There is simply nothing like running downwind in the trades.
With our off-shore adventure on pause it was time to put the Far Reach on the hard. I have several small boat projects to complete, a summer of family camping planned, and prep work to complete for the kids 11th grade home-school year. Since I can’t spend time on her, better to have the Far Reach as safe as possible with hurricane season upon us in coastal NC.
It was a sad day pulling the Far Reach out of the water at the end of June and removing all her stores and equipment that had sustained our voyage so well. I tried not to think about it–just do like you have to do when tasks are unpleasant but must be done–put your head down and keep moving forward.
I find myself frequently reliving in my mind sailing in the West Indies and the single-handed off-shore voyage home–an incredible experience that was everything I wanted it to be. My connection to the sea is long lived. And it seems as I get older the bond grows ever stronger and more visceral. The Far Reach is so simple and yet so physical to sail it magnifies the experience. I could just as easily have been sailing a pilot cutter from the 1880s. There are very few technologies or electronics to shield me from the power, vastness, and sublime beauty of the sea or protect me from my own poor decision-making or lack of seamanship. It was on me and I loved it that way. Without all the modern “must-have” gear that complicates today’s sailing and distracts the mind I was able to experience the quiet uncluttered physical life I was seeking. I found it in abundance and it soothed my battered and wounded spirit. At sea I could feel the power of the ocean and the majesty of the wind and sky as it flowed over and coursed through me. Truly, as Loren Eiseley observed, “if there is any magic on this planet it is contained in water.”
I never slept better or felt better about myself and my place in the world as I did when I was sailing the Far Reach through the perennial N.E. Trades. My life was as simple as my boat. I experienced the very essence of an uncomplicated life and the personal and emotional freedom it delivers. It was an experience I craved after 26 years of a much-loved but often grueling life as a US Marine topped by an additional punishing six year rebuild of a once tired and wore out Cape Dory 36. When I started the rebuild I had no idea of how relentless an effort would be required to complete it. Though I had retired from active duty I still had responsibilities to juggle with my family along with the shared responsibilities of homeschooling our two children. I once commented to a friend how excited he must be to have his own rebuilt Hess 30 finally sailing and he told me “to be truthful I am too exhausted to enjoy it right now.” Well, that turned out to be exactly how I felt when we finally splashed the Far Reach. I was just numb from the degree of mental and physical effort it took to complete such an enormous project alone. I then understood why so many people give up—it just feels at times like it will never end and for many people eventually the vision just dims to a pin prick then disappears altogether. With the boat finally in the water I took no break but pressed ahead completing a number of additional projects to prepare the Far Reach for our first 1,600 nm offshore passage. By the time we took our departure from Cape Lookout, only six months after launching the Far Reach, I was completely exhausted driven only by the singular focus to sail to the West Indies.
The rebuild was guided by a life-long vision of a simple yet elegant sailing-centric boat which resulted in a truly outstanding sailing machine. The Far Reach exceeded my expectations in every way. The experience I gained during the rebuild gave me a reassuring confidence that came from knowing I could fix, repair, or modify any part of her. It was a liberating feeling. At no time during the voyage did I ever feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Sure, things went wrong at times. But, confidently working through problems is part of the experience and added color and depth to the adventure. In reality, after more than 3,500 nautical miles of ocean sailing we suffered only a single chafed halyard.
As for a simple boat–The reassuring ritual of lighting kerosene navigation lamps, heaving a sounding line into clear tropical-waters, hoisting or wrestling down to the deck powerful hank-on headsails, tacking up narrow coral-infested channels, or sculling a 18,000 lb boat into a quiet anchorage tangibly connected me to the timeless sea and the many long-gone sailors that inspired me since childhood. Every day I spent on the Far Reach I felt my internal systems recharging. New life, along with a large dose of tranquility, caressed my body and nourished my spirit.
There was plenty of time for contemplation, observation, and self reflection.
At sea there is no bureaucracy. There is no media or political spin. There are no pontificating celebrities or media blow-hards. There is no death by a thousand rules. All your tasks relate to the boat. There is only now. You are the master of all you survey as you make your way across a stunningly beautiful and yet at times terrifying and immensely powerful ocean. The only decisions that count are your own, however wise or foolish they may be. In a nutshell, to be alone at sea on your own boat is to experience the essence of personal freedom that so many of us long for yet which can be so hard to find in the frenetic modern world.
The double handed 1,600 nm offshore voyage from Cape Lookout, NC to the BVI was a rewarding but strenuous, difficult, upwind sail. I gained a lot of confidence in myself and the Far Reach. I would not trade that experience for anything. However, the 1300 nm mile single handed downwind passage home from St. Maarten was a wonderfully relaxing meditative and magical event. I did not want it to end. There is simply nothing like running downwind in the trades with a perfectly balanced boat under your feet, the hatches open and the decks dry, while a long line of blue-grey Atlantic rollers lifts the stern and whooshes past. Alone and on such a simple boat there was plenty of time for contemplation, observation, and self reflection. I returned home a more skilled sailor and a far better human than had left six months before.
Now, with the Far Reach waiting and resting on the hard I enjoy my amazing family and navigate a life more complicated by necessity all the while planning and scheming for the next voyage to freedom.