S e v e n t e e n D a y s

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As you may have heard… W E   M A D E   I T. We made it. We made it. We made it. My enthusiasm for landfall deserves copious amounts of exclamation points, but there is something about a vertical dash and a dot that just doesn’t cut it. It’s like when you don’t know how to thank someone, because the words alone simply aren’t not enough. To hold down the shift key and “1” for ten seconds straight, is not enough. I tried it, I don’t like the way it looks.

Please trust, that we are beyond happy to have completed our Atlantic crossing safely, with a floating classic yawl in tact, and a relationship that in my opinion, has been sealed with 5200.

Landfall was made in the Isles of Scilly on July 12. We arrived to anchor in the dark hours of the night and woke to the sub-tropical western islands of England. The smell of earth, flowers and moss. High pitched dinghy engines and laughing terns. English accents echoing from animal cracker shaped rocks. Swinging in circles about a cyan bay. My life could have ended on that very morning. Full to the very top with delight. Foaming over the rim and dripping down the sides. I’ve never felt so drunk when I was so sober.

I have a lot to share with everyone. It will take a few posts to get it all out. I thought I’d start with the numbers for my sailors who understand their significance, and for my dreamers who are hungry to comprehend.

S T A T I S T I C S //

2107 nautical miles traveled

5.2 knot average boat speed (meh, ok)

11.6 knot top boat speed (YESSSS)

0 knot lowest boat speed (banging my head against the bulkhead)

45 knot highest wind velocity

38 knot highest gust with spinnaker still up (oops)

15 feet highest waves

3 days of sun

14 days of gray

8 days rain / mist (gross)

3 ice bergs

6 cargo ships

2 days headwind

3 days becalmed

16 days with Penny at the helm (self steering Hydrovane)

5 tacks / gybes

2 accidental gybes (I’ll take the blame)

10 HydeSail changes  (Luke can take the credit)

9 reefs (I got better at this)

102 watch changes (I never got better at this)

3 salt water baths (bur)

56 gallons of water (drinking /cooking only)

56 Engine hours (battery charging and becalmed nights)

21 gallons of diesel

14 lbs of propane

32 beers (ran out too quickly)

3 cartons of eggs

5 loafs of bread

5 medium size bags of rubbish

6 rolls of toilet paper

907 photos taken (less than expected)

34 pages hand written (more than expected)

1 halyard lost at sea (I blame Luke)

1 headlamp lost at sea (I blame Luke)

1 small tear in spinnaker

I can’t count how many times I shed a few tears, or laughed. I can’t count how many times I threw up, or spilled food everywhere.  I can’t count how many times I wished it was over, or how many times I never wanted it to end. I can’t count how many dolphins,  seabirds or the amount of phosphorescence. I can’t count how much I learned, or how many hours I did absolutely nothing. For 17 days we played a card game of patience and strategy. It was a long game. I’d like to think we won. Yeah. I think we won.

DAY 1 // 

The night before cast off  we shove our bodies into the starboard side berth and try to sleep for three hours. We shift around puzzle piecing ourselves until we find a fit. Neither of us sleep well. But it feels nice to be close.

At 3:45 am my alarm confirms the thing I’ve been waiting to have confirmed since February. It’s time to cross the ocean. I stand up to turn the kettle on an arms length away, scooping generous amounts of coffee into the french press. In need of a strong brew. Out of my peripheral vision I catch a shooting star which arcs so far across the morning sky that I have time to twist my head and follow all the way to the horizon. I take this in as a welcome token from the sea. I thank it, and carry on with my morning regime. By 4:09 am, we push the bow off of the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club dock. No one is around to wave good bye. Secretly I am thankful for this.

I surprise myself in feeling nothing. As if we are departing for another day trip. I’m not necessarily excited. My tummy isn’t churning. I do not feel fear. I oddly don’t feel much. Five months of anticipation and I have exhausted myself of every emotion. I feel ready, that’s all. I am ready. I don’t cry (surprising) I don’t gaze back at the docks as if it’s the last land I will ever see (surprising) I don’t look ahead to the expanse of the sea and shit myself (very surprising) I don’t look at Luke to check on his emotional status (not surprising considering his emotions are flat lined 93% of the time) We drink coffee and listen to the local radio station. We glide forward through Conception Bay under the stars and wait for the wind. What I don’t yet know, is that the next 17 days will consist of nothing but waiting.

The sunrise back lights the rugged Newfoundland Coast. I take notes on it’s beauty but don’t linger for long in concern of experiencing any kind of land attachment. I unwind and strip off layers of clothes as the sun cultivates heat. By the time it summits I am naked. This is without question, the hottest day we have encountered. The breeze light as one could release from their own lungs. The sails snap full with air, and then fall slack, over and over again. At 2.5 knots, this could take a while. I download a weather forecast from Mazu, curious to see when the wind will come.

Three ice bergs float the horizon, and appear contradictory to the days temperatures. I check the water temp, its one degree above freezing. This confirms that yes, they are indeed going nowhere fast. They shine shockingly white. Each one appears and disappears into the swells. They are a kind reminder to keep alert. We have 300 miles until exiting the ice limit.

A duo of Puffins awkwardly skim the surface. Their geometric faces are separated by blocks of black and white, trimmed with sherbet orange beaks. They are littler than I expect, cuter than I expect, and I wish deeply that I could keep one. But they are monogamous and I couldn’t bare to take one from another so that means I will have to keep two. I wonder what Luke will think when he wakes to Puffin pets on my shoulders.

Minke whales surface as we pass Cape St. Francis in a pod of two, one dorsal fin next to another. These animals in pairs assure me that traveling in a pair is in fact, enough. That Luke and I being double handed, will be just fine, we are enough too.

I don’t notice when the coastline disappears. When I finally register that I won’t be seeing land for weeks It doesn’t bother me. I’m almost relieved. We are simply along the ride now. I see the next ice berg on the horizon, and adjust Penny to steer straight for it.

It takes 3 hours to reach the berg. We sail questionably close to it’s storybook features . Utopian in its figure. Classic in it’s coloring. Inviting in the way you envision having a picnic on it’s timeless slopes. I want to stay and explore. I want to peer under the sea to understand its entirety. At the same time it’s making me nervous. It’s beauty intimidating, the kind that makes an entire room go quiet. I feel privileged to be in it’s presence. We watch it undulate in and out of the sea, as long as we possibly can.

A hump back whale breaches 1/4 mile to port. It launches from the sea dropping my jaw and lifting my arm to point. My reaction startles Luke as he reckons something is wrong, but he sees it before crash landing the surface. It’s size immeasurable. It’s power inconceivable. It’s brief moment on stage striking.

I can’t add up the glories of one single day one. It’s doesn’t feel right to be gifted so many things in less than 24 hours. I feel a very subtle shift in my gut. I know how these things tend to balance out. As my first grave yard shift begins the subtle shift takes a sharp turn. Upwards. Outwards. Stuck in between the back of my throat, threatening to come out of my nostrils. I am sick. Again. Again. And again. I put water in. It comes back up. I put a cracker in. It comes back up. Ginger ale. Comes back up. What does it want, quarters? I prevent myself from trying this. Someone has hooked up a macerator pump to my mouth and is pressing the button. Over 4 hours I drain my body of everything that is not securely attached to the walls of my stomach. I move onto dry heaving and count down the minutes till I can wake Luke up.

Good morning Luke. Want a kiss? Your turn.

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Results of a gale while tied up to a fishing dock in Newfoundland. Depature-5Depature-7

Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club sunset. Depature-10

Getting my next lesson in mechanics. Torquing cylinder heads and spacing valves. Depature-11

Luke, taking apart winchesDepature-12

Result of drawer flying out on port tack.

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Provisions. Not including beer, juice, water, canned goods.

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DEAR NEWFOUNDLAND // I want to extend the greatest of thank you’s to the Royal Newfoundland Yacht club, one of its commodores Mark Wareham, his wife Kerri, and a handful of it’s kind members who went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. They did such a grand job of making us feel at home and helping us prepare for our crossing, that it was very difficult to sail away. I have a lot to say about Newfoundland. Luke and I fell in love with it. Kindest people I have ever met in my life. I thought I was nice. Now I’m starting to think I need to step it up. We will be back. Above every place I’ve landed since Michigan, I recommend the RNYC first. Despite Newfoundlands notorious fog, icebergs, and labrador temperatures, it’s a  m u s t. Don’t miss it.

Night-shift notes

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JUNE 6 // En route to ILE DE LA MADALEINE 

2:35  – The moon is nearly bright enough to light the pages on my book. If I concentrate hard enough I can almost make it through a sentence.

2:45  – Silver fins slice the surface. I can’t see their details, only the shape they take as they pass through a tunnel of moonlight. My friends are back and here to keep me awake. They play around the transom just long enough to check in and make sure we’re okay. We are okay. They move on.

3:00  – I meet a painter. The artist takes a brush and walks the horizon with deep blood orange. She walks back and forth blending it into navy, and then into black. Color is added again and again warming the seam. On the opposite side of the canvas, the moon tucks beneath the covers.

3:15 – A satellite passes over head. I start to think about space. I stop thinking about space, understanding that maybe there are some things meant to be misunderstood. I set the thought down with intentions to pick it up later.

3:25 – I find a half frozen chocolate in my pocket. Better than finding crinkled cash in old blue jeans. I melt it in my mouth. It tastes like jersey junction, the local ice cream shop where I grew up. I’d roller blade there and spend all the quarters I made ironing my mother’s work clothes on candy.

4:00 – This morning’s sunrise is the greatest present. I want to unwrap it forever. I am embarrassed with myself. Everything makes me want to cry. I set up the fishing pole to distract myself.

4:17 – Staring at a fishing pole is less entertaining than staring at the wind indicator. I take my boots off, peel my socks back, and stare at my toes instead. This is interesting.

JUNE 7 // En route to ST. PIERRE & MIQUELON

21:43 – I reach my peak of anxiety as the sun sinks. Another breathtaking setting sun I find little appreciation for. I try to stop and like it, love it, try to marvel  in its hot pinks and purples. Instead I notice the steam pouring from my exhales, the instant temperature drop and the jolting shiver that shakes me from my toes up. Night time is coming again.

23:20 – I play games to stay awake. These desperate games distract me from looking at the clock.  The first game a play is called “stand up, sit down”. It’s as simple as that. I stand up and tell myself to do so out loud, “stand up.” I stand for roughly 4 seconds. And then I sit down, “sit down.” I do this again and again. Interestingly enough, the forced physical movement via vocal instruction gets difficult.

The second game I play is a balancing game. The seat that sits behind the helm is in the shape of a dome. I take my hands off the wheel and feet off of the floor grates. I balance on my ass and count how long I can do this before I have to use an appendage to break my fall. I feel my abs weak, and get discouraged quickly.

The last game comes out of my mouth. I hum. It comes out by default as “The Little Mermaid.” When I finish humming Disney I upgrade to Celine Dion “My heart will go on forever” Then I realize I am not far from ice berg alley. I stop humming this song.

1:30 – I wake Luke up 15 minutes early and am feeling awful about it. But I am a hazard behind this helm.

JUNE 8 // ST. PIERRE // FRANCE 

5:43 – We arrive at the St. Pierre Yacht Club just after sunrise. We drink wine and eat triscuits for breakfast. After 240 miles and nearly 3 days we fall into a very very deep sleep.

8:00 – Two French men (customs) knock on the hull. Puffy eyed and half asleep we welcome them aboard. We provide them our passports and documents. My hand is shaking as I sign papers because I am still cold from the night before. The empty bottle of wine sits on the counter. Luke’s zipper is wide open. The boat is a mess. We are a mess. They seem to respect that we have just sailed for 3 days and don’t ask any unnecessary questions. They leave and we fall back into a coma.

17:30 – The weather forecast is a disaster. A gale is passing through for the next 4 days. Thirty-five knots of wind has us heeled over at our dock. Exercising patience on this secret French island. We walk the streets. Hike the hills. Eat fresh bread. The list of chores and tasks aboard Desirée grows like bamboo. Every day trim it down.

JUNE 14 // AVALON PENINSULA // NEWFOUNDLAND 

21:00 – We have entered the ice berg zone. We are in the region where 7 have been reported. The sun has set…again…like it always does. Can’t see anything…again. It’s foggy and windy. We turn off our running lights to eliminate the back glow, in hopes of seeing just a few more feet ahead. We drop all canvas besides a 2nd reefed main to slow down. Lightning flashes twice a minute but there is nothing to see besides birds circling. Fog, wind, lighting, blackness, circling birds. I have a bad feeling in my tummy. We agree to take shorter shifts tonight. I go down below to try and rest.

21:35 – Laying in my bunk with the lee cloth. Waves rock us from the side. I wish I could say it feels like being rocked in a cradle, but it doesn’t. My body is flexed to stay in place. I’m doing better burning calories than I am sleeping.

22:15 – I smell ice. I think about the fact that I smell ice for another hour, maybe longer and I don’t say anything. I don’t trust that it is possible. I tell myself that it is not possible. You can’t smell ice. But I do.

12:00 – Luke goes down for a nap. My eyes are glued to blackness. We move forward under power at 3 knots. I may as well be asleep because looking ahead is completely useless. We are traveling blind. We are gambling. This is torture. A few minutes pass and I think we are really stupid. Another few minutes pass and I feel like an arctic explorer. This goes on for the next three hours.

3:00 – We switch shifts. For a moment we sit together in the companionway watching the eastern sky start to change color. My anxiety lifts for a few minutes by having Luke awake, and next to me. We stare into the darkness. I give him a detailed report of my watch.

3:15 – I squint my eyes to focus. I squeeze Luke’s arm, my fingers form a vice-grip with alarming pressure. I extend my opposite arm full length and point, “Look…….look.” My seriousness is relayed in my grip, not my voice. We pass a wall of white 1/4 of a mile away off the port side. It’s an ice berg. It’s a fucking ice berg. A chunk of glacier the size of a three story house silently drifts into sight. We stare it harder than we’ve ever stared at anything in our lives. It disappears into the fog within a minute or two.

I am just a little girl from Michigan, this is hard for me to wrap my head around. I feel the exact same way I did when I was 12 years old, in the front row seat at the movies watching “Titanic” for the first time. My eyes round as grapefruits, my arm hair standing on end.

We spend the next hour staring into the abyss. Looking for more. Looking for anything. Having a sophisticated conversation – “Wow.” “Yeah.” “Wow.” “Yup” “Wowww.” until I exhaust myself and have to leave Luke alone.

4:00 – I lay down debilitated. I never expected to have so many emotions about a piece of ice. I can’t get over it. It took my breath away. It froze me just as solid as it.  It was magnificent. It was petrifying. It put in perspective what I have been willing to risk.  I have absolutely no proof. No video. No photo. It was just a minute in time that only Luke and I will remember. I think we just shared one the most epic minutes of our lives.

So I did smell ice. Ice berg sighting no. 1 – check.

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The truth about d o u b l e – h a n d i n g :

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En route to ILE DE LA MADELEINE // JUNE 3

6:42 am // My hair is mopped under a winter hat and explodes out the bottom, it wraps around my neck like a fur scarf. I look like a lion. People pay a lot of money for these kinds of things. It attaches itself to the velcro on my jacket. A few strands secure themselves to my bottom lip. I am on the morning shift. I’ve cracked a beer-mosa (Budweiser topped off with orange juice) and am dodging lobster pots. Out of character for me to crack a beer this time of day. But there is something about wherever I am, doing whatever I am doing, that qualifies this as an appropriate moment. Miranda Lambert is singing to me and she typically only does this when Luke is asleep. I drop the back of my Gill trousers and sit indian style off the stern, holding onto the backstay. This is my new bathroom. It’s more relaxing than any other box I’ve ever sat in to do the very same thing.

Lobster pots appear out of the fog and I miss them by meters. Feeling more and more British speaking in meters not feet. I see fishing boats displayed on the B&G AIS overlay. I do not see them in real life. In fact I can see nothing in real life until it is a Desirée’s length away.  I sit in the fog. We move forward under engine over a sheet of mercury. There is no wind. Not even a breath. The circle of visibility in which we sit in the center of, is 1/8th of a mile at best. It’s thick. In every direction I see a block of the same color. White. As if I was staring at a mountain of snow. The sun penetrates just enough to assist my body in heating up. The condensation drips from every surface facing downward. It rolls off of the boom and onto my head. I type words but do not look at the computer screen. Women are so great at multi-tasking. Pardon any typos.

I day-dream of what I will make for breakfast when Luke wakes. I only have one hour left of my four, but I am perfectly happy and wouldn’t mind sitting here for longer than required. A McGriddle. That’s what I will make. Mcdonalds at sea. I do feel the need to step up my game. Luke has prepared the most impressive boat meals I have ever tasted. I have been eating like a queen. He’s prepared Tournedos Rossini, Croque Monsieur, and Scallop Mac’n cheese. I place my breakfast ingredients on the counter in my head, and I like how they look. Pumpkin spice pancakes, with grilled ham and and a fried egg. Christmas at sea. Any diet I have ever considered is completely gone – out the window. My body is changing I can feel it. I don’t care. I am in survival mode. Give my carbs. Give me sugar. Give me a beer for breakfast. What my body wants is what I will give it.

33 miles ahead is  Ile De La Madeleine, an island situated on it’s own in between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 130 miles behind sits Gaspe, Quebec, the mainland that we have finally left behind. People say Ile De Le Madelaine is where people eat lobster, make babies, and never leave. I’m not opposed to the trio. I’d happily take the first and the last, the second might not be the wisest of decisions. We are just miles away from reaching the Atlantic Ocean now. Sometimes I just want to scream, to shout, the celebrate “Do you have any idea how long it has taken me to get here?”

The fog lifts and I can finally separate sea from sky. There is no land in sight. The idea of being completely alone out here does not scare me. I know that people are out there, they are everywhere, everywhere but here. We have found a place where they do not go. Most of them not a clue we are here. Some of them anxiously awaiting our safe arrival. But right now there is no one. Just the birds. They fly parallel Desirée with curiosity. My curiosity is stronger than their’s because they move on too quickly, while I sit here wishing I could keep up.  Their company alone is almost enough. I know that disconnecting from people for a short while is okay. I know it is important. I know that in my normal land life, I am connected beyond explanation. I do find safety in people. It would be nice to find safety in solitude, but it’s not easiest of tasks.

The truth I have learned about double-handing, is that you are alone more often then not. I sleep. You sleep. I am on watch for 4 hours. You are on watch for 4 hours. I sleep. You sleep.  And so it goes. We do our best to cook and enjoy meals together, and when we do get to hang out for an hour it becomes the quickest hour of the day. The rest of the time we chit-chat in passing.  We speak in wind speeds and headings. I count down 240 minutes until I can wake him up.

We might be only 6 feet apart, which is mutually preferred over an ocean apart. But the word “solitude” continues to cliff note our current state of existence. Do not let this take away from the opposite, in which teamwork is every reason we are able to carry on. But this kind of teamwork requires one to be working while the other recovers.  You never want to wake the other up, even when you feel desperate. You understand how important it is for the other to rest. You understand how important it is to maintain your watch. It is in fact, exhausting and quite lonely.  And being the incredibly social person that I am, this is difficult. When I see something – anything – a bird, a seal, a dolphin, a bug, a fishing boat… I am instantly comforted by the existence of something else. These little things have become my greatest joy. I have become an emotional old lady, hunched over in her chair, who writes letters and waits for visitors.

Grandma over and out – onwards to Ile de la Madelaine.

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