Sailing Newport to Norway
My Story of a Transatlantic Voyage
May 24 - July 15, 1976
Blog Entry #1
In 1980 E. Newbold Smith published Down Denmark Strait, his account of his two sailing voyages into the North Atlantic on his Sparkman & Stephens Nautor-built Swan-43 foot sloop, Reindeer. In 1976, I became a crew member during the transatlantic portion of Newbold's second voyage into the Arctic. As a recent college graduate, a newly-employed English teacher, story-lover and amateur writer, I kept a detailed journal of my observations and experiences on Reindeer.
Someday I knew I would add to the story. As I write these words I am now 4 years older than Newbold was when he dared to become the first person to skipper a sailing vessel around the North Pole. By 2017 I had added and posted over 30 chapters on my blog www.bluewaterystique.com about this adventure. For decades, I have wanted to write a belated version of our 3,000+ mile voyage during the summer of America's bicentennial year. It wasn't until 38 years later in 2013 that I tacked towards that direction.
The dead tell no lies. And none recall any truths as well. They can no longer offer any insight. Only survivors recount their days. And while the living rarely intend to exaggerate or understate reality, human tendency leans towards a bloated or deflated reality. In short, everyone has a different perspective of history. And the reality is often a collection of eyewitnesses.
As one of the last alive "survivors", I thought as a sailor it worth my while to plug some gaps, fill in some cracks, seal any leaky seams and possibly re-stitch some of the threadbare cloth of teller's time. When a sailor becomes embroiled in the midst of a storm, his actual experience and his recollection often differ. Any tale tells the partial truth. Any tale is only a tapestry weave if the all voices can add their color commentary to the historical fabric. No single version could ever possibly hope to recount an event. While a crew of 8 As an eyewitness and participant, I have my own unique view of what happened during those 3 months aboard Reindeer. Recollections never guarantee clarity though they may add perspective. Any writer worth his or her salt balances accuracy with entertainment. I knew this revising may have looked like work, but the reality was it was fun.
Transatlantic (25 sailing days in 4 stages):
- Newport, RI to St John, Newfoundland (6 sailing days)
- St John, Newfoundland to Reykjavik, Iceland (10 sailing days)
- Reykjavik, Iceland to Torshaven, Faroe Islands (4 sailing days)
- Torshaven, Faroe Islands to Bodo, Norway (5 sailing days)
- Why 40 years to write my version?
- Why rewrite history?
- Why share my story?
- Why now?
- What makes me think I can accurately recall reality after so many years?
I have been busy with life's pursuits. Before this time I did not feel that my writing voice and style had developed enough to give events story-retelling justice. The emergence of online blogs helped motivate me; it made sharing easier (neither blogs nor the internet existed when I sailed on Reindeer in 1976.)
Now it is so easier to compose and share via the internet. The sailing adventure for me was much more than crossing an ocean; it was challenging and healing my then recent wounds. It became part of the medicine I needed at the time to recover from a water polo accident. And as I write I realize the vicarious and therapeutic nature of my writing. And when I recently discovered Newbold's passing, I wanted to honor his memory the best way I could - with my view of our joint adventure.
The indelible impression of my 1000 + photo collection - stored away in slide trays for years in some closet in the off-chance I might be asked to present a scintillating Friday night slideshow And, of course, everyone would want to know the truth told with entertainingly. Wow, that was a naive thought from a yesteryear! The reality was that any retelling was either mine or no ones - "If it was to be, it was left up to me." While time may influence perspective and understanding, the thrills, chills and challenges of a 25-day Atlantic crossing. My detailed journal and numerous photos would jog my memory. as if I relived that summer as I wrote.
In 1975 I was an idealistic 25-year-old, seeking a sailing adventure across an ocean. I was in my third year of my teaching career at a prep school in CT when I first met a parent of one of my students. He presented a slide show to the Avon Old Farms community about his sailing exploits on his 43' sloop REINDEER into waters of northern Canada the previous summer. Near the conclusion of his talk, he announced his next voyage for the summer of 1976. He would attempt to become the first known yachtsman to sail around the North Pole.
So, without any thoughtful hesitation or deep contemplation, I introduced myself to Newbold Smith and stated that i wanted to join his crew. I wanted to sail with him on his attempted historic voyage / expedition. Like a hungry puppy dog, yearning a treat, my eagerness was palpable. And as is often the case with naïveté, one eventually discovers how innocent and oblivious one was about lay ahead. Maybe if I had been more aware of what was in store for me, I would have had second thoughts. Those only appeared on the Newport pier the day we departed!
After numerous mail correspondences throughout the next 6 months, I was lead to believe that there wouldn't be any space on board, but then in late February fate spoke. I opened a letter from Newbold informing me that someone had bowed out and there was now a berth open for me. His letter indicated he had a spot for the Atlantic crossing which is exactly what I wanted most. As romantic and adventurous as the Arctic circling sounded, I couldn't envision getting stuck in an ice field or dodging icebergs in frigid conditions as a way to spend a summer or any season. I was more interested in crossing and spending the second half of the summer hitchhiking through Scandinavia and northern Europe and then meeting up with friends on the Isle of Man in late July. As it all turned out, I was glad I had made that decision.