Crossing the Bar

We recently were notified of the death of a dear friend of ours, Gary Milburn. Gary was a scientist, a sailor and a fine man. As a way of honoring him, Robin and I would like to take a moment here and share with you a few thoughts about Gary.

 Hydrophilic on Beaver Lake October 20, 2012

Hydrophilic on Beaver Lake October 20, 2012


We met Gary several years ago on Beaver Lake,  a small crystal clear lake that lies just south of the Missouri Arkansas border.   Both Robin and I felt an immediate kinship with Gary as we all shared a love of sailing boats.   When I helped Gary dock his boat at Beaver Lake Sailing Club for the first time,  I knew that he was going to be an exceptional club member and a great sailing friend.

You see,  Gary had big plans for his sailboat and after a cleaning her up a bit from the journey,  Gary would spend as much of his free time as he could working and tinkering aboard the boat.  There was canvas to be sewn and carburetors to be rebuilt,  but more importantly there were miles of beautiful Beaver Lake to be sailed.

There are several groups of sailors,  those that like the idea of boat ownership but who somehow never have the time to sail,  hence, boats sit and rot in the water.    There are those sailors who are in love with working, fixing, and maintaining the boat.  These tasks consume every bit of time,  so there is rarely any time left for sailing.   And there are those sailors who no matter what the shape of the boat,  always find time to enjoy themselves on the water,  sometimes even at the peril of deferred boat maintenance.

Gary was a perfect blend of the guy who loved working on his boat just as much as he loved sailing it self. Spending time sailing and working on his sail boat were ways for Gary to recharge.

I remember that it was just before Independence Day in 2010,  when I received a call from another club member that Gary’s boat Hydrophilic was under water at the dock. When I finally made contact with Gary, he was devastated. The look on his face was even worse when he arrived and actually saw things for himself.

His boat,  his hard work,  was covered with water; life jackets and bits of things from Hydrophilic were floating or strewn along the docks with abandon.   For Gary,  the situation looked hopeless;  he was unable to see how his boat would ever be the same again, let alone float up from the depths.

A few hours later after a trip to the hardware store, we rallied some sailboat family and friends and began the arduous task of raising the boat.   To most of the sailors,  it was a challenge. Using straps, air bags, the pump from a the local fire boat, and a lot of combined determination from our local sailors, Hydrophilic rose from the water.  Soon she was sitting proudly in her slip, a bit damp inside and  definitely worse for the dunking.

Gary went to work straight away on the little gas powered engine.  He changed fluids, drained and dried things,  and soon the little engine was going again.    One of my best memories of Gary is the smile that he had on his face after making that engine run.

Gary was always a source of inspiration.  His encouragement is certainly one of the very reasons that I’m not able to be there (at his funeral) in person and offer my tributes   You see, Gary encouraged Robin and I to follow our dreams.    So,  we did.   It’s because of this that I’m writing this letter from aboard our sailboat Sea Change.   We are in Saint Pete Beach and will be soon be making a passage to the Keys.   Much of our journey and life style was encouraged by Gary himself.

Amongst sailors,  the term “crossing the bar” refers to the barrier  between life and what lies after our death;  Leaving  the river and the difficulty we face crossing over a sandbar to the depths of the ocean is a concept we embrace as sailors.  Death therefore is the difficult crossing we face leaving the river of life with its outgoing flood and entering the ocean that lies beyond death, that “boundless deep” to which we return.

Sunset and evening star

   And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

   When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

   Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

   Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

   And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

   When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place

   The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

   When I have crossed the bar.

Alfred Lord Tennyson –1889

And while Gary’s passing is heartbreaking for those of us left behind, Tennyson suggests  we not cry at his departure. Gary having crossed his sandbar gets to see the face of his Pilot.  We wish him safe journeys.