Serendipity, a Sailing Story

When you head down to the boat and you cast off the dock lines for a day’s sail on the Bay, there are a few things that you can expect to find along the way. The boat will be there looking sparkling and welcoming when you arrive. There will be sea birds about, eating, diving, just floating. There will be Angel Island, Alcatraz, the bridges and the City Front all looking as spectacular as always. Other things are a bit more iffy – perhaps you will find wind to sail by, or perhaps instead a glassy sea will invite you to do as the sea birds are doing – just float. But yesterday as we caught wisps of breeze across the Bay we encountered something we could never have expected. A letter … to Santa.

We had been out for a few hours, enjoying intermittent breezes, always just enough to avoid using our motor. Anna and Lydia had just gone down below to watch a movie as we turned our bow back toward our home marina in Emeryville. I (Jen) was at the helm overseeing ‘Otto’s’ work (Otto is our autopilot – sailors often name that ever-useful machinery that can take over driving the boat anytime we want) and Christian was looking out over the water toward Alcatraz. Something was floating there, he said, and I took a look. It was small, very low on the water, and orange and white. We really have no idea why, but we just felt compelled to head over there a take look. Normally we wouldn’t have done that – usually there’s a lot more traffic, the water is a bit choppier, whatever, but we usually wouldn’t have altered course, which requires re-trimming the sails on a sail boat, to see what a little floating orange-and-white-thing was. But, alas, we did. 

There was very little wind at the time, so we just sort of drifted toward the ‘thing’, which quickly revealed itself to be a pair of balloons floating in the water, one orange the other white. Christian grabbed the boat hook (a long, extending pole with a hook at the end), and hooked the balloons by their strings as we continued to drift past. As he raised them from the water, we could see that tied into their strings was a white envelope with writing on it. A message? On a balloon? Veerrrryyy Innnteeerrressstttinngg!  The ideas came pouring out – Well wishes sent off during a wedding? A “rescue me” plea from some poor far-off prisoner (just kidding). A love note? When we laid the note on the cockpit table, we started gently to open it (the girls came up now to help). The writing on the envelope was faded and smeared by the water, but we could tell it seemed to be in Spanish. Inside, the page with the note was intact and legible. On one side was more writing in Spanish, about two lines, then scratched out in pen. On the other side was writing in English. We started reading: “Dear Santa, I would like a star…”. And what followed was just that – a letter to Santa! Attached to balloons. Found 2 weeks after Christmas in the middle of San Francisco Bay. It was all just too … cool! 
The girls, and Christian and I too, got a kick out of it, and the girls wondered what happened to that poor child whose letter never made it to Santa. Of course Santa knew what that child wanted for Christmas anyway, girls. After all, Santa’s magic!

Finding the letter was exciting, sure, but more than anything we were compelled to just appreciate the serendipity of it all. I mean, it’s just a simple matter of finding balloons in the Bay, but how interesting that a stranger somewhere unknown set this all-important letter off into the wind with hopes that it would magically arrive in Santa’s hands, only to be found by, of all people – US, simply because we had nothing else going on at the time. How far had the message come? How long had it drifted in the wind attached to it’s helium-filled balloons before touching down in the water. Serendipity like that just makes you stop and think, and appreciate. Appreciate what? Well, chance, for one. Life’s inter-connectedness, too. We don’t know this child, and most likely won’t ever, but we are now somehow connected anyway. Just serendipity. 

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