After one sail with Wayne Brandow, I assumed I’d be sailing with him every Wednesday for years. He was an excellent teacher – patient, kind. I probably raced with him 3-4 times after the initial sail I wrote about here.
In mid-June four of us piled into a friend’s car and Wayne drove our crew up to the Channel Islands Yacht Club. On the drive I tried to pry Wayne for information about himself. He’d been a lawyer. He’d represented at least one person on death row. He owned an apartment building in Venice, close to the beach and he gave me the hard sell on one of his bachelor units. From what I gathered, he’d never married and had no children. I couldn’t guess his age. He might have been a wizened 65- or a spry 83-year-old.
When we got to Oxnard, Wayne bought a round of drinks, though he stuck with cranberry juice and soda. He hopped up to get free popcorn and peanuts when supplies dwindled. He seemed to know everyone in the room and he went from table to table exchanging greetings.
I had no idea he was a dying man.
The next day we “raced.” There was barely more than five knots of wind in a 24-hour period. It’s the kind of day that drives me batty; it’s more like drifting than sailing. Whenever Wayne was at the helm, it had a calming effect on me. He was one of those people who could be in control of a boat without having to demonstrate control. I felt most useful when I was lying on deck, flying the spinnaker, but when we finally decided to give up and drive in, I took the helm for a while and Wayne gave me some pointers on headings and direction at sea.
On the July fourth weekend we were scheduled to sail together on another long-distance race from Marina del Rey to San Diego. As we motored out of the harbor toward the race start, the engine started having problems. There was smoke. Then water inside the boat. After some debate, we headed back to the dock.
I wouldn’t have backed out, but I had been wishing I could. I had a ton of writing work to do. And although I was sad that the boat needed repair, I was not sorry to be heading home.
In a desperate attempt to get back in the race, Wayne suggested taking his boat. As I wrote in the post referenced above, Wayne’s boat was designed for speed, for racing. You’d have to be pretty hard core to want to be in that thing for 18+ hours at sea. There were no berths. No head (aka., toilet). No galley. No place to prep food. I don’t know if he had a camp stove on board or not. The cockpit was tight and with a crew of five, we either would have been packed in like sardines or one or two of us would have always been on deck. I hated to be the party pooper, but that was not the trip I’d signed up for. As politely as I could, I declined.
As the five of us packed up to leave the marina, defeated, Wayne made one last attempt to get us out on a day sail. I almost did, for his sake. But I’d been up late the night before and I could a nap and the work calling.
I wish I had known I’d never sail with him again.
On Monday night I walked out in front of a bus. An Irish woman with whom I’d been in deep conversation, a woman named Olivia that I barely knew, reached out and pulled me back just as it careened around the corner. It’s the second such incident that’s happened to me in the last few months. In July I was in a small car accident, but just before the car twirled into the ditch, it swerved into the opposite lane. For a second, all I could think of was avoiding the white minivan that was driving toward me. If I’d come around that curve two seconds later… If the car hadn’t done a 180 into the ditch… If Olivia hadn’t grabbed my sleeve…
It seems to me that we are almost dying all of the time.
How ironic that I chose to call Wayne “Captain Hope” in my post. That was only three months ago! He must have already known that he had lung cancer.
When I returned from Michigan this summer and learned that Wayne was no longer sailing, that a procedure he underwent had not had a positive outcome, I asked the woman we sailed with if I could see him, cook for him, provide him with some company. That’s when I learned he had lung cancer; but she said he didn’t want anyone to know. I wrote an email to him myself, just nine days before he died, saying I knew he didn’t want visitors, but asking if I could come.
There are few things I’m afraid of in life. I’m not really afraid to die. I’ve led an amazingly full life so far. But I’m afraid of dying alone. I mean, I know we ultimately do – it’s not like I want to take someone with me. But there are times in my life when I’ve been too proud to ask for help. A lot of times, actually. So I can imagine what Wayne was thinking. He didn’t want to impose. He didn’t want anyone to have to share his pain, or see it. But as someone who plans to go on living for a while, it’s a small thing, really, to share someone else’s pain. To sail with them one last time. To offer some comfort.
When my grandmother died, my mom and I were sitting beside her, patting her head and holding her hand. I’ll never forget it. I’ll always be glad we were there. I can only hope that someone will be there to hold my hand – regardless of how stubborn, stalwart or proud dying may make me.