June 26, 2010 - Midnight on 'Truant'

Saturday, June 26, 2010: One forty-nine AM.

It’s one forty-nine in the morning. I write from the nav table of Truant, the 47’ Cabo Rico cutter that Mia and I are currently in the process of delivering from the Delaware Bay to Newport, Rhode Island. Between the full moon shining through the pilothouse window and the glow of my computer screen, there is enough light to write by.

I just finished my second cup of hot cocoa, and am now burping up the curry that we ate for dinner last night. My watch began at one am, when Mia woke me from a deep sleep, disoriented and not wanting in the slightest to get out of bed. She was waiting, however, with my first cup of cocoa, and I loved her for it.

There is a bright star just off to starboard, low on the horizon. I don’t have my almanacs with me, but I suspect it’s not a star at all, but Venus, who is sometimes the morning star, sometimes the evening star, but always the brightest in the sky. This is very interesting, writing about all this as it’s happening. I often must wait, writing about these little adventures after the fact. This one is a particularly benign adventure, however, this particular boat having more luxuries than the house I grew up in. Not only am I able to power my laptop through it’s electric inverter, but I was actually able to take a stand-up shower yesterday evening, hot water and all (incidentally, the real shower I had yesterday afternoon could never match the refreshment and joy we felt swimming in the ocean while Sunrise lay hove-to on our last trip. A shower in the clean saltwater will always trump the ‘real’ thing). The pilothouse is almost absurd on a boat less than fifty feet long – the leather captain’s chair I’m sitting in could be off a megayacht, and indeed the large windows complete with windshield wipers I peer through every ten minutes or so to look for boats feel like they belong on a much larger ship.

Before I began typing I perched myself aft in the companionway with my chocolate and stared at the moon for a while. It’s full tonight, and basks a chilly glow on the calm surface of the sea below, light enough to glimpse the distant horizon and remind me to take a look outside every once in a while, not for boat traffic but to remember why it is I like this sort of thing.

We steamed out of the Cohansey river on the Delware Bay Thursday night, making it nearly a full two hundred yards before I realized I’d left my cell phone on the floor of the car we’d rented and driven down from Reading. We swung round, the stiff current now carrying us back toward the dock, and I shouted to Ted onshore, who I was afraid had already left, to grab it for me. It was tricky maneuvering the boat close enough to the dock to retrieve my phone without actually touching the dock, for the current was swirling and the unfamiliar boat felt huge, much larger than it’s 47’ length. With a deft toss from Ted and soft hands from me, I caught my phone and accelerated again, this time for good.

Just as the sun sank in the west we excited the river, onto the Bay proper, clearing the crab pots in the remaining dusk and finding the ships channel, which we’d follow to the mouth of the Bay at Cape May. It was further than I’d allowed for, and we didn’t get offshore until after two am. I’d wanted to remain awake through the shallows of the bay and the several doglegs of the ships channel. We were making only four knots over the ground, bucking the current as the tidal waters swelled into the Bay. Ships coming the other direction appeared from nowhere, the same tide so foul to us sweeping them along effortlessly. Finally we were in the ocean proper and I collapsed in the bunk that Mia had kept warm for me. I slept straight through to seven am, while a recharged Mia endured the last hours of darkness and was fully awakened by a clear sunrise.

This is the second of two Newport deliveries this week alone. The last was aboard a real sailing boat, a Corbin 39 that was on it’s way to Gibraltar. My mom and dad finally got to come along together, and the four of us sailed Sunrise north to New England while her Romanian owner waited patiently in Russia, eager to hear our progress. That trip was just as calm as the one I’m on currently, but with a full suit of sails and an eager boat, we ghosted along through the ether at night, not wanting to crank the diesel unless absolutely necessary. We made Newport in a leisurely three and a half days from Annapolis, enjoying a swim en route. Once north of New York City, my dad began to see whales. We thought he was joking or losing it, but after a few hours staring blankly at the horizon, we began to notice the telltale spout in the distance, and started to see for ourselves. It amazes me how full of life the ocean can be, not fifty miles from one of the biggest cities on earth, a city that to me represents all that we’ve lost from the natural world, yet right on it’s doorstep reside some of Earth’s most majestic creatures. One of them, in an apparent effort to impress us, spouted and abruptly dove, his tail breaking the surface for a long second, waving goodbye, before disappearing.

Just this afternoon we sailed through a large school of porpoises. I thought I noticed a splash at the stern, and soon after a dozen or so black and white porpoises, smaller and faster than the grey bottlenose dolphins we’d gotten acquainted with the in the Caribbean, lept towards the boat in a frenzy, taking station on the bow. Mia and I ran forward, no time to grab the camera (for that would have ruined it anyway), and we sat on the bowsprit as the playful mammals spoke to us. If you listen, the echo-soundings the dolphins make to talk to one another are readily audible to us humans. They stayed for several minutes, and in an instant one decided to make a sharp ninety-degree turn and the others followed, disappearing faster than they’d arrived.

We’ll make our landfall at Block Island tomorrow sometime, and be moored in Newport shortly thereafter, a full day ahead of schedule. Truant feels like a motor yacht on the inside, and I’ve come to treat it like one on the outside. This boat would need a gale to really get moving, and even still, the complex hydraulic transmission on the big John Deer diesel requires that it remain running at all times, so we wouldn’t really be sailing anyway. I resigned myself to this fact, and have treated the boat like a motorsailor since we left Cape May. Though the sails were pulling hard yesterday morning, the minute we dropped below seven knots I throttled up the big engine, and it’s been pulling even harder ever since. The constant whine heard from our cabin back aft actually helps me sleep, and I’ll be grateful for the extra day during the long drive home on Sunday, and ultimately my return to work on Monday (though it’s admittedly a wonderful feeling knowing that technically, as I write this, I am at work).

Not long ago Mia popped her head up from our cabin down below. I didn’t see her in the dark, and didn’t hear her for the noise of the engine and she scared the daylights out of me. She was sleepwalking again (she did this on the Corbin when my parents were on watch, “just checking,” on what, only she knows). I told her to go back to sleep and she did, only very confused when she woke and realized she wasn’t in her bunk. What goes on in that brain of hers I’d like to know sometimes.

My motivation is leaving me for the time being. There are two ships on the horizon, one off the starboad bow and the other astern, so I’ll have to pay a bit sharper attention in these last hours before the sunrise. I’ll return now to that book about pirates that I found on Ted’s shelf. Perhaps more later.

Four Twenty-Three AM

My watch is almost over, but I think I’ll let Mia sleep a bit longer. The first light of the rising sun is just starting to creep into the Eastern horizon, blending the ocean and the sky into a singular, indistinguishable blue. It’s still flat calm, we’re still motoring. A fishing boat has been parelelling our course since I woke at one, and has finally passed us on our starboard side. I almost ran headlong into a weather buoy, only noticing it’s blinking yellow light after we’d already slid past; lucky for me.

The lights of land on Montauk have been visible for an hour or so, and we should see Block Island by early morning. This trip has been markedly faster than the last, which is both a good and bad thing. Good, because I need to get back home and back to work, yet bad because it’s essentially been a motorboating trip. I miss the peace and quiet we enjoyed while making five knots under spinnaker, staysail and mainsail on Sunrise. The motor helps me sleep, but not as deeply as the pure sound of water rushing along the hull of a sailing boat.

Quotes of quotes from Alvah Simon’s North to the Night:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is
one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills
countless ideas and splendid plans:

That the moment one definitely commits oneself,
then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issue from the decision,
raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents
and meetings and material assistance,
which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

-Goethe’s Faust

“And so I tell myself again: I am here because in the landscape of each and every human imagination lies one special place. Our inner compass keeps pointing us toward this spot, which is magnetic, mysterious, exotic, and alluring, but, alas, always fringed by a frontier of our fears. Still, it is to this specific place that we are compelled to travel in order to know ourselves and, in so doing, call our lives complete.

I am here in search of wholeness, for in my breast, hiding just beneath each breath, lies a hollow, and always it has cried out to be filled.”

-Alvah Simon, North to the Night