Persuaded to Sail

Safely docked after a sail on the Detroit River with my daughters
“I can safely say, that the happiest part of my life has been spent onboard a ship.”
Mrs. Croft from Persuasion by Jane Austen

You never know what characters wait within a novel. Such is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. There, I recently met Mrs. Croft, wife of Admiral Croft. They had “crossed the Atlantic four times together” because parting from her husband would be “frightful.”
           "Women may be as comfortable on board as in the best house in England…nothing can exceed the accommodations of a man-of-war, “ Mrs. Croft insisted.
           So, wives were permitted to travel with their captain-husband during wartime? I was intrigued by Mrs. Croft’s perception of comfort, a surprising departure from Austen’s conventional Englishwoman.
“Neither tall nor fat,” describes the author, “(Mrs. Croft) had a vigour of form…and altogether an agreeable face; though her reddened and weather-beaten complexion…made her seem to have lived some years longer in the world than her real eight-and-thirty.”
           Although I admired Mrs. Croft’s world, larger than Miss Austen traveled, I couldn’t imagine a marriage of fifteen years lived in five various ships with a stinky, sweaty crew, all the while longing for mountainous horizons and solid ground. Could I endure countless sunrises without leafing trees, blooming flowers, and birdsong?
Furthermore, I’ve encountered enough rough seas that turned me green to know I could not embrace Mrs. Croft’s maritime merriment.
Then serendipity rang. “Mom, would you like to go sailing Tuesday with Kelly and me?” my youngest daughter asked.
This was a rare invitation I couldn’t refuse. Kelly’s flight back home to her family in California was Wednesday morning. We wouldn’t lay eyes on her again until another wedding, funeral, or holiday called us back together. Yet, I didn’t want to be a seasick spoilsport.
“Don’t worry, Mom. We won’t sail if the wind is high.”
Carrie, Ruth’s sailing teacher, welcomed us aboard her boat harbored at the Detroit Yacht Club. The two slipped on gloves and lifejackets and into the language of sailors. Who came to mind when Ruth tackled the sail with vigor and raised it with an altogether agreeable face at age nine-and-thirty?
Mrs. Croft. I imagined her tanned face must’ve lifted to many sails in her time at sea, watched in awe as I did my daughter pull the sail’s ropes.
Those ropes! I’ve never witnessed Ruth wholly engaged in such intense physical awareness and quick maneuvers, switching from port to starboard, unwinding and winding ropes in coordination with the captain’s orders as she tacked the boat. The sense of danger, the respect for wind and water was palpable.
“Don’t get your feet tangled in the ropes, Mom.”
I wanted to reply, “And watch that mast, young lady. I’ve sat beside your sickbed too often to appreciate another concussion.”
Safely docked, Ruth asked Kelly and me, “Did you have fun?”
“Sure did.”
Dear Reader, I can safely say I’m no Mrs. Croft. The happiest part of the day I spent sailing with my daughters was when we disembarked, no injuries.