The Sunday Magazine

On a boat called Dainty, a young man and an old man contend with some of life's big questions

Lost sons, lost fathers and redemption in a sea of adventure.
George Grinnell teaches Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco to sail on River Bourgeois, Cape Breton Island aboard Dainty, the boat that drew them together. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco)

By Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco

I'm sailing on a boat with no keel, led by a captain who is going blind, and there's no place I'd rather be. 

The old man is 84. I'm clinging to the last of my 30s. And we're about as different as you could imagine. George Grinnell, the now grey-haired son of America's elite. I, the formerly rambunctious son of Ecuadorian and Lebanese immigrants. 

And yet... you'd be hard-pressed to find two people who share more in common, not least of which is a passion for extreme adventures. And a love of a boat named Dainty.
Dainty had been sitting in a barn on George's land for six years. This past summer George Grinnell and Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco returned for the first time in many years. They wanted to carve out some time to talk about how they've managed to overcome their crushing losses. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco)

We met as bicycle couriers, delivering packages in a snowy Ottawa winter. I was about 20, George was nearing 70. He was a retired university professor. He had a lot to teach and I wanted to learn.

George and I have something else in common - we've both suffered crushing loss. My dad was murdered in his convenience store when I was four. George lost his sons to a tragic canoe trip in Hudson Bay around the same time. 

So, when George offered me his sailboat and the chance to take it anywhere in the world…I was hooked. For seven years, my girlfriend and I travelled to his 200-acre patch of land in Cape Breton, in preparation for an epic trip.
After George Grinnell's sons died, he eventually moved to this off-the-grid cabin, nestled in 200 acres of wooded land in Thibeauville, Cape Breton Island. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco)

But it never happened. We were having too much fun fixing barns, surfing and spending long nights discussing philosophy by the fire. 

My girlfriend and I parted ways. I stopped going to Cape Breton. But my love for that boat, and my friendship with George, only grew stronger. 

So this summer, George and I set out from Ottawa to Cape Breton, to a rickety barn where Dainty had gathered years of dust. George spoke of wanting to say goodbye to the boat he loved so much. And I wanted to set out some time and space for us to talk, not only about loss, but also about finding solace in the strangest of places. 
Years after his sons died, George saw Dainty for sale on a trailer in a gas station. He fell in love with the boat, and with its promise of escape. But it ended up drawing many young people, eager for adventure, to his home in Cape Breton. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco)

And that's how we ended up on a half-scale model of a famous seafaring ship. But this time we'd have to shed the bravado. This time it wasn't about the destination. It was about a conversation that needed to happen.

George and I avoid verbalizing our vulnerabilities. But this time needed to be different. We talked of things that had remained unsaid. Before I met him my life was turbulent. And I wanted to him to know how much his friendship has meant. Too many times I've stood at funerals, whispering to the dead the things I wish I'd said while they were living. 
News clipping from The Ottawa Citizen, March 1982. Omar's father was killed during an armed robbery in his Ottawa grocery store. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco)

George played an important role in my life. He's my elder, my mentor and my friend. But more importantly, he's the guy who tried to tell me a long time ago that life wouldn't be about where I was headed...but about the relationships I'd forge along the way. And the professor was right.
George Grinnell relaxing on Dainty, at the wharf in River Bourgeois, Cape Breton. "Dainty started off to be the vehicle from which I could escape...and yet it was Dainty that brought other sons to me and daughters." (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco)

When I first made my way out to George's cabin in the woods I was barely an adult, chasing dreams of life or death on the high-sea. These days, when I make my way over to George's home for our weekly conversations, I realize that, of all the adventures we've had, the memories we've created and the laughter that echoes across his small friendship with George has been the adventure of a lifetime. 

...and there's still a long way to go.

Click 'listen' above to hear the documentary.