A Ship in Port is Safe, But That is Not What Ships Are For – A Letter to My Friends, Family and Myself When We Think I am Crazy

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Grace Murray Hopper
US admiral & computer scientist (1906 – 1992)

I have this longing for the ocean… I like lakes, but something in me loves the salt water ocean.  I have never quite honored that.  My grandfather, Captain Reed Turney Roberts (Annapolis class of 1923), together with my mom’s “Uncle Arlie,” (family friend Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, last Chief of Naval Operations, the father of the modern Navy – cool, huh) gave my mom a deeper love and connection to the ocean, begun for her I think in her young years sailing with her Uncle John off the shores of Mt Desert Island in Maine.  What freedom that must have been.

I can smell the salt water now, remembering when Cassie and I watched in silence, except for the ocean sounds, as the regatta ships sailed past us on the Sea Wall all those years ago.  I have not been back in many years. 

Perhaps my DNA just has an inherent understanding of oceans and ships even though I know nothing about sailing.  You see, if you are a ship and you remain docked, you never accomplish your purpose in my mind.  Docking for ships is a short time of rejuvenation, drying sails, cleaning, painting, polishing brass and stocking the hold.  Important, but short-lived.  Docking is only a tool to make sure the ship can then fulfill its purpose of sailing.

But make no mistake….   the ocean storms batter and can be a cruel mate to a ship.

Does this mean a ship should not sail?

In the tempest of my understanding, I have to remember this when I feel like I am drowning.  The ship’s journey may be to a destination presumed, but that does not mean the reality will match the travel documents, and the condition of the ship on its arrival is not guaranteed.  For ships, we inherently know this and have accepted it.

I found a poem I thought I’d share for friends who, like me, feel the pull to journey out but know that they cannot carry expectations, even though some of our loved ones need us to have a better plan, and for the anchors who love us and struggle to be ok with us.  For both the anchors and the ships, not understanding one another’s purposes fully, just remember that if we were all made the same, most all of us would be unnecessary and there would be a great deficit.

I just had this fleeting moment of memory with my great grandmother as we sat out on the deck overlooking her dock, glancing left towards the home of the shipping magnate Mr. Homer and his new dock, seeing it “dry docked” because the builder/designer apparently did not understand that the ocean had tides (or as Tinka suggested, perhaps was nipping at the bottle in a crucial moment of his design process..something like that).   We had a good chuckle together.

Sometimes even the dock is wrong.  Wow.  This could have been written better, but the editing process will take away its passion so I respectfully decline.  Thank you Todd and Lydia for reminding me of who I am, though that was probably never your collective aim yesterday.

Ships Are Safe in the Harbour (author unknown)


All I live for is now
All I stand for is where and how
All I wish for are magic moments


As I sail through change
My resolve remains the same
What I chose are magic moments


Because ships are safe in the harbour
But that is not what ships are made for
The mind could stretch much further
But it seems that is not what our minds are trained for

We call for random order
You can’t control Mother nature’s daughter

Ships are safe in the harbour
But that is not what ships are built for


The witch hunter roams
The scary thing is that he’s not alone
He’s trying to down my magic moments


As we sail through change
Ride the wind of a silent rage
And sing laments of magic moments


7 thoughts on “A Ship in Port is Safe, But That is Not What Ships Are For – A Letter to My Friends, Family and Myself When We Think I am Crazy

  1. I love this. Having spent 5 years on the coast when I went to college in Santa Barbara, I totally resonate with you. I miss the salt water, the birds and sand but most of all the endless sound of waves crashing. I think it’s the huge-ness of the ocean that really gets me, and the fact the waves have such a clear cut, well defined sense of purpose. Can I be jealous of a wave? They never falter, and crash so powerfully, but effortlessly. I guess they’re probably so soothing because they remind me of God. Infinite, Powerful, Constant, Unconditional. When we get to plan a vacation, I always end up being drawn to the ocean, even though I feel like I should take the kids to see landmarks like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, or Washington DC! I applaud your willingness to leave the safety of the dock and forge ahead, Cyn, to follow your dreams. We both have experienced how safety becomes boredom so quickly. And how lame and just not fair to be drowning IN the damn harbor, cause that how I feel sometimes, which makes me question where I’m supposed to be. At least if I’m hiding out in the docks, it should be smooth water, right?! I heard Alan Cohen speak recently about how it’s impossible to NOT be on the right path. I love that, the idea that I can’t screw up my journey. Whew, what a relief! Thanks for this passionate and well written post.

    • I should have known you’d be awake already 🙂 I miss our morning chit chats before even the sun awakens. Yes, the hugeness…. pretty wild. And the thought that we are exactly where we should be always hits me when I feel so lost in the fog. Sometimes it is difficult to feel confident when the surround stuff looks like it is going so wrong. But honestly Dena, never has EVERYTHING gone wrong, even when I think sometimes it has. So, in the case at hand, clearly 50% or more of this journey is beautiful, and if I want my son’s daily movements, I know that I know that we need this, for him if nothing else. Raising kids requires a level of sacrifice only paralleled by the joy and our commitment to get it right for their sakes. Some of this stuff is just us getting antsy perhaps. Hang in there sister of the same mother. That’s what they say in Africa when they like you…. they say “sister of another mother” meaning the N. American continent vs. African continent. Cool, huh.

  2. I so love this! How true it is. I too love the ocean. My own brave mother navigated a broken families ship to the Hawaiian Islands when I was 13.

    The power of the ocean can be terrifying. It’s tumultuous nature can make you ill, there are many dangers beneath the surface. Ah, yes, the waves! That’s what I miss the most too, Dena! Constant, no matter what happens.

    I think perhaps, going with the idea that we are never on the wrong path, that our jobs change. Sometimes planned, sometimes unexpectedly. I am an anchor, but one day I may sail indeed!

    • It occurred to me throughout the day that perhaps we are all anchors and ships at the appointed times in our lives, and the key is to recognize when we are each of those things and honor them in their time. Yes your own brave mother did this, and interestingly, she came to mind strongly a little while ago when I read about a legal job out on the Hawaiian Islands with the Center for Naval Operations! It was too unbelievable to see today of all days.

  3. Granddad has a lot to answer for, doesn’t he? 😉 (Cyn and I are sisters, for those who don’t know.)

    You know, for all that he did in the U.S. Navy, I think Grandad’s real vocation was his second career — teacher of high school students and principal. When I think back at the time I spent with him, he was *always* teaching — be it American history, boating, business, or some other subject. He was a natural, every bit as much so as Mamma (Cyn and my paternal grandmother, a junior high school teacher for decades) was. I really regret I got so little time with him.

    Remember back in 1974, when you and I went out on Chesapeake Bay with Uncle John before either of us knew how to sail? I got my physical education requirement out of the way at Reed (my college) thirty years ago mostly by learning to sail. I learned on the Willamette and Columbia rivers, but later sailed on Puget Sound and in San Francisco and Monterey Bays. On one weekend sailing trip on Puget Sound, we got caught in a gale force wind while (trying to) sail a 40-foot boat. Taught me something about boats and storms, let me tell you! Some day, I’d like to sail on the open ocean. (Lake Tahoe is a gorgeous lake, but a poor sailing venue because of odd, constantly shifting and completely unreliable winds.) (sigh)

    A favorite book of mine was William F. Buckley’s “Racing through Paradise”. Yes, *that* William F. Buckley, although the book’s only political content was in the introduction, written by Buckley’s political opponent but personal friend Walter Mondale. Buckley (like Mondale) loved to sail, owned several oceangoing sailing boats through his life, and wrote several books about his trips. This book was about one of his memorable ocean-crossing, weeks- or month-long trips — this one from Hawaii to Tahiti. Recommended.

    • …. and I never knew that about Grandad! That he loved to teach. How did I miss that? I just recall him loving those chocolate turtle things or Millionaires or something. haha

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