Mindfulness is getting a lot of well-deserved attention. Focusing on the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, has much merit. I try to stay in the moment as much as possible. However, for the past four months, I have spent many hours focused on the future; anticipating the upcoming Transatlantic passage to Portugal. I wake up in the morning thinking about it, and then throughout the day I’ll smile about my good fortune to have such an opportunity. Since I was invited to be a fourth crew member on North Wind, there has not been a single day that I have not devoted significant time to mentally preparing for the voyage, or talking about it with friends and colleagues.
Being retired I do not see my colleagues daily. Invariably, when I cross paths with a colleague, I am asked how retirement is going. My ready response to share my excitement about the upcoming adventure. Their reactions are binary. Some react with a big smile and ask for details. Others, express concern and look at me like I am crazy to consider sailing so far away from the safety of a coast. Last night, I was asked if I was nervous about the trip. My quick response was, “No, but I have great respect for the various ways one can prevent dangerous situations.” This morning I reflected more on the question about having fear associated with the trip. I think about the passage the same way I view riding my bicycle on public roads or driving on Interstates between Bloomington and Florida. Riding a bike or driving a car involves risk, but we accept it because we see many instances of those activities occurring without an incident. When there is someone who gets stranded in a sailboat, that’s what we see on the news.
Bottom line, anticipating the upcoming Transatlantic passage has been exhilarating.
The four-person crew of North Wind met at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD for the two-day International Offshore Ocean Safety Course. Sailing has been re-instituted as a requirement at the Academy. About 100 civilians joined the USNA sailing team members and another roughly 200 Mids who were scheduled to participate in their summer sailing program. (Mids is the term they used to refer to Midshipmen. I’m not sure whether Mid was a gender neutral term for Midshipmen or just shorthand, but the 2021 USNA class is 27% women)
Vice-Admiral Dixon Smith gave the opening remarks. He relayed stories of his days as a Mid and situations that he was lucky to escape without injury. He underscored the importance of learning from mistakes and taking preventive steps to avoid dangerous sailing situations.
One of the most powerful presentations included three crew members from the Meridian X, competing in the 2017 Chicago to Mackinac race. The helmsman described conditions when a crew member went overboard (MOB). It was near midnight, the wind was steady at 15 knots and then built rapidly to 30 knots. He called all hands on-deck to drop the spinnaker and set the storm sail. Eventually, the wind hit 40 knots, with a boat speed of 22. Mark Wheeler emerged from the cabin, putting on his life vest. Mark was heading for the stern winch behind the helmsman. While reaching for the winch, a sudden tack caught him off balance and he was thrown between the lifelines and out the back of the boat.
The helmsman estimated the boat traveled 2 miles before the spinnaker could be fully dropped and they could safely turn. A quick turn would have capsized the boat. Mark Wheeler described turbulent water, a new signal light that failed after a few minutes, and experiencing extreme cold. After 15 minutes he blew his whistle once a minute. After an hour in the water, he thought he was going to die. He had an AIS transmitter that would have led the boat back to him, but the boat was not equipped with AIS. Apparently other boats were not close enough to see the AIS signal on their chartplotters. Eventually, the crew of the Meridian X heard a faint whistle and headed in the direction of the sound. Bottom-line is the whistle saved Mark’s life. The overall take home message is upon exiting the cabin clip into the jackline, check your safety light, and make sure you know how to activate your AIS and PLB.
There was a session on emergency medical care. One focus was on preventing seasickness and the role of ginger tablets, acupressure wristbands, and Bonine. Hypothermia symptoms and treatment were covered, as were prescriptions to take offshore.
Communication with rescue personnel was addressed by Lt Kellen Browne of the USCG. It was an interesting presentation from the view of a helicopter pilot. I learned not to worry that a search helicopter may turn and go back to shore, while signaling another helicopter that will do the rescue. Hence, don’t get discouraged if the first helicopter departs.
John Kretschmer provided an engaging talk about voyage preparation. Other presentations included weather forecasts, storm sails and heavy weather, and care/maintenance of safety equipment.
One of the nice features of sharing a three-bedroom Airbnb was meeting the crew for our upcoming adventure. The other members of the North Wind crew, Roy, Carlos and Kathy, had sailed together. I had sailed with Roy, so it was a pleasure to meet Kathy and Carlos. After dinner on Saturday night we spent several hours processing the information we heard that day. Eventually the conversation turned to meal planning. The three days of positive interactions portend well for a smooth passage.
On the delivery of a Lagoon 450 from Annapolis to Key West and about 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina, I was asked if I wanted to be the fourth crew member on a transatlantic passage leaving in May. At the age of 16, I remember sitting on the beach in Ocean City, NJ, starring across the water at the horizon while contemplating what it would be like to sail to England. Now, almost five decades later, sailing across the Atlantic was a real possibility.
The next 36 hours were sleepless. I could not imagine a better opportunity. The boat would be a two-year-old Jeanneau 509 equipped with radar, AIS (Automatic Identification System), and a life raft. My former ASA 101, 102, 104 instructor, Roy Rogers, would bring 30 years of sailing the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean, plus practical knowledge of sailboat maintenance. We would be taking part in the ARC-Europe with 30 other boats. The Atlantic Rally to Europe https://www.worldcruising.com/arc_europe/event.aspx.
On the other hand, there are risks. During those sleepless hours, I was more worried about asking my wife, than heavy weather, hitting a container that fell off a cargo ship, a lightning strike that would take out the electronics (autopilot, chartplotter, AIS, radar, etc.), or one of hundreds of other things that could go wrong on a sailboat. Being a glass is half full person, I gathered to courage to ask my wife. She was wonderfully supportive.
On March 24-25, we will be at the Navel Academy in Annapolis for an Offshore Safety at Sea workshop. http://www.ussailing.org/education/safety-at-sea/. The course, sponsored by U.S. Sailing, covers Heavy Weather, Storm Sails, Crew Health, Hypothermia, Jury Rigging and Repair, Fire Precautions, Lending Assistance, Life Rafts, and Signals.
On May 5, we will depart from Portsmouth, Virginia. The first stop will be Bermuda, about 640 natical miles. Depending on the winds and weather, we will have about five days to explore Bermuda. The longest leg is 1800 nm to the Azores, a volcanic archipelago of nine islands. We will take eleven days to visit four of the islands. At the Horta marina, Island of Faial, we will paint an image of our boat, North Wind. For an image of the wall, see https://www.gettyimages.ae/detail/photo/at-horta-marina-island-of-faial-azores-high-res-stock-photography/554383049. Legend has it that this will bring us good luck for the last 840 nm to Legos, Portugal.
I took the 5:15am flight from Tampa to BWI. Then picked up an Uber to Edgewater, MD (near Annapolis). The Uber driver was a retired social worker from Baltimore City. I was his 9,990th customer. I lamented that I could have been number10,000. Very interesting, guy with a positive outlook on life. He mentioned he really enjoys being an Uber driver, meeting a wide variety of people. He complemented Trump on his decision to divert funds to veterans. Then he subtly implied that was one of the few actions of Trump he agreed with. When I indicated my dissatisfaction with Trump, he indicated that 99 percent of his riders took the same stance on the current president.
When I arrived at the Liberty Marina, Captain Roy came off the dock and met me. I had expected to depart immediately, but there was an issue with the mainsail and the lazy jack setup. Since the wind was light we hoisted the mainsail at the dock. After some adjustments the lazy jacks were properly set. The last task was getting the canvas around the helm. While it would seem to be relatively simple job, it was not. The canvas and vinyl were cold, somewhere in the 30’s resulting n a lack of elasticity. The biggest problem was figuring out which pieces went where. Eventually, one of the zipper pull-tabs broke from pulling on it too hard with pliers. Having one windscreen would have made the trip beyond cold. Eventually a piece of canvas which we had no idea where it fit, was sacrificed to donate a pull-tab to our cause. I was extremely thankful it worked.
Capt. Roy got us off the dock from a tight parking spot. Next stop was the fuel dock. At noon and 150 gallons of diesel later, we turned and head out of the Chesapeake Bay. We motor sailed for the next 18 hours. My watches were from 6pm to 8pm and 2am to 4am. During my first watch it was dark. The exciting part was learning to use the AIS on a B&G Multi-Function Display (MFD). It is a large chart plotter with multiple overlays. Being able to see the vectors of cargo ships, fishing vessels, and tugs was almost as much fun as sailing with Marcia Campbell on a beautiful day in Sarasota Bay.
Monday, November 27, 2017
My 2:00 am watch involved dodging channel buoys to stay on course and avoid numerous fishing vessels that were moving on average 12 kph to our 6-7 kph. Since our draft was only 5 ft., we were able to go outside the channel in order to maintain the most direct route.
I failed to mention how cold it was during the watches. The best description would be cold to the bone. For the 2am watch, I added cycling tights under my pants, added a neoprene cycling jacket under my ski jacket and decided to switch to my new thermally lined boat boots. Two days ago I was debating on whether to return the boots to West Marine. I am so glad I kept them. My feet were still cold, but not painful.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
My next 2:00 am was exciting. When I started the watch, Bill and Roy were at the helm. They have switched from one engine to two. To avoid the shoals of Cape Hatteras, they took us about 10 miles offshore. The down side was we had to fight the Gulf Stream. Turning on the second engine brought us up from a low of 4 knots to close to 7. At the next waypoint we were going to head closer to shore. Roy told me to turn one of the engines off when it was apparent the combination of one engine and the mail sail would yield 7 knots. Roy and Bill headed below to read, rest or sleep. This left me alone at the helm.
For the first hour, our waypoint lined up directly with a fishing boat that was more than 25 miles away. Our respective vectors were aimed at each other. The MFD indicated that would run into each other if one of us failed to alter course. I asked Roy when we should signal that we would alter course. Since the other boat was a fishing vessel, we were the give way boat. He said when we see their lights. When we were about two nautical miles apart, I saw a faint light directly ahead at that point I turned 5 degrees to starboard. Our vectors separated and in a few minutes we passed port to port. We did all this without speaking to each other on radio.
For several minutes it was quiet and I started to worry about boats without AIS that would not show up on our display. Seeing out the vinyl windshield was difficult because the minor bends and creases caused a bit of distortion. Hence I thought it prudent to take the steps and be into the wind. Suddenly the Milky Way appeared above, Orion, the big dipper, and North Star out shown the thousands of other stars. The second bonus for getting out from beyond the windscreen was hearing splashing off our starboard. There was a pod of 20 or more dolphins cruising along with us. They were surfacing in pairs and keeping pace with the boat.
Because I had recently turned off the starboard engine, Bill woke up fearing something was wrong. He came up to see no one at the helm, but eventually saw me standing outside. For the next 10 to 15 minutes we marveled at the play of the dolphins under star filled sky. Bill returned to his cabin. I reflected on other times in my life I had seen the Milky Way so clearly. Never 10 miles out with dolphins dancing to who knows what drummer.
At about 8:30 am, I woke and headed up for breakfast; granola and English breakfast tea. My next watch was at 10 am. There was enough time to grab a shower, my first on the boat. Earlier there was no way I could imagine taking a shower because it was too cold. Unlike most sailboats there was ample room to take a comfortable shower. We were pitching and rolling, so I had to hang on to avoid falling into the shower door. Shaved, teeth brushed, flossed and hair combed felt better than the routine daily shower. I finished with minutes to spare and went to the helm for the 10 to noon shift.
Within minutes the more curious dolphins returned. This time they brought their friends and relatives. Bill estimated there were at least 40. This time they were off the port, and starboard. Fred and Roy joined us for the show. I was pleased with the cellphone video that captured some of their activity.
Fred figured out the audio system and controlling the various zones. I enjoyed a blue sky and mix of female rock and light country singers. The effect was pronounced since we were in blue water, no land in sight just an endless 360degree horizon of water. It was another great watch.
Dinner was ready after I started my 6:00 pm watch. Roy kindly spelled me to drop down to the galley and have Shrimp Etouffee that Fred, the master chef, prepared. Excellent. The watch was uneventful as we were 30 miles off the coast and there was no traffic to navigate around or worry that a ship would overtake us. I was absolutely exhausted and yawning with 15 minutes left in my watch. It was a welcome sight to see Fred open the passageway and come up to the helm. Despite bouncing around in my bunk, I was sound asleep within two or three minutes.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
At 1:30 am, I awoke after a restful 5 hours of sleep. Bill showed me the trip calculator that he discovered during his quiet watch. We were on a 7 kt pace during his two-hour stretch. The timing was perfect in that the waxing moon was near the horizon and about to set. Out came the cell phones and the moment was captured. Cloud cover was present during much of the watch. There was a stretch of 15 minutes that providing a nice opening to see the brilliance of the stars without interference from the moon.
At 9:00 am, on the radio we heard, “Sécurité- Sécurité- Sécurité”. The Coast Guard announced a sighting of 6 whales a mile off an inlet that we could not hear well enough to identify. It was of no consequence since we were 30 miles off the coast and would be nowhere near the sighting. The thought of seeing 6 whales put a smile on my face. Maybe someday in the future.
For the next six days on the water, my note taking dropped to zero. I’m not sure why I stopped, but I believe it was due to a question that Roy asked me. I’ll leave the question for the next blog post.
Although I am writing this part of the post three month after the fact, there were two 2:00-4:00 am watches that were unforgettable. On December 2 or 3, at 2:30 pm I saw the Supermoon set at. Shortly thereafter, the Milky Way appeared with what appeared to hundreds of thousands of stars. The following night the moon set at roughly 3:30 and it was another spectacular display of the Milky Way.
Highclere Castle was our last tourist destination on our visit to Europe. Marcia had prepared us well for the visit. We watched the PBS special on the Highclere Castle. We watched several episodes from the second season of Downton Abbey in the weeks prior to the visit.
We arrived in Bath a couple of hours before our Roman Baths dinner and tour. We explored the pedestrian streets and window shopped.
Eventually we found the Apple Store. Sarah went to one of the new iPads with the Apple Pencil. She found the Sketches app. Within in 15 minutes, Marcia, Ella, and I were on iPad’s creating creating drawings with the Sketches app. The feel of the Apple Pencil was uncanny. It glided across the surface and appeared to be pressure sensitive. The harder you pressed the thicker the line. It turns out there is a bluetooth pairing between the iPad and the Pencil.
Upon exiting the Apple Store we went to a plaza where a crowd was watching the Wimbledon men’s single final. In the press, Andy Murray had been mentioned as Britain’s hope. We enjoyed the moment as the hopes of British citizens came true.
Based on the website, we assumed the dinner would be held by candlelight in the Roman Baths. Although the rather plain restaurant was across the street and the meal was less than stellar, we enjoyed the actual Roman Baths. Rachel and Ella were listened intently to their audio guides.
The five of us headed out to Stonehenge at 9:00. Several people had warned us that you can no longer get close to stones. I thought it might be a let down to visit what Sarah said was “just a bunch of stones”. To the contrary it was quite impressive because even 500 years before 2500 BCE, there was significant human activity at the site. There was a circular ditch and earth bank. The ditch was filled with caulk and had a diameter of 110 meters. Before the stones, it was one of the first cemeteries in Britain. From the perimeter of Stonehenge, we could see several large dirt mounds on distant hills.
Marcia’s sister, Marla, encouraged us to go into the huts by the exhibition hall. Good advice. A fellow tourist was posing while his wife took a picture. Since our kids refused to pose, I included our smiling fellow tourist.
From the car park, Marcia picked up our tickets in the short line for those with the foresight to book online months in advance. Thanks to Marcia for doing the reservation six months ago! The car park is several kilometers from Stonehenge. So, there are multiple buses running back and forth to the site. They fill them. Once the seats are full, they encourage people to keep moving to the back until the aisle is full of people standing.
Later the girls decided to they had sat long enough and made up their own version of football.