The Long Road to Oz

I made a dash for the garage as soon as the van pulled to a stop. Behind large wooden doors turned gray by the beating sun was a musty room that smelled of fish and sea salt and rust. Beach bikes hung from the ceiling; surfboards stood in a rack; there were fish gigs like Neptune’s scepters, nets, buckets, and rods. But all I cared about what was on the trailer.

The doors leading out the back of the garage were held in place by a timber resting in two metal brackets. Lifting this out and jumping back as the timber crashed to the concrete, I would throw open the doors and let in the North Carolina sunshine. Two weeks of summer vacation on Figure Eight Island. I grabbed the hitch of the small trailer and wrestled the sailboat back toward the sound. Most of my two weeks would be spent sailing in circles, pretending that I was sailing around the world.

At nine or ten years old, setting the mast of a little Sunfish sailing skiff was like raising a flag over Iwo Jima without any buddies to throw their back into it. Trial and error. It’s been a year since I remembered which lines went where. Invariably, I made a mistake or two. Fouled something up. Wondered if maybe my memories of sailing the year before were nothing but fantasy. Why had this seemed so easy once?

Pale skin had to burn again. Calluses had to remember where to go. By the end of the week, the rail was dipping in the water, the rudder thrumming, the keel groaning. I was all bare feet, freckles, and smiles. And an earlier fantasy of digging through the sand to reach Australia — the other side of the world — was replaced with more audacious dreams: sailing there.

Some years ago I visited Australia for the first time on book tour. I remember standing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, looking over at the Opera House, and imagining sailing there by boat one day. This was after ten years of working in the yachting industry, five years of living on my first boat, and several aborted attempts to get across the Pacific on various freelance jobs. At the time of my visit to Oz, I was neck-deep in a writing career I’ve always dreamed about. I was putting out two or three novels a years and a handful of short stories. More than half my time was spent on the road as I said “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. I was living one dream, but I never let go of the other. As fate would have it, one of my dreams would help make the other possible.

I write this from Bundaberg, Australia. Yesterday afternoon I completed a passage from New Caledonia. Greeting me were three humpbacks who breached a dozen paces from the boat as we sailed by. It marked the end of my Pacific crossing, nearly two years spent sailing the islands between here and Panama, easily the best months of my life. Milestones are great times for reflection, and I can’t help but think back on my time learning to sail on a little dinghy, dreaming of getting to the other side of the world, as far from where I was as possible.

I could fill a book with all I’ve learned thus far on this adventure. The biggest lesson would have to be one of perspective, a lesson on scale. The world is far smaller than I ever imagined. You can traverse the globe at a walking pace, and you’ll run into familiar faces thousands of miles from home. I’ve learned that we are far more alike than we are different, and that we seem to know this, which is why we seize on our small differences and attempt to amplify them for reasons both good and bad. I’ve learned a weird sort of humility that is tinged more with shame than pride. I remember a boastful humility from college days, where we bragged about how little we knew, the subtext being “see how much I know?” Now it’s just an embrace of ignorance. I’m wrong more often than I’m right. I’m getting cool with this.

Maybe the best thing I’ve learned is that the learning never stops. There are so many people to sit and have kava with, a glass of wine in the cockpit of a stranger’s boat, a house in Cuba to be waved into, another language to fumble over, someone else’s adventure which is so much more insane than anything I’d ever dreamed for myself. Every corner and over every horizon another dose of awe. The green flash of a setting sun or the blur of maybe an insight, but it’s too early to be sure.

Along the way, I’ve stopped sharing my thoughts and opinions as much. I got off Facebook last year, stopped logging onto Twitter this year, very rarely publish anything on my blog. I haven’t stopped writing those thoughts; I’ve just stopped hitting the “publish” button. There’s an irony here I’m still trying to understand, coming from a history of self-publication and hyper connection with readers. My best guess is that writers are like sponges, and I fear spending too much time wringing for that last drop and not enough time absorbing all the experiences that made me want to express something in the first place.

But now I’m in Oz with my boat, and it’s a great time to express my thanks to everyone who made this possible, who made both of my dreams possible. With every story we shared together, you made it possible for me to make a living as a writer, and then to attempt to sail around the world. I’m more than halfway there thanks to you. You may not hear from me every day, but know that I think about you every single day. I’m in awe of what you made possible. Thank you.

52 responses to “The Long Road to Oz”

  1. Good to hear from you.

  2. Thank you for your words. Knowing you are out there, sailing around on adventures is really cool.

    Did you get to the Tjibaou Cultural Center in Noumea? I visited once and the sculptures look like a post-apocalyptic landscape.

  3. Safe travels, HH. Keep living those dreams :-)

  4. Enjoy! Still looking forward to that paddle on the Hudson upon your return

  5. It’s been sad not hearing from you as often, so thanks for blogging. So glad to hear that you’re still happy and safe.

  6. Always great to hear from you Hugh, even if it isn’t as often as it used to be. Would you say you’re…Halfway Home?

  7. Thanks for checking in Hugh. I miss your post on Facebook but I’m thankful for these posts. Go Hugh Go!

  8. Good to hear from you. Was worried when it had been so long. Thank you for taking us along on your dreams. It is nice to know that someone got out.

  9. Thank you for sharing and taking us on the adventure. Miss you!

  10. Great to hear from you again, Hugh. I was just thinking about how much I enjoyed reading your Facebook posts, but also how much I appreciate your decision to set that aside for now. Good on you!

    Keep enjoying life and please keep on writing!

  11. Glad to see a new post, Hugh! I followed you on Twitter until your tweets stopped suddenly last month. I was worried something had happened on your grand sailing adventure. I’m happy to hear you’re just taking time to enjoy the trip. Good for you!

  12. Thanks for the update, Hugh. So many of your passages above echo the ones I have as well. I’ve grown weary of kboards, Facebook, Twitter etc. As well. Too many taking heads with little new to share. It’s refreshing to write my own stories down without worrying if I’ll ever ‘make it’. The odds are against it. But the journey is worth all of it and more. You remind us of what we can also do. And I thank you for entertaining us all so well. You earned and deserve to be where you are.

  13. Always good to hear from you and happy you’re enjoying the journey. Safe travels!

  14. Thank you for this most interesting blog post. It confirms my belief that life can be transformed, if a person is able to conceive of changes. I’m not saying I will be able to emulate you, but it is very heartening to see this conviction and determination. Please keep the intermittent posts coming, and I send you my very best wishes for the second half of your world quest.

  15. Welcome to Australia :) Hope you enjoy your time here.

    I’ve missed reading about your adventures!

  16. Glad to see you are alive, well and Hppy, Hugh. Still miss your thoughts and opinions on FB because of the insights that went hand in hand with them. You have always given me plenty of food for thought. I wish you well as always and I do hope you will continue to blog. At least to let us know where you are, what new adventures you’ve had and which corner of the world you are bound for next. You still have another ocean to cross after all. ;-) And of course what you are writing next and the status of the movie and TV prospects. Take care.

  17. Bundy! My hometown ???? Make sure you check out the rum distillery and the Bargara Brewhouse. The view from the Hummock at dusk is also a must-see. And of you’re thinking of visiting Rainbow Beach while you’re here (a couple of hours south of Bundy), hit me up. My wife’s a Park Ranger and we’d be happy to have you and give you a tour and get you down onto the beach for a kayak and surf.

  18. For the record, I’m glad you don’t post all the time on your blog. Your emails are the only ones I always read all the way through. Your journey is an inspirational, and I can wait to see what new stories come from your adventures. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  19. Fear not mate. Absence makes the reader grow fonder. Sail on!

  20. You’re welcome!

  21. Great to hear from you Hugh. I reread wayfinding recently and I love the scene by you and that sailboat.

    Thanks again for everything. Looking forward to hearing more of your adventures.

    Did you even get an updating map of wayfinders position? Make any progress on the writing app?

    Also… Put me in touch with the beacon 23 or sand showrunner. I’d love to bid on the vfx work.

  22. Well said sir, well said indeed.

  23. Patrice Fitzgerald Avatar
    Patrice Fitzgerald

    Very cool. We know you’re out there, being humble and all. But keep in mind that you have some very interesting thoughts, and the world could use them. So please don’t stop sharing when the mood strikes you.

    Fair winds, Hugh!

  24. Thank you, not just for the update but more importantly the humble awareness of perspective and reach.

  25. I’ve missed your posts, glad to hear from you again. Read any good books lately that you’d like to share with us ? Hope to read you again soon. my book reading days are waning, my eyes are going .Old age ain’t golden after all. Enjoy your youth, it’s the best thing going.

  26. Nice sailing, Mr. Howey! You’re no longer in Kansas! So very happy for you!

  27. Connie M Fogg-Bouchard Avatar
    Connie M Fogg-Bouchard

    the travels you’ve taken us on, the things you’ve shown us, the dreams you’ve let ME live…. i’m unabashedly tearful when i remember the sights you showed us. you took me where i wanted to go; where i will never go, and i thank you for every second.

    in what i do, the world is also very small. and we do speak the same language even when we don’t. and i wish that those who be could understand that we don’t need the fuss. we just need to go sailing

  28. It’s good to hear from you! If anything, it’s good to know you’re alive and well. Lol. Sounds like the adventures continue and you’re enjoying life. That’s all we can really ask for. :)

  29. Missed hearing from you. It’s been rough.

  30. Hello old friend.

    Good to know you’re always out there somewhere. I think it is beneficial to stray a bit from fb and Twitter. I have done the same.

    You see, even as a conservative, we can always find common ground. However, these devices can’t show what we would ordignarily hear or feel. I got very pissed at some of your writings. Why should I? That was just dumb of me. So what if you are passionate for something totally opposite of me. No nastiness, just peace and insight.

    Stay well,
    Kyle Herndon
    Cleveland, Ohio

  31. It’s so cool to read about your adventures of travel as well as your books. Thanks for sharing it all.

  32. I miss hearing your thoughts and seeing your boundless enthusiasm. But despite your withdrawal from social media, I know your energy is still out there in the world, making good. Take care of you. <3

  33. I do miss seeing your posts. Following you on FB was so fun. Your readers got to live your dream. ;) I am happy for you and your success, but primarily happy that you have reached your dream of sailing around the world and writing when and what you want. That must feel so good. Be safe, and continue to live your dream. Looking forward to reading your next book whenever there is one. Live the dream! Sail on!

  34. Good on you man. I feel the same way about social media. This is the year where we upgrade and change our thought patterns. I feel the instinct to be quiet is not one that comes from not wanting to share but from understanding that we’re currently upgrading our firmware on a slow connection and it takes time for all the information to load and reprogram our head. Learning makes us remember what we don’t know.

    Keep going and thank you for inspiring!
    Hope you pass by Costa Rica!

  35. Margaret Watson Hopkins Avatar
    Margaret Watson Hopkins

    Good for you. Keep living your dream and publish when you want.

  36. I have not always agreed with every opinion you expressed, but I can say that I respect how well thought out they’ve been. Your ability to inspire indie writers like myself is something I will always appreciate. Thanks so much for your insights and sharing your travels over the years and I hope to read a blog from you from time to time in the future.

    Carpe Diem my friend!

  37. So happy you’re alive. I’ve missed you, Hugh.

  38. I’m so very grateful you’ve shared your travels, and so very much of yourself. I hope your time of absorption and reflection is a good one. I can’t deny I miss your FB page, but I’m happier indeed to hear you continue building a life that means something to you. That seems to be what it’s really all about.

  39. Send nudes.

  40. You can pay it back with the next story Hugh. I love your adventure blog though, so keep that going when you have time. You’re an inspiration for us who currently live in boxes. Safe travels.

  41. Thank you Hugh. You gave me hope in my writing. That all of it was possible after I met you on your book tour. Since then, I’ve published my first book, and already more than half way through the second while making plans for a third book – a memoir trilogy. Why? Because it’s so unheard of and different. After hearing your story and you saying, “Why not?” It will always stick with me. I’m planning 2019 already and hopping genres into women’s fiction because I can’t wait to make up stories. I do miss you on FB and Twitter, but I know you’re there ~

  42. Hush…Can you hear the mariner and his Wayfinder navigating the crests and troughs of his Muse with a pure trust? He knows she’s safely bringing him back home to himself. ???? ✒

  43. Hugh. I live in Bundaberg and can’t believe I missed meeting you in person. Oh man.

  44. Hugh, so moved reading this… so happy for you & your exploration, both internally & outward ! … & I missed living vicariously thru you / with you on your sojourn. Travel safe & I love it when you do decide to share!
    We’re with you…

  45. Welcome back :)

  46. Congratulations on all points!

  47. Hugh, your absence is making you a target for impersonators online.

  48. I could just write “ditto” to the comments above. It’s great to hear from you! You are such an inspiration in so many ways!! I was just about to open up Wool to read again (for the fifth or sixth time – I’ve lost count) and decided to check your website to see if you had any updates:-). One day, I hope to meet you in person… my dream is to have you come to Dragon Con in Atlanta next Labor Day weekend!

    Keep living the dream!!!

  49. Happy to hear from you again! I was starting to get worried from the extended silence on your Twitter.

  50. Stay safe; rock on :)

  51. I have to be honest, I met you through one of those false profiles of yours that circulate through the networks, after discovering the farce I began to follow your adventures and bought your books.

  52. You are realizing a dream, that of many, my own … I and my husband had it, the dream and the ship, He died, what Dreams too, that’s why I follow every line you write … Thanks!

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