buffeting winds, and boats came within inches of one another, barely avoiding a collision. My sister’s and my job was to stand on the bow and watch during our rapidly changing course so we wouldn’t collide with another boat. However, instead of looking where we were going, the two of us were fighting over the binoculars. We each wanted to be the first one to spot the eligible sailor. Carol would grab the bachelor spotting device from my hands and I would have to wrestle her to the deck and pry them from her grasp. This was very counterproductive for my mother, who could not see around the large sails, and it really angered my father who threatened from the cockpit, “Girls, don’t make me come up there!”
The sound of the starting gun blasted, shattering the moment of hesitation before each skipper turned the helm, tightened the sails, and crossed the starting line. We were off, not knowing the perils that lie ahead even thought the darkening sky and building swells should have been an obvious calling card to the upcoming stormy weather. All that mattered to each boat in the race was making the best time to the first marker.
An hour or so into the race, we had lost sight of the boat of our elusive bachelor, as well as most of the other boats. Our 29 foot Pierson, Sweet Pea, blazed ahead of the fleet meeting the swells and cresting over them with ease of a steed gliding over a steeplechase course. The rains arrived and lightning streaked across the sky, but we forged through the course, using every breath the wind had to push us faster toward the finish line. White caps dotted the water in white sprays of lashing fury, which broke over the bow of our boat and soaked us all to the core. Nonetheless, 4 hours after the start of the course, the flags signaling the end of the course loomed ahead, barely visible through the sheets of driving rain. We were first to cross, ecstatic at our victory despite the miserable weather.
About an hour after our arrival, the storm passed and most of the fleet had already limped into the sanctuary of the harbor. Our crew had tied Sweet Pea to the dock and secured the boat in preparation for the awards ceremony that followed the race. My mother was particularly excited to have another victory under her belt towards the ultimate goal, the end of the year high point award for the entire series. Everyone but me had walked up to the yacht club as I sipped a cold, well-deserved beer and attempted to fold the mainsail. Sure enough, as I had willingly tarried waiting for Dan’s boat to arrive, she floated up to the docks and the crew tied up, exhausted after their efforts to battle the storm in a less than sea worthy boat. I tried not to act too curious, but could not help but look up as Dan was the first to stroll off the boat and down the dock to where I was folding the sail.
Our First Encounter
“I see your boat was provisioned with beer,” Dan commented as he approached, “the tub I sailed in on didn’t come with a beverage service.”
I smiled and looked up sideways from my sail folding and retorted, “Must suck. And it’s also too bad this is the last beer from our boat. Have to actually finish the race in a timely manner if you want beer,” I said, giving a dig at their dead last finish.
“How about we make a deal. I’ll help you fold that sail if you share your last beer?”
I grinned sheepishly and handed him the beer. He took a long, deep drink, finished the beer, then crushed the can.
“Hey!” I yelled at him. “The agreement was to share the beer, not guzzle the rest of it.”
“Well, I didn’t want to finish last again today.” He smiled, tossing me the empty can.
Together, we finished folding the sail, made some slightly awkward small talk as we hadn’t even been officially introduced, and then headed to the yacht club for dinner and awards.
About half way through dinner, where I strategically fought my sister for the chair next to Dan, I got up to use the restroom. Dan saw me getting up and mentioned he had to go to, so we headed off together. I am nothing if not competitive so I wanted to be the first one to finish using the restroom and be waiting for him when he came out. I quickly did my business and stood waiting against the wall nonchalantly, with my arms folded as if I had been waiting there for hours.
Dan walked out and saw me, his eyebrows furrowed a moment as I quickly thought up the witty line, “Where you been?”
“All your life? Or just now?” he responded with alacrity, and at that instant, my heart melted.
I wanted to say, “All my life,” but I just smiled and we went back to our seats to finish dinner.
Love at First Drink
Later that evening, awards were handed out and we spent a wonderful evening with my family and catching up with cousin Greg. Dan and I lagged behind the group heading home and decided to walk into the quaint town of New Bern and have a drink at a bar. We walked down the quiet, dark streets, steeped in history dating back to the 1700’s. The entrance to a tiny bar below street level beckoned to us, lit in the amber light of the antique streetlights. We walked down the stairwell and found two stools at the bar. We talked for almost two hours, getting to know each other, what we’d done, where we’d been, and of course relaying our sailing adventures. Dan mentioned that one of his future dreams was to circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat. My heart fluttered, and I turned and stared at him, mouth partly open. I had never met another individual that shared my dream of sailing around the world, until this magical evening.
“Me too!” I exclaimed. I paused, and then said, “I think we should get married.”
So we did.
The Wedding from Hell
We were married less than a year later on the yacht club lawn where our first race had taken place. Dan’s father, who happened to be a minister, married us. Unfortunately, it was the wedding from hell. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. Near hurricane force winds blew in the evening before the wedding, blowing the tent, chairs and all the decorations into the harbor. We couldn’t have a rehearsal because the lawn was still flooded so Dan’s father gave a brief synopsis of what we were all supposed to do. Then, we headed off to the rehearsal dinner in the town of New Bern. After dinner, the men headed off to do their bachelor thing, and the women headed off for their night of shenanigans. As it turned out, we all ended up at the same bar Dan and I went to the first night we met. It was, in fact, the only bar in town. We did what could only be done in that situation, we partied together.
The next morning, the day of our wedding, the winds were still kicking in the aftermath of the big storm and Dan could not resist the breezes calling to him. Before any of the other bachelors at the hotel were awake, Dan drug his windsurfer down to the shoreline and headed out for his last sail as a bachelor. Problems arose as Dan was clipping along at breakneck speeds and failed to notice a submerged piling, the result of storm damage. His board clipped over the piling, breaking the skeg off the board, the part of the equipment that provides steerage. He catapulted off the board, plunged into the water, but fortunately was not injured. Dan swam back to retrieve the board and assess the damage. He had traveled far in a short time. With no skeg to keep the board on course, his only option was to tip the board up on its edge and claw his way upwind. It would take him hours.
Meanwhile, back at my mother’s house, the bridesmaids, which consisted of my two sisters, Dan’s sister and my childhood friend, did their best to prepare me for the big event. Things took a drastic turn downhill when my sister came into the room where I was preparing and asked if we had seen one of her twins. They were four years old and going to be the ring bearers. One of the twins was present, but my sister Linda had searched the house and could not find the other one. Upon questioning the twin who was present, he had no clue where his brother was, despite my threats to torture him if he was not telling the truth. Since my parent’s house was located on the water, losing a small child was a big concern. The possibility of the child falling into the canal was on everyone’s minds. My bridal preparations came to a screeching halt as all of us searched the house and yard for the missing twin. Finally, after several minutes had passed and we were about to call 911, a small voice called out from under the house. We found the missing twin, who was hiding under the house because he heard talk about a wedding shower. He was dressed up so nicely for the wedding that he didn’t want to get wet. Everyone but me had a good laugh over the incident. As we regrouped, my father was yelling from the porch that I had to come to the house and take a phone call.
Dan’s best man, his brother Mike, called because another member of our bridal party was missing. “Alison, is Dan with you?” Mike asked, hesitancy clearly hanging in his question.
“Mike,” I yelled, quite exasperated after having just searched for a missing child. “Where is Dan? Please tell me you are joking.”
“Yeah, that’s it. I’m joking,” he said as he abruptly hung up.
I knew instantly he was lying. I screamed for my mother, my bridesmaids, “MY HUSBAND IS MISSING! WHAT ELSE CAN GO WRONG!”
The flurry of women quickly ushered me back into the prep room, handed me a glass of wine and assured me everything would be okay. They would start making calls and track down Dan while I finished my hair and makeup. They all knew Dan loved me and couldn’t wait to be married so they were sure there was a simple explanation.
I drank my wine, forced myself to go to a happy place and tried to paint the aura of a glowing bride on my pale face. The façade did not last long, however, as my mother wandered into the room a short time later. She has some more bad news for me.
“Honey,” she started out sweetly, “I’m afraid I just got a phone call, and…”
“This should be rich,” I interrupted. “Because you know, a hurricane, missing child and missing husband just aren’t enough for my wedding day.”
My mother paused and looked at me sympathetically, “Well, it seems the band was on their way here, but they had a small problem. Their van caught on fire and they won’t be able to make it.” She cringed at the end of the sentence, waiting for Bridezilla to erupt.
Instead of more fiery eruptions, I simply buried my head in my hands and cried. I sobbed, ruining the makeup I had painted on my face to hide my woes.
Dan made it back to shore shortly before the ceremony was supposed to start. The boys had noticed the missing windsurfer and surmised he had gone for a sail. Extremely tired from his struggle back to shore and apologetic for causing me stress, they phoned me and gave me the news. His groomsmen were already dressed and helped prepare Dan for the ceremony. The men arrived at the yacht club right at the scheduled start time and attended to the guests who were fidgeting in the lawn chairs waiting for the ceremony to start. The only wedding decoration that remained was an alter and a paper runner that flapped and would not sit still in the stiff breeze. The women guests ingeniously used their pocketbooks as anchors and the bright array of handbags dutifully lined the runner, keeping it still. The groomsmen were still seating guests as the bridal party crossed the harbor on a pontoon boat. I caught sight of my groom on the balcony of the clubhouse where he had retreated with the best man, a rum and coke in hand as they waited for the ceremony to begin. He looked down as the bridal party disembarked without incident and made their way up the yacht club lawn. Tears threatened once again as I caught the eye of the man of my dreams and wondered what I had done in a previous life to cause this kind of drama on my wedding day. Shortly therafter, Dan and the groomsmen made their way to the alter while the twins, carrying the rings, and the bridesmaids, started the procession. The song of the wind was the only accompanying tune. The last bridesmaid, my oldest sister, had broken her leg the week before the wedding, of course, and had a walking cast. Her cast popped through the paper and she had to shake her foot loose with each step. The comic relief caused the waiting audience to laugh for a moment until they looked back at the entrance of the bride, and saw just how upset I was. No music, no decorations, my sister’s broken leg poking holes in paper leading me to my future husband, who had been missing until an hour ago. Tears ran down my face, as the happiest moment of my life had turned into a nightmare. I tried stoically to hold them back, but they flowed freely now. My husband and the groomsman were standing beside the minister and Dan saw the hesitancy on my face, my tears, but smiled lovingly and motioned me forward.
I took a deep breath, resigned that despite a few bumps in the road, I was still getting married and that this was my moment. I’d better enjoy it. I prepared for my less than grand entrance. Then the groomsmen started humming, quietly at first and then building louder as others joined. In a beautiful moment of clarity and unity from all my friends and family, the tune “Here Comes the Bride,” drifted towards me. Midst my tears, a heartfelt laugh erupted. My father, who had been standing at my side through all the chaos, kissed my cheek, smiled, and asked me if I was ready. I nodded to my papa and he escorted me down the broken paper runway, lined with purses, toward the man of my dreams. We walked slowly, in the most dignified manner I could muster. We arrived at the waiting bridal party. Dan stepped to one side of me, my father on the other, his arm still tightly wrapped around mine as we faced the minister. My future father-in-law asked the age old question, “And who gives this woman to be married?”
With tears in his eyes, my father responded with, “I do.” My heart almost broke watching the man I had never seen cry, hand away his baby girl. I quickly composed myself, as I turned to face the man I knew I was meant to be with forever.
Halfway through the ceremony, a friend of mine who had come to sing at the wedding, surprised me by singing her part a cappella. I simply believed that since there was no musical accompaniment, there would be no singing. When the time came for her to sing, “There is Love,” she stood with the sound of the wind and nearby waves as her accompaniment, sung a heart-wrenching rendition of the song. It succeeded in moving everyone to tears.
We proceeded through the ceremony. Dan’s father tied the theme of miracles into his sermon. He talked about the miracle that brought us together and with all that had transpired; it was a miracle that we had prevailed. It was destiny and he was sure there were many more miracles to come in our lifetime. The moment came when we were finally pronounced man and wife, we kissed, then hugged as the supportive guests and bridal party cheered for us. The love we felt for one another, and the happiness of the moment washed away all the tragedy of the day.
28 Years Later
My father-in-law correctly predicted our future as our twenty-eight years together produced an amazing marriage and three of the most wonderful children on the planet. We look fondly back at all the memories we created together, but we also look forward to the promise we made on the day we met. 2016 is rapidly gaining on us. Thirty years from the day we met, we will have sold everything we own. We will be embarking on the dream that was conceived on the day we met and will finally be fulfilling our dream of sailing around the world. We hope and pray for many more miracles that will guide us and give us a safe passage around the globe. We know that our love and commitment to one another can get us through even the toughest of times.
In the random, swirling, evolving, chaotic life upon our planet, there was no chance in our meeting, but the destiny of two ships that met, and did not pass by unnoticed in the darkness of night. There has never been one moment together that we have doubted that we are sailmates and that together, we will fulfill our dream.