Navigating Grace – Sailing, Survival and Spirituality…



The true test of a good book is when you glean something new every time you read it. And so it goes with Jeff Jay’s beautifully written, memoir Navigating Grace. The book is an intensely personal account of  Mr. Jay’s solo, sea adventure aboard the sloop Lifeboat. But, it is also a tale of redemption. And for anyone in recovery, this story is a testament to fortitude and the power of grace to make miracles happen in the worst of times.


I am working from Sanford House founder Rae Green’s book, and it is dog-eared, highlighted and post-it noted. Clearly, she has read it a few times too. Rae says, “The message in this book never gets old. There are so many eloquent passages that summarize the disease of addiction. With Jeff’s personal account, Navigating Grace serves as a role model for hope and survival…”


It was not a choice or a lack of insight or a shortage of willpower. I was being pulled out to sea by a riptide of compulsion, a power greater than myself, and I knew that there was no hope of swimming when the sea itself is against you. But I didn’t want to give up either. Navigating Grace


Navigating Grace as a recovery tool…

We use Navigating Grace as a tool in group therapy at Sanford House. Mr. Jay’s journey began with his desire for a fresh start, and our clients in treatment can relate to his history. When he set sail, Jeff’s marriage had ended, his brother had committed suicide, his father had passed away and he was grappling with his own demons – years of rampant alcoholism had almost killed him too. He says, “Sometimes the past can foreclose the future, with no option but to start again.”


For those in recovery, there is a powerful lesson in the youthful enthusiasm of the author’s hegira on the high seas. He set sail (late in the season) from Annapolis, Maryland, bound for the Caribbean, determined to do “something marvelous.” What could go wrong? As the author puts it, “The short answer is: anything mechanical or electrical.” Not to mention force majeure… A winter storm on the open water, and Jeff Jay was battling the elements and facing certain death.


It was only by the grace of God that Mr. Jay survived. And the story of the voyage is a metaphor for all our lives, not just those in recovery – don’t give upnever give up…trust in God…


A great peace settled over my heart. My mind emptied completely and lapsed into a quiet like the mountains. I was in a place of vast tranquility that stretched out beyond the realm of consciousness. I was set apart from the storm and all my fears were gone. Navigating Grace


Speaking to the author…

I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Jay about Navigating Grace. I told him I didn’t think he had given himself enough credit for being what seemed to be the only character in the book who, turned up when he was supposed to and exhibited a modicum of skill. Just reading about his hoisting of various sails and jury-rigging unreliable equipment, broken masts and flotsam, while he balanced in storm-tossed seas was exhausting…


Mr. Jay laughed and said, “Let the events speak for themselves.”


I asked Jeff about a beautiful passage in the book where, on a clear night, he pictured the earth spinning on its axis. When he felt large and small at the same time – as one does alone in the vastness of nature. He said he certainly feels God’s presence in nature, but he can also get that feeling in the middle of the street or having coffee with a friend. He said, “Mind, heart and soul – God is there in a special moment, at the bottom or on a hero’s journey – with towering importance…”


And how many drops like that, below my keel, filled with life multiplied to fill the ocean? …What joy to feel it, if only a caress, if only like the star glimpsed in the clouds…Right here, the infinite universe reaching down to the finite human, echoing the laughter of God. Navigating Grace


Navigating Grace was a five-year project…

…and the open sea journey he recounts was taken at a special time in Jeff Jay’s life. He says, “That time could never be recreated.” The experience allowed him to “break through reality to a larger reality,” and begin a new chapter in his life with his wife Debra and the passion they share for their work at Love First – intervention, mentoring and structured family recovery.


In the world of addiction research and treatment, Jeff and Debra Jay have made a monumental contribution. To read this brave and at times excruciatingly personal account of Jeff Jay’s life experience is an inspiration. Mr. Jay’s successful recovery adds a depth of understanding to his entire body of work. And shines a beacon for those who seek a life-ring in their own recovery journey…


The sailboat with the ironic name is long gone, and for the first time in 30 years, Jeff Jay says he is “boat-less.”




Navigating Grace – A Solo Voyage of Survival and Redemption

by Jeff Jay

Hazelden Publishing 2015




Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.