Miss Billie Proffitt
"I KNOW IT ALL COMES DOWN, TO LOVE OR MONEY" (OR SAILING)
“So what was Hobart like?” he asked me once we settled into our balance on the trapezes, headed straight out to Mother Pacific in the exact opposite direction of the above mentioned sail.
“It changed who I am,” I replied, and then it was quiet, other than the wind.
I couldn’t help but to put myself back into my Sydney persona, a part of me that was rapidly disappearing & slowly breaking my heart as it did. I had explained it as an amputation - my phantom limb that shot pains into my everyday life each time I had to reexplain myself, the goal I was trying to accomplish, the communication I was trying to convey, or in fact, when my jokes would walk right by their audience, incognito. But mostly…
Mostly, it’s hurt peaked when I thought about the people & things that I was missing over there. No matter how logical we are about why we leave something behind, it is still such a sucker punch to the stomach when we are reminded how easily life dances on without us.
The first time I visited the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia was Christmas Eve, 2010 with my then boyfriend & his parents. My love for him is what had brought me to move nearly 8,000 miles from my loved ones, career confusion, familiar streets & LA lifestyle. I was not entirely convinced that in my first visit I would decide that this was what the rest of my life would look like, so we agreed on a 4 month test run, by far the longest period of time we had ever spent living together at that point. Little did I know that with the tumultuous years to follow, this tried and true uber American would become more a part of the Australian culture than a fair few Aussies themselves.
Little also, did I perceive, how much a man could change before my very eyes as the toxic relationship with his mother became the compass for which our shared life was steered around. Or how close I could become to his father, a man who reminded me of my own father, who was - yet again - far away from my everyday life. If only he’d take his power back to embrace the openminded sway and strength of my dad’s approaches, I would have given him my loyalty forever...
Try conveying all these anecdotes to the man positioned directly behind me - my old boss - as he simultaneously steers his 18' cat and trims the main sheet whilst balanced entirely on the arches of his feet. I mean, did I need to go past listing the fact that he’s a man? Kidding. (Well, half kidding anyway.)
Scott's dad was a race car driver before he got married, even broke at least one Australian record I know of at Bathurst, as I read in a newspaper clipping at Scott’s Nana’s house once. With his best friend’s involvement and love of yacht racing, there is no doubt in my mind that the one or two times he mentioned wanting to race sailing boats himself, did not pay justice the extent of his desires on the subject. And so, he would walk me down the docks of Rushcutters Bay, telling me about each boat, it’s owner, how it was set to do in the big race based on previous scores...His wife always in a disapproving hurry & Scotty completely unimpressed. He looked at them with such respect and care, had I been more aware at 24, I would have felt his forlorn, or at least the restraint in which it pounded against. But alas, what is youth for, than to walk through life overlooking such details with a sense of self-centered adventure?
As (mostly) only children, we had agreed to split Christmases, alternating between California and Australia every year, assuming that the families would marry soon enough anyway. But as December of 2012 approached, long after signing our DeFacto Marriage papers, the idea of marriage couldn’t have been further from either of our minds. Ironically, had I made more of a nagging fuss about it, the odds are stacked much in the favor of my life being entirely different now - I’m not convinced better, but the world does not exist in only black and white.
It felt as if every person, place or thing I stated that I wanted for my life, was the exact opposite of Scott’s mother’s desires for me, for her son, for her yet-conceived grandchildren, but mainly, for her. My body had begun to shut down, by this stage I couldn’t eat wheat, dairy, sugar, caffeine or alcohol, the bloody blisters on my face had finally (after months) healed, my forced attendance of two different couples counselors seemed entirely in vain, but with my parents arriving in Sydney, at least it stopped the nightly tears come Christmas.
His mother's unwavering and ignorant ego, coupled with her relentless passive-aggresivity was like nothing I had ever encountered before. I hadn’t the vaguest clue what to do with the situation that had become my life, so what happened next came as a great surprise. Scott’s dad had organized for all of us to be on a boat in the Harbour for the start of the 68th Annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. He had inquired with me earlier if I would like him to, & I agreed, “But please don’t go too far out of your way, Robert, as I don’t want it to become a burden for you. We fly to Tasmania the morning of the 27th anyway,” I said into the phone. Scott shot me a look, he nodded, pushing me to force the subject.
When I hung up, Scott implied he wanted me to keep his father busy with any, and everything I could, “I get more work done when he’s occupied.” And I agreed, but it had nothing to do with The Rolex Race.
Boxing Day morning Scotty was up early and organized a swanky picnic for us from the David Jones’ Food Hall. We stood atop the 3rd story deck, chatting in the sunshine & as the last canon fired, something washed over me like a bucket of cool, cleansing water - both shockingly unpleasant and inspiringly overwhelming at the same time. 77 massive monohulls reared up on one side and flew past me, & in the white wash aftermath, my gaping mouth & wide eyes turned to face my parents.
“No,” my Mom said, as my Dad silently shook his head. “No, you don’t.”
“I do. Yes, I do, Mommy! I have to do this,” & Dad rolled his eyes.
I was sold. I may have lacked direction in every part of my life, but watching this lifestyle whiz by me was like a crush on the most popular senior on your first day of high school. The butterflies were a welcome distraction from the constant struggle against my inherited Brisbane umbilical cord.
We landed in Hobart the next afternoon, a complete coincidence, or perhaps just the divine matrix's language? Visiting Tassie was the only request my beloved Daddy had made for what we were all aware, could be the Proffitt’s last visit to Australia if Scott and I couldn’t meet in the middle. Ahem. That is, if Scott’s mother refused to relinquish subliminal control over my days, my choices and my womb. The irony to me has always been that had she just let go a little - I would have given her the best of what she desired & more... If only she had let it be my choice to make.
Because of our complete oblivion to the sailing event, there was not a single hotel room available by the time I sat down to organize one. Booked out for months, we managed two (very expensive) rooms facing Constitution Dock for our first night at Lenna of Hobart - an elderly and magnificent hotel between Battery Point and Salamanca Place. Due to the same situation with rental cars, I timed our travel by a bus route that would take us to the Midlands for our second night in the infamous Man O’ Ross Hotel, (a pub style hotel built in 1835 with shared bathroom amenities) followed by the third night in Lauderdale - & this ain’t Florida, folks.
It wasn’t an ideal vacation, but the excitement around the city was palpable! Electric for the maxis’ arrivals, we set our alarms for 5 AM, 30 minutes prior to Wild Oats XI’s expected crossing of the legendary finish line in the River Derwent. No alarm necessary though, as the commentators were already on the loudspeakers blaring into our hotel windows. In 30 minute increments I would wake, look into the marina, find no mast and go back to sleep again, until we rose to meet the giants in person. It was a makeshift trip based on mishaps, but overall, absolutely magical.
Back in Sydney, the morning of my parents’ flight home, I engineered my normal anti-jetlag routine of up at 4:30 AM & headed East to the beaches, but this time had a breakfast conversation that I will never forget. Looking into my parents’ eyes through my own tears, I effectively drew a line in the unseen sand of my destiny. The conclusion, strange as it may have looked from an outsider’s perspective, was that my life could not go on anymore in this fashion, because my soul was dying in it.
“He thought he could convince you with the money,” my dad said. I’m sure it hurt him to say it, knowing that it hurt me to hear it… Knowing that the newfound wealth was on everyone’s mind who was peering in. “I’ve only asked one thing of my children, Billie,” he continued, “& that is to be happy in this life. You are the only one who can answer that question, but this isn't what my favorite daughter looks like when she’s happy.”
Within a month, Scott’s laissez-faire attitude toward meeting my needs fell short again & I ended life as we knew it. Not because I wasn’t in love with him, but because, as Samantha told Smith Jarrod, “I love me more.” There wasn’t much of a “we” left anyway, I came to see as time passed… I have known nothing more painful in my life, than making the choice to walk away from someone I love, whatever the situation may be. And I had no idea what I was going to do next.
As I stood, I despised Australia. So far as I was concerned, had Scott stayed living the safe distance of 10 or so odd thousand miles away from Brisbane, then we would be living the cohesive life we had agreed upon before I ever stepped onto the Ancestors' soil. My life raft came in the form of my painfully astute gut instinct, which remained stubborn in the knowledge that I would truly adore this place, if I could just find myself in it. I was convinced that I was glitter in god’s hand, subject to god’s breath, so I decided to trust and go wherever that wind would take me.
My declaration became that I would attempt to morph into a crew member racing in the world-famous Sydney to Hobart. If I had a chance at it, then I would stay, & if I couldn’t manage making that a possibility, then it was just another square Australian peg that wasn’t fitting with my round, Californian hole of a life.
I told Scotty of my plan. That as repayment for lying to me, bringing me across the sea and then betraying his promises, he would fit the bill for me to do this. “You owe me,” I told him. And he didn’t flinch as he agreed. I don’t know if he felt guilty for the way he’d treated me, or if he just thought there wasn’t a chance in hell that I would actually be good enough to compete in “the sailing world’s Everest”. Either way, he stood behind this promise, & I will be immensely grateful in eternity for it.
“This gives you a year, Scott,” I told him, hanging on to my view of my life’s bigger picture, trying to convince him to do the same. “Go out in the world and fuck who you want to, do whatever drugs you need to, and don’t answer to anybody for a while... Please. Do whatever you need to, to prove to yourself that you are your own man.”
It’s so painful to watch someone struggle with an invisible enemy, where, no matter how hard you try, there is no saving them, because they have to save themselves.
“Please, go out in the world and look for a girl who is better than me. Find a woman who can travel to the ends of the earth with you looking for uranium and then have dinner reservations already booked for when you reenter civilization. Find a woman who can charm your Dad’s seventy-year-old friends before redoing your apartment, staying out all night with your mates, reminding you of your pilot’s lesson in the morning & end the day by fucking your brains out. Find a woman who can do all that, because I can. And if you do, I will happily bow down to her. If a year from now, we can see clearly & still don’t want to be together, then que sera. That is our answer. But if we’re still this heartbroken, then let’s give that go too. We’ll be different people then, or ideally, more realistic versions of who we are now."
It is truly amazing what the world brings you when you stop trying to steer it’s path with your sightless, scared mind…
Through an introduction of a neighbor, all of a sudden I found myself standing on an uneven deck at the Wednesday start line of a CYCA twilight race near Sydney Harbour’s Clark Island. In my first yacht race of any kind, we were part of a four boat collision. Speed bump in my journey or Wrong Way sign? Those can be so hard to decipher when using one’s logical intellect. Luckily, my saintly gut again took control propelling me deeper into my journey, & speed bump it was, as (knock on wood,) with the thousands of sea miles I have now sailed, I have only been in 1 small collision since. (Yes, again at the start of a CY twilight race, but on a bigger boat.)
At this point you must be wondering if I have a background in sailing - my family, my childhood, anything? No. None. My parents’ business would periodically land us on boats, but “tack” to me was nothing more than an adjective for changing one's argument. But ooooooh, was I about to find out! I wasn’t only learning a new sport in a foreign country, I was also learning a new language in a foreign culture. In 10 short months I resurfaced my lifestyle and made sailing my number 1 priority. Had I not, I don’t believe I would have reached the other side of my very public, and very pass or fail intention.
Would I be wind-burnt & dehydrated, clinking glasses with my new social circle at Customs House come New Years’ Eve… Or would I not?
My parents stood together with Scotty & his, as they all waved me off the dock the morning of Boxing Day, 2013... My only regret being that he was not waiting for me 4 days later on the other end. Did he follow my crew on Yacht Tracker? Did he ignore the event entirely after our goodbye that day? Did he worry about me? Most likely, I will never get those answers, but I am happy just knowing myself all the better.
“You asked me what Hobart was like. Did you want the facts?” I inquired as he drove me back to my car. “That on Day 1, 94 racing monohulls left Sydney Harbour turning right around South Head for 600 plus nautical miles of racing in champagne sailing weather. That we flew across Bass Straight in a day at over twenty knots, surfing the rollers on the Sydney 46 named Mahligai, sail number NZ-1. That on Day 2 we smashed into a wall of storm, Southerly winds gusting at over 40 knots that we fought against for the next 3 days in 5 to 6 meter swells, all the way down the east coast of Tasmania. That our bowman, a skilled sailor whom they flew in from New York, made the passing comment to me that if we’d had a carbon rig, 'we’d have lost it by now.' That as we took on more and more water our bilge pump broke and amongst bailing it with cut-off water bottles I nearly flew off the stern in a wave, but instead swallowed my own vomit… That by the time we pulled up to Constitution Dock we had our group of loved ones waiting with a sign, a handful of cases of beer, and many, many hugs. That in time, with the calculated handicap, we placed 5th in our division.
Those things are all true of what Hobart was like, but it doesn’t do it justice for me. The emotional intelligence I gained from that experience will serve me for a lifetime, across all facets of my life. It made me a better person. Listing the wind direction and number of tacks can’t ever emulate a soul’s journey through them.”
“No, I think your first answer was perfect,” he said. And he was right.