How one mom handles a husband sailing solo on Chesapeake Bay

As a mother of four boys, what do you do what you lose radio contact with daddy as he attempts to set a Guinness Book Record in a tiny sailboat? Have you seen him? Spot Our Sailor and his sail #168317.

By , Correspondent

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    Ian Suhay with his dad, Robert, before setting off on a 14-foot Laser sailboat in Chesapeake Bay.
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    Avery Suhay is spreading the word about his dad with his friends on social media. On his hand is his dad's sail number:168317.
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    Quinn keeps a lookout for his dad, Robert Suhay.
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Although parenting and raising kids is an adventure in itself, there are some families that have to cope with members who decide to go into harm’s way for the sake of adventure. My family is having a nail-biter as daddy sails 317 miles in a 14-foot dinghy as a possible hurricane bears down on his Chesapeake Bay route.

We live in Norfolk, Va., where many of our friends and neighbors have loved ones in the military. We are often engaged in send-offs, welcome homes and prayer vigils for those in harm’s way for the purpose of our national security.

Moms, in situations like this you may want to be a rock for your children, but what I'm learning is that being transparent with my sons about my fears - and their father's situation - can be a support and actually provide a constructive path forward.

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In our case it’s also helping me navigate through people who say, in front of my kids, that what their father is doing is frivolous or selfish when my spouse views this as part of his parenting technique.

Working nights and weekends for a local newspaper to keep our family afloat is often a barrier to my husband connecting with his boys.

“I want the boys to see that there’s more to life than video games and computers,” my husband told me the night before he set sail. “This isn’t just for me. It’s for them. They need to learn about what we can do without technology. Just on our own steam. Someday, maybe, they’ll understand. I hope.”

As I mentioned in the Monitor's Innovation technology blog yesterday, my husband, Robert Suhay, 51, is attempting to break the Guinness Book World Record for longest distance sailed in a dinghy solo and unaided. It's not like this comes out of the blue.

Robert is a life-long sailor and race organizer here in Norfolk, Va.. He’s been sailing since the age of six when his dad put him in a Penguin sailboat on the Metedeconk River in New Jersey hooked to a long tether.

Robert launched from the Old Dominion University Sailing Center in Norfolk on Sunday at 5:08 a.m. with the help of son Ian, 19, for a three-day, 317 nautical mile sail, unassisted by a chase boat. He is sailing up the Chesapeake Bay, past Baltimore, to the mouth of the Sassafras River and back with no landfall or aid.

Mexican Olympic sailor Tania Elias Calles is the current Guinness Book record holder, having traveled 300 nautical miles in 2010.
Avery, 15, Quin, age 10 and Zoltan, age 20, helped acquire all his supplies and pack the boat last weekend.

Unfortunately, Robert’s cell phone was dead in the water after it got wet on Day One, Sunday, so we’ve had no direct communication with him since 9:30 a.m. that same day.

Quin, Avery and Ian – who were all in the living room playing a video game Monday morning – overhead my phone call to the Coast Guard to report that Robert had been out of contact for 24-hours.

When I got off the phone I noticed the house had gone to silent running and the boys were all looking at me as if they had never seen me before.
 
“You called the freaking Coast Guard,” Ian said in horror and anger. He felt I had betrayed my confidence in his father by making the call demanding, “How could you do that? Why would you even do that?”

 I explained to the boys that it made sense to make that call as a safety precaution and so I would not turn into a crazy stress monster with each passing hour of radio silence.

 They all understood that. Rather than resuming the gaming of which they all knew their father disapproves, they each went out on a bike ride or walk.

An hour later Quin returned and said, “So, Pop can’t call us, but we can call everybody and ask them to check on him.” 
That’s where the idea came from to put out a different kind of SOS ... Spot Our Sailor and his sail #168317.

Because the more people who know daddy’s out there, the safer he will be and the more likely it is others will be where we can’t be to cheer him on home today and tomorrow ahead of this incoming storm system.

 We even setup a website where spotters can contact us with news.   That didn’t stop the phone from ringing with some scary news this morning.

“Mom, the phone says the U.S. Coast Guard’s calling,” Quin said at eight this morning as he held the receiver out to me with a concerned look. “Is Papa alright?”

Because I am not psychic, I had to say, “I’m sure he’s fine. They’re just calling to tell us they spotted him because his communications gear failed.”

I was half right.

Lt. Commander Michael Keane, head of Search and Rescue (SAR) for US Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, was calling to inform me that a tug boat nearly ran my husband down an hour earlier just short of his route’s turn-around point at the Sassafras River in Maryland.
“Ma’am, there’s been an incident and frankly, I’m concerned for your husband,” Keane said. “How important is this record to him and your family?”

The correct answer is that it isn’t worth his life.

However, the real answer is that it has united our boys and our family behind a dad who is often so driven by his sailing goals and absent due to his work schedule that he doesn’t connect with his sons as often has he'd like.

I told Lt. Cmdr. Keane that I appreciated his concern and that they are watching out for my husband, but unless Robert’s in immediate danger everyone needs to just get out of his way and pray.

Like any moment in parenting, it’s not about setting a record. It’s all about connecting with each other and making it from point to point. Family is a journey, not a race.

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