Saturday, March 12, 2011


I’m not a big fan of sailing. The last time I stepped foot onto a sailboat was about twenty-two years ago. My boyfriend at the time had invited me to spend the day with his boss out on the open ocean. All I can remember were the disgusting cherry tomato and mussel hors d’oeuvres and the pervasive queasiness that stuck with me for days after.

My grandfather was a World War II Navy veteran and a lifelong sailor. I have many fond memories of riding in his sailboat as a child, a bulky orange life vest strapped snuggly up to my chin. Sailing with Grandpa is a cherished memory shared by all of his grandchildren and many of his great-grandchildren. My own kids still talk of fishing from Grandpa’s boat in Port Hueneme Bay. One of the saddest days for us all was when Grandpa sold his last boat, because it meant there would be no more sailing. Grandpa’s seafaring days had come to an end.

My Grandpa, Donald Dean Ball, passed away last week after a six month wrestle with lung cancer, just a few weeks shy of his 86th birthday. During his funeral I was reminded again how beloved this man was to his family. Four children, twelve living grand children, and twenty-eight great-grandchildren – and every one of them loved and cherished by the greatest man I have ever known.

Oddly enough, three of the books I’ve read recently have all been about sailing. I didn’t plan it that way – just a nice coincidence. I mention them here in Grandpa’s honor.

The first is Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. I actually listened to this on CD in my car. What an amazing story! A young boy, Harvey Cheyne, falls off his father’s yacht and is rescued by a fishing boat. At first, Harvey is nothing but a spoiled brat. But as he spends the next few months working alongside the Gloucester fishermen and experiencing the power and mysteries of the open sea, he transforms into a responsible, considerate young man. This is the kind of story that sticks with you, transforms you just as it transformed Harvey Cheyne. No wonder Kipling’s classic has endured for 114 years.

The second book, The Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulsen, tells about a boy swept out to sea in his deceased uncle’s boat. With only a few cans of food on board and limited supplies, he relies on his own ingenuity and the power of the sea to survive. Paulsen is a master at survival stories, and has earned the Newberry Honor three times. I read The Voyage of the Frog as a bedtime story to my ten-year-old son. Each night as I finished a chapter, my son begged me to keep reading. And when we got to the end of the book, he yearned for the story to continue. That is perhaps the greatest compliment any book can receive, that those who read it never want it to end.

Finally, I am just finishing 68 Knots by Michael Robert Evans. Eight teenagers board the sailboat Dreadnaught for a summer leadership camp. Just days into their journey, however, the staff abandons ship and the captain commits suicide. What are these eight kids to do? What follows is a rousing adventure that includes searching for pirate treasure, boat races, and a little romance. In the end, what begins as an expected summer of fun turns into an experience that transforms the Dreadnaught’s crew for a lifetime.

So, to my Grandpa, I say bon voyage as he sets sail on his final journey home to where my Grandma, his lifelong companion, awaits. I imagine them both sitting in that little sailboat of his, the sail filled with a crisp ocean wind, their arms holding tight around each other, sailing toward the setting sun – together. May God welcome you home, Grandpa. I will miss you so much.

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