STRONG WOMAN ON A JOURNEY - FEBRUARY 2020
I'm going to make a broad statement here; you can agree or not. If you're over 50, you have a strange obsession with Gilligan's Island, three hour cruises, and coconuts. It's because for at least 30 minutes each day after school we were glued to the one color tv in our house and we could follow the adventures of 7 people who got thrown together with little hope of ever being rescued off a tropical island. It was sort of our generation’s "Survivor." If you're under 50 you should just "Google" it.
I'd be surprised if this month's "Strong Woman on a Journey" has ever seen an episode. Here's why. Pat Stoeken grew up living a similar adventure, not watching it on tv. At 16, she was attending boarding school in Vancouver, Canada when she received a telegram from her parents. Her Dad was completing a long-term work assignment in Vietnam. At the end of it, her Mom had joined him and they had bought a boat in Hong Kong. They gave young Pat, an only child, the option of completing her studies or joining them as they sailed away. She chose the latter. This began a life-long love affair with sailing that has now led her to St. Thomas, USVI and to the Independence, the 44-foot' yacht she has been captain of for over 20 years.
We first sailed with Pat 10 years ago when friends recommended we join her on one of her day sails out of Red Hook Bay. It was such an amazing day with good food, good friends, good wind and a little good snorkeling thrown in for good measure. Like most experiences like this, there is always a desire to repeat it. Such was the case for us recently.
I'm just going to confess, ten years has taken its toll on me. I've worked hard to stay fit, lose a little weight and maintain my chemically dependent golden locks. And still, a side by side comparison of vacation photos will clearly mark the difference in the timeline. It's ok. That's life. Pat however, seemed to have been living in a time warp. Freckled legs poking out from under board shorts, long sleeved T-shirt, floppy hat and really cool sunglasses that fastened on the bridge of her nose are almost the same attire you’d see a millennial surfer wearing. Time apparently stands still for some people. Her first mate Ray had now been replaced by John and I wondered how many young people had been mentored by this woman sailor.
As someone who grew up in land locked Tennessee, the idea of living life on a 44-foot boat in the Caribbean your entire life is just plain fascinating. Here's a few more details about said life. Pat's been married to the same man who made her captain of her first vessel for 50 years. She has two children. Perhaps the most interesting part of her story is that they sailed into Red Hook Bay every morning and dropped them off at school and picked them up in the afternoon to sail back to their watery address in the ocean each evening. Isn't that crazy? This routine was disrupted when the kids were 5 and 7 when Pat says they went on a “trip" to the Pacific Ocean. For three years they sailed around Hawaii, TahitI and who knows how many other islands I've probably never even heard of. They almost sold the Independence at the end but Pat's husband finally told her they were heading back to St. Thomas and she joyfully removed the "for sale" sign from her beloved boat.
There's never been a glass ceiling over Pat's head. The ceiling over her head is the stars. She has seen them from so many places. After our chat, I believe her most treasured viewings may have been from the Mediterranean when she was a young girl sailing with her parents. But she says that the trip to the Pacific is what "made" her family when the kids were little.
When I say she is a "strong woman on a journey, I guess it'd be more accurate to say her whole life has been a journey. She's sailed thousands of miles in her 73 years allowing folks like me to live the "Gilligan" life, if only for a three-hour tour.