It’s 18:09 London time. I’m 36,000 feet above the Atlantic somewhere, heading home. It’s Friday. Tara’s birthday. I wasn’t able to to keep my flight stateside a secret for her, but she promised not to let our girls know of daddy’s early return. I can’t wait to hear them squeal with joy at surprising them…or from absolute fear of dad’s weathered face and unkempt beard. Either reaction is fine, as long as I get hugs of affection. I have a bag full of gifts if my mere presence doesn’t get the reaction I’m seeking.
I left you at the train station in London, yesterday. Picking up from there…
As planned, there was another taxi, train, and bus ride to deliver me to the Sheraton Hotel near Heathrow International. If the hotel was once a Mecca of bustling international businessmen and glamorous women, it ended long before the Iron Curtain fell. I grimaced at the sad façade, and cursed my lack of research as I walked by a beautiful new Marriott casting a disapproving look of embarrassment at her smug neighbor. Oh well, I concluded, it’s only for one night.
I was informed at the front desk that there was a clinic in the hotel that could conduct my official Covid test required to board tomorrow’s flight. But no, the indoor tropical atrium pool that had caught my attention on Hotels.com was not open. Food? Ah yes, there is a lovely Italian restaurant right next door at the Marriott. Defeated, I took my key card and headed up to the room.
I unpacked and hung up my still wet foulies to hopefully dry overnight. The saturated clothes that made up my luggage would most certainly fail the 50lb limit, otherwise. I then made a trip to the lobby where I took my second Covid test of the day, my nostrils frustrated by the repeated probing. Back in my room, I drew a bath and was standing naked when a stranger opened my door. “Occupied” I said, indifferent to the likely possibility that the archaic system of this dingy hotel would double book my reservation. “Front desk? Yes, would you mind changing my key card, another guest was also given my room. Thank you.” I sunk into the tub’s warm water, allowing three days worth of sweat, salt water, and mild-embarrassment melt away.
As I waited for my food to arrive an hour later, at the Marriott, I finally realized that this trip had come to an end. So much had happened in the course of two weeks, I felt overwhelmed in thinking back over the number of highs and lows that marked the adventure’s course. I was excited to get home but equally down on the realization that the trip had ended.
Looking back now, I don’t think I yet appreciate the enormity of the expedition. Had someone told me in college that 20 years hence you would be flying home to your family after spending a week sailing a boat from Stockholm, Sweden to the UK, I would have laughed, and requested they quit hogging the joint.
To have a family, specifically a wife, so accommodating to my child-like appetite for adventure would be enough. To have a business, where a loving team eagerly rises to the massive expectations of running all operations would be enough. To have experienced all variations of weather and danger northern latitude sailing can muster would have been enough. To meet and bond with a crew of guys (and a gal) who I can now call friends and who I would gladly sail with again would have been enough.
Was this what I expected? In some ways, yes. I had specifically requested, and sought, bad weather. I wanted experience in a gale and knowledge of how and when to shorten sail. I was seeking the opportunity to route offshore given weather patterns and learn what a captain does when faced with bad weather windows - pulling into harbor twice (Kalmar and Lionsgate) gave us both. I had never dealt with heavy commercial traffic and massive offshore obstacles that oil rigs and wind farms present. And the cold - oh God, the cold. In some variation, the experience exceeded many expectations.
Conversely, the passage highlighted elements I won’t soon replicate. One of my cherished memories from the offshore trips to Bermuda was the absolute serenity you achieve after a few days out to sea. Your only worry comes with steering the boat - there are no sail changes, there are no course corrections, there is not the constant danger of running into another ship or crossing a shipping lane. I was disappointed that we were never far enough out, away from these elements, to reach the zen-like state many sailors achieve in the ocean. John pointed out to me near the end that our expedition was more like an extended coastal-cruise, with elements of oceans passages sprinkled in. Well, said John - I like offshore better than hugging the shoreline.
What is absolutely clear is that I am ready to cross the Atlantic. Andy said that of all the passages he has made personally and with guests over the last 6 years, including crossing the Atlantic both Northern (Nova Scotia to Ireland) and Southern (Canaries/Cape Verde to the Caribbean) this was the hardest. Excuse me? Yes, with the challenging weather including constant gales, the steadfast awareness of our surroundings and inability to maneuver in tight quarters, the seasickness by the entire crew (Andy had never experienced nausea offshore until this passage) and hyper vigilance of sail management made this the hardest overall passage since 2015. Well, check. Andy, put me on the next Atlantic crossing.
As a side note, and I shouldn’t go public with this or it will likely come back to bite me. Recall that snide comment in Journal entry 1 where a simple tattoo at 43 would be the sensible scratch to this itch of seeking adventure at my age? I have been contemplating inking myself for the first time since I turned 40, but have been hesitant for various reasons. Andy, only a few years my junior, started his (now addictive) tattooing a couple years back. The anchor on his forearm, he explained, was “earned." “What do you mean," I asked? “Well, in the tradition of sailing, an anchor tattoo is a sign that a sailor has crossed the Atlantic Ocean," he shared with a grin. And then I grinned. Two longtime desires of mine had been married from the start.
Again, it’s too early to forget the harsh conditions that still linger and only recall the massive accomplishment of the passage. With time, one will diminish, the other inflate, and I’m quite sure I’ll look back on these two weeks with deep nostalgia for an experience I couldn’t possibly replicate. And yet, given my child-like disposition, I will try. And keep trying, for, as one of my inspirations (Henry David Thoreau) reminds me: “I went to the woods (sea) because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
For those of you that came with me on this great adventure, thank you. I so appreciate all of the encouragement you gave and the excitement you shared. I hope it was as thrilling a ride for you as it was for me…without all the discomfort, of course.
So, until our next adventure together, in the immortal words of Andy Schell’s mother…hold fast!
Post script: 7:19am local time, Saturday morning. Surprise was a success. The girls all squealed with delight when dad walked into the restaurant at the Gaylord Hotel where they were dining for mom’s birthday. ”Is this for real?!” Nora kept repeating. Oh, and they loved the gifts too. Happy to be home.
We're the Zimmerman Family!
Home Base | Denver, CO
A family of six that
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