If all goes as planned (and God only knows if it will), for my 59th birthday I will be somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean on S/V Exodus (for all you non-sailors, S/V stands for Sailing Vessel). God willing (and I am well aware I’ve mentioned God twice in that many sentences), sometime in the first week of November, Mike and I will be crossing the Gulf stream and heading south on our way to the island of Antigua (this of course, is Plan B; Plan A was the BVI).

On my birthday, I will be alone with my husband and two strangers, a great big ocean, and maybe some flying fish.

The strangers are both men are in their 60’s. One man has a beard, owns a sailing school in Canada, smokes an occasional cigar, and likes grapefruit juice. The other man is an electrical engineer from the mid-west, can fix just about anything, and can sew up a finger almost as good as a plastic surgeon (or so he claims. I hope I never find out).

Mike and I have interviewed both men by phone, and they seem pretty awesome, but there is so much we don’t know about them. We don’t know how many kids they have, what their politics are (I was scared to ask), or whether they like dogs (because that says something, right?)

But we do know that they are more experienced sailors than we. We know they are extremely concerned about safety precautions (many of which we had not thought of before we talked to them). We know that they actually enjoy an extended ocean passage (go figure). Both men have done trips like this many times, and they are still alive to help us out, which is very reassuring.

All of this is key, because on the day of my birthday, and for the days leading up to and after my birthday, we will be entrusting these men with our lives, literally, as we make the 1,600 plus mile passage from Hampton Virginia to Antigua. With four people aboard, our shifts for about two weeks will most likely be solo shifts, two hours long, six hours off. I am hoping for the 4AM to 6AM shift (at least most of the time), because as just about every post menopausal woman knows, 4AM is an awesome time to start your day.

All of this is so weird and new to me. I don’t understand how this can be something people choose to do, rather than simply a means for getting our boat to a place where there are palm trees, coral reefs and rum drinks, but I hope to find out in those first days of my 60th year.

Being on a 49’ boat with two strangers for up to two weeks has me a little freaked out. Provisioning the boat for all those people for all those days has me a little freaked out too.

But mostly, I am nervous about pulling my weight, not being a weak woman, and not being perceived as a weak woman. I want so badly to be brave, to be an equal, and I am not sure if I am up to it. I am not sure if I will able to go through my shift without waking anyone just because I am a little bit (or a lot) nervous. I am concerned that t I won’t wake someone up when I actually should wake someone up, just because I don’t want to appear like I can’t handle it myself. I am nervous that I will do something stupid, knowing that stupid mistakes on a boat can lead to major disasters.

But I also know, from having lost many a nights sleep before bringing babies and toddlers aboard for vacation, and by doing an overnight to Maine, and years and years of sailing with Mike, that the anticipation is often much, much worse than the reality.  Let it be so.

The day in November I turn 59, there will be no birthday cake. I will not be blowing out candles. There will be no friends at a girls’ lunch, no kids giving me birthday hugs. I probably won’t even know what day it is.  And strangely, I am ok with all of that. Actually, I am better than ok.  I am looking forward to it.

My birthday present to myself is a test of my resilience, courage, perseverance.  And the best birthday gift I can hope for will be calm seas.  But it wouldn’t hurt if I am still talking to my husband, and not throwing up over the side into the Atlantic.


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