I had no expectation what I might experience during my time at sea. I just always dreamt of doing a transatlantic crossing alone and the time had finally come. Maybe it was those old movie scenes of the elegant bejeweled women with white gloves up to their armpits, standing alongside a dashing man in tails out on a polished deck that had always intrigued me. More likely it was the complete joy I feel being out on the ocean that compelled me to join a 15-day sail across the Atlantic from Barbados to Lisbon. No stops, no ports of call. I relished the idea of being surrounded by nothing but the big blue sea.
I set sail on the Windstar, a small 4 mast sail-assisted ship with 75 strangers, about half the capacity of passengers the ship can carry. Plenty of room to just be. The Windstar cruise line has been doing this style of luxury sailing for over 30 years so I knew I was in good hands, and fact that the captain of this specific sail was Belinda Bennett, the only female, woman of color ship captain on the sea made me feel just that much more certain I was on the right trip. My trip was billed as more casual with no tuxedos or fancy dinner attire necessary.
What you may find on any journey is always an unknown and despite all my comings and goings it’s still one of my favorite aspects of traveling. What I witnessed on this journey was no less inspiring.
So, what was it? It was pure and simple; it was true love. Love found late in life, love revisited, and a lot of constant, longstanding committed love renewed again and again.
Most of the travelers had done these crossings 5 to 35 times before. They knew they could count on great comfort, great food and a very high level of personal attention and care. Many of the staff and guests had been traveling together for years. Stepping onto the ship allowed everyone an opportunity to relax and suspend real life for a little while. I had no trouble doing just that.
This mixed gang of traveling sailors showed up each year to celebrate another milestone in a life long lived. They were predominately older with extra time and a desire to just be one with the sea. They had no agenda other than making another sail across the Atlantic. I fell in love with them all.
It was Jean and Mike*, both in their 80’s, back together after 55 years apart, 4 or 5 marriages later and several countries between them, sitting on the deck holding hands or sunbathing together — smiling, whispering, giggling, taking great care of one another’s needs.
It was Samuel, who shared the crossing with his wife of over 40 years. 5 children and 19 grandchildren later, he never left the side of his partner who was now slightly confused and unsure of herself while he still remains sharp and robust. I have never seen such unconditional love and patience alongside such great happiness being together.
It was Larry, a widower, who was up early each morning writing a book about his recovery after a stroke. He was sharing the trip with a newer love, Janet, who had been a dear friend of his late wife. I watched them laugh often, enjoying every day together.
It was Walter, who sat at a table of 6 one evening and expressed his profound love for his new girlfriend with tears of joy streaming down his face. They had met 3 years before on this very same trip. At 85 and 75 respectively, that had both already lived through prior romances and great loss yet were able to feel love again. His claim is that this one, this love is the greatest one of all.
Witnessing some of the most vulnerable, open-hearted expressions of love took my breath away. One seafaring couple in their 70’s, rekindled a college connection and got married on the ship 5 years before. They soaked up the sun each day playing board games and puzzles together. Another energetic couple in their 60’s walked and did yoga together each morning. They were thoughtfully trying to navigate the tricky transition of how to retire and still find meaning and purpose in their next chapter.
And then there was 91 year old Ken, traveling with his 7th wife, Marci. Ken was still snarky, funny and very smart. He was a formidable trivia and scrabble opponent and held his own at the bridge table. He judged the bartender competition and was more erudite than either of the other judges. Marci took care of every need in the most light-hearted loving way. I saw the great respect she gave to his independent nature while keeping a close watch on him.
I was surrounded by people celebrating 50+ year wedding anniversaries, 80th birthdays and brand new love. I never heard a cross word between anyone. Not one. I saw true love in every form, a gentle arm to lean on, a hug, a look, a smile. I felt the love. The love that comes from the wisdom of age and survival. The love that appreciates the fragility of our time and celebrates each day together. This love changed me. It made me more mindful and more hopeful. This love made me feel more expansive about our ability to love at any age, despite great losses. It seems the capacity for love does not diminish with experiences but grows exponentially. This sail filled me with insight and a new, much appreciated perspective.
While I was surrounded by all this love I never felt alone or lonely. There were many other men and women who were single or chose to travel without their partners on this sail, as I had. It never felt awkward to be on my own and people were friendly and inclusive whether they were with a partner or group of friends.
Someone said this trip attracts a self-selected group of couples that already get along well and want to be together without a lot of distractions for days on end. That’s probably true. How lucky for those of us that were able to experience it with them.
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(*All names have been changed to respect privacy)