The perfect proposal

The sail pretty much says it all. It worked. Photo courtesy Dennis Lesh

July 2022

By Dennis Lesh

The night of July 19th, 2014, was magical. It was the night I met my wife, Kristel, at a bonfire at our seaside neighborhood beach. The annual July 4th party had been canceled because of rain, so it was rescheduled to the 19th – a beautiful summer night with friends and neighbors that lasted well into the morning hours. Kristel was designated to pull the town permit, responsible for the fire and ensuring it was extinguished at the end of the night. As the party dwindled later that night and everyone slowly wandered off, Kristel and I were the last ones remaining (I must admit, a bit by design on my part) and I was not about to leave her there alone to tend to the remaining fire. So, I offered to stay, and we enjoyed it until the end.

As we sat by the edge of the water, the timing of the tide and placement of the fire couldn’t have been better. The peak of high tide slowly rose and at exactly 3:01 a.m., the last remaining embers washed away. It was time to say goodnight. As we said our goodbyes, I saw her off and then proceeded to dinghy out to my sailboat in the nearby mooring field where I was spending the weekend. Reflecting on the night, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a possible turning point in my life. The possibilities were endless!

The following day, I could see her combing the beach for sea glass, but she was gone by the time I was able to get to shore. The evening had been so incredible. I had to see her again. I didn’t know how to contact her, so I had to devise a plan to get her number. I contacted a friend and was able to use an excuse of returning gloves she had left on the beach to get her number, which led to a call and the rest of this story.

I began thinking of ideas for a proposal early on. Then, I came up with one I thought was unique, romantic, and had never heard of being done before. My mind was set. When the time came, I knew how I would make my proposal. The 4th of July is one of our favorite holidays. This date seemed a good candidate for a proposal with our love for fireworks, warm summer weather, and unforgettable sunsets. July 2015 passed by, and I was unprepared to execute my plan. Then 2016 rolled around, and before I knew it, July was approaching. Quickly.

By mid-June, I had decided on July 4th as the official date and was going to try and make this happen. The marital Gods must have known that I didn’t want to miss my window and wait another year. I had a lot to accomplish, including finding an engagement ring, getting the boat in the water, putting a crew together, creating my idea with a sail, some paint, stencils and hopefully a couple of miracles!

One of the first things was getting the boat in the water, and at that time, our sailboat, a 30-foot Morgan Camelot, was still on the hard. Every year there’s a mountain of work involved in getting the boat ready to launch for the season. This year was no exception. We had a launch date for the end of June and worked on the boat every chance we had. Because if we didn’t meet the deadline, my plan would be dead in the water. Literally. After many long days, Camelot was finally in the water. At this point, I just had days to pull this all together – and still didn’t have a finished sail, a crew, or an engagement ring.

It was the last week of June, and I started to sweat it. I needed a ring. After reaching out to a few close buddies, I called my friend, Richard. He tells me he has a good friend, Scott, who owns a jewelry store in Sturbridge, Mass. What could be better than this?

I looked at a variety of gemstones and design options. I wanted to be sure I got this right. The jeweler and I went through several versions until we finally landed on what I had envisioned. The ring was finally coming together. It was beautiful and unique, and I hoped she would like it. With the multitude of things I still had to get done, somewhere in there, I had to find time to make the drive to Sturbridge and get the ring before the store closed for the holiday.

I also needed to work on the next major task, the way I was going to propose. I wanted to put my message on a sail, and I needed to find a large workspace. So, I decided to utilize the clubhouse of the condo where we were living. Initially, my idea was to use stick-on letters because I didn’t want to ruin the sail (which was our original mainsail and was also our backup sail). Then, the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to risk the possibility of letters falling off (and looking like an idiot), so I decided to go for it and paint directly on the sail.

I purchased some large stencils and red spray paint, laid the sail on the clubhouse floor, and started the design. When raised into position, I envisioned what I wanted it to say and how it would look. I needed this to be perfect because I knew there is no turning back once you start painting.

The next step was putting together the crew. I knew who I wanted on board, our good friends, Richard and Elizabeth. I pitched my idea, and they were totally in. (They were the original owners of Camelot back in the `80s, which made the adventure even more special.) Next, I reached out to Kristel’s cousin, Matt, and his wife, Puja. They are amazing, lots of fun, and would round out the crew perfectly. Finally, things were starting to come together. Or so I thought. At the last minute, Matt called and said they weren’t going to be able to make it up for the weekend. I was utterly devastated and sweating bullets. I still had to write my proposal, pick up the ring, visit Kristel’s grandmother to ask for permission, and now find an alternate crew. As good fortune would have it, Matt and Puja were able to alter their plans and were back in. Things were looking good again.

Now it was July 3rd. Matt and Puja came, and we spent the day sailing down to Dutch Island, where we anchored, partying into the wee hours. At some point in the evening, Kristel had gone below to cook dinner for everyone. We had an icebox with a large, heavy wooden lid in the galley held up by a piece of webbing and a snap when open. Suddenly, a wake from a passing vessel hit the boat. Steadying herself with her hand on the counter, suddenly, the snap gave way, and the lid came smashing down on, you guessed it, her ring finger. In excruciating pain, her finger was swelling up and turning black and blue. How was I ever going to get the ring on her finger?

The next morning, July 4th was finally here. We sailed back to our mooring near Wickford to re-group for the trip to Newport. The next big task – swapping out the sail. Before launching Camelot, Kristel and I rigged a new mainsail we had just purchased which had to be switched with the newly painted sail before heading off. We had to do this on the mooring and to achieve it, the conditions had to be perfect.

One of the last remaining details to work out was to coordinate picking up Richard and Elizabeth. At the last minute, Richard called and suggested that we pick them up at the marina in Jamestown. This was a brilliant idea as it would position us with just a short trip across the bay to Newport Harbor, where we were headed to see the fireworks. The Newport 4th of July fireworks are one of our favorite events. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see them from the water, you know it is nothing short of spectacular, and this was the perfect cover for pulling off this adventure! Previously, I hadn’t thought about where or when I was going to execute my plan, but at this moment, I had just figured out the perfect place, Newport.

We picked them up at the dock. The weather was ideal as we left Jamestown. We had light winds from the south, the sun was shining, and everything was falling into place. We motored across the East passage towards the entrance of Newport Harbor just off Fort Adams. As we approached the harbor, the anticipation and excitement grew.

Just as we passed Fort Adams, I asked Kristel if she would go forward and raise the mainsail for a nice little harbor cruise. As she began to raise the sail, I could see the concern on her face. It was apparent to her that the new sail we recently put on was not the same. She continued hoisting the sail, and the words slowly began to appear. “WILL YOU MARRY ME, KRISTEL?” I then went forward to help secure the sail and brought Kristel back to the cockpit, where I dropped to my knee in front of the helm, presented the ring and made my proposal. She said “Yes!” without hesitation! Everything had gone perfectly. Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” was playing on the stereo. It was a magical moment aboard Camelot.

I had hidden a bottle of champagne below, which we opened and erupted into celebration. Onlookers from surrounding boats began blowing their horns, and the crowds from restaurant balconies were cheering and sending best wishes from ashore as we sailed through the harbor. The rest of the night continued to be incredible, we had a gorgeous sunset, and the fireworks were spectacular. It was a night we will all remember forever.

On July 15th of the following year, we were married on the North Lawn of Fort Adams and blessed with a perfect day, again. As for the crew, Matt officiated the wedding, Richard stood up as the best man, Elizabeth and Puja were bridesmaids, and our families and many friends were in attendance. Newport, Rhode Island, will always have a special place in our hearts, as will that perfect summer weekend aboard Camelot.

Cheers to fair winds, following seas and an unforgettable proposal!

Dennis and Kristel currently reside in Wickford, Rhode Island, where they are always looking for their next sailing adventure. Formerly a touring drummer, Dennis now works on private yachts and delivers sailboats to and from the Caribbean.