This part of the book begins at a point where I stopped in Bermuda to update electronics and I am ready to leave. The weather forecasts are for either a day of adverse winds, or multiple days of no wind. I’ve grown tired of the wait. – DR
Days pass in a fairly steady routine. I wake, walk downtown with my computer stuffed in my pack and stop at the Harbormaster’s office where I log in and check weather routes, emails and peruse the proverbial “List” of details before return to Bo for an afternoon of work. The days end with a shower at the Dingy Club, more emails and even more computer time, and always, another check of the weather. After a few days, this routine wears me down and an uneasiness seeps into my subconscious, surfacing to my conscious as an adverse winds builds. The short chop of the harbor plays a staccato percussion on the side of Bo as the rising tide pushes us against the hard, concrete pier. The squeaky complaints from the fenders reinforce my edginess. Unable to sleep, an intense worry brews inside me.
I am so vulnerable tethered to this pier…my dream, my boat, even I am at risk. My nerves wear while the dock lines chafe. I scour the weather for options to get out of Bermuda but I’m left with only one; to wait another day….then another….and another. The knot inside me tightens with each unfavorable weather forecast— the realization I can’t alter these things. Thursday afternoon’s forecast looks promising. I focus intently on it and promise I’ll get us out of Bermuda, regardless.
Thursday comes and the morning passes— I’ve readied Bo for departure and set everything in place. I step onto the concrete pier and pace to and from the club to wear away the excess hours while my mind runs up and down the work list. I can’t wait any longer and head back to the pier. On the way to Bo I stop to say good bye to Kurt, the first mate on the other ocean going, sailing vessel tied at the dock, and ask if he’d help with the lines ….” You leaving now?” an inquisitiveness to his answer…. “yes” I simply reply.
As Kurt and I walk over to Bo I recommend the book Unbroken, which I’ve just finished, and offer it to him. We talk through the procedure of untying the mooring lines when I notice his voice seems quiet instead to his usual upbeat, lyrical English accent. We untie the last lines as I step aboard Bo and push away from the pier, motoring forward to the deep water of the bay. I look back, seeing Kurt still on the pier, and wonder what he’s thinking, watching another sailor head out to sea. Is he worried for my safety or intrigued by what’s going thru my mind? Bo turns about and heads toward the narrow opening between the sharp cliffs of the harbor entrance. I’m sure my feelings are much different from Kurt’s. I suspect he worries about my safety and the storms I’ll meet, I see myself headed to safety. Hours later I realize how quickly I ate up the last few moments of human contact I’ll have for a very long time.
Freeing Bo from the pier has untied the knot plaguing my gut. With my dream moored to the concrete pier, I’d been agitated; one step could break an ankle, one storm could crush Bo against the pier resulting in my emotional collapse—years of investment lost. A few miles beyond the cliffed entrance, we symbolically pass the safe water buoy and Bo and I are safe once again, out on the open sea.
The low hills of Bermuda slip over the edge of the earth as the late afternoon sun eases below the horizon. Twilight drains from the sky and without fanfare, darkness takes over, surrounding us. It’s a simple cycle of the eons—the sun rising, setting, light and darkness, over and over and over again. This is just another night in billions of nights. I add up the distance to Cape Town, South Africa—our next point of call. 7000 miles, maybe more…..I calculate this in weeks, instead of days… 6 or 7 of them—nearly two months.
Bo Dream sails easily in the darkness under Otto’s control. Otto’s our auto pilot, a box of electronic magic, driving an electric motor connected to a hydraulic ram, pushing and pulling the rudder as needed to keep us on a straight course. Otto tends to the day to day function of steering while I sleep, eat or like now, gaze off across the dark waters and ponder the complex simplicities of life, desperate to comprehend the distance defining my dream.
There’s a peace in this darkness, but competing with it inside me, an anxiety of unknowns brews….I’ve been to sea before, I’ve stopped in Bermuda before, I’ve sailed across the Atlantic before….but this time it’s different, I’m headed out, out beyond known horizons….to unknown seas, to unknown weather, to problems and time frames I’ve not yet experienced. I think of the list of failed equipment on a ten day passage and interpolate the math out forty or fifty days? What if’s jump to the forefront in this distractionless dark night. I grab my kitchen timers and look to sleep for relief.
Cushions and warmth are minimal, the damp dew covers me as I drift asleep— fifteen minutes at a time. The night passes slowly but eventually, the lightening of the sky coincides with the time on my watch and I witness the sun rising, opening the depths of the world to the horizon and setting another cycle of daylight experiences into play.
It would seem logical, in the open expanses of the oceans, for a navigator to sail a straight line from one place to another— but for an occasional diversion around an unexpected island— but years of experience have determined sailing routes around the world and none of them are straight! Trade winds blow consistently from east to west across the middle of the Atlantic and Pacific while the Westerly’s circle endlessly below the magnificent capes of South Africa, Australia and South America. The winds above flow like rivers in the sky, while below, rivers of current in the ocean flow with, and sometimes against, the sailor.
The warm current of the Gulf Stream exemplifies this. This warm river in the ocean flows north along the eastern seaboard of North America before it bends eastward across the north Atlantic, eventually cooling and sinking off the European continent. Currents flow in all the oceans and scientist have identified five main gyres circling the oceans of the world.
A sailor desires to live within the flow of wind and water—as in life, it’s quicker and easier. However, the route is seldom direct, often wandering as it weaves between variables.
Bo and I must first sail East, across the Atlantic, before turning south. We must find patience and wind to work eastward and yet remain north of the opposing, free flowing trade winds blowing from the coasts of southern Europe and northern Africa. Once far enough east, we can turn south and cross the trade winds. The distance gained to the east will allow us to slip west in the wind and current and still clear the bulge of Brazil.
We find the ocean calm and serene East of Bermuda. It’s beautiful weather for basking in the sun, reading books on the porch or playing tennis on land but not for sailing east. I’d not expected the limits of my patience to be tested so soon. Over the past forty years, I’d considered what it would take to float alone in the sea or to remain stranded on a mountain waiting for rescue but I hadn’t contemplated the endurance necessary to wait for wind on a calm ocean. As days pass, my mileage adds up slowly. Each day, I begin the weather briefing with…”can I head south now?” Ken Campbell, a noted weather router from New Hampshire, struggles to find a different, negative, yet calming, answer each time I ask. He answers, “we must get you further east before heading south or you’ll be forced to beat upwind into the trades to get around the bulge of Brazil,”— beating up wind is the equivalent of hell on water, especially in the fast, flat design of a Class 40 racing boat! These persistent trade winds, and the inherent currents accompanying them, have been flowing for as long as the earth has revolved on this axis. They are completely unaffected by the mental energy I focus to change them, though I do hope they are somewhat amused. I’ve always believed in an old saying, “if you can make them laugh, they won’t kill you.”
Day in and day out, I edge eastward, hoping for an 8 knot, 200 mile a day average but settling for little more than a hundred miles, one day we only make 67—an average less than three knots. I dig deep through the stores onboard and find no patience packed in and among the bins of repair parts, spare lines, batteries, sail ties, foul weather gear, flashlights, oil and engine spares, fuses, electrical connectors and duffels bags of freeze dried food. I am challenged by patience and exasperated by the rate of cookie burn. With not much to do but read books, contemplate weather options, and be angered I was too busy to install more music than Charlie Brown’s Christmas and the albums of Rick Braun, Richard Elliot and Jimmy Hendrix — my impatience eats away at the cookie and chocolate supply. Bo Dream scolds me and I resign I must endure this. I remember back to a younger Dave, thirty-five years ago, when Captain Ed at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School spoke as they were dropping me off on a very small island for four days… alone…with no food and only my foul weather gear and a piece of plastic as armor against the rugged Maine Coast. ”Anyone can survive without eating….that’s easy. The real challenge is finding food and keeping yourself fed.” I heard the echo of those words and changed them a bit to inspire me…..”Anyone can eat all the cookies in a hurry….the challenge is to make them last.” I would set a limit of two cookies a day and celebrate with four when I got the ok to begin my turn south.