I discovered my first grey hair the other day. Why is it that such
revelations begin the day rather than end it? Ah, the cruel truth
by down’s early light. I did all the normal, rational things
any woman would do considering the unutterable and inevitable meaning
behind the event: I made certain that my will was in order; beefed
up my life insurance policy (so my beloved can afford to date once
I’m gone) and then I called Grant Marshall and reserved the
‘Gateway to Glory’ visitation room.
Actually, the hair wasn’t grey at all, it was a sparking
white and it would be decidedly uncharacteristic of me to take this
lying down – a necessary perquisite at Marshall’s.
So I cancelled my date with Grant and marched into a local bookstore
looking for life with a capital ‘L’. You’ve gotta
In the magazine section, on the top row behind those chipboard,
privacy panels lies my one secret passion – SAILING. I bought
every magazine they offered. Then, as luck would have it, I learned
about a lecture series for sailors at Harbourfront. It was there
that I met Jane. Jane Weber appears as a petite, older woman pushing
herself onto the stage with crutches – the result of an argument
with a moving vehicle. The microphone is adjusted to accommodate
her short stature and a stool is placed nearby to offer her a place
to rest. Her waif-like frame reminds me of the phrase, ‘a
sickly child’ and she appears even more diminutive as she
locates herself in front of an impressive map of the world.
“Right then!” Jane belts out as the crowd settles in
. “This is a map of the world. The blue stuff is water and
it’ll get you anywhere you want to go.”
Her audience collapses in laughter. It wasn’t so much what
she said or even the way she said it, although her verbal manner
certainly contradicted her delicate appearance in an amusing way.
No, the audience was tickled by her choice of indicator rod. Jane
had quite innocently hoisted her crutch above her head and was,
with steady control, marking her route around the world.
You’ve probably guessed by now that Jane has sailed around
the world. True, she has. But she sails on her own, without friends
or family and she does not own or rent a boat. Tired of this riddle?
Okay, Jane hitchhikes. That’s right. She hangs out on docks
and posts notices at seaside bars offering her services as ‘ship’s
carpenter’. Then she hitches a ride from New York to Bermuda,
to the Caribbean to Panama across the Pacific and back through Polynesian.
She’s seen it all and after 23 months of hitching by sail,
her total expenditures amount to “$7.00 a day U.S.”
Her adventures include a short but fierce battle with an hurricane;
an interesting voyage by shrimp boat which was closely followed
by every type of shark and sea snake imaginable and coyly Jane admits
to having “shanghaied a couple of young guys” with another
female crew member after promising to take them to Tonga Tonga.
“We kept one for six weeks and the other for seven before
he made his escape.” Jane confesses with obvious delight.
She holds her audience in rapture. They literally sit on the edge
of their seats, necks craned and follow her every move. Jane describes
herself as a “successful real estate salesperson” and
no one would dispute it. In fact, in some ways her occupational
choice helps to account for her eccentric behaviour.
Still there is something even more amiss with this woman. Her figure
on stage is overwhelmed by a wool tweed blazer yet the pictorial
self-portraits of her South Seas escapade reveal a buxom, bikinied
and beautifully tanned woman. I can understand why her skipper abandoned
her dockside when the police came calling somewhere in the South
Pacific. Her range of contradictions leaves one feeling unsure of
her possibilities – even if you’re a sailor. She was
certain that her present captain believed her to be capable of some
illicit international intrigue. But Jane was fearless. She knew
her time had come.
“Congratulations,” the officer said, “It’s
Jane beams with pride at her stunned audience. Somewhere in the
South Pacific while waiting to board yet another transient ocean
vessel, Jane Weber became a grandmother.
(But just between you and me… I think she dyes her hair.)
Follow-up… a few days following the printing of this article
I was left a message that Jane Weber had called and wanted to speak
with me. At first I thought that my editor and husband were making
a joke. Then I became very nervous that I had offended Jane and
was about to be told off. I pulled together my pitiful, suburban
housewife courage and called Jane (my Pirate hero). She commended
me on my writing and assured me that she did NOT ‘dye her
hair!’ Her relative in Thornhill happened to have read my
article and passed it on to her.
Jane and I became friends of a sort for a brief couple of years
– that’s the nature of free spirits. I held a fundraising
party at the Richmond Hill Seniors’ Centre to garner interest
in her bid to sail solo across the Atlantic. I think we only raised
$350. – no one really believed that she’d do it.
Jane made her solo Atlantic crossing in 1989. I was there on the
dock in Toronto when we watched her sail off in the boat donated
by Alex Tilley of Tilley Endurables (hence the boat’s name:
The Endurable). Her adventure was fraught with many terrors and
challenges. Although the ship was well outfitted with electronics,
a problem with a leaking seal (as I recall) filled the cabin with
water and ruined all communications. The seal was fixed and many
prayers were answered. Jane told me that she sang to herself, “Jesus
loves me.” Eventually completing her goal – Jane was
the first Canadian female to sail solo across the Atlantic.