Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the sail away blues

I always have an unsettling mixture of emotions on the first day of a cruise. This will be my ninth trip on Spartina so I've got a little bit of experience, some good equipment and a decent idea of what I'm doing. But the feelings are always the same - excitement, apprehension, self-doubt and a little bit of guilt thrown in.
Excitement, because this is a trip I've been planning for months and I think it will be a great adventure. I can't wait to get out there.
Apprehension, because there are a lot of unanswered questions. What will the weather be like? Will it be too windy? Will there be enough wind? Will I make good decisions? Did I pack everything I need? What am I getting myself into?
Self-doubt, isn't that little emotion always hiding there somewhere on the boat. Do I know what I'm doing out there, out of sight of land with waves and wind on the bow? Hey, is that a thunderstorm coming my way?
And yes, guilt. After all I'm essentially ditching the family for a week. Once I turn off the phone and cast off the lines I'm concerned about one thing - me. Wife, daughters and dog will have to fend for themselves until I'm done fooling around on the boat.

That's me above in a photo shot by Bruce heading out of Engelhard, NC on Far Creek on the first day of the Skeeter Beater. I've done eight cruises, four solo and four with Bruce along. Having a good sailing partner like Bruce is a real plus. Interesting conversation, a lot of help with the sailing and a second opinion sometimes saying "Is that what you really want to do?"
I'll be on my own on this trip and I bet sooner or later I'll find myself saying "What would Bruce think of this?"

These are the notes from the first day of the Tag Team sail last June. When I look at the notes it sounds so simple and straightforward. But it doesn't begin to communicate the research, planning, packing and thought that goes into a cruise. Details about marinas, distances and prevailing winds were analyzed, thought and rethought, charts examined and satellite photos studied. And after all that, the first day boils down to a simple sail across the Pamlico River.

Of course the first day always includes the drive, in the case above a drive in the rain to Germantown, NC for my Spring solo sail. Two hours of rain. Talk about a sense of foreboding....

And on the first day, after the drive, comes the boat rigging and loading. Rigging takes about 45 minutes, loading another 30. Hot and sweaty, in a light rain (again) in Crisfield at the start of the Crab House 150. I always wear shorts and tee shirt on the drive to the ramp, with my sailing clothes tucked in a bag in the jeep. So after I get all worked up with rigging the boat I can change into nice clean clothes for the start of the sail.

Above is photo from Crisfield, this one in 2007 on the first day of my first cruise with Spartina. After packing the boat I sat there looking at it wondering if I packed everything I needed. I wasn't sure about that, but figured I packed enough to at least survive for a few days.
And talk about nervous, my heart was pounding. No SPOT (I didn't know what a SPOT was back then) and no GPS (I couldn't afford one). I did maybe 60 miles on that four day trip, Crisfield to Great Fox Island to Watts Island and Tangier. Then hunkered down while a front passed through, sailed back to Great Fox Island and then back to the ramp.

That's Spartina splashing through the chop on the first day of the Tag Team sail last June. Weather is always a big question when I leave the dock. Sometimes good wind, sometimes no wind and sometimes way too much wind. And throw in a little lightning or a sun that seems to want to blind you and you realize that sailing is only a small part of the deal. The rest is coping with the elements.

Above is Spartina drying out at the end of the first day of my Spring 2008 sail on Pamlico Sound. I was sailing south single-handed from Engelhard with a strong wind out of the SW. Reefed and then double reefed I spent hours beating into the wind and the waves. Once or twice I thought of turning back to the ramp. I hove to three times to bail out the boat. After one bail out I didn't sail two minutes before taking another wave over the bow. And finally tacking into Wyscocking Bay I see both a thunderstorm and a coast guard patrol boat coming my way. The thunderstorm moved on quickly, the patrol boat watching me until I entered the protection of the bay. I wanted to wave to them but worried my hand raised in the air would be misconstrued as a call for help. Calm water never felt so good.

And evening, on the first day of the Weekend Walkabout. That was a day that started with driving two-plus hours in the rain, rigging and loading the boat in the rain and sailing away from the dock under grey skies. That beautiful evening, I figured, was the reward for it all. Take all the money you want and you couldn't buy those colors, the glassy calm water and the rich glow of the sails.
That first day of a cruise is always an interesting one. And it is only in the evening of that first day that I start to feel comfortable.
Yes, I know why I am out here. Yes, I know what I'm doing.



Baydog said...

You're good, my friend. If I were to be embarking on a cruise with you, I'd feel like I was in good hands. And what a gorgeous boat. There must be a rendezvous with you in the future, somewhere on the Eastern shore, because after being down there last week for the first time in about six years, we realized it had been way, way too long.

And why not keep the cell phone handy, at least for those uncertain times where Bruce's opinion would help you make the right decision. And also the occasional lonely times that inevitably pop up where a nice, few minute hello to your wife and girls would smooth any ragged nerves? Just sayin.....

Steve said...

I did read and enjoy your post about the Eastern Shore. It just added to my excitement for this trip.
As for the cell phone, most of the time there is no reception. And when there is, the thing is a damn portable office with two email accounts, voice mail and the chance that some boss has a question for me. I hate that thing. So I'll leave it turned off and tucked in the Pelican box. I know what you're sayin' but sometimes I got to cut the wires and get away. steve

steve said...

hey steve - good post as always - really gives a flavour of how we all feel - eloquent stuff - thank you.
take care, enjoy;
will follow you via SPOT
welsh guy in plymouth