ONCE UPON AN OCEAN...
It was embarkation day. Time to set out on our adventure across the Atlantic. We don’t want to call it a circumnavigation attempt yet, though it is our dream to see and share as much of the planet by water as we can before our 9-year-old son, Jack, leaves the nest.
The first leg of this adventure was from our hometown of Stuart, Florida, to Kinsale, Ireland, via Bermuda and the Azores. We had been dreaming about this moment for seven years and planning it for the last two. Yet, so far, we were the weak links, running down the dock, moments to spare, friends assembled to see us off, and our other friends and crew handling all onboard preparations.
We awoke on time, but as with absolutely all aspects of this crossing preparation, everything just took longer than we anticipated. Dear friends arrived to drive us to the dock. Much like bringing the bride to the church on time, they prodded and encouraged as our goodbyes with Jack seemed to drag out interminably.
In all of the years of saying goodbye to Jack, heading off to work as airline pilots, this time was different—so very different. It is one thing to say, “Goodbye, I’ll FaceTime you tonight, and I’ll be home the day after tomorrow,” but something else entirely for Alec and I to know that we were heading out to sea, together, for five days and then 10 days, respectively, on the first two legs of our trip. We’d see Jack again, of course, when he joined us in the Azores after we did the hard work of the crossing without having to worry about him getting seasick, but between now and then, whatever would happen during the next 49 days, saying goodbye would be the most difficult thing we had to do.
In my mind’s eye, the smell of coffee and pastry is wafting up from the galley as the sun is just breaking the horizon on a sea so calm it appears viscous. We are joyful and confident knowing that our Gratitude, a 64-foot Nordhavn built in 2006, will keep us safe, and we are sure in the knowledge that the larders and freezers are full. Everything that we will want or need is with us, and all is well.
The actual day of embarkation on May 16, 2019, looked a little different. The only occupants of the boat were our two cats, Pratt and Whitney, who dined on, and then vomited up, the bon voyage gift of flowers.
There wasn’t much time to worry about such things; the inlet from our hometown of Stuart, Florida, has a few high spots, so Gratitude, full of fuel, water and provisions, needed as much water under her keel as possible. It was crucial that we left on time on the high tide. So, we ran down the dock, kissed friends and family goodbye, and reminded ourselves to just breathe through that first hour on board. I got busy stowing last-minute items, locking lockers, and cleaning vomit, while Alec checked oil and transmission fluid, and transferred dock power to ship power. We were ready.
Having imagined this moment a million times since the idea of the passage struck seven years ago, I laughed out loud at the juxtaposition between those early fantasies and the realities before me. Alec was at the helm, praying just to make it out of the inlet without touching bottom. I was migrating from horizontal surface to horizontal surface, trying to find a place on board where I could be comfortable. I had succumbed to the worst bout of mal de mer ever to strike, and I went to our bunk, where I stayed for the entire first day. No dolphins, no pastry, no high fives from the crew. In fact, dinner was crackers and peanut butter for everyone on that momentous first day.
The next day was a new day, and things rapidly improved. We had perfect weather conditions for each of the following four days of the trip. We arrived in Bermuda with a crew two years older than the one that left Florida, as we celebrated two birthdays aboard.
THE NEXT LEG
With arrival paperwork sent in prior to our departure from Florida, our formalities in Bermuda were handled uneventfully by the Princess Hotel and Resort, where we enjoyed six wonderful days awaiting our next weather opportunity for Horta, in the Azores. And then, we were off for leg two of the crossing.
Calm seas for the majority of the Bermuda-to-Horta leg reduced our time at sea to only 10 days. The same placidity that permitted an earlier-than-expected arrival also provided a relaxed rhythm for the crew, who enjoyed leisurely naps, reading opportunities and exercising in the sky lounge. We had numerous dolphin and whale encounters, and enjoyed wonderful meals prepared in advance. Similar to others’ experience on longer passages, we didn’t experience boredom or stress. A rhythm seems to develop and a calm sets in—until panic arrives.
For us, panic took the form of an electrical issue after the point of no return. We ended up using just one of the two 25 kW generators we have aboard. Redundancy: I love that word. Another brief moment of terror came when a crew member turned off the stabilizers, intending only to dim the lights on the ABT-Trac panel. An immediate return of all sleeping crew to the wheelhouse quickly resolved the error.
LANDFALL AT HORTA
We’d arranged the services of a handler in Horta, so all of our fueling, paperwork and immigration tasks were managed for us. Thus began the wait for Jack and Janie, his adult traveling companion. The day before their arrival was spent moving crew to another stateroom and preparing Jack’s room. Even Pratt and Whitney seemed to sense his return. The morning of his arrival, we traveled to the airport, where we paced for nearly an hour awaiting the plane. At last, we watched Jack emerge on the tarmac. We jumped and cried for joy as he ran up the steps, leaving Janie to carry all of his bags. That first day was our own to reconnect and be a family, our happiest day since we left on our journey. The following three weeks of weather delay let us enjoy world-class hiking, as a family, in Horta and on the neighboring island Pico.
The downside of the wait was trip fatigue. To be fair, living between the bulkheads with five or six people is challenging, even when the space is as comfortable as Gratitude is. Alec and I are a bit anal-retentive. Most airline pilots are. That said, our crew managed admirably, and when it was time to depart, we all mustered the necessary enthusiasm for the final seven-day journey.
En route to Kinsale, Ireland, we had multiple dolphin and whale encounters. And with the exception of one course correction that our weather router suggested, we enjoyed a completely uneventful passage. Our arrival into Kinsale was heralded by the navy making a pass to say welcome, followed by immigration officials joining us for the final 20 minutes to complete paperwork on our way to the dock. The formalities were completed before we had the first line on terra firma.
I have heard it said that an epic journey is really three trips in one: the trip one takes in her fantasies, the trip one actually lives through, and the trip one remembers years later. As we near the one-year anniversary since our departure, and having cruised an additional 1,600 miles in Europe, I can say that the memory of the crossing is the sweetest of all. The joy of having worked toward a goal, and the thrill of living on the other side of the journey, will stay with us a lifetime.