Volvo Ocean Race – Newport Stopover

VOR Race VillageThe Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) boats had arrived in Newport between May 6th and May 7th with one of the closest finishes in race history. After over 5,000 miles, Dongfeng and Abu Dubai finished just three and a half minutes or a couple hundred meters apart to take 1st and 2nd respectively. With the winds so light near the finish line, crew were even sent up the masts to pop or push the battens in the sail to the other side with each turn.

passionThe excitement in Newport, RI was palatable. In just the first few days more than 40,000 people had visited the Race Village set up at Fort Adams, taking in their first look at the Volvo Ocean Race boats and visiting the team and sponsor pavilions. It was the only North American stopover of this iconic ocean race, and the first time the VOR boats visited Newport, RI, the historic sailing capital of the U.S.

We arrived on Monday evening after a 21 hour sail (actually motor) through thick fog and no wind. Although I was tired from the trip, it was exciting to pass the VOR 65 boats as we headed to our dock for the week. Over the following few days, I spent time at the Race Village and was quite impressed with the energy that was there. Various teams had pavilions set up to highlight their sponsor’s activities and ecological efforts. There were numerous activities for the public including youth sail races, high performance sailing exhibitions, and of course the iconic America’s Cup 12 meter boats. There were also concerts, films, opportunities to meet the sailing teams and other fun activities. All in all fun-filled and entertaining! Suntex Racing was also well represented in Newport and at the Race Village.

Suntex Greg Suntex Paul 1

Sedna VORBut, lets not forget the racing! It was great to be able to take Sedna out on the water and see the in-port race right near the starting line. We were even picked up by the film crew with Sedna being seen on the VOR in-port video (bottom left on the photo). Watching these Volvo 65 race boats accelerate out of the start and head to Castle Hill was thrilling. mapfre dong fengFor the actual race start from Newport to Lisbon, Portugal, we were again out on Sedna watching the action from the water unfold, while Paul Donato and Bjoern Kils from NY Media Boat were out on Paul’s plane taking some great action shots from the air. We were able to get some great photos which were followed and liked by among others, Volvo and Gaastra two of the key sponsors. By the time the boats left on their race to Lisbon, more than 125,000 people had visited the Race Village.

VOR NYMediaBoatAlvimedica  mapfre  brunel et al  brunel Alvimedica  VOR 3

All too soon, it was time to head back home for a ‘quick’ ocean sail to Liberty Landing Marina. The evening started out with clear skies and it was a nice treat to see the International Space Station (ISS) quickly cross the night sky over us. To think that the Volvo Ocean Race takes eight months to sail around the world (with stops at various ports), yet the ISS circumnavigates the earth in only 90 minutes! That is a study in contrasts.

Rounding Block Island, the clouds rolled in followed by fog, and again it was a sail back with radar and AIS as our best friends. At least the wind picked up on the last third of the sail and we had a great spinnaker run back to New York Harbor and home.

Now that I’m back home, it’s time to prepare for the Annapolis Newport Race which starts on June 4th.

  Newport Sunset 2  Newport Sunset

(click here to see more photos)

 

A Foggy Trip to Newport

In less than a month, our first race of the season will begin. The Annapolis Newport Race is one of the iconic races on the East Coast of the U.S. and we are delighted to have Suntex Marinas as one of our key sponsors this year. They have helped bring a sense of adventure and excitement to our racing season.

routeWith the Annapolis Newport Race coming up, and the Volvo Ocean Race boats at Newport, RI, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take the available crew up to Newport on the ocean side for some pre-race training. It would be the first sail of the season for them. Given that the plan was to leave on Mother’s Day, we decided to leave later in the evening around 9 pm. After all, Moms were the priority that day!

Manhattan at DuskThe weather forecast was generally good. Winds were forecasted at 10-15 knots (with gusts to 20 knts) from the south and shifting to the southwest later. That would make for a great broad reach through part of the night, then a fun spinnaker run up to Newport. The less exciting part of the forecast was the dense fog advisory in effect until the following day around noon.

Fortunately, the fog held off as we left Liberty Landing Marina and headed under the Verrazano Bridge out onto the open ocean. It was a beautiful initial three hours of sailing on a warm evening with stars acting as our guide. Alas, it was too short though. By 12:30 the fog began to roll in and ended up staying with us for the remainder of the sail up to Newport.

Some of the crew were initially nervous about sailing in dense fog. After all, how can you sail if you can’t see? Granted, at first it can be quite intimidating, but if properly prepared, it is manageable. Obviously, the biggest concern on the ocean is the potential of a collision with a (usually much bigger) boat. However, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk. Namely, understanding how to use radar and knowing how to use AIS (Automatic Identification System).

digital_radar_imageOne of the most important tools for sailing at times of limited visibility is radar. Radar gives us the ability to “see” objects such as land, other ships and navigation markers even when there is dense fog and in the dark of night.  However, it does take time to understand radar and to properly interpret what appears on the screen. The crew will have good practice on this sail.

Another tool is AIS which will show nearby boats as triangles on a chart plotter (electronic map). Clicking on the triangle will give you that boat’s navigational details including whether it is on a collision course. The two key terms to know with AIS are CPA (closest point of approach) and TCPA (time of closest point of approach). This data essentially tells you how close the risk of a collision is and when that could occur.

Once the crew settled in to a night of sailing in fog off the coast of Long Island, people relaxed somewhat. However, they soon encountered another challenge. Helming a true course in fog can be quite difficult as there are no visual cues such as the moon or stars to help steer a straight line. Nevertheless, there are still sensory clues that can help. One of the techniques I teach is to feel the direction of wind on your face or head when you are sailing on course and try to constantly be sensitive to that, using it as a guide. Also, the boat will have a certain motion as it sails with the waves on a particular direction. Learning to feel that is important for good helming. Finally, there is the compass that can be used to help steer a straight course. Just remember that you don’t want to simply react to compass changes as the slow swinging of the compass can lead to over steering.

Sailing on a broad reach along the coast there was a time or two when the person at the helm accidentally gybed and began sailing in the opposite direction (oops!). But with time, everyone improved remarkably. For those whom it was a first time sailing in fog at night it was a great learning experience, and they improved considerably by the end of the trip.

foggy sailDaylight hours did not bring any relief from the fog. It stayed socked in around us with visibility less than ½ mile and at times, less than a hundred yards. It was disappointing for some to pass close to Montauk Point without being able to see it. Later as we rounded Block Island, we passed navigational markers less than a quarter mile away although we could not visually see them. However, they did show up on radar and they could be heard through the dense fog.

castle hill lightIt wasn’t until we were close to Newport that we saw our first sight of land. Castle Hill Light slowly appeared out of the fog as we made our approach, and then one by one other landmarks began to appear out of the mist.  As we rounded Fort Adams, we could see the Volvo Ocean Race Village and the six boats all tied up at the docks. It was a beautiful and exciting sight!

 

castle hill

 

Safety at Sea Redux

IMG_6150I recently had the opportunity to attend another Safety at Sea seminar at the Annapolis Naval Academy with some of my crew. Although I have probably taken half a dozen of these courses in the U.S. and the U.K., I always look forward to them and come out learning something new.

Opening remarks, in typical fashion focused on recounting disaster stories and the people who lost their lives in various offshore races including the Fastnet Race in 1979. It is an eye opener for many people new to going offshore, as they realize how serious being away from land can be, how quickly events can deteriorate and disaster can strike.

safety locationsAfter the opening remarks and some much needed coffee, the day kicked into gear with the first session focused on care and maintenance of safety equipment. The one takeaway which I would recommend to everyone, is not just have the safety equipment on board, but to train with it as well. Does everyone know how to test inflatable life jackets and repack them afterwards? Are heaving lines and lifeslings properly faked (packed in their bags)? Have you tried throwing them to see that they come out smoothly? Do you and the crew know where all the safety equipment is? A picture can be worth a thousand words here!

IMG_6017Later in the morning, gears shifted somewhat to focus on MOB (man person overboard) prevention and recovery. The mantra was, “Be Prepared!” Know your equipment and know your crew. Know what each of their limitations are (both crew and equipment). Do you practiced MOB drills regularly?

I make it a habit to have each one of my crew members practice MOB recovery. But then, that’s me being selfish. If I were to ever fall overboard, I want to spend as little time in the water as possible! Another practice that I’ve established on my boat is a clear set of rules as to when to wear a lifejacket and when to use a safety tether. In general, if you’re uncomfortable on the water or seasick, wear a lifejacket. If the weather is rough or the mainsail is reefed, wear a lifejacket. If visibility is low due to fog or heavy rain, wear a lifejacket. And, ALWAYS wear one when sailing overnight. At least, those are the rules on my boat.

IMG_6010In the afternoon the Navy midshipmen put on an in-water MOB demonstration under demanding conditions: air temperature was 39 degrees, water temperature was 42 degrees and winds were a consistent 20-25 knots. Several different MOB recovery methods were demonstrated including a very impressive MOB recovery while under spinnaker. The latter was accomplished in less than 2 minutes!

Later, it was back to the lecture hall to listen to two people from NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Service talk about weather awareness and forecasting. The discussion focused on understanding surface charts (for offshore sailing), identifying growing thunderstorms and squalls and steps to take both prior to taking the boat out and also while out on the water. It basically boils down to knowing the forecast BEFORE you go out and continue to monitor the weather while you’re out.

DSC01171The weather discussion set the stage for the next session – heavy weather sailing. Granted, the concept of heavy weather sailing is relative depending on one’s experience. If your sailing experience has been in a protected harbor on a 24-27 ft boat then 20 knots can seem rightly intimidating. On a larger boat sailing offshore, it could be much more than that. Crossing oceans, weather systems can pack a quite the punch with high winds and big seas. When I crossed the North Pacific Ocean in Winter from China to San Francisco, 35-40 knot winds with 20 foot seas and blue skies was a good day. 60 knot winds and +40 foot seas less so!

Running with a poled-out Yankee

Again here, preparation (read practice, practice, practice!) and having the proper equipment is key. Do you have the proper reef points on your sails? If going offshore, do you have a storm jib and storm trysail? Have you practiced rigging it beforehand? Trying to hank on a storm jib on the bow in high winds and big seas is not the time to learn. Is everything down below stowed away so nothing can fly around potentially causing injury? Is the crew prepared, meals planned ahead of time? There is obviously much more to sailing in heavy weather, but it can be “fun.” Again preparation is key! Know your own, your boat and your crew’s limitations.

No Safety at Sea seminar would be complete without discussing medical issues and first aid. This year, the focus was on dealing with seasickness and hypothermia. Although many dismiss seasickness or mal de mer as the scourge of newbies, that is not the case. Given the right conditions, almost anyone can find themselves overcome by seasickness. After 30 years of sailing in sometimes challenging conditions, I thought I was. All it took was a bad storm several hundred miles off the coast of Japan with 50 knot winds blowing against the direction of the Kuroshio current and I finally understood what seasickness is all about!

I should note that seasickness by itself is not a medical emergency. It will subside after a few days at sea – it may not be pleasant, but it will subside. However, it can lead to symptoms that do need to be monitored, chief among those is dehydration. If you or one of your crew becomes seasick, it is vital that fluids are given (and a small garbage bag by his/her bunk!).

Prevention though, does wonders here. If someone is prone to seasickness, then medicine or other remedies should be administered before leaving the dock or before heavy weather hits. Underway, it can be helpful to stay on the deck and focus on the horizon. If someone is beginning to get seasick, giving him/her the helm can help significantly – provided the conditions warrant it. If it is challenging conditions you would want your better helmsperson to steer the boat.

All in all, I found it a great weekend seminar hearing new ideas and reinforcing old ones. It was also a great weekend for some of my new crew. They realized the seriousness of going offshore and how quickly events can deteriorate if you are not prepared. But, I think they also see that sailing/racing offshore with the proper preparation and focus on safety can be exciting and fun. One phrase I learned in the UK with my Clipper training, and always like to remind my crew, is that “safety never takes a day off, because danger never has a holiday.”

Transiting Hell Gate

maelstromHell Gate, just the sound of it brought many a man to their knees in fear. Just a small stretch of the East River between New York Harbor and Long Island Sound, for centuries it conjured up images of a treacherous journey through whirlpools large enough to swallow ships and with wild rapids churning up giant standing waves and hidden rocks ready to rip the bottoms out of ships.

Originally named by the Dutch when New York was Nieuw-Amsterdam, Hell Gate or Hellegat was first navigated in 1614 by the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block. Since that time hundreds of ships have sunk in the narrow channel. Some historians believe that “one in 50 ships trying to run the gauntlet of Hell Gate was either damaged or sunk” with up to 1,000 ships running aground annually in Hell Gate prior to the 1850’s. One of the most famous to have ended up at the bottom of Hell Gate was the British Revolutionary War frigate H.M.S. Hussar in 1780. Laden with millions of dollars (at the time) in gold and silver and over 150 men, she struck a rock and quickly sank.

During the late 19th century the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to blow up the rocks and reefs which plagued the treacherous tidal straight. At one point, the Corps used so much explosives that the blast was felt as far away as Princeton, NJ.

east-river-wavesToday, the short stretch of river is much more benign than days of yore, but it can still be a challenge to navigate for the unprepared. Currents can run up to six knots at times and tugs with barges under tow can suddenly appear around the sharp bends of the channel. Adding to that, is the possibility of steep five foot waves near the 59th Street Bridge due to upwelling caused by the subway tunnels running under the river.

Timed correctly though, a passage through the East River and Hell Gate is an enjoyable journey between Long Island Sound and New York Harbor, with stunning views of the UN and much of midtown Manhattan. Depending on the direction of approach, there are different easy steps to follow to make your journey as enjoyable as possible.

FROM NY HARBOR TO LONG ISLAND SOUND

Any trip northbound begins in either one of two ways: 1. check for when Northeast flood begins at Hell Gate or; 2. low water at the Battery.

Hell Gate – slack water flood

  1. If using Hell Gate current information, use Eldridge (a book all sailors should have onboard) for when “NORTHEAST Flood Starts”. Otherwise look on the Internet for when slack – flood starts.
  2. Enter the East River at the southern tip of Manhattan when Northeast flood at Hell Gate begins.
  3. The distance from the southern tip of Manhattan (the Battery) to Hell Gate is approximately 7 nautical miles so you can calculate your time to Hell Gate depending on your boat speed.

The Battery – low water

  1. Again, using Eldridge, look for LOW at the Battery.
  2. Enter the East River at the southern tip of Manhattan 2 hours after low at the Battery.

FROM LONG ISLAND SOUND TO NY HARBOR

Any trip southbound begins in either one of two ways: 1. check for when Southwest ebb begins at Hell Gate or; 2. high water at the Battery.

Hell Gate – slack water ebb

  1. If using Hell Gate current information, use Eldridge (a book all sailors should have onboard) for when “SOUTHWEST Ebb Starts”. Otherwise look on the Internet for when slack – ebb starts.
  2. Enter the East River at the Throgs Neck Bridge when Southwest flood at Hell Gate begins.
  3. The distance from the Throgs Neck Bridge to Hell Gate is also approximately 7 nautical miles so you can calculate your time to Hell Gate depending on your boat speed.

The Battery – high water

  1. Again, using Eldridge, look for HIGH at the Battery.
  2. Enter the East River at the southern tip of Manhattan 2 hours after high at the Battery.

CAUTIONARY NOTES

The times mentioned above are the earliest recommended times to enter from either direction in order to have a fair current throughout the transit. In reality, you could leave up to several hours later, but be aware that the later Hell Gate is traversed after slack, the rougher the water could be (standing waves, swirling eddies) and the more time you will need to maneuver if you suddenly find a tug and barge bearing down on you from around a blind bend in the river.

hell-gate-2As a rule, you should not transit the East River between Riker’s Island and the Southern tip of Roosevelt Island only under sail as there could be considerable commercial traffic (barges, ferries, DEP freighters) and having maneuverability around the many blind bends is critical.

It is also important to monitor VHF channel 13 for sécurité broadcasts from various commercial traffic. This can give you a heads up as to who may be entering Hell Gate and from what direction. Also, a handheld VHF is important. I have seen too many sailboaters attempt to run between the helm and down below to use or monitor the VHF while the current is taking them into dangerous waters. That is not safe boating!

east-river-maydayFinally, as with any passage planning, check the Coast Guard’s Local Notice to Mariners. Because of the UN being along the East River, the western side of Roosevelt Island could be closed due to security restrictions. This could leave only the eastern side open for travel and there is a lift bridge on that side with only 40 feet of clearance when down. Plus the current can run as fast as 7 knots on that side. Several sailboats have been dismasted on that bridge.

Procrastinator’s Update

I noticed it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. I’d like to say much has happened since in the past year and I have lots of exciting sailing adventures to share. To an extent yes, but not as much as I hoped to.

Yachtmaster Training in Antigua

AntiguaIn February 2013 I decided to escape the cold in New York and headed to Antigua to practice and test for the Yachtmaster certification, a rigorous and challenging practical exam administered by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) in the UK. The Yachtmaster is highly regarded throughout much of the world as the standard for skippering a boat. In comparison to the Coast Guard Captain’s licence which is only theory based, the Yachtmaster exam takes you on the water and ensures that you can safely and competently sail and captain a boat. The rigorous 48 hour practical exam covers a range of skills from understanding ColRegs (“rules of the road”) to planning and navigating ocean passages along unfamiliar coasts (using paper charts and a compass, not electronic chartplotters), as well as boat handling skills, managing and motivating a crew and meteorology just to name a few.

Antigua Blue SeasI have to say, between my instructor Logan and the examiner, I came away learning so much more about sailing and captaining a boat! It is one thing to navigate only by paper charts at night on the open ocean, and another to navigate an unfamiliar shoreline to a rock-strewn entrance to a bay and anchor under sail within a boat’s length of an island. All this on a moonless night as you hear the surf breaking on nearby rocks. If you think that’s difficult, try tacking upwind in a narrow channel between a reef and the main island using only a compass, your previously prepared passage plan and contour lines and transients. That was not for the faint of heart!

The Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence is a grueling exam, but for those who are keenly interested in developing their skippering abilities, I doubt you could find any better training.

Annapolis Newport Race

a2n 1In early June last year, I set off with my boat, cast and crew to Annapolis to compete in the 473 mile Annapolis Newport Race. With great fanfare, we left New York Harbor in the morning and quickly headed out into the ocean only to be greeted with 20 knot winds on the nose. It was a great 120 nm sail down to the entrance to Delaware Bay, but unfortunately, one of the crew became a tad bit seasick as we were pounding into 4-6 ft waves. Then again, when is one ever only a tad seasick?

Turning into the Delaware Bay, the seas calmed down considerably and Paul cooked a delicious meat loaf that was quickly devoured by a very hungry crew. By the next morning after transiting the C&D canal, we arrived at Annapolis just as a squall came over us making for a very wet arrival.

The start of the Annapolis Newport Race looked like it could be a very interesting one, with tropical storm Andrea heading directly in our direction. However, with the race delayed by several hours, we missed the brunt of the storm and started with 15-20 knot winds out of the North. This made for a great run down the Chesapeake – for those boat which had spinnakers. Unfortunately, I had just received my new asymmetrical spinnaker two days before we headed down to Annapolis so did not have any chance to train with the crew beforehand. The strong winds and gusty conditions at race start was not the time for them to learn (I learned later that one boat was knocked down on its side for over 30 minutes until a crew member cut their spinnaker away!).

Even without the spinnaker though, we did make good time down the Chesapeake with numerous thrills and chills. Roughly 16 hours into the race, a squall on the back side of Andrea hit us with 42 knot winds. Luckily we were able to get the jib down in time, but didn’t have time to reef the main! I decided to head downwind with the main out and run with the squall. We ended up sailing at 12-13 knots before the winds moderated. That was a scary moment but because the squall was moving so quickly, we only had about 20 minutes of “thrilling” sailing! We did eat up the miles with that run, quickly making our way down the Chesapeake. Unfortunately, the wind quickly died after the squall passed and we were left bobbing near the beginning of the Chesapeake with the current taking us out past the Bay Bridge Tunnel.

A2NOn the other side of the Bay Bridge Tunnel we were listlessly drifting around like a cork in a bathtub until the current reversed and we were being dragged backwards within a couple hundred yards of the bridge. At that time I had to make a painful decision to turn the engine on and thus end the race for us. With that decision made, we motored back up the coast and had to endure 28 hours of zero wind with not a hint of a ripple on the ocean. It was only half way up the coast of New Jersey that we began to get a southerly wind which picked up as we made the last dash for home.

Transpac Race

The other race I was looking forward to sailing last year was the Transpac Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii in early July. Unfortunately though, that was not to be and it seemed as if the gods were conspiring against me. First it was my knee that was giving me issues, then a tooth infection flared up in what I thought was one of my molars but turned out to be a sinus infection. Needless to say, it was a major disappointment as I was very much looking forward to racing and sailing again with some friends I sailed with on the Clipper race!

Around Long Island Race

alirAt the end of last July with my sinus infection finally gone, I did manage to participate in the Around Long Island Race. That was a “fun” 190 mile race which started off of Breezy Point on the Atlantic Ocean side, then ran up the outside of Long Island, around Montauk and then down the Sound to finish at Glen Cove.

The weather ended up being less than ideal at race start as a front stalled directly off the coast of Long Island bringing rain, 3-5 foot seas and 20 knots of wind right on the nose. For many of the boats the weather was too much and almost 30 of the 74 boats which had registered either did not start or turned back shortly after the start. Then again, perhaps it was a combination of the boats and/or crews which were not prepared. After all, it is an ocean coastal race for half the course, and having 3-5 foot seas and 20 knots of wind out on the ocean is not unusual. Having said that, I did end up spending my night watch with the two crew on my watch seasick – one on the leeward side and one on the windward side (not happy with that but at least the rain helped to rinse the boat).

It was a great run up the Eastern coast of Long Island and we managed to pass Montauk Light in 10th overall and second in our division. Conditions did begin to calm down a bit as we rounded Montauk Light which helped some crew members’ spirits to improve. Unfortunately, the wind continued to drop and as we got to Plum Gut the wind had left us completely and it was up to the currents to carry us through. The rest of the race was spent trying to find and hold onto any hint of wind. At one point we had the boat pointed in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go, yet the current taking us backwards towards the still-distant finish line (ah, the “joy” of Long Island sailing!). Two crew members decided to take advantage of the windless conditions and go for a welcome swim in the hot July afternoon. Eventually, the wind picked up enough for us to continue sailing and we crossed the line in Glen Cove to finish fourth in our division.

What’s in Store for 2013?

As I sit here on my boat on a cold February afternoon, I’m thinking about the sailing adventures I have planned for this year. Racing half-way around the world last year in the Clipper Round the World race did nothing to scare me away from ocean racing. In fact, quite the contrary! Granted, there were some scary moments (almost losing a crew mate off the coast of Japan and some fierce North Pacific storms), but with the excellent training I received through the Clipper Race program, I feel much more confident sailing beyond the horizon.

I have two ocean races actually planned for this year. The first race is the Annapolis Newport race in early June, and the second is the Transpac in July. The Annapolis Newport race is roughly 473 nautical miles long and starts in the Cheasepeake Bay, heads south to the mouth of the bay near Norfolk, Virginia, then out on the Atlantic Ocean. From there, it is up the coast to Newport, Rhode Island.

The next race is the famous Transpac from Los Angeles to Hawaii. I’m sure this will be an exciting race in July, and much warmer than last winter’s crossing of the North Pacific Ocean! I’m particularly excited about this race as I will be joining two former team mates from the Clipper race, Will Parbury and Bill Kerns.

I will keep everyone updated as I prepare for the two coming races. In particular, the Annapolis Newport race will require some preparation in getting my boat ready, as there is a long list of items, equipment and modifications needed to have a boat meet the requirements of a Category 2 offshore race. Just to give some idea, the compliance checklist for the race is 30 pages long!

But until then, I need to get through a cold and wintery February …

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IMG_2059 IMG_2056

Finally Home after 11,000 Miles

Sailing under the Verazzano Bridge and seeing the Manhattan skyline in the distance was a very welcome and happy sight after racing over 11,000 miles and half-way around the world.  It was a grueling ocean race from China across the cold North Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, and then down the Central American coast, through the Panama Canal and finally up to New York.  Granted, the last part of the race was not as grueling as clawing our way across the storm-tossed North Pacific, but it was nonetheless tiring.  Sleeping only 2 1/2 hours at a time does wear the mind and body down.

The final part of the race from Colón on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal to my home in New York was marked by a series of great moments and frustrating disappointments.  To sail through the Caribbean trade winds with consistent breezes day after day was a welcome relief after having no wind on our way down the Pacific side of Central America.  The seas were abundant with dolphins and whales and it was with constant pleasure that I watched these creatures gracefully play and swim around us.

However, there were also days of little wind or finding ourselves becalmed. It was very frustrating winding our way through the islands of the Bahamas and bobbing like a cork in a lake as we waited for the wind to fill in.  One of the most beautiful sights on the last part of the race that I witnessed was just before we crossed the finish line.  As we were sailing off the New Jersey coast, we were treated to a pod of pilot whales leisurely passing within 30 feet of our boat.  Such a beautiful sight!

My not-so-luxurious bunk

Now, after spending some time back on land, there are numerous thoughts that have gone through my head as I look back on my adventure, and it has taken some time to settle back into some degree of normalcy.  Initially, settling into home with a comfortable bed and a full night of sleep felt strange after spending three months at sea on a bunk barely three feet wide while being lucky to find sleep for just a few hours at a time.

Gone is the pain and agony of spending a month battling up the Japanese coast and crossing the North Pacific Ocean.  Now, it is replaced by a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Even though injured (lower lumbar sprain) during that part of the race, it was an experience that I would contemplate repeating again.  Albeit, next time I would make sure I am properly in shape with a strong focus on building the core and back muscles.  I also learned that finger strength is very important in grabbing and pulling down the yankee (head sail) when it is wildly flogging in 25-40 knots of wind.

Learning to coexist with 18 other people in a ‘small’ cramped environment has taught me a lot about tolerance and putting things into perspective.  Petty personal frictions (which were seldom) are not at all important when you are working together as a crew to safely race either in storm-tossed seas in the middle of an ink black night, or during windless days under the hot tropical sun.  All of us had the same goal, if different perspectives.  When I did feel myself becoming frustrated with crew members for what I perceived as their ‘short-comings’, it was a struggle to remind myself to be more compassionate.  These were useful ‘teaching moments’ for me and a great exercise to try to show more wisdom and compassion, two qualities I’m trying harder to develop in myself.

One of the many highlights of the adventure was standing at the coffee grinder (a large pedestal winch) trimming sails  while Sarah would read poetry or Chantal would recite sonnets from memory as the stars sparkled overhead.  Each of the crew members had qualities that I admired, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to sail and develop relationships with all of them.

You also learn a lot about yourself when you think you are at the limit of your endurance.  Your muscles burn from exhaustion, your mind is in a sleep-deprived fog and you just want to give up, curl up in a ball and sleep.  But you cannot.  There are only four of you on the wildly-pitching foredeck, the winds are building above 40 knots and the sail has to come down.  There is simply no other option, so you reach down somewhere deep inside and find the will to power through.  You learn to focus on the task immediately at hand, and just take it moment by moment.  No thoughts for hands that are cramping up, for fingernails torn off, for arms that are past the point of burning up.  No thoughts for the future, not even 15 minutes ahead.  Just focus on the now, and the wildly flogging sail in front of you.  Eventually, the sail comes down and you crawl slowly back to the cockpit, throwing up along the way.

Even through the exhaustion and fog, it takes extra effort to concentrate on just the simple tasks, and not doing so can be life-endangering.  There were a couple times, when I found myself unclipping my safety tether from one jack line (safety line running down both sides of the boat) to clip onto another on the other side of the boat.  Instead, I found that I had unclipped the safety tether from myself and had connected both to the same jack line.  Those were sobering moments.  If the boat were to unexpectedly roll, or a wave(s) were to wash down the deck, I would end up over the side of the boat.  That taught me to – no matter how tired or exhausted – take the time to think through what you are doing, and ALWAYS keeping safety in the forefront.

Indeed, that stood me in good stead another time when I was moving across the deck and asked a crewmate to unclip me from the high side of the boat so I could clip onto the lower side.  Just as he unclipped me, passed that end of the tether to me, and I was set to clip in, the boat rolled and I found myself summersaulting towards, then partially over the rail of the boat. What saved me from going overboard was the old adage, “one hand for the boat, one hand for yourself.”  I had held onto the jack line with one hand, while I was unclipped from the boat during the brief moment of transition. It was that one hand holding on to the jack line while my body was tumbling, which kept me on the boat.

What do I not miss from the experience?  The roar of the angry sea breaking unseen around the boat and the howl of the wind through the rigging during the middle of a fierce Pacific storm.  Having waves washing me down the deck like a little puppet and being folded around winches along the way.  Unable to find sleep as you’re constantly airborne and repeatedly slammed down into your bunk when the boat is beating (heading upwind) into heavy seas.  Trying to sleep in the equatorial heat as the inside of the boat is turned into an oven.  Some of the meals that were hopelessly boiled beyond recognition (having said that, people’s ‘right thoughts, right efforts’ were there, so you cannot fault them for that 😉 ).

I think the adventure also helped to remind me of what I find important in life.  Although I do appreciate my career and the success I’ve had over the years, it is not what defines me.  Without wanting to sound cliché, I’ve relearned how to live in – and appreciate – the moment.  Just sitting there and watching a humpback whale rise majestically out of the water as it breaches, is a magical experience.  No thoughts running through the mind, only capturing the beauty as it unfolds.  Or, watching meteors streaking across the sky at night – and smiling inside. Or, the numerous other times in which I was glad to be experiencing life at that moment.  Now, if I can just take those experiences and try to find satori in daily life back on land.

Like the race, life is truly a journey, and I look forward to enjoying and appreciating each day that it brings …