Onward and into the Night
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We spent a month and a half preparing the vessel for the journey. We worked every day, sometimes until three in the morning, finally casting off and putting out to sea on a mild February morning. I remember the folks on the dock saying goodbye. They all shared a look of hope for our adventure, as if they felt in some way, that it was their adventure too...
Off we went. The channel was a blur of lines and fenders. America’s Cup Harbor was a quick reflection. Before we knew that we were gone, the safe water mark was well astern and bobbing in the swell. The conditions were rather windless and we proceeded on a course south of the border under power. It wasn’t long before we acquired an escort. A large U.S. military helicopter followed us most of the way to Tijuana. As we approached the border, off they went, leaving us alone to dream of the far off ports beyond the horizon.
We were out of their jurisdiction. We were out of everyone’s jurisdiction, and we had no intentions or any need to put into Tijuana. Onward and into the night, with every hour growing more accustomed to our vessel, away we went. Three souls we were on board; Jiorgos Kourtelis, Kerstin Weidner, and myself. We were the crew.
As twilight gave way to darkness, the breeze filled in.
The genoa was an enormous creature on this boat, and once opened in the current Beaufort state of 4-5, warranted the shutdown of our engine. As the night wore on, the breeze stiffened and I was carried off into the cosmic bliss of this new existence.
The motion, oh the incredible motion! Thundering through the dark rift between the sea and the sky, all of my dreams became real that night. Staring up at the blanket of millions of stars, I realized that I was but a speck on a speck on the biggest ocean in the world. That was just fine. In fact, it was more than fine. It was my place in the world.
Jiorgos finally pulled me back to reality, noting that one of us had better get some sleep. Kerstin was already down, and feeling a bit queasy. He decided to let her sleep through til morning while the two of us handled the night. I was feeling like a little kid on Christmas Eve, far too excited to sleep, so I volunteered to stay. He gave me a quick briefing on our course, relative wind angle, and told me that if I had any questions or uncertainty about anything, not to hesitate in waking him. He left me with a little anecdote about being woken by a frantic young watch keeper, terrified of the massive glow on a very dark night that was building off the bow. When he came up on deck, he chuckled and told her there was no need for alarm. It was but a routine moonrise.
Less than an hour had passed when some lights appeared on the horizon ahead. As they grew brighter, I went down to rouse the Captain. Jiorgos came up a moment later, took a look at them through the binoculars, altered course 20° to starboard, and sat down to wait. 15 minutes later, we were abreast of the commercial monster and well clear. He laid us back on course and ducked back down through the companionway.
“That’s it?” I thought.
It was after all, my first passage. I didn’t know anything about the colregs, but I could tell red from green and make sense of a course change to avoid a collision or a gybe. Of course, I continued to wake him as needed and watch as he carefully, but effortlessly made the necessary course alterations to stay clear of other vessels. He was drawing on tens of thousands of sea miles in his wake, and I was like a sponge, absorbing everything that I saw.
I stayed my watch as long as I could that night, knowing that I had broken Jiorgos sleep. After 5 hours, I began to feel the weight of my eyelids. I put the kettle on to boil and shook Jiorgos’ leg one last time.
I crawled into my bunk, and pulled the blanket around me. The sound of the sea rushing along the hull, just feet from my head was hypnotizing. I stared for a moment at the pictures of my family that I had taped to the underside of the upper bunk. Then I switched off the reading light and wedged myself against the lee cloth. The water still rushing by as I closed my eyes, flooded my mind with memories. It’s a hard thing to describe. Dreams on the sea are different than dreams on land, especially on the first night of a passage. I wasn’t completely asleep, nor was I awake. I was riding a fine line between the two states of consciousness. People I hadn’t thought of in years, moments or images from my childhood, and long forgotten places all came out to play. I, uniquely aware of where I was, let them all wash over me with a feeling of lighthearted bliss. All the while, the little world of the vessel around me hurtled forth on the power of the wind.
To be continued...