As we were cruising through Canada in the middle of June, we got word that my brother Mike had passed. Since he was wearing a monitor at the time, we were able to tell that he passed in his sleep peacefully. In truth, we were not very close; he was a bit of a loner. He was very sick for five years and had a hard time listening to his doctors. His passing was somewhat expected, though the timing was a bit jarring.
I don't want to focus on any of that. I want to talk about his trip to visit us on the loop in February. Before our departure in October, we invited him to run with us for a day or so. We thought he'd never make the trip because he wasn't healthy enough to travel. Mike insisted that he was well enough to boat for a day with us. As the day approached and details emerged, we thought it would be best for him to drive down to Clearwater, stay with us for a night on the boat, and then decide if he wanted to go out into the surf with us. Then, he'd run with us through Tampa Bay to Sarasota. Maggie would drive his truck on a parallel land track.
As the day approached, the weather looked like it would be windy but manageable. We considered putting off the trip due Mike's condition. In truth, we thought we'd see waves from 1-2 feet, partially "on the beam," meaning we'd be taking the occasional 3 foot wave right in the side and wondered if his balance and strength would be enough for the trip. Since our boat is narrow, beam seas rock us pretty hard.
As we got ready to go, I coached Mike through driving the boat for a minute or two for the brief periods I'd be in the restroom. In truth, he was barely up to the challenge of driving _any_ vehicle including the cars he'd loved so much all his life. My plan for getting a break for a minute or two to fetch something or take a restroom break, I planned to turn on the auto pilot to hold a straight line, put the boat in forward idle so it would go a couple of miles per hour, and tell him to put the boat in neutral and drift if anything bad happened. In the middle of a big bay like Tampa on a quiet weekday, we didn't expect trouble.
As Maggie and I discussed in advance, she cast us off and threw our lines onto the bow and into the cockpit. She started the short drive to Tampa and Mike and I got under way. As we approached a quiet bay with no traffic, I took the opportunity to let Mike drive to use the restroom. In truth, I put the boat fully in neutral so we drifted a bit, and he had fun. To give him a job and take his mind off of the growing waves we knew were coming, I gave Mike our new binoculars and asked him to pick out the red or green buoys that marked our passage.
The day started quietly enough, but as we expected the wind and waves grew as we crept into the bay. We started to hear radio chatter on our VHF radio. It seems a sailboat had capsized about ten miles away from the area we'd be traversing. We saw the coast guard boats and a helicopter on the way out our starboard window. We heard the radio chatter, with the calming coast guard verifying that passengers had life jackets on, and that mundane details were covered to keep the distressed sailors occupied while help was under way.
As the day wore on, I could see Mike start to struggle with the seating. Gripping the stainless handrail in front of him to hold steady as the waves rolled us around became his full time job. He didn't complain once, though.
As the waves grew past one foot to two and beyond, he started telling me about what the navy was like. He smiled and said these conditions were nothing. The battleship Iowa was sometimes in seas strong enough to move her significantly, and when the big guns fired, the boats would move wildly as the turrets hold the guns steady.
Things got quiet over the last hour or so as we were picking our way through the channels at the other side of the channel. I stole a glance over my shoulder, concerned about the heart patient sitting beside me. Strangely, he had a death grip on two different handles, but he was grinning ear to ear, Navy to the core.
Our adventures were winding down. We picked our way into the protected channels leading from Tampa. True to form, our electronics plotted us a perfect line toward our eventual destination. I pulled out the thruster remote we rarely use to dock Currently for first time solo since we beat Maggie in and arrived after the marina staff had left for the evening.
Mike and I looked at each other and smiled. In truth, a small part of me knew it would be our last adventure.
Thanks for that memory, Mike. I love you, and we'll miss you.