Monthly Archives: January 2009

Sailing Offshore

dsc_3304Images of sailing offshore bring about many different thought for people. Some people visualize a scary image of being surrounded by a desert of water with huge waves attempting to sink their boat. They feel more fear of what they think it would be like than they are able to see all the details of what a typical day on the ocean would be like. Their inability to visualize the details is due to a lack of experience on the water, or it might be caused by a single bad experience on the water, or if like a majority of people it is influenced from knowledge gained from television and movies that emphasize on the dramatic negative stories that hold the viewer like any bad car wreck that stops traffic with people staring at the wreckage. Then you have the people, mostly men who visualize sailing offshore as an escape from the cities or their daily lives with everyday ending with a perfect sunset and cocktails. Unfortunately both types of people are both right and wrong. Anyone who spends enough time on the ocean will have experiences that will scare them and bring them to the realization that no matter how well prepared you are, once you are offshore you are at the mercy of mother nature. The key to this is learned from mariners who have spent countless days offshore and who rightfully so respect the weather. The same can be said about the wonderful, magical times one will experience by spending time on the ocean. There will definitely be the times when you will feel so incredibly lucky to experience the gifts of nature on the open sea. A pod of dolphin swimming alongside, a moonless night where the stars a so thick you think of the romans who looked at those same stars and created the constellations and stories about their characters and the companionship those same stars gave them every night. There will be the sunset cocktails, the rainbows, the amazing phosphorescents trailing behind your vessel on a night passage, the sense of accomplishment upon making landfall in a foreign port, the welcoming transition to dawn with a cup of coffee as you watch the night fade away and the sun rise over the open ocean, feeling the boat find it’s rhythm with the swells as she surfs up and down the waves as you clip along in a perfect 15 knot breeze just aft of the beam, and so many other sensations that will stay with your every living moments that you will either love it or not.
One of my most memorable experiences happened on our 17 day passage from Beaufort NC to St. John in the USVI. The first part of the trip was far from ideal. We struggled to make our easting needed to achieve before entering the trade winds and progress was slow. On about the fifth day out we were only a few hundred miles off the east coast with a track on the chart looking like a lightning bolt from all the tacking we were doing as we waited for a front to push through and give us a more favorable wind. When the front did finally pass through the winds clocked around to the north west and began to howl around 40-45 knots. The next two days we sailed and surfed our 32 foot sailboat farther than in the previous five days combined. Our track straightened out and even though the ride was intense in the high winds and 15 foot seas it was a good feeling to be making some good distance. On the night of the second day the winds began to lighten and then were gone completely. I still only had up a tripled reefed mainsail and a storm jib up when it happened which left us rolling on the giant swells with no stabilization from our sails. It was a long night as we fired up the engine in an effort to gain some forward direction as we listened to the sails slap at the air. When daybreak finally came I was rewarded with one of the most magical sight I have ever witnessed. We were riding along on an ocean as slick as oil with swells big enough to swallow our boat completely. In the troughs we were surrounded by walls of water as calm a lake on a summer morning and as we rode up to the crest of one of the swells the view out across of breathtaking. The ocean was alive! It was as if we were riding with a herd of elephants all running in the same direction. On the crest of the swells all you could see was the rounded tops of all the other waves moving up and down and they raced along to the southeast. The speed that they traveled was astonishing as they approached from behind and we rode up and over swell after swell. I have seen the ocean in many different moods, so many times its character is a direct influence from the wind and as the wind changes so does the ocean in direct proportion. This was such a different experience because the ocean was alive long after the winds effect. It was a memorable morning riding the smooth swells, watching the sunrise and morning turn to day. It was a peaceful feeling witnessing something I had never seen before and have not experienced since.
And now as I sit here riding in mar car on a boat (riding a ferry off Ocracoke island where we live) writing this I once again have this peaceful feeling. Memories like this are what life is all about. Being able to recall times that touched the soul, that made me stop and give thanks for the experience, loving life and always looking forward to the next magical experience. For me and for many others these experiences just so happen to happen more often on the ocean, this is our “Ocean Medicine”.