The Joy of Roma Orion
Copyright 2003 by Cap’n Fatty Goodlander
When Roma Orion was five, she made a new friend named Ruth. We were anchored in Bequia in the Grenadines. All day long they swam and belly flopped off the boat, squealing with delight. But as the sun hissed into the sea astern, I saw dark clouds flicker across our daughter's countenance as she talked earnestly with Ruth.
Later that evening after I'd rowed Ruth ashore, Roma was unusually pensive. I could tell something was on her mind. Being a parent isn’t often easy—but patience is a sailor’s virtue. I waited and watched as she turned it over, worked up her courage. Finally she stood beside me as I shuffled my charts at the nav station.
“Dad?” she said. “It’s about Ruthy...” Finally she blurted it out. “She doesn’t live on a boat. In fact, Dad, Ruthy’s family doesn’t even own a boat!”
It was a strange moment, breaking the difficult news to our daughter that every family didn’t live on an oceangoing yacht, eternally chasing the horizon; that every little girl’s mother didn’t check the bread in the wildly canted oven before going on deck and tucking in that third reef; that every child’s father didn’t have just enough money drip out of his salt-stained pen to buy another anchor rode, repatch the storm staysail, and head to sea one more time.
Roma is a third generation liveaboard. Her perspective on life is unusual. “When he married Nana Ree, did Grandpa Jim have his boat Dorothea or had he already rebuilt the Friendship?” she’d ask, trying to get our family history straight.
Boats are the metronomes of our lives. Back in the 1930's, my father lured my mother off her Chicago porch with sea yarns of his stout, 22-foot sloop, Dorothea. They honeymooned aboard his lovely 36-foot Friendship sloop in the 1940's, raised their four children aboard the 52-foot John Alden schooner Elizabeth in the 1950's and 1960's, then retired to a modest 34-foot steel centerboarder named Panique in the 1970's.
My sister Carole partly raised her kids aboard Ruby B, a home-built 42-foot ketch, while my other sister Gale and her husband Momo, toiled ashore building, appropriately, a sister-ship to her sister’s. Even the baby of our boat-crazed family, Morgoo the Magnificent, got into the act by buying a half-finished Bruce Roberts 40 and putting an interior in it.
I was ashore only a few years after the sale of the Elizabeth before I bought my 1932 Atkin double-ender, Corina, and snuck a kiss from a 16 year-old girl named Carolyn, who’s since sailed with me as navigator/lover/ wife/mother for 34 eventful years.
Together Carolyn and I built a life and a 36-foot Peter Ibold ketch named Carlotta. In 1981 when Roma was born, I tore out my beloved tool room in the forepeak and replaced it with a teak-and-holly nursery—and complained about it to Roma while Carolyn was still in the throes of labor.
“That,” said the physician—a sailor himself—“was the earliest I’ve ever heard of a father laying a guilt trip on his child!”
Yes, there have been a lot of boats in my life, and many ports of call, with many a fine ocean in between. But it was raising our daughter aboard that gave us our finest, most rustproof cruising memories.
For example, a patrol boat boarded us off Trinidad , and it’s officer demanded to know why our ship’s papers were not in order. “It says here,” he said, glowering and waving our last port clearance in front of us, “that there are three in the crew—where’s the other fellow?”
“If you’d like,” I said as I motioned to a tiny pink nose peeking out of a clown-decorated blanket swaying in a cargo net over the galley table, “I’ll wake up Precious Cargo from her nap.”
“Gee,” the fellow said begrudgingly a few minutes later as he thumbed through her dog-eared passport, “she’s already got more sea miles than I do!”
Once in the Virgin Islands, when Roma was about 7 years old and we were riding home in the dinghy, we watched a bareboat sail onto an obvious reef.
“Please, Dad,” she said, “You gotta go over there and help ‘em!”
I was late for an appointment. It was calm. I knew the bareboat company would soon send out its tow boat—but I couldn’t deny my child.
All six of the crew were huddled fearfully around the cockpit in their life jackets—and so preoccupied that they didn’t even see us swing alongside. I immediately went forward to select an anchor to kedge them off with, while Roma nonchalantly strolled aft. “Don’t worry,” she said, to their utter amazement, “we do this all the time.”
Having me as a father hasn’t exactly been easy. A few years ago, she “brought home a friend” from college. We were in Australia, cruising the Great Barrier Reef at the time.
We met them at the Sydney airport, and Roma said, “Dad, this is my boyfriend, Paul.”
As I shook his hand firmly, I said, “And what kind of boat do you live on, Paul?”
“Well, gee Mr. Goodlander,” said he, “I don’t live on a boat.”
“You don’t? Then what kind of boat do you own?”
In obvious distress now, he muttered, “I don’t, um—I don’t own a boat.”
“Oh, God, Roma,” I yelled. “Not a damn landlubber!” (Paul cruised with us for a delightful month, and he is still fondly referred to as the “Anchor King.”
I’m happy to report that Roma has, over the years, evolved into a competent sailor. I was delighted a few years back when she told us she was teaching sailing for the summer at Green Cove Camp in North Carolina. I was also quite proud when she won her division in the 1994 Veuve Clicquot Caribbean Women’s Laser Championship sponsored by the St. Thomas Yacht Club—especially since the second-place finisher pressured her so hard on the final beat.
“Either way it goes,” I quipped on the observer boat as I watched, “I go home with a loser!”
“This is one time I don’t mind coming in second,” said my wife, Carolyn, as she willingly took her place to the right and slightly below, a beaming Roma.
But the thing for which I am proudest of Roma has nothing to do with sailing and everything to do with her. She is who she is, and she strikes out resolutely on her own self-charted course. I didn’t raise Roma to accomplish my dreams. That’s my job, and I work at it every day. No, I raised Roma to accomplish her goals, and I consider it my parental job to give her the tools to do so. I wanted to teach her how to think for herself, and of course I realized as I did so that this meant that someday she would think differently from the way I do.
At sixteen years of age, she came back to Wild Card (our S&S designed Hughes 38 anchored off St. John, USVI) and announced without preamble that she would be spending the following summer in Boston attending a film making course at Boston University—paid for entirely with money she’d earned herself.
“But I’m not ready to empty-nest yet,” Carolyn told me later that evening. “And isn’t she too young to be off on her own in a strange city?”
“She’ll be fine,” I said. “And don’t forget what we were doing at that age!”
Carolyn didn’t say anything—she just blushed prettily.
Four years later, while we were off cruising the Marquesas, Roma wrote to say she’d meet us in Tahiti for a month or two of leisurely Pacific cruising. The letter was posted from Uganda, where she was spending her Junior year abroad from Brandeis University. Roma is, and has been for a long time, living her own dreams, charting her own course, calling her own tactics.
Many people worry about raising a child aboard. They shouldn’t. Watching Roma grow up was the best, most fulfilling 18 years of our watery lives. Carolyn and I were able to see Mother Ocean afresh through her wondrous, inquisitive eyes. The world was our oyster, the boat our safe harbor, the family our universe. It was utter magic. She never limited and always enhanced our lives. And there were times when she was so utterly beautiful—sandy-blond hair blowing free on the foredeck as she swung out from the forestay and guided us through the reefs—that I had to turn away so she wouldn’t see the tears of joy in my eyes.
But, through it all, as marvelous and riveting as it was, I knew my job was to mold a human being, not a sailor. I have two great passions in life after my family: sailing and writing. The day Roma was born, I vowed never to measure her by either.
But while I didn’t raise her to be a sailor, I did want her to learn the hard lessons of the sea, just as a farmer’s child must learn the lessons of the farm. How to deal with random luck, both good and bad. How to read the weather, at many different, subtle levels. How to be vigilant, to work hard, and to listen carefully. And how to always, while hoping for the best, be prepared for the worst.
So next time you are in Boston and driving over the Charles River, look down. You’ll see a fleet of modest daysailers that belong to Boston Community Sailing. At the helm of one of those boats, tooling around for the pure joy of it, is a young professional woman named Roma Orion Goodlander. Although she no longer lives aboard, she still hates to waste a good breeze.
Of course not all our diehard cruising friends comprehend Roma’s new circumstances. Occasionally, we are asked with concern, “Is it true Roma turned into a dirt-dweller?” All we can do is shrug, smile, look chagrined, and admit the truth.
But after such an amazing childhood—growing up in Third World fishing ports and being continuously surrounded by Lush Tropical Vegetables, Colorful Caribbean Characters, and Far Worse; being raised aboard by two self-proclaimed sea gypsies in eternal damp search of a sunny place for shady people—after all this, the most astounding thing about Roma is that she turned out to be distressingly normal.
She currently works as a career counselor in the health-care industry, drives a Honda, putters in her suburban-Boston Brookline garden, plays rugby with her girlfriends on weekends, has an IRA, and keeps track of it all on her PDA.
Best of all, she still knows how to bring a smile to the faces of her parents. Her most recent email, which we received via single-sideband radio as we ghosted along Madagascar’s brooding western coast, read: “I’m flying into Durban to transit the Cape of Storms with you. Warn the boys at the Cape Town Yacht Club, and notify Nelson, too!”
Today with her husband Christian Rojas
This entire web page (except where noted) is copyrighted by Cap'n Fatty Goodlande