June 15, 2011
St. Georges Harbour, Bermuda
If it had not been for the Tennessee Moonshine runner things might have been better.
Not that they wanted a scene. Not for them the 1930s crowd of well wishers standing on the pier waving as their friends and family boarded and embarked on the massive ocean going cruise ship.
Still, as things developed it was a bit tawdry, even mean spirited.
As they cast off from their dock in Hampton Roads there was no one there. Not even dock staff could be bothered casting off lines for them, it being too hot in the Hampton Road noonhour for anyone to do anything.
The only witness to the beginning of their "adventure of a lifetime" was a well preserved Tennessee farmer, sitting, beer in hand, on the rear deck of his Sundancer 370 where he had been sitting like Clint Eastwood in El Camino, since sunup.
"Do you know how far it is to Azores?" he slurred as they backed out of the slip. "You can still change your mind."
With that they slid their boat into the dirty piss warm water of the Hampton River. Immediately the skipper steered his precious vessel directly into an immobile object scraping the teak on one side.
The value of having no observers was made apparent: No one saw the impact. Only ego was destroyed and a bit of teak. Both repairable.
It was, as they say, an ignominious beginning.
The act of steering their vessel into the waters of the Elizabeth River thence to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean capped a week of soul damaging consumerism as the crew of two prepared themselves and their tiny plastic boat to leave safety of land and brave the North Atlantic Ocean.
Not ordinarily religious the pair had acquired talismans against evil spirits: A special radio was purchased to warn of and protect from ocean going freighteers - half million tonne leviathons that lurked unseen waiting to pounce on them and send their vessel in splinters to the bottom consigning them to the briny deep. As if two pounds of plastic were proof against 100,000 gross tonnes of steel and oil moving at 20 knots. It was a religious experience: long on faith and hope and short on practical value.
Even they realized the folly of looking for some machine to do for them the jobs they feared they might not do well themselves. If only it could be that simple: a radio to warn them, a motorized winch to pull lines when the effort overwhelmed them.
They were filled with self doubt and insecurity and sought to allay their concerns on the altar of technology. In this approach lay sure failure. Whatever came, they knew deep down, would be a test of them not their possessions.
Once in Chesapeake Bay, only a few miles from the dock, they raised sail, anxious to experience again what it was they were about, to feel the wonder and mystery of a vessel moving silently on the breeze. As they bent on the main one of the mainsail battens, a fiberglass rod that helps the sail maintain its shape, popped out of its vecro pocket and flew straight as an arrow some fifty feet out into the fifty foot water of the Bay. Staring aft at the uncommunicative waters of the Chesapeake Bay he commented "Well, now we have a partially battened main".
Sail up, their plastic hull softly schlussing through light waves, they experienced tranquility so long missing from their hectic lives.
Under the spell of the sea they began to talk to one other, something they had not had much of a chance to do in the past month as they each raced to prepare themselves for their quest.
He voiced his concerns, not for safety of the ship or his wife, but of his ability to do the work they might face, to withstand the physical pounding of it all. At the onset of late middle age he feared not being able to execute the jobs that would be required of him.
She expressed her frustration at having worked so hard and still feeling so unprepared, as if there could never be a point where she would feel ready to do what they were about. She was concerned that she could not work all the electronic stuff on the boat and that she might need to someday for both their sakes.
They realized that they had already crossed several Atlantics: a well of self doubt as wide and deep as any part of the ocean, a growing gap between them and some of their friends whom seemed to resent their going, separation from family.
It might prove that the body of water which they were to cross was the least demanding of all the Atlantics they would have to cross to get where they were going.
For an hour they sat together just enjoying each other's company. Uncertain they were but also happy to be where they were, with each other in the embrace of the salty, building seas.
Then the wind rose to 25 knots and they got to work.