In North Carolina, we looked for a house up and down the Outer Banks, and all along the western shore of Pamlico Sound, no luck. But a boat like the one I was looking for happened to be anchored in the yacht harbor at Beaufort, near Morehead City. A Hans Christian 38T, forty-six feet overall, she was cutter rigged with a bowsprit and stern pulpit, carried twin headsails.
Betsy asked if I really knew how to handle a boat that size.
I told her I did.
The truth was, I hadn’t sailed offshore in ten years.
My last boat had been 24 feet on the waterline, almost the size of a Clorox-bottle-daysailer, though custom-built, a sloop rig—out of the Cabo de Besos yard on the Spanish Costa Brava. She had been a racing yacht designed to campaign in the North Sea, called Cabo de Gata, which meant “Cape of the Cat”. A wooden boat — stripped-planked of African mahogany — solid, light, fast, drew six feet of water, with five-thousand pounds of ballast in the keel. She would sail circles around fiberglass boats of her rating. A doctor from Great Britain had sailed her across the Atlantic single-hand. I had gotten her for a song in Boca Raton.
I had learned to go off-shore and navigate with Cabo. One time, but only once, I had sailed her by myself, inside the reef, in Hawk Channel, north of Key West. Ever since I had had an appetite to go alone in deepwater and see what happened.
The Hans Christian was a much heavier boat than Cabo. Although manufactured with a fiberglass hull — not custom built — the Hans was tricked out in teak every-which-way. A beefy Dutch design, Bermudan cutter, she would go anywhere in the world.
The way I found out about Hans Christian yachts was strange. A magazine I picked up from a hotel lobby, my first night on the road, after I left the mountains, before I reached the Outer Banks, before I telephoned Betsy — I found the magazine, took it up to the hotel room. When I tossed it onto the bed, it fell open to an advertisement for Hans Christian yachts, a 38 T. This was the boat I would go after, I knew it immediately.
If I was given to see a watery angel fly around in church, why shouldn’t the hand of fate, or God, by coincidence or whatever, show me the right boat to buy. This would be the way I found what I wanted. The way everything began to happen in my life. By coincidence.
After seeing the boat anchored in Beaufort, on the way to the airport, about to put Betsy on the airplane home, we agreed I would call her when I found a Hans Christian to buy.
She, not knowing anything about boats, never having been offshore, said if I bought a yacht, she would go sailing with me. That sounds like an easy decision for a pretty girl to make. Lots of women imagine they would drop everything and sail off into the sunset, right up until it comes time to cast off.
It was understood, if Betsy and I went that far, we would have children together.
Neither of us wanted the burden of romance. All weekend, sleeping in separate hotel beds, we agreed to keep sex out of it unless we definitely decided to conceive a child. The businesslike way we discussed things, however, was intimate, the way plotting between business partners, to make a lot of money, is intimate and thoroughly exciting. We were not dreaming: to get the fortune we envisioned, there was nothing we needed to make happen. All we had to do was allow the momentum to carry us. We could both feel it. The sailboat was the catalyst. It would be the chamber of conception.
I put her on the airplane without kissing her. No need to confirm the intimacy, we were in love with an opportunity. Self-interest dictated loyalty to a new beginning.
We both wanted a baby, now we could have one, swept away on a sailing vessel. I had never heard the term Mr. Mom. Betsy had never been to sea, or even thought about it beyond a fleeting fantasy sparked by a postcard probably. Both opportunities were suddenly real.
Determined to be rescued from ordinary life, a certain kind of woman will indeed drop everything; that was the kind Betsy was, and I knew it. I knew how to buy a boat, make one ready, and set sail. The idea of becoming Mr. Mom lifted me like a new romance.
I woke up alone. It was in the middle of the night. I was staying in a waterfront Hilton that fronted on a sailboat marina, on the Neuse River, in New Bern, North Carolina, not far from Camp Seagull, where as a boy, I had learned to sail. I looked out the window and stared at the yachts, wondering what name I might give to a new vessel. Thinking whether to change the name of any I happened to buy, which was supposed to be bad luck — probably I would buy one used, that already had a name, which might limit my choice of boats if I were superstitious about it. I would not want one with a dumb name, like Sea You Later, or Midnight Madness Sail.
I turned on television, and there was a blow-dried preacher, a regulation television evangelist, spouting off about the mystery of redemption. He went off on a tangent, reciting the roots of the word “mystery”. He said it came from the Greek, mysterion, meaning, “that which can not be revealed to the uninitiated”. To be a father, I had to go somewhere I’d never been, do things I hadn’t done, learn so much that didn’t know, and I would be initiated.
I turned off television and wrote down the name of my next boat, Mysterion.
The two desires: to become Mr. Mom, and to go sailing were synchronized, necessary and required, one by the other, in order that I learn what I needed to know to stick as Mr. Mom when the boat hit the rocks and sank out from under me.
Predestination, fate, may not exist, but if it does, it speaks to us continually. Mr. Mom was listening.