That’s how it’s done.
Recently the image of a drowned three-year-old boy on a Turkish beach has awakened something in the world that story after story depicting the horrors of the migrant crisis had so far failed to do. I think the desperation of how bad it is, that’s the point. And the power of that photo to me is rooted in the universal fear of water that’s over our heads that none of us ever gets over.
This story has resonated with me. I don’t wish to downplay the situation there and I think there’s much to be done to resolve it. Hopefully seeing a child done in by the water should be a wake-up call to the world.
While I don’t wish to compare our daughter to that boy in the tragic photograph, I have a certain perspective as a parent: Zuzu is advancing in leaps and bounds in her aquatic education. She’s learning to swim and to be confident around the water. And while I don’t want her to be afraid of the water, I do want her to have a healthy respect for the sea and its unforgiving nature.
I’ll never forget jumping from a dock for a swimming test at a summer camp. Into ten feet of water. I took a couple of halfhearted strokes WHERE WAS THE BOTTOM?!? and proceeded to swallow what felt like a gallon of lake water. A counselor on the dock pushed the end of a bamboo pole toward me to grab and as my wide eyes (I imagine) watched him, the water’s surface closed over my head. The water surrounded me with its cold completely. I’ll never forget that moment, though I don’t think I’ve ever shared that with anyone before.
Now when Zuzu swims I generally swim with her, always ready to crack the joke I learned from Chet Roche. Chester was my folks’ friend and neighbor who was so generous with his swimming pool when I was growing up. He and his wife BJ would have us up to the top of the hill where we lived to swim and dive and use their slide (really probably all ill-advised by the insurance underwriters who seemingly control so much now). At any rate, whenever my older brother Matt or I would surface from his pool coughing and hacking from inhaling a lungful of water, Chet would laugh and say, “Don’t drink my water! That’s expensive pool water!” And it always struck me as funny, because here I was trying to catch my breath and coughing or watching my brother’s face turn a shade of pale blue-gray as he did the same, and Chet—an adult, mind you—was joking around.
I try to do the same to my daughter. Don’t drink the whole ocean, I say. We won’t have anything left to swim in. If you’re thirsty, just ask, we’ll get you a drink. Her eyes fix on me as I say this, as she hacks and tries to catch her breath. Does she get it?
I do. I now understand how it works: Acknowledge her plight but also make light of it. And while it worked to some degree for me, I hope it works much better on her.
That’s what this boat is to me. A way to face up to this and everything else. And show her how to do that too.
My wife Erica and I were able to confirm a few key things about our daughter and boats. You see, I got an assignment for the magazine to take a crewed charter with my family in the British Virgin Islands with a company called The Moorings. If you’ve never been to the BVI, trust me when I tell you it is truly a beautiful place and a cruisers’ paradise. I don’t think I could really lay out the islands in a more pleasing array, were I given the chance to reach down from Olympus like some color-obsessed deity and place the landmasses in water that ranged from cobalt to cerulean to palest azure. The distances we ran each day gave us just enough boat time to cleanse our palates to appreciate the next spectacular stop. The coves our skipper David Blacklock and first mate/cook Deb Mahan put us in were a terrific combination of views (both above and below the water) and protection (we needed to find the lee of the islands since a couple of tropical storms were playing cat and mouse with each other—and us).
Taking a crewed charter makes it easy on parents too, since we found we can focus on time together and leave the details to the experts. Turns out our daughter Zuzu is great on a boat, and managed to fashion a distilled version of her lubberly life (a few toys, a few new books to read) that worked very well on board. She’s shown a tendency toward motion sickness in the past but she got acclimated well and quickly on our cruise, with a bit of help in the form of carefully considered doses of Dramamine for long or rough passages.
As we ran about an hour to Anegada, an open-water run that we expected would have a bit of a roll thanks to a storm-pushed swell, Erica sat with Zuzu in a shady spot with a fresh breeze and talked as Anegada rose from the haze of the horizon—asking imaginative questions that provided the distraction that did the trick. It’s not easy to explain but watching them talk, the wind drowning out the words, I was as proud of my family as I could be: Watching them because I was concerned about how Zuzu was feeling (Erica’s sea legs put us all to shame), and when our daughter’s face broke into a smiling giggle I knew she felt fine.
We all swam off the boat, Zuzu always in her life jacket as she’s a very new swimmer, and of course we saw a bunch of marine life around. At one point I felt a tingle in the middle of my back, and as it heated up a bit I moved Zuzu toward the ladder. Too late. Some sort of jellyfish fry or an errant cnidocyte got her on the leg. She said she thought she too had been stung, and climbed the ladder, with me right behind her. Deb got her a white vinegar compress as we watched tiny welts rise on her leg. But no tears, and, most importantly, no fear the next time we had an opportunity to jump in.
In fact Zuzu may have indicated some marine-biologist tendencies as she sketched fish from a snorkeling guidebook the crew had on board. Good times and more to share soon.