It's twenty-two degrees. There's freezing rain hitting the window, seven inches of snow due to arrive by mid-day tomorrow, and I live in a place about as far from the ocean as you can get and still be in the US, so my smile was genuine when I grabbed the pile of mail from the mailbox tonight and saw the Cruising World peaking out over the top of the Save-a-Lot ad. My pilot husband apologized this morning for snagging last month's well-read issue to take on a flight to Florida, but it turns out I got the better deal.
I sat the Cruising World aside and sorted the junk mail first, studiously ignoring the stunning picture of the Friendship 53 on the cover because I'm working hard these days to develop good boat habits, clearing out junk and learning the true meaning of minimalism that my philosopher daughter has been attempting to teach me for years, sometimes with more success than others. We're one year into a five-year-turned-four-year (and may yet turn to three-year) plan to retire to a sailboat, so every issue that arrives is a treasure to be poured over again and again. The articles generate long discussions over dinner or driving places, the boat reviews lead to the “boat of the day” choice, and the vendors' ads in the back are sorted into “must have” “like to have” and “no way can we ever afford that” categories.
In light of the dark winter storm howling through the Midwest at the moment, this issue is particularly poignant. There are articles on preparing for extended cruising, articles on courage, articles on building your confidence...many of them featuring competent women and nearly all of them centered on the theme of “mastery”. The one that caught my eye, though, was Cap'n Fatty's “What Counts More” an epiphany-generating article on dreams.
Early last summer we bought our first boat, a 1986 Com-pac 27/2 named appropriately, Nomad. She's a sturdy little boat with brass portholes and teak everywhere. She's definitely not the fastest boat, but she's been patient and forgiving of our inexperience. “Mastery” was only something to which we could hope to aspire. The summer months were ticked off the calendar with the arrival of each new issue of Cruising World, new entries in the sailing log, and adventures aplenty. The discussions were now held in the cockpit or the V-berth, and the tenor was gradually changing as our experience grew.
The November issue arrived along with the case of anti-freeze. One last sail, we decided, since it was a nice warm November day. We had a good sail and at one point, after quickly responding to a wind shift long before Nomad could complain, it occurred to me that we weren't beginners anymore. Coming back toward the marina inlet that day we did everything we'd done a hundred times before, but I noticed a comfortable rhythm had replaced the awkward, halting moves. We were a team, a partnership of three.
As the days have shortened and the market tumbled, we have found ourselves joking more and more about hauling Nomad over to the Mississippi River and heading south. We can't do that quite yet because there's some people we love very much dependent on us for their care, but the dream is front and center, and the plan firmly in place. In the meantime, we'll look for each issue of Cruising World to help us build our knowledge, hone our skills, and expand our dream into a reality.
Last edited by Deb_2017; 01-27-2009 at 12:18 AM.
Summer holidays have always had magic attached to them. For me it was perhaps something akin to entering a fantasy world, as our home was on a bay in the west of Ireland. There I could go out sailing and exploring in the family dinghy almost every day I was home. The world was mine, and I was free to dream of what might be.
One such summer in the late 70s, during one of her last years of service, I was fortunate enough to be a trainee on the Asgard – the Irish sail training vessel. She was a 51 foot gaff rigged ketch and had been built for Erskin and Molly Childers. She had a fascinating history as a private yacht, a gun runner, and then as the first Irish sail training vessel. She was succeeded by the Brigantine Asgard II, which tragically sank in the Bay of Biscay earlier this past year.
When it actually came to pass that my dream to sail on this beautiful ship came true, it is perhaps no small wonder that this voyage was destined to kindle a new dream that might one day change my life. We sailed from Cobh in Cork to Weymouth in southern England. There we joined up with the larger British sail training ships Malcolm Miller and Winston Churchill, plus a few other vessels closer to our size.
From Weymouth we all set off in a race to St. Malo in France. At high tide St Malo is an island and this is the only time its harbor can be entered from the sea. In fact the tidal range is so great there that at low tide the town rejoins the nearby mainland.
The sail to St Malo had actually been quite uneventful, except for one long and skinny fish with green bones that I caught underway on the trusty mackerel line I had brought along and we had eagerly cooked and devoured. We witnessed very light winds and even flat calm. I have no recollection of our standing in the race or for that matter if the results were even announced.
The trip back proved to be a little more “interesting” as we sailed right into the teeth of a full gale. The sturdy Asgard pitched and yawed in the violent seas as we beat our way across the Bay of Biscay and back to the southern coast of England. The skipper instilled a deep confidence in her seaworthiness, which she truly bore out that night.
The Fastnet Race also happened to be running at the same time, and we heard the “Mayday” distress calls coming in over the VHF radio from their fleet. Helicopters had been dispatched to rescue some unfortunate sailors, whose boats had come to grief and we occasionally saw them circling overhead.
I learned on this day that given a cool head, the right equipment and advance planning, even the most adverse-seeming conditions could be mastered – out at sea as well as in any walk of life. This brief voyage as a trainee left me with a longing for the sea and a deep desire to sail the world. It had a profound influence on my self esteem and character overall, and I wish with all my heart that every young person would have the opportunity to do something like it.
School and college years with their respective sailing programs would come and go. Two careers and a few interim jobs would later occupy my fullest attention. In the end I found myself pursuing a serious profession in the United States where we all worked endless hours. The business grew rapidly and it literally took over our lives. One fateful day in a pub after work I met my future wife Daria, and for the first time since I could remember I felt a need and desire to go home in the evening and to take the weekend off and spend some personal time. I also started to dream again.
At some point we discovered that we both had a very similar deep seated wish; mine having been born on my trip on the Asgard and Daria’s on a trip to New Zealand. We both wanted to find a way to cast off and go sailing – full time – to see the world. As with any important thing in our lives, we embraced this as a plan with all our hearts. At first we chartered boats for long weekends and other holidays.
Then came the fateful day that we went out and bought a 40 foot sloop. We started seriously cruising up and down the East Coast of the US at every opportunity. The sea miles added up quickly and our wealth of experience grew. We knew from the outset that this was not our long term boat, not our “world cruiser”, but she was a very fine craft never-the-less.
While living in the States we made it our objective to take people out sailing. Our hope was to open their eyes to nature and the sea and perhaps kindle a dream for them out of this simple experience we would share. Along the way we also became involved in fundraising for a new children’s hospital, and it was a natural progression to take some of the ill children out for a day. The smiles on the children and, yes, also on their parents naturally touched us very deeply. Seemingly of its own volition, this grew to an annual event. One fine day, prior to handing the event over to another couple when we finally moved on, we welcomed over 300 guests, children and their families, with over 40 yachts at the ready to take them all out for a day to remember.
It was to be another five years before we found our dream boat. She was a 30-year-old 57 foot ketch, and it was love at first sight. Perhaps it was having sailed on the Asgard that made her seem so absolutely perfect. But there she was, and she was soon ours to take home. We had named our boat Aleria, Latin for eagle and derived from both of our names. And glide with the power and grace of an eagle she did all the way home.
All the while we still had our big dream to sail forth and just keep going. Four years after finding Aleria, this past spring in fact, we had both reached a point where we could disengage from the spider-like web that our lives had woven around us. We freed ourselves, and our dream was indeed about to come true.
One fine day we set out amongst fanfare and not a few tears – our own included. We set sail for parts known and unknown, destined to see the world from our own boat. It is not easy leaving behind everything for which you have lived and charting a new course in life, but that is precisely what we longed to do. We followed a path that would lead us on an adventure of unimagined proportions; one that would always lead us home to Mayo to our family, friends and of course the bay.
Once finally underway we sailed north stopping for a while at many ports. Aleria ghosted along silently under light air one fine day as we crossed the Gulf of Maine. Almost inaudible at first and then growing slowly louder, until the entire boat reverberated, we heard an entirely otherworldly sound. We fretted at first and searched the boat for something, anything that might be amiss.
We looked out and saw the seagulls landing on a strangely shaped mound not too far away. Was it a rock? Were we off course that far? We were just starting to get worried when the lump rolled over and stretched out longer and longer. Swimming parallel to our small boat was an enormous Right Whale. It took a while for this realization to sink in. We then looked further around and saw that there were literally scores of whales swimming and then diving deep all around us in their search for food. The sound we were hearing was coming from everywhere around us. It was the whales singing, and indeed perhaps wishing us well on our voyage.
Leaving Maine behind, we sailed across the Bay of Fundy and on to Nova Scotia. From there we then set off on the first leg of our big adventure – crossing the Atlantic. The ocean is vast and seems never ending, stretching on for days and even weeks. Storms come and go again, and the memories of sailing on the Asgard were a constant companion. Both Asgard and Aleria are old style boats; both with a taller main mast forward and a small mizzen mast aft. Just like we did on the Asgard under skipper Eric Healy during the storm so many years ago, we sailed jib and jigger most of the way across the big pond with gale after gale pushing us on. With just a small headsail forward of the main mast and the little mizzen sail on the aft mast the pressure on the helm was minimal and handling a boat of Aleria’s size an easy task for just the two of us.
If you ever feel the need to experience how small and insignificant you are, then you might consider crossing the ocean in a small boat. It is at once daunting, frightening, magical, mystical, and most certainly spiritual. Yes, we have both always felt closer to God out at sea, and even more now that we were so very far from anyone and anything else.
However, to view the ocean as just a vast emptiness would be a travesty. There is life everywhere. We saw birds during the entire crossing. We had daily visitations from the dolphins. They would sometimes swim inside the crest of a big wave looking down at us with their big and knowing eyes. There was thus also clearly an abundance of smaller fish as well, though our fishing efforts certainly did not prove this out.
Our arrival home to Ireland, thus closing the first chapter of our new lives, is worthy of remembering as a memory all its own. To await a favorable tide we had anchored briefly in the lee of Clare Island, once home to Grainnuale, sea queen in her day. At sunrise we sailed east along and under the Holy mountain Croagh Patrick, rising up majestically from the shores of Clew Bay. Sun beams shone down on the islands as if to guide our way. A fleet of boats appeared from in shore and followed Aleria in. We were home, our journey had started, and we were living our dream.
Capt Alex Blackwell
Author: Happy Hooking - The Art of Anchoring
Available at: www.Coastalboating.net
Last edited by goincruisin; 01-27-2009 at 03:53 PM. Reason: typo
During an offshore passage between Key West and Pensacola on a friends 48' Soveral, my mind swung through every emotion. At one end of the spectrum, pure oneness with the universe at the other end sheer terror after losing the propeller and shaft out the stern of the boat.
Earlier during that day a large pod of dolphins joined us a couple of hours before sunset. Just as the sun starting sinking below the horizon several high pitch squeals rose from the pod and they hastily swam due west of our position. With the golden sunset as our backdrop we watched as the pod fed on a large school of bait fish. The scene was spectacular as the bait fish jumped out of the water to avoid their pursuers. The dolphins in close pursuit followed their prey out of the water into mid air and came down with great splashes.
While off watch later that evening I awoke in the aft cabin after a sound sleep knowing that the hull breach from the lost propeller and shaft earlier had been plugged and secured. The cutter rigged ketch was under full sail and even in the dark cabin the heel was noticeable from the 18 knot breeze outside. I looked out the stern windows from the cabin and saw the most spectacular sight of my life. The vessels aft wake was stirring the plankton on the ocean. As far as I could see behind me was a trail of soft glowing green light. The glow stretched to the horizon.
I have been on many sailing adventures since then. I have great stories to tell, but that one day and night, as well as that entire trip, has yet to be topped!
Short and long, your stories are wonderful. Thank you! I know Murray is enjoying them, too. If you've been holding back on telling your own, please give it a shot.
My ‘AHA’ Moment
My AHA Moment came unexpectedly. I was working as a Detective in an Undercover Unit of the Toronto Police through the 90’s, at a time when a lengthy war between rivals was taking a heavy toll. The work schedule was extreme and massive amounts of overtime, lost weekends and days-off was the norm.
My boss, Al Macdonald, Mac, a man I’d known over years of working with suggested, strongly, that he and I take our scheduled holidays down in Florida so we could have a much-needed Break.
Now as a man who had been involved in amateur road-racing cars and motorcycles for 20 years, skydived, downhill-skied, scuba dived and loved just about every other adrenalin-inducing activity, the stress of the work wasn’t overbearing, but the constant pace of only work and no fun was wearing thin.
So I said, “Why not.”
This is almost a direct quote of the conversation we had back then.
Me “what’re we gonna do in Florida?”
Mac, “I keep my sailboat in Key Largo, we’ll go sailing.”
Me, new to sailing, said “ Cool. Where to?”
Mac, “Key West.”
Me, “How far away is that?”
Mac, “About a hundred miles.”
“Great” says I, “how long will it take us to get there?”
“Three days” he replies.
“Three %$*#@! Days!!!” I shout, “I can walk there faster than that!”
“Trust me” Mac said, “You’ll love it.”
Now I knew a little about Key West. Mac had brought some Buffett discs into the office for background music while we worked cases, and wearing Hawaiian shirts had become our office trademark. So I figured that with 2 weeks off, 4 days to drive there and back, 6 days sailing there and back, I’d have 4 days to terrorize Key West and party like we knew how to. That became my motivation for the trip, sailing being only the delivery means.
So despite the annoyingly glacial pace we’d make sailing, off I went.
The road trip proved great. Remember you never really know someone until you vacation with them, and I figured we were off to a good start. The boat was nice, a 1986 Aloha 32 named “Hummaduffer” after a rum-punch Mac had invented one night. She had cavernous storage and was well equipped, and Key Largo was great. We prepped the boat and headed off.
And within mere moments I was a sailing convert. My AHA Moment had begun.
The combination of silence, the motion of the boat, the feeling of her surging when the wind filled the sails just right, the scenery and the company all solidified a feeling growing within me. This was the most relaxing time I think I had ever experienced up till that point in my life. The smile never faded from my face and getting to Key West didn’t seem so important anymore.
Mac let me steer while he navigated, busying himself around the boat, trimming sails and making lunch. He taught me the basics and I ate them up. Any mechanical necessities needed I took care of, glad to use knowledge I had up till then only used on race cars. We sailed, anchored, ate, drank, talked, swam and cleaned the barnacles off and got to know each other better. We told tales, and lies, listened to Buffett, stopped at Plantation Yacht Harbour on Islamorada to tank up and partied the night away with the locals, sailed more, anchored off Lignum Vitae, hooked a hammock between the mast and jib that I rocked away in until the freshening wind made the pendulum effect too great, repeated and continued on to Key West, where we had a blast draining the town dry.
The sail back was a repeat of the fun we had on the way down, but leaving the boat proved to be harder than I could have imagined. This had been a blast and I was in no hurry to return to “The Life!”
So when Mac suggested the following year that we do it again I leaped at the chance.
Stepping back aboard I knelt down and kissed the deck, saying “Hi Sweetheart, I’m back!”
And so I became a sailor.
Four times we made that trip together, before Mac sold the boat. Each time the lure was the sailing, not the destination. Four times I fell in love again with sailing.
Since then I’ve subscribed to, devoured and saved every issue of Cruising World, completed one 7 week delivery from Trinidad to Fort Lauderdale, aboard a nightmare of a boat that proved to be a great experience, and sailed aboard everything I could get on.
I even picked up a nick-name, the Shameless Sailing Slut, because I’d sail with anyone, anywhere, anytime on anything. My wife Dolores and I married at The Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke on a charter in the Caribbean 3 years ago and we continued to charter in the Caribbean each winter. I’ve done some racing too, as a mate twice in the Lake Ontario 300, although I much prefer a lazy cruise.
Hummaduffer’s gone now, renamed and in new hands. I miss her and hold fond memories of how she and Mac changed my life. I don’t make that statement lightly. I’ve given up racing cars for slower passions, started a Parrot Head club in Toronto and formed a Trop-Rock band. Last year I retired from the Police Service after 31 years and we moved from hectic Toronto north to the quiet shores of Georgian Bay. Last fall we bought our own boat, a 30 foot Catalina we named “Guilty Pleasure, ” too late in the season to splash her so she lived covered for the winter on our property.
Today, Monday the 18th of May 2009, was the first day I sailed her. The smile returned tenfold as I took the helm of my very own sailboat. Fittingly, Mac was right there on board her with me.
We’ll be sailing the North Channel this summer, embracing the life Hummaduffer introduced me to, coincidentally where she began her own sailing life 23 years before.
Mac and his wife Margaret became two of our best friends and are happily about to buy a new boat and sail off on their own retirement. We look forward to many new experiences afloat.
Mac took my picture on that first trip, while I was at the helm, and the smile on my face said it all. He told me many years later that he knew then and there he’d made a convert of me. I have that smile still, every time I step aboard a sailboat, and I experience that very same AHA moment again and again. Just like I did today.
Norm and Dolores Marshall