Thursday, September 8, 2022

I'd Rather Be Sailing

S/V Stella Maris, Deception Pass - 2000

The last time I was at showtunes night in Canada, heres how our piano player Kerry O’Donovan introduced the song “I’d Rather Be Sailing”:


“This is one of Roger’s favourite songs. And in the show the song comes from, it’s sung by a character named Roger.”

S/V Reachfar, Elliott Bay - 2007

My recent blog essay “Roger, Roger” described two of the three characters from Broadway musicals who are named “Roger”:  (1) Roger Davis, the rocker bro half of Rent’s straight tragic couple; and (2) Roger DeBris, the fabulous gay auteur who directs and stars in the terrible musical at the center of Mel Brooks’ The Producers“Springtime for Hitler.” 


The third Broadway “Roger” is another gay supporting character. Roger Delli-Bovi is the romantic partner of the protagonist in A New Brain, the 1998 musical William Finn wrote with James Lapine. The show is loosely based on Finn’s own experience at age forty when he was rushed to the hospital for emergency brain surgery, almost died, and slowly recovered.


William Finn’s surrogate in A New Brain, Gordon Schwinn, is a frustrated songwriter. Gordon composes songs for children’s television host “Mr. Bungee,” but he’s blocked in his efforts to finish both Mr. Bungee’s frog songs and his own creative projects. Gordon’s long-suffering boyfriend Roger is the one who loves sailing more than anything else in the world. Roger arrives late to the hospital because he had to wait for wind on Long Island Sound.

Gordon hates sailing. Roger still loves Gordon.


In the most recent revival of A New Brain, Jonathan Groff played Gordon, not Roger. But here is a link to Groff singing “I’d Rather Be Sailing” on YouTube

S/V Reachfar, Admiralty Inlet - 2005

Once upon a time I had a sailboat, a convertible, and a beach house. Seventeen years later, I’m an unemployed disabled gay single dad with three teenagers, two dogs, and an ancient minivan.


As Bear and I walk along the Boardwalk, we admire the boats out on Bellingham Bay. I miss my sailboat. It was a beautiful thirty-seven-foot Jeanneau, which I named “Reachfar.” What gets lost in the telling is that I actually bought my boat while we were pregnant with Eleanor.

S/V Stella Maris, Sidney Spit BC - 1995

During the 1990s, one of my gay lawyer friends lived on his sailboat at Shilshole Marina in Seattle. Many of my happiest memories involved the times I spent with friends on S/V Stella Maris. We explored Manzanilla Bay, Lake Union, and the Hiram Chittenden locks. We introduced my roommate Geoff to his husband Mike at a party on Jim’s boat. Even after I moved to Chicago to be a gay rights lawyer with the ACLU, I would regularly return to Seattle and the water, like a homesick salmon.


For several years I joined Jim on his annual spring sailing trip from Seattle north to the San Juan and Gulf Islands. We would arrive in Victoria’s Inner Harbour in time to watch our more intense sailor buddies compete in the annual Swiftsure Yacht Race. After a fun weekend in Victoria fraternizing with friendly Canadians, our group would sail off to explore otherwise inaccessible gems like Sidney Spit and Wallace, Prevost, Sucia, and Patos Islands, before returning home to the drudgery of legal practice.

S/V Reachfar - Puget Sound, 2007

Sailing is naturally mellowing.  

For decades, I found every aspect of being a lawyer crushingly stressful, even before I was diagnosed with complex PTSD and codependency. Nevertheless, I could always escape my miserable life by surrounding myself with waves and forests. Sailing offered instant relief. Although I found a similar Zen on chartered sailboats in Belize, California, and Tahiti, I always felt particularly at home on the waters of the Pacific Northwest. 


Eventually I became convinced I needed a boat of my own to sustain the magic. So in 2005, I bought a used sailboat. In a rare twist, the economics of boat ownership made sense for me. When I moved back from Chicago, Id chosen to buy a weekend cabin on Whidbey Island rather than an overpriced condo in the city. Mooring a sailboat at Elliott Bay Marina as a crashpad turned out to be cheaper than renting an apartment in Seattle.


As the cliché goes, the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day they buy the boat, and the day they sell it. By 2008, I recognized sailing was not going to be my priority for the foreseeable future. I was happy to find a willing buyer for S/V Reachfar, for two reasons. First, I discovered being in charge of my own boat diminished sailing’s relaxing effects. Being the captain was a buzz kill. Second, I needed a place in the city that would fit my growing family, rather than a lonely pied-à-mer.

One of the poetic epitaphs in Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters (1915)

We started the laborious adoption process in Fall 2004 by signing up with an agency and taking thirty hours of parenting classes. A few weeks later, I got a telephone call out of the blue and learned the cousin of a friend of a friend was pregnant. They were looking for a gay couple to adopt the baby, and chose us. 

I bought my sailboat at the beginning of May 2005. All those years of sailing, research, and trips to the Boat Show intersected with the miraculous surprise of parenthood. In hindsight, I think I grasped at the familiar comfort of sailing rather than face the terror of desiring something completely beyond my control. After the ultrasound, I realized our birthmother was just as terrified about us walking away from the adoption as I was worried about her changing her mind. Fortunately, my partner and her boyfriend were able to calm both of us down.  


At home on Whidbey Island late one night in June, I got the call saying our birth mother had gone into labor. We caught the last ferry to the mainland and raced to the hospital in Puyallup. Everyone spent the night watching movies in the lovely birthing suite. Shortly before 9 am, the doctor and the baby arrived. 

I watched Eleanor being born. Then we walked out of the room with our daughter, and the world has never been the same.

Bear, Buster, and Schooner Zodiac

“I’d Rather Be Sailing” is the simplest of songs. Gordon’s lover Roger celebrates the joy of sun, wind, and waves. Then he lists some of the things that aren’t as good as sailing, like food, sex, and other people. However, as Roger sings to Gordon, what he loves best about going out sailing is afterwards he can “come home to you.” 


Near the end of A New Brain, Gordon and Roger reprise “I’d Rather Be Sailing” as a duet. Gordon will never be a sailor. Instead, he sings “I feel like I’m sailing – holding on for life.” With the right craft and crew, sailing offers the exhilaration of the second-greatest roller coaster in the world. 


Sailing [Vancouver, chorus, writing, Bear, whatever] could be the one thing in the world I love almost as much as my children. But the point is I love my children even more. That’s the kind of Roger I am.

S/V Reachfar, Port Townsend - 2006

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