By LINDA PETERSEN
My son, Francis, was always fascinated with sailing. From the age of 6, he and Hubby would transverse the small lake in our backyard in a small Sunfish. By the age of 10, Francis gleefully took on the challenge of sailing alone. Despite his vision impairment, or, perhaps BECAUSE of it, he delighted in the feeling of freedom and independence. The fact that there were no obstacles in his way made ME feel better about his solo sailing.
At the age of 14, he had the pleasure of accompanying my adventuresome mother for a weeklong voyage on an antique schooner out of Maine. When she first saw the vessel, she started to cry because of its complete lack of amenities. Have to go to the bathroom? Here is a bucket. Want to go to sleep at night? Finagle yourself up onto one of the hammocks swinging with the motion of the boat. The trip turned out to be amazing for both of them; joining the crew for songs in the evening, eating their meals with their food perched on their laps as their feet hung over the side of the boat, and, yes, even the sleeping was a wonderful adventure.
Francis continued with his fascination with sailboats, and when at the University of Rhode Island, he began to “crew” on a large sailboat that belonged to one of his professors. He enjoyed the camaraderie, and the hard, physical labor of raising the sails. In my favorite picture of him, he is seated in the cloth of the lowered sail. The sunset is in the background and he is looking straight ahead, sunglasses on, taking in the peaceful quietness. He always talked about that Zen type of peace that accompanied his sailing adventures.
When at Cambridge University in England, he continued to crew on sailboats, and eventually learned to captain one using adaptive technology for the blind. Because he had been sailing since the age of six, he naturally knew the maneuvers and felt great satisfaction with his nautical endeavors. He aced the written exam to be licensed as a captain, but, alas, they refused to give him his license because he was blind. Not one to fight or argue, he politely discussed his capabilities with the officials, and invited them aboard to get a first hand view how he handled such large vessels. Demonstrating his skills at not only using the technology but also directing his crew to do the minute tasks he was unable to do, the bureaucrats were properly impressed and gave him his captain’s license.
Since that time, more than 10 years ago, Francis has moved to Silicon Valley, California, to pursue his career in human/computer interaction. Working at a major computer company, (whose name can’t be mentioned or I would be shot,) he has worked his way up the ladder and is now the director of the department for development of programs for individuals with disabilities. Finally reaching the pinnacle of his success, last spring he decided to stop working six days a week and to take weekends off … to sail, of course. He and his wife recently purchased a 49-foot sailboat that is docked in San Francisco when not in use. With two young children, ages two and six, it was important that it had a real bathroom with a shower, a galley kitchen, dining area and a separate master bedroom. Every weekend was spent on their home away from home, until California was hit with COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit, the computer company went to working from home. Francis has a home office and often worked from home, but this mandatory order was a little bit disconcerting … until he realized that, with proper nautical WiFi, he could work on his home away from home.
And so it is that Francis and his wife now live on the sea, stopping at isolated beach areas for the children to play and build sand castles. Francis and his daughter enjoy snorkeling, and Izzy is an expert at pointing out the varieties of fish and sea turtles. They swim by jumping off the deck, and fish to try to catch something good for supper. The only time they go ashore is to pick up Amazon items shipped to the dock where the sailboat used to sit idly.
Francis says he now has the perfect life. He is still in a job he loves, has a wonderful wife and children, and can sail independently throughout the ocean waters. Often, when the children are asleep, he sits on the lowered sail with a glass of wine, savoring his Zen life that is now a peaceful reality.