ATLANTIC // PART IV
July 9 // Day 14
Three days until landfall.
Coconut pancakes for breakfast. I spill coconut flakes all over the floor. I put more butter in the pan than any mother would allow. I think I’ve got a hold of myself until my I lose my cool and smash my hips against the knobs on the stove, again. I close the companionway and perch on the top step, my designated Captain’s chair when it rains. I crane my neck to peer over the dog house and keep watch ahead, although there is nothing to see here. Chest to stern I marvel at the large swell out of the north. I take a huge bite of my glorious breakfast, shamelessly smothered in maple syrup. All is well.
. . . . .
The moon beams brilliantly tonight, it can’t be viewed without squinting. Narrow eyes allow my pupils to adjust until I can make out its Swiss cheese surface, glowing cornices and mysterious cavities. I can see it all. I can see the odd shaped face we create out of the shadows and our imagination. He or she appears to be focused on bouncing light off the sun to brighten our ocean. Thank you, Moon. Its glow washes out the stars and lights the deck like a stage.
Dead downwind with a full main and spinnaker, we surf. Desirée loves a strong tailwind and prefers being just a touch over-canvassed, until precarious gusts in the mid 30s threaten to explode the spinnaker. Luke asks me to come on deck and take the helm on my off watch. I’m already alert as I’ve been down below anticipating the possibility of my assistance. He tethers in, and steps onto the moon-lit stage. He drops the spinnaker into its sock without trouble and raises the staysail, using a boat hook to pole out the clew. I devote myself to the helm and must ignore what Luke is doing, for we are in prime gybing and broaching conditions. If I lose focus for even a moment, one roller will catapult our cedar boom across the cockpit. Full lock to full lock the following seas have us working as a diligent team.
During my moonlight watch, I struggle to hold us dead downwind as it insistently demands two hands on the helm and zen concentration. Each rolling wave fills and then snaps the staysail until our make-shift boat hook pole is flapping around ineffective. When I discover the perfect course to keep the staysail full, the main sail threatens to gybe and I see it creep astern. I correct the course before it’s too late and again the staysail looses its aerodynamics. Either I suck, or these waves suck, or this course sucks. I settle on the fact that I suck so I try harder.
The depth sounder picks up something and starts beeping at me. The VHF picks up the coast of Ireland and I hear Irish men speaking from inside the cabin. I sail to the tune of garbled Irish with a very high pitch beeping base. The price you have got to pay to maintain 8.5 knots downwind.
JULY 10 // DAY 15
I’ve been curious about what happens to those who spend days, weeks, months at sea. My time frame will amount to 17 days at sea, and 86 days in the water from Michigan to England. With these days has come a composite of understandings. There has been a marriage of calculated decision making and luck. Luke and I have been able to cross this ocean with ease, unbuttoned, with wind at our back and manageable seas. I have felt a collection of emotions but shockingly, “scared” has not been one of them.
I walked into this a warrior, ready to face eternal rest if that’s where the ocean led us. Dramatic yes, the chances of death are slim… however, preparing for an ocean crossing forces you to imagine yourself in every blood-curdling situation. I was ready to meet god, or some sort of divine enlightenment. Ready to redefine my idea of fear. Ready to inflate the life raft. Ready to sink into troughs of mountainous waves and feel the fire hose spray as we reached the peaks. I don’t know what I thought, but I suspected it to be far different from its reality.
I embarrassingly title my time at sea “World War Me” and I admit to the egocentricity of this title.
A drunken brawl with my psychological self. In combat with my physical self. A dogfight with environmental wellness. A duel with mother nature. Cyclical rounds of punishments and treats. Genuine panic and delight. Internal angst and ecstasy.
My front-line battles have been changing my socks and underwear. Nighttime nausea. Convincing myself to eat. Doing the dishes. Forcing myself to drink water. Talking myself out of irritability and exhaustion. Reminding myself to be nice to Luke, to take care of him, he is tired too. Telling myself a lot of lies in order to convince my body of warmth and happiness. Filling the silence with forced positive thoughts. Exercising patience. Working through every big decision I’ve ever made in my life. Desperately seeking motivation to do anything, to ease a sail, to adjust the Hydrovane, to fix what’s broken, to write to my family.
Mind over matter is what I’ve faced, and it’s not a particularly attractive face. Just when I’m convinced my mind is too weak something reminds me that World War Me isn’t that hard and I need to calm the fuck down cause I’m perfectly fine. Often these reminders arrive in the form of an animal, hot meal, warm sleeping bag, cup of joe, Luke, or a message from home. When these reminders come, I promptly remove my head out of my ass and stand besides myself, recognizing that I couldn’t be any more lucky to be here. I collide with gratitude and all of the sudden I find myself tearing up at the sight of a Gannet diving for its supper.
I haven’t needed a force 10 storm to humble me. I don’t need to come home with an un-relatable story or content for a best seller. Humbleness and I simply spent days staring into the vastness of the sea. Together we were fixed on the clouds, charmed by the swell, in incommunicable gratefulness. Completely powerless in our vicinity, yet powerful in all our decisions, for they have lead us here, to a place where we are nothing to no one. Just breathing beings in the world of feast or famine.
Speaking of feast (or shall I say famine) – we are out of beer, and chocolate. The first one to notice was my belly, it’s feeling less squishy. I hid two Budweisers in the bilge for landfall. My dry-mouth screams silently at the wooden floor boards and like Matilda, I lift the floor boards to access the bilge with my mind, and the last Budweiser soars gracefully to arms reach.
I’m losing it.
JULY 11 // DAY 16
100 miles to go.
I’m sitting on my peak, overlooking my castle which is protected from outsiders by a moat. A very large moat. Postured in my throne. What a life – I think. Proceeding to sip instant coffee mixed with carnation hot chocolate. My tummy is a bit unsettled at concluding a chapter which reads as if the words are too big for their pages. Within twenty four hours, we will reach the coast – a destination we’ve spent half a year and half our savings to get to. We could show up at the Sahara desert for all I care, whatever we see on the other side is going to be . . . perfect.
My book is moldy. Black spots dot the soggy pages. The American flag flaps flamboyantly with pride. The deck washed clean from fresh rain. The bamboo shroud covers chaf. The starboard cupboards collecting leaks. The ice box smells like litter. The cushions hide condensation. Two onions, an apple, a brown avocado, and packaged beets swing in their hammock.
Desiree slices 30 degrees into headwinds with a reefed main and staysail. Despite the much needed interior detox, she propels forwards like a well maintained aircraft. Confident. Content. Seaworthy. If she’s anxious to get to the finish line or wants to keep going I cannot tell, this is where we harmonize. The sky glows at 3:30 am, and is sure tell tale that the earth is still spinning. No need to rush now. Almost there and suddenly I want to slow down. I think I am nervous.
JULY 12 // DAY 17
We are wide awake when we spot the light of Bishop Rock through the mist.
This is it. This is landfall.
We bicker about arriving in the darkness versus first light. I want to slow down and wait for daybreak. Luke wants to get there and anchor in the blackness. I let him win and hold a grudge of disappointment because I’m being a brat and because I imagined seeing land and feeling safe, versus going in blind and feeling stiff and anxious.
My superstition is telling me to be very careful. We’ve made it this far unscathed. It’s not too late to mess up. Luke is at the helm having so much fun and I’m a little jealous. We have a 20 knot breeze just off our port stern, and are flying along at 7 knots. He is a happy man, I sit aside him an anxious woman. The depth sounder is reading off 70, 60, 50, 40 feet. Through the mist and spurts of rain we make out sections of rock off our port side, I stare diligently at our GPS because I can’t see anything else, and read out course changes as we navigate the south side of the Scilly Isles.
We turn hard to port and head northwest into St. Agnes Bay. I crank over the engine and drop the sails. Luke steers us in. Half a mile into the protection of the surrounding rocks, everything goes quiet.
The wind lets us be.
The mist refrains and the clouds begin to divorce.
Patchwork of stars and a blanketed moon cast light on the anchorage.
We set the anchor twice before we are able to trust. On round two, we are rooted to the earth.
Only two other boats in the neighborhood. I want to go wake them up, and tell them what we have just done. But I don’t. Instead I go to the bilge, and retrieve our last two Budweisers.
We sit in silence and taste the joy of stillness, the pleasure of untroubled waters. Each bubble of carbonation brings with it a sigh of relief, accompanied by a grin. Nothing significant needs to be said. We are safe. We are proud. We smell the sub-tropical earth and float in a pond under the stars. I can’t wait to see where we are. We sit closely in the cockpit until first light. By 5 am, we are for the first time in 17 days, able to lay down and sleep together.
Everything. Is. So. Still.
We black out.
JULY 13 // THE SCILLY ISLES
One could argue that taking half a year to dedicate my life to sailing across an ocean, leaving my friends and family behind to worry, was a selfish act. I’ve been completely wrapped up. Utterly single-minded. I would have done wilder things to make sure Luke and I could sail across the Atlantic. No one was going to change our minds. I’ve taken all of my energy, all of everyone else’s energy – for this crossing.
These ventures are not intended to last forever, they are simply earnest curiousities that must be understood. Ravenous appetites for something more difficult than the life of convenience to which most of us are acclimated.
It’s all done now. We are unharmed. Clear headed and all yours.
I take home with me the exact same woman who left 86 days ago.
I don’t want to be comfortable, I want to be a little scared. I don’t want to feel stuck, I want to wander. I don’t want to waste any time, not mine, not yours, I want to spend it wisely. I don’t care if I am a great sailor, I want to be a great partner. I don’t care if I am the best in my line of work, I care if I am an honest friend. I don’t care if I have a lot of money, I care that I use what I make in my best interest. I don’t care to toughen myself, I care to live wildly. I don’t care to impress anyone, I care to find my limits.
Above all I want to make certain the love I have for my family and friends is very, very clear to them. This I notice most when I am far removed.
Avoid unfavorable influence.
Create your own opportunities.
Love. A LOT.
Thank you friends, family, and enthusiasts for sticking around till the end…
and to those who kindly went the extra mile :
Desirée // Dad // Mom // Sister // Alice // Peter // Bob & Jody Lipkin // Tom & Deb Becker // Bob & Madeline Vreeland // Jason Thibodeau // Jack Gifford // Mallory Sheets // Cody Brown // Erica Weindruch // Katie Smith // Olivia Gilmore // Adam Cove // Dan Steffee // Sam Carter // Felicia Kas // The Molestas // Michelle Grantham // Ashley Bush // Anna Shrift // Jake Byers // Reid Murphy // Mark & Kerry Warehem // Pierre Laurin // Margot Hall