Single-handed Sailing through Life

Susie

This morning I awoke from a lovely dream about Susie. I was tinkering on the boat at the marina, no doubt triggered by the fact that my yacht Arriba is currently lifted out of the water for maintenance. Susie came walking down the dock with lunch in hand and joined me on board. We ate outside at the cockpit table, enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company, chit-chatting as we’ve done a zillion times. One can too easily take for granted these spontaneous encounters with loved ones unless one strives to live in the moment. Susie excelled at that; I wish I was better at it. It was a simple, short dream, but very telling of how thoughtful Susie was. When I was working from home for Google Australia, Susie would frequently bring home a surprise lunch, such as sushi or a Vietnamese roll, knowing full well that I got bored eating leftovers and sandwiches. In truth, I probably whined about it once too often, as Google’s cafes spoil you!

One thing we loved to do was sail Arriba down from the marina, an easy, two-hour sail, never venturing far from shore. We would park about 400 metres offshore from our beachside house, so we could see the boat from our living room. To be clear, this is not like leaving the boat tied to a dock or in some protected cove; it is an open ocean exposed to weather from the west. In such situations, the boat is only ever as secure as the anchor’s grip on the seafloor.

Susie writes:

Alan anchored the boat offshore while he was working in his home office. He told me he could “watch it”. But of course, he got stuck into his work. Well, the anchor came loose, and the boat drifted onto a sandbar. Then the dinghy rope got wrapped around the boat propeller. All the neighbors were lined up on the footpath watching. I had to wade out to help him. And someone stole my shoes which I’d left on the beach.

When the boat wasn’t drifting away, Susie and I enjoyed many evenings onboard Arriba, sharing a bottle of wine and a cheese platter. While I yearned to sail Arriba far and wide in search of exotic locations, Susie was just as happy being there offshore from our house. In fact, I think she was happier because she worried less about things going awry. For Susie, it was always more about the people, than the place.

Susie was not just my mate, she was my first mate on Arriba. She was always helping me out, even more so on land than at sea. For example, I’ve lost count of how many times she would drop me off or pick me up at the marina or provision our supplies for extended sailing trips. Susie could sail too, having learned to sail with me when we lived in Santa Cruz, California. When we were learning she was much better at maneuvering the boat in tight spaces under power than me. This reminds me of the time when I went sailing with two mates in Santa Cruz. As I was leaving the marina I, rather embarrassingly, bumped into another boat. The owner of the other boat silently glared at me. At that point, I turned to my crew, and sheepishly said, “Oh, this is the part that Susie usually does.”

Susie didn’t love sailing quite like I do, but she learned for me, for which I’m very grateful. While it was not her passion, she joined me on sailing trips from time to time. Our last sailing trip together was 4th June 2017, incredibly three years ago. I’ve sailed dozens of times since then and it saddens me greatly that, for various reasons, none of those subsequent trips included Susie. I remember that 2017 trip very well though, as it was one of those perfect cruises. Although it was winter in Australia, we had sunny weather with light winds and flat seas. It was just the two of us and Susie loved it. We sailed across Gulf St Vincent to Windara Reef off the coast of Yorke Peninsula, accompanied by dolphins several times along the way. Our goal was to test a tow-able underwater camera sled I’d made from cheap PVC parts. This was before I quit Google in 2018 and committed full time to my non-profit organization, AusOcean. That on-water testing was instrumental in helping me validate the idea that low-cost technology could transform ocean science. It was really AusOcean’s first expedition and I could not have done it without Susie, nor could I have started AusOcean without her support.

After completing our camera tests, we moved to Black Point for the evening. It was cold, but after firing up the catalytic heater Arriba’s interior became toasty very quickly. There is something deeply satisfying about being cozy inside your boat, or your cabin, fending off the elements. I tried, unsuccessfully, to catch some squid for dinner. Thanks to Susie we had a full fridge and pantry and did not go without sustenance. We enjoyed each other’s company over a bottle of wine, as we’ve done thousands of times. Susie and I always did have great conversations over “Happy Hour”.

Knowing that I will never again enjoy Susie’s company, nor her acts of kindness and thoughtfulness makes me deeply sad. Yet over the years, I’ve become proficient at single-handed sailing, which is sailing without a mate or crew. I’ve even come to enjoy it. Now I find myself on the most challenging voyage of my life, namely sailing through life without a mate. Wish me “bon voyage”.

susie  wife of alan noble
Susie Myers

PS Susie is Susan Myers, my beloved wife of 27 years and my loving partner of 30 years, who died from brain cancer on 12th February 2020.

About the contributor

Alan Noble is the founder of the non-profit Australian Ocean Lab (AusOcean) with the mission of helping our oceans through technology. Former head of Google Engineering in Australia, a founder of StartupAUS, and on the board of the South Australian Museum, he is a keen sailor, an aspiring writer and blogs at blog.arribasail.com.

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