I’ve heard it said that living on a boat with your partner can make you or break you. In late 2009 when Lara and I decided to head off sailing into the Pacific, bound for New Zealand, it seemed we were destined to find out for ourselves. Arriving in New Zealand after more than twelve and a half thousand miles traveled, mostly by sailboat, I can honestly say that it made us!
On the surface, yachting seems like the idyllic life, and don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing, but working as crew on someone else’s yacht, living with complete strangers in very confined shared spaces, let alone with someone you love, all while enduring varying degrees of sea sickness, and constantly adapting to mother nature, is not without its challenges. If the rewards for traveling this way weren’t so amazing, no one would do it I’m sure. The physical and mental strain in that environment at times defies description, but that too is part of the draw. I think it’s the experiences in life that a couple lives and works through together that create the indelible bonds that can last a lifetime. During the nine months Lara and I spent wandering around the Pacific on our way to New Zealand we laughed, we cried, we were inspired and disappointed, we missed friends and family, we met new friends, and we did it all side by side. If ever there were doubts that Lara was my soulmate, they were no more.
On a solo three-week trip back to Florida in November 2010, I met with a jeweler in my hometown of Jacksonville Beach and described the perfect engagement ring. A bit 1920s, with a modern twist, and a princess cut diamond, it was no ordinary engagement ring. With not much time, the jeweler pulled off a near miracle and was able to produce the ring in time for me to take it back to New Zealand and Lara. What I didn’t know at the time is that it would be almost a year before I’d give it to her. Wanting to have the perfect moment to “pop the question,” as well as a romantic setting involving yachts and the ocean, I waited, and waited, and waited, aaaaaanndd waited. Nearly a year went by before the perfect, well almost perfect, moment finally arrived on October 1st, 2011 at near sunset while onboard Mike Ball Expeditions’ live-aboard dive boat, “Spoilsport,” somewhere over Osprey Reef, in Queensland, Australia.
Going back a couple months… After much debate over where our next vacation would be, Fiji, Bali, Australia? For reasons Lara didn’t yet know, I was pushing hard for a tropical destination that involved boats and the ocean in the hopes of creating that perfect moment that would bring together our love of the sea and of each other permanently. We finally settled on a live aboard dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Perfect, let the planning begin!
Perfect moments don’t just materialize; they need a bit of a nudge to pop up at just the right time, so I quietly contacted the dive operator to make some special arrangements, photos of the moment (these are very important to Lara), champagne (let’s hope she says “yes”), and the like. With the planning completed, leaving day finally arrives and at about the moment of touch down in Australia I realize that there is one small detail I may have overlooked! Not the ring, I have that with me at all times, but getting the ring through Australian customs without Lara finding out I’m carrying it. After racking my brain, I realize I’m not a smuggler, and the best I can do, like any guilty looking tourist, is to chuck it in my carry-on and hope that if the agent on the other side chooses to search my bag, he’ll have some discretion and not ruin my surprise. Turns out I was sweating for no reason and customs was a breeze. We spent the rest of the day wandering around Cairns, taking a cable car ride, cuddling koalas, cooling out with kangaroos, and topped it off with a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
The next morning we board the dive boat and head out across the Great Barrier Reef. After a couple days and nights of diving and making our way far offshore to Osprey Reef, the day has finally arrived.
I let the crew of Spoilsport know that today at sunset on the top deck of the boat would be the time and place. I prompted our quirky onboard photographer to please be on stand-by and to take notice when I take Lara to a quiet corner at sunset. Now it turns out that after several days of diving, you make some friends, time seems to matter less, but like it or not sunset comes and goes with or without you. As sunset was my plan, much to Lara’s dismay, I pushed her to hurry and clean up after our last dive and get out of our cabin and up to the top deck for some relaxing. I know, hurrying and relaxing don’t quite mix, but like I said, sunset doesn’t wait, and I’m starting to sweat. We arrive at the top deck and all the right people are hanging around just as planned and there is even a crew member sitting around playing the guitar: “Summertime” by Billie Holiday. Score! I hadn’t figured on a solo serenade. About this time Lara decides to drop into conversation with one of our new friends and things start to go a bit sideways as I make an abrupt and somewhat awkward move to interrupt and take Lara off to a corner for sunset. Sunset won’t wait and this is no time for diversions. After a bit of a fuss we make our way to the spot, and I make some comment about the sunset and what a great couple of years it’s been, at which point Lara puts together my awkwardness, the timing, the moment, and straight up calls me out! Hey that’s my girl and that’s why I love her. So after another little fuss, this time by me, I drop to one knee and ask Lara to spend the rest of her life with me. After a bit of an initial shock at the ring, she says “YES!”
Unfortunately, the boat’s quirky camera man that I lined up ended up missing the moment for some unknown reason, but another crew member quickly swooped in to grab our camera and capture the afterglow. Yet another crew member then showed up with the bottle of Veuve Cliquot I had requested to celebrate the moment, and all was right with the world. We spent the rest of the evening polishing of the champagne, staring at the ring on Lara’s finger, smiling, laughing, and the rest, as they say, is history…