Remembering Roland

. . . and speaking of bookends. . . our last blog ended with us showing up in South Freeport for our community dance, which was where we started back in June . . .

. . . and it is also, sadly, the day my beloved uncle Roland Barth died. You can read his obituary here:

Roland S. Barth Obituary

A week later, his extended family and many friends participated in a beautiful memorial at the Head Tide Church in Alna, Maine, the town where he and many of my relatives have lived for decades.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge my Uncle Roland by sharing this memory of him, which I spoke at his memorial. Not only was he a lifelong sailor and author of two wonderful books on sailing—along with numerous books on education—he was a great mentor and support to me in my journey on the sea.

* * *

Eight years ago, September, Roland and I sailed Mare’s Tale from Camden to Round Pond. He had just had an episode of transient global amnesia cruising Penobscot Bay with Barbara, and he needed someone to help sail the boat back with him, since he vowed never to sail alone again. I was happy to accompany him on such a long trip as I was actively looking to buy a cruising sailboat of my own. Among the boats I was considering was a Contessa 26, so it was a great opportunity for me to try out the boat. What I didn’t anticipate was Roland broaching the subject of possibly co-owning his boat given his new condition.

We had a delightful sail as we played with the possibilities of co-ownership. As we approached the bar between Hog and Louds at just past half high tide, he asked, “Now what would you have done if the tide had been just before half high?” Being a prudent sailor, I said, “I would have waited until half tide or better.” Right answer! I had passed the test. So now I had to look inside myself to see if what I really wanted was to co-own a 26’ sailboat with my uncle. While I was honored and seriously considered it, in the end, I decided that was exactly what I didn’t want: to co-own a boat with a father-like figure. Instead, I wanted to experience it for myself, which is after all what “learning by heart” is all about. It was very clarifying, and he understood completely. So I took a leap off a cliff and bought a Sabre 28, a boat of my own. And through it all, Roland has been one of my biggest supporters, first as I became Captain of My Own Ship and now, as I craft my own Cruising Rules for my current relationship at sea, living aboard with my partner Will.

In reviewing old emails, I was astonished to find so many from my dear Uncle Roland over the course of owning Maverick solo and now NIRVANA with Will. When I signed the contract on my new boat, he wrote, “Way to go, Tasha! A great vessel at a great price.” Both of our boats now in Round Pond, we bailed each other’s dinghies, and I checked Mare’s Tail’s waterline given a slow leak. After recommending the documentary Maidentrip about a 14-year-old girl sailing solo around the world, he wrote, “You next for around the globe on Maverick?” When I thought I lost my dinghy because I was distracted by a man, he wrote, “Moral of the story: never turn over command of your dinghy…or your life…to some guy!” And after wavering whether to launch one year because it felt too daunting to do it alone and then changing the oil in the engine for the first time, he wrote, “Great to see your hands in the oil, Tasha. So pleased that this little vessel has become such an important part of your life…and to have played a very minor role in that.” More than playing a minor role, he’s been an inspiration.

In 2018, we went on our first Uncle-Niece cruise in Casco Bay, and just after he sold Mare’s Tail in 2019, we went on our second. From his gushing email of gratitude, he wrote, “Thanks for arresting my grieving at not being able to sail my own boat…and providing the leadership and modeling of what a good captain should be.” You have no idea how much that email meant to me, coming from him.

Happy Roland at the Helm, 2019

Having since sold my Sabre and bought a Freedom 36 with Will, we had the honor and great good fortune to have taken Roland on his last sail of Muscongus Bay with Joanna. On that occasion, he passed along his personal copy of Cruising Rules that he carried with him on Mare’s Tale for 25 years, with this inscription, “To captains Tasha and Will, with gratitude for our little cruise, Harbor Island, Monhegan, and the George’s Islands, and in anticipation of new cruising you two will craft together.” There was a moment at the helm when Joanna asked, “On a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in Dad?” His response: “I’ve got my hands on the wheel and I’m sailing. My pain is a zero.” If I were to turn that into a cruising rule it would be: When in any kind of pain, get out on the water and go sailing!

As I’ve made the transition from life on land to life on the sea, I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive and loving uncle on my shoulder along the way. So I’ve created a cruising rule in honor of Roland, which I shared with him several years ago. For all the sailors out there, perhaps you’re familiar with the misogynist acronym for finding your compass course given true, variation, and deviation: True Virgins Make Dull Company, Add Whisky, Subtract Ethics. Instead, I offer this one for finding your course through life, relationships—on land and sea—and all the chartered and uncharted waters we inevitably encounter along the way:

True Value Manifests Deep Connection, Add Wisdom, Subtract Ego

That’s my uncle Roland.

Sept 18, 2021

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