School is what it is, but when a truth is spoken, sometimes it’s the messenger who gets punished. After the bird died onboard Mystique, the message became clearer. The messenger had been the message after all.
A couple years ago I was sitting by myself at an outdoor cafe near the George Town market when a fellow sailor offered to help me. He asked me what I was doing; I told him and the next thing I knew he said he would fix my windlass for nothing. After chugging his last swig of beer, he proudly offered: "If am unable to fix it, you don’t have to pay me anything", he boasted.
I replied “What happens if you make it worse?”
Without the customary fireworks, little did we know that our July 4th departure would still end with a bang.
Reindeer had a front row box seat for viewing the competition.
How unlikely is it for a U.S. sailing vessel to arrive in a small Danish island country just a day or so before they celebrates American independence onJuly 4th?
After five pleasant sailing days from Iceland, Reindeer approached the Faroes at mid-afternoon on the sixth day. Mysterious, misty, mammoth mountains loomed up ahead. Cloud banks clung to the mysteriously jagged rows of cliffs before us. While the weather and winds had been favorable and cooperative during our 450-mile sail on the open sea, here the vervent, cragged heights seemed to alter the temperature and atmosphere. Something felt inviting and welcoming in the air.
Heimaey, HelgaFell and Eldfell. They had been waiting ashored-ly for my/our arrival. And they had been practiced in waiting for and on others when they returned from the sea.
Without any fanfare, Reindeer departed Reykjavik on a misty, low cloudy day. As we motored out of the harbor, I felt the ambivalence of returning to sea. On one hand, I was excited about the new sights, experiences and adventures that lay ahead over the next horizon. On the other, I could rarely escape the memories and images of our 10-day rollercoaster endurance test.
A rainbow did not foretell Newbold's misfortune before setting sail from a floating dock in Reykjavik harbor.
After finally having rediscovered the pure joy that soap and hot water afford in a prolonged fresh water shower, I felt reasonably cleansed and human again. While I didn't garner the greatest sleep on the hotel floor, I had at least experienced some semblance of slumber without some huge cold waterbed splashing under me tossing me around like some hot potato while I was trying to catch some shuteye. On that count, I felt relieved.
I am choosing to describe Reindeer's crew's next twenty four hours ashore in Reykjavik as musical movements. Having the least possible similarity to any Beethoven or Mozart concerto, my comparison should cast no aspersions on these great composer's concertos. My comparison only seems apropos for two weak reasons. 1. the word "movement" had other relevant meanings. Their music would have created the necessary background contrast if someone in 1976 could have filmed those hours beginning with the crew's getting off our saddle sore-butts off riding Reindeer until our returning aboard the next day.
As Reindeer approached mainland Iceland and civilization, I remember feeling awed by actual land ahead, huge mountains looming in the distance and a foreign port on the horizon. I felt exhausted, but I was so energized that I couldn't sleep during my off watch time. And then almost suddenly, I realized around midnight something had changed.
Reindeer approaching Eldey - home of largest gannet population in the world. Once was the home of the extinct Great Auk.
“As we still ascend from shelf to shelf, we find the tenants of the tower serially disposed in order of their magnitude: gannets, black and speckled haglets, jays, sea hens, sperm-whale birds, gulls of all varieties -- thrones, princedoms, powers, dominating one above another in senatorial array; while, sprinkled over all, like an ever-repeated fly in a great piece of broidery, the stormy petrel or Mother Cary's chicken sounds his continual challenge and alarm.”
― Herman Melville, Encatadas
Our weather radio reported icebergs south of us, but we never dodged any during the 10 days sailing from Newfoundland to Iceland. And we never dodged weather, wind or waves, but we dodged exhaustion.
At 26 years old, I had almost no reference point. I was too inexperienced to know better....or worse! To fully comprehend the challenges that lay ahead of me. There was no jumping overboard or escaping this wild bronco. We were heading to our destination, but we were also heading into a series of major storms. Facing this obstacle was my growth opportunity. How I responded would be my personal test.
On our second day after leaving St. John, winds and seas start to build for our next 9-day close-hauled passage. As we heeled more, jib changes became more and more necessary as waves added pressure on sails, sheets and halyard.
Approaching St. John's, Newfoundland after 5 glorious sailing days, I remember feeling ready to reach a destination. Ready to get my feet on something solid. Ready to step ashore and feel grounded. But I did not know enough to get ready for what lay ahead.
Our week-long close-hauled sail to Newfoundland was blessed by cooperative cold front: 20-25 knot northerly, gusty dry breezes. From Breton Reef, Rhode Island, Reindeer made its way along the New England coast through the Cape Cod Canal, 150 miles offshore from Maine, then passed Nova Scotia and Sable Island to St. John, the most easterly point of North America. With the late May air hovering in the 50-60 degree range with clear skies, our crew felt energized and optimistic, especially when we learned the forecast was favorable the whole 5-6 day leg to Newfoundland.
At a restaurant on the docks not too far from the Newport Yacht Club, I joined Newbold, his family and some of the crew for a "departure" dinner. The excitement and anticipation were palpable as our departure was the next morning. Smiles all around as most of us were giddy with anticipation. The day had finally arrived and the next day we set sail for Newfoundland. As the Smith family, friends and crew members well-wished and toasted to our good fortunes, Newbold reminded us that there would be no drinking aboard until we set foot on dry land. No one really knew when that was so all freely imbibed in celebratory libation, even our skipper!