It’s 1700 on Tuesday afternoon. I’ve found a new place to relax and think, write and reflect. The bench in front of the navigation station in the saloon is a comfy spot to put my legs up, lean against the lee side of the ship, feel the warmth of the sun shining through the companionway hatch, and stay protected from the wind and spray. I found this spot yesterday and fell into a deep relaxed trance, before shuffling over to the couch and passing out for two hours. If the captain weren’t already occupying the coveted lee-couch, I could see a repeat of yesterday’s slumber. Ah, the compromise of close quarters.
As anticipated, the Gulf Stream did not disappoint. Leading up to my watch at 0300, I could not sleep. The fan that cools my bunk conked out on the final day prior to landing in Bermuda. With the tumultuous cauldron of seas outside, we’re forced to keep all hatches and the saloon companionway shut tight, so little or no circulation prevails. I laid on my sheet, atop my sleeping back, in a sticky mess of damp sweat, salt-stained skin, and sunscreen. We pitched up and down waves, until I finally sat up in bed, and realized the saloon couch was unoccupied. Captain had gone up on watch. I crashed for an hour before my alarm roused me.
Before relocating, I was lying half asleep in my bunk when the boat started heeling opposite the direction she had leaned since leaving Bermuda. This was not good. Captain shouted, WE’RE JIBING! He sprung to life and ran to the companionway, as the boat’s stern passed through the wind and the heavy breeze grabbed the main sail and threw it and the boom to the other side of the boat. A crashing BANG sounded, and I listened to the captain for any instructions, or report on boat damage. I held on to the grab rails along the ceiling in the saloon, paying close attention to the motion of the boat. An “accidental jibe” is the cause of many de-mastings (Hank, ironically shared his personal story earlier in the day), where the strength of wind throwing the boom at full speed to the other side rips the mast off the deck, and the sailboat is rendered powerless. The swinging boom has also caused many injuries or death among sailors for a millennia. In short, this could have been a fatal mistake by the crew on watch. Hank was not happy, and the pissed New Yorker in him emerged for 10 minutes following the jibe. Thankfully, the boat and responsible party survived.
By my watch time at 0300, Hank had calmed, but the seas had not. I walked on deck in full foul weather gear (jacket, overalls, shoes and ski hat) only to be wrapped up in a blanket of absolute darkness. No moon. No stars. Only the deafening cry of the wind as it shot through the rigging and along the sails, accompanied by the crashing of waves against the hull. Taking the helm in these conditions, with nothing to steer by (aside from the compass), was paralyzing. I was forced to steer by feel and sound. I could hear the sails “catch” the wind, and then feel the bow slowly turn toward the wind. I would counteract this “rounding up” of the bow, by pushing the helm in the opposite direction, which in turn was fought against by the pressure of the boat. This tug of war continued for 30 minutes in absolute darkness, all the while momentary glances at the glowing red compass told me who was winning - Mother Nature or Avocation.
At first, I was nervous and fearful that we would take a wave at the same time as a strong wind gust, heeling us to the water line, or throwing me from behind the helm. At times, I was practically parallel with the heeled boat, held in position by the protruding blocks that stick out of the deck below my feet, like rungs on a ladder. Staring down at my feet, I could almost see the fury of the churning ocean.
At a quick helm change, I went below to put on my life jacket and harness. I had been lazy, and foolish, to leave this safety equipment down below the last several night watches. Not tonight - the stakes were too high, and we had already jibed once - what else did this invisible river and its rough weather companion have in store for us? Slowly, I found a rhythm by simply committing to the maneuvers I knew would keep us straight during daylight - I couldn’t be tentative or scared, or I would under or over-steer, and make a mistake. This was the experience I had anticipated when signing up for this passage - now that I was in it, I developed a confidence that the last two weeks at the helm had solidified. This was my test...and I was passing.
By 0430, when Goose came on watch, the sky had brightened to a dull gray, and we could see where our boat was headed. Hank told me to stay on the helm, while the day lightened, giving me a boost of confidence and encouragement. In a final effort to test my abilities and courage, the skies opened up and started pelting me with rain. I welcomed the visible cascading sheets of rain over the hidden fury of the sea I just encountered. 90 minutes later, my shift ended, and I went below wet, exhausted, cold...and victorious.
Sleep came much easier, and I awoke on the couch around 1000. I made coffee, and cooked some eggs for the crew. Hank was excited for me to prepare the turkey sausage he purchased at the store in Bermuda. Upon close examination, I discovered pork as the second ingredient. I’m learning some things about provisioning on this trip - that is, do it myself. Eggs were great, and I went easy on the Captain - he’s trying.
As the day progressed, we moved through the gray clouds and dark water of the Gulf Stream, emerging into bluer waves and clear skies on the other side. Our heading became true, where it had been shifted 20 degrees by the gulf current. During my second watch, the captain taught me how to point the boat parallel with an oncoming wave, then surf down the backside and shoot for the valley between the wave patterns. It was another fun sailing tactic that keeps the boat moving and keeps the helmsman engaged. Unlike driving a car on a cross-country adventure, the sailor needs variation to stay alert. Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
I’ve been getting to know Goose better over the last couple days. He told me today that he is 60 years old. I’m shocked at this. He looks and acts like he’s in his late 40’s or early 50’s at worst. I’ve been thinking of how to describe him and do justice to his unique characteristics, one could only grow on rural Texan soil. If Bo Duke (Duke’s of Hazard), Ted Turner, and Gilligan got together for a little game of “Texas Hold ‘Em” Goose would be the bi-product.
Five years ago, Goose gave up drinking and smoking cold turkey following a one-week bender while in Spain at the running of the bulls. He partied all day, then gathered the energy and his whits to run with the bulls every morning - for a week. I’m not sure most rural Texans have left the state, never mind hopped the pond to attend a cultural event of such magnitude and history.
He said he started smoking Marlboro Reds at 12, and would drink a 12-pack of Bud Light every night after finishing at the construction site. By the weekend he had to buy an 18-pack or he would never feel the affects of the beer. Oh, one 18-pack for Saturday, and one for Sunday. How this guy has survived this long is beyond me, but I’m glad he has. His only vice now is growing weed in his mother’s garage. In addition to those Texas-grown habits, Goose maintains a certain boyhood charm and curiosity that has no doubt driven him to explore beyond his rural beginnings, and discover other worldly activities like sailing and scuba diving.
On watch, he sits quietly while I steer, staring out into the great expanse of the Atlantic. Is he dreaming? What is he finding out here, that his native county never gave him? He does dishes without anyone’s request, is quick to lend a hand with meal prep, line handling, or anything the boat or crew requires. Having a Goose on board a passage like this is a must. He was married once, but I can’t imagine there is a girl in his hometown who could tickle his Jekyll and Hyde background and interests.
It’s now 1800 and I volunteered to cook again. Need to run.
We're the Zimmerman Family!
Home Base | Denver, CO
A family of six that
LOVES to sail !
Follow our crew (Royce, Tara, Avery, Charley, Nora & Ruby)
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Set Sail 4.22.23 | Las Palmas - Across the Atlantic - Island of Antigua
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