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Slow Leak

Having a baby is very like offshore sailing: ahead of the birth, before setting sail, you think you have a plan, all laid out as a series of lines drawn on a chart of the open ocean, the future. You plot a course from Point A to Point B. On the chart of your imagination the course appears direct, a straight line, smooth, flat, unobstructed. You know it won’t be that way, but you trust the destination, that raising children is a matter of sailing by the compass of your love.

You cast off in ideal conditions, a storm blowing your way, ideal for learning to adapt and accept chaos. A good beginning creates the illusion that the voyage will proceed uncomplicated, following a straight line on a flat map.

I put the boat in gear and motored out of the Dog River, into Mobile Bay, down a deep wide channel, into The Gulf of Mexico.

It was early, the rising sun burned the cloud cover off, the glare of the sun a stripe of white light, a miraculous highway, straight as a string, extending to the curve of the Earth. The horizon, where it fell away, looked friendly; the edge of a watery planet meeting a sky blue as a baby boy’s jump suit.

All the islands and bridges were behind me.

The ocean rolled under the boat. The motion increasing. I made sail and got the lines coiled down. The passage out of sheltered water became the offshore rush and crash of a boat driving, lifting, rolling, the bow shedding water vapor thrown high as momentary rainbows.

Just a I settled in, lounging in the unexpected sunshine, nursing a hot cup of coffee, the automatic bilge pump shot a jet of water from the stern. Only one reason that happens in a normally tight, dry sailboat: somewhere she had a leak.

I jumped below, lifted a bilge board; a rooster tail of salt water sprayed the cabin. The propeller shaft was spinning as I was running the engine to make better time to Key West. The leak was where the shaft spun through the hull by way of the stuffing box, the most vulnerable through-hull fitting below the waterline. The stuffing box was supposed to barely drip around the shaft; many a boat sank due to a ruptured stuffing box.

I saw the rooster tail thrown by the spinning shaft, blinded to everything but fear. My thoughts ran naked trying to hide from each other.

I shut down the engine and watched the stuffing box leak.

I could use this to justify quitting deepwater. I could take Mysterion south by the Waterway, or back to Mobile and sell her, divorce the boat. All these nautical complications would end.

The same sort of dilemma would dog me for seven of the nine years I was married to Betsy.

I watched the boat leak and did nothing about it.

Finally, I tightened the stuffing box. The leak slowed, but the dripping was more than I liked.