Three hundred nautical miles from shore, I‘m cold and sick and afraid. I pray for reprieve. I long for solid ground. And I can‘t help but ask myself, What the hell was I thinking?
When Sue Williams set sail for the North Atlantic, it wasn’t a mid-life crisis. She had no affinity for the sea. And she didn’t have an adventure-seeking bone in her body.
In the wake of a perfect storm of personal events, it suddenly became clear: her sons were adults now; they needed freedom to figure things out for themselves; she had to get out of their way. And it was now or never for her husband, David, to realize his dream to cross an ocean. So she’d go too.
Ready to Come About is the story of a mother’s improbable adventure on the high seas and her profound journey within, through which she grew to believe that there is no gift more precious than the liberty to chart one’s own course, and that risk is a good thing … sometimes, at least.
About the author
Sue Williams grew up in Northern Ontario. She earned a degree in occupational therapy from Queen's University, and practised OT for over thirty years. In 2016, she left the health care field to focus on writing. Sue lives in Guelph, Ontario.
Excerpt: Ready to Come About (by (author) Sue Williams)
Winter 1981, in our second-floor apartment of an old brick house in downtown Ottawa, I sat at the drop-leaf table David had set with a faded chintz tablecloth, a pair of candlesticks, and the sparkling cutlery we had been given as wedding presents, while he prepared dinner. There were blizzard-like conditions beyond the frosty panes of glass, but the kitchen’s baby-blue radiator kept us warm.
“What’s cookin’?” I asked, watching him turn stove dials up and down, lift and lower pot lids, and open and close the oven door like a one-man band.
“My own recipe.” He stirred a dollop of butter into a steaming pot. “Pork Shake ’n Bake, except on chicken,” he divulged with pride.
Gotta love ’im. I giggled to myself.
After serving up two plates of his concoction with Minute Rice, mixed vegetables, and sprigs of parsley placed just so, he sat down, uncorked a bottle of Mateus, and poured us each a glass.
“Happy anniversary, my dear,” he said.
“Happy anniversary,” I said, smiling.
We had been married seven weeks. He thought that was cause enough for celebration. My heart swelled as our glasses clinked.
We ate at a leisurely pace, but chatted with passion about our new life together.
Ottawa, with its green spaces and vibrant arts scene, had a lot to offer. Perhaps we’d even make it home. Kids? Absolutely. When? Soon, was my thinking.
“Well then …” David said with a glint, and we laughed.
And workwise, we were off to an auspicious start. He had been promoted to permanent status as an entry-level accounting clerk in a high-tech firm. The pay was good, his colleagues were collegial, and he could bike to work — perfect for the time being.
I had just completed a week of orientation as staff occupational therapist in the rehabilitation wing of a nearby hospital. The department was a beehive of optimism: an amputee being trained to feed himself using prosthetic arms in one area, a quadriplegic learning to drive a power wheelchair in another. “The OT mission is function with dignity. The vision is possibility,” I explained to David.
“You’ll be so great at it,” he said, his soft blue eyes moist.
I scooped up a forkful of veggies and considered that he was absolutely right.
“It feels like what I was meant to do. And to grow old and ugly with you,” I joked. “Seriously, everything’s just so perfect right now.” My eyes welled as I took a bite.
That’s when he said, “The only thing I regret about being married is I won’t ever sail an ocean.”
I stopped chewing — and, momentarily, breathing — and studied his face.
He was serious.
“Didn’t even know you sail,” I said as evenly as possible.
“Oh yeah. I did. My Aunt Caroline gave me a small sailboat my grandfather had built. I used to sail it on Lake Yosemite, an irrigation lake about seven miles from our house. My mom would drop me off there on her way to work. I”d sail back and forth all day long and imagine I was crossing an ocean, even though it was only a mile wide. Silly.”
Why was I just hearing about this for the first time now?
Why did he presume I’d be unsupportive?
And just how regretful was he and would he be with the passage of time? Would he become one of those bitter old men who look back on their lives with despair? Worse, would he blame me?
“More chicken?” he asked.
“God! I can hear it already; you introducing me as ‘my wife, Sue, the dream wrecker’ to our tablemates in the nursing home!”
“Whoaaaa! What the —”
“Don”t you whoa me!” I said, determined to nip any notion I might be overreacting in the bud.
David backtracked as best he could: it was a poor choice of words; he even surprised himself with the comment; he couldn’t be happier. “It was a childhood fantasy, nothing more,” he insisted.
But as he told the story, his face lit up in such a way I wasn’t entirely convinced he had left this fantasy behind. So, determined to seem open to the preposterous idea, I remarked with as much conviction as I could muster, “You know, anything’s possible.”
And we finished our meal listening to the radiator gurgle and ping.
Ready to Come About is a beautifully written memoir about a midlife woman’s electrifying adventure. It is a reminder of how precarious – and glorious – life can be. And it is an inspiring portrayal of love, loyalty, and courage. We should all be so brave!
Cate Cochran, CBC radio producer and author
The writing in this story is deft and seaworthy. Filled with equal measures of blue-water tension and parental worry, Ready to Come About is as much about family and letting go as it is about a courageous journey.
Adam Lindsay Honsinger, author of Somewhere North of Normal
An entertaining, deceptively profound memoir. I love Sue’s book, a startling, swashbuckling sea adventure, and all the hilarious and terrifying details of that, combined with the very personal story of lost connections and deep love. It is a remarkable story — heroic and inspiring.
Miriam Toews, author of Women Talking
In the wake of a perfect storm of personal events, a woman sets sail on an improbable journey across the North Atlantic with her husband. In this debut midlife memoir, life and liberty come into focus through an unexpected high-seas adventure.
The Globe and Mail
A thrilling adventure, a profound love story, and a testament of self-discovery that will make you cheer. It is not only an empowering memoir, but also a very fine book.
Barbara Kyle, author of The Traitor's Daughter
Sue Williams has shown an inherent writing talent while conveying a wide range of emotion in a profoundly authentic manner. I totally loved it - found myself giggling out loud from time to time as well as getting rather teary once in a while. Ready to Come About emerges as a powerful metaphor and testament to believing in self, taking chances, experiencing relationships and choice; in short, it is a thesis on occupation and spirit. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to get lost in this compelling narrative prior to print.
Sue Baptiste, Professor Emerita, Rehabilitation Sciences, McMaster University
“A great page turner and a MUST read for any woman .... This isn’t to say that men won’t find the book interesting and enjoyable, as they certainly will!”
Katherine Stone, Canadian Yachting