Seems just a short time ago that we were heading across the Atlantic for the first time on Spindrift, now we have headed back, closer to home. With experience of one ocean crossing under our belts we were feeling pretty confident and prepared. This was supposed to be the easy way to go, downhill all the way (sailors jargon for sailing downwind, usually a pretty comfortable point of sail) with the trade winds and currents pushing us along our way. So after completing two legs of this journey, starting in Gran Canaria with a crew change in Cape Verde, we sit back, rum punch in hand and ask, how did it go? We are still learning many of life's lessons while at sea, here are just a few:
When you ask, "What could go wrong?" the answer can be "a lot." Two hours after leaving Cape Verde behind, under sunny skies, with 15 knots of wind and 8 foot seas the crew was anxious to put up the spinnaker. Actually, mostly Tony was really anxious, after flying with it in his luggage from home, moving the heavy sail around every time he needed to get something out of the workshop, finally there was an opportunity for that sail to earn the valuable space it had been taking up on board. Not wanting to put a damper on his enthusiasm but feeling obligated to voice my opinion, I thought maybe we should wait, until the new crew got better acquainted with the boat, until the winds calmed a bit and the seas flattened out. It's not easy being the voice of reason when no one wants to hear it, so up the spinnaker went, as one crew exclaimed "what could go wrong?" 30 minutes later the sail had firmly wrapped itself around the forestay (the pole in the front of the boat that holds the jib), the worst possible outcome, answering that question pretty soundly of what could go wrong. I had a conversation with a skipper before we left about things going wrong, and I remembered him saying it's not one thing that gets you in trouble but the six things that happen after that. So with that in mind, Tony went up the mast in rough seas to try to untangle the mess before that list started to grow. After spending a couple hours swinging 75 feet above the water, with the sun quickly approaching the horizon, we all realized the spinnaker wasn't coming down before dark. So the next morning started the long, arduous process of cutting the brand new sail off the boat. After 30 more trips up the mast, taking turns being hoisted and doing the hoisting (not sure which was harder, going up the mast or grinding that person's weight on the winch), two long days after the spinnaker momentarily went up the last piece was finally cut off and bagged (remarkably, none of it ended up in the water, hand sewn sail bags anyone?) Cheers went up from everyone on board, the jib finally came out and we were up to speed and on our way. Not a very smooth start to our second leg, but we were happy everyone on board remained safe and no one was worse for the wear (except for multiple bruises from banging into the mast while dangling from the halyard, and a really dull pair of scissors) So we have learned, a lot can go wrong. But when out at sea, on your own, you do have the resources to work it out. There was some lamenting, when the seas did calm and the winds were light and coming from behind, that we no longer had that spinnaker that could have sped us up. Reinforcing that valuable lesson that patience really is a virtue.
We have learned that you can be really uncomfortable, when the boat is rolling from side to side, the boom and everything in the cupboard is banging around, the shower door keeps opening up when you're in it, you land on the floor, or worse, in the water, if not clipped in or hanging on, when meals take forever to make because nothing can be left on the counter, pots need to be clamped onto the cook top and burnt fingers need to be attended, but being uncomfortable won't kill you and eventually you adapt. It's good to be uncomfortable in life.
Healthy competition is good. It can fill many empty hours, endless cribbage games remarkably ending in a tie after so many days at sea, steering competitions to see who can get the highest VMG (velocity made good) in an hour (impossible to cheat no matter how hard you try), printing out the position report each day and spending hours calculating and recalculating where we place just to repeat the process again the next day. There were many wins, losses and ties during our time at sea, but whose counting? (pretty much everyone on board)
It's important to have a strategy in life and usually best to stay the coarse. Everyday we'd read the weather reports, looked to see where the most wind was, considered changing our strategy and veering off to follow that wind. But always after long deliberations we would choose to remain on coarse, following the rhum line, the shortest possible route, to our destination and set our sails so the wind would take us there.
You don't know what you don't know, but you learn pretty quickly when things go wrong. Being in the middle of the ocean makes you learn that you can fix most things with a little ingenuity and duck tape, necessity really is the mother of invention. But the list of what you don't know just seems to grow bigger each time you learn something new.
Don't try to bite off more than you can chew. You can't catch the big fish with a skinny line and light pole, using large lures just makes you lose the lure, all the line, the fish and provides no sushi for dinner.
Low expectations are the secret to eating well. When the fresh produce is running out you can make edible meals with what's stored in cans, dried and found in the freezer, and a Thanksgiving turkey with freezer burn from a Cape Verde mini mart tastes pretty good in the middle of the ocean.
Write it down. I'm always one to make lists, but now have learned writing down thoughts can be pretty helpful as well. Putting thoughts on paper can actually makes you feel better, it never seems as bad written down as it does unspoken in your mind. You can find an answer to many of life's problems if you just keep writing, sometimes for a really long time.
There are always new lessons to learn, and spending long hours at sea seems a good place to bring those lessons to life. Now as we sit happily at the dock, lines secured, I hear the voice of my wise sister saying, "lessons will be repeated until learned"… hopefully not the more costly ones.