The Bitter End
Sorry, readers, for my silence the last several days. If you’ve followed the passage, or Facebook posts, you should be aware that I reached Bermuda, surviving another Atlantic crossing. What might be unknown, is that I’ve left the boat, two weeks ahead of schedule.
I am sitting in the Bermuda airport, awaiting a flight to Denver, through Philadelphia, in an hour. Not the ending you may have expected, with an initial title of “Trip to Antigua”. But, when life hands you lemons...
I’ll pick up around where I left off, which was Thursday of last week. It is now Tuesday, 11/6. I read my entry a minute ago, having dreaded, or rather wanting to avoid coming to terms with the story, since making landfall. But now, having been able to digest the sudden itinerary change, and my feelings leading up to and following the decision, I’m ready to share.
Where was I? Oh, Thursday afternoon. We were a mere 250 miles or so from Bermuda by Thursday evening. Our somewhat accurate, but ever-changing ETA was to be very late on Friday or very early Saturday morning. At this part in a passage, one begins to sense the landfall, and the anxiety that accompanies it. The trip between Bermuda and the States is generally too short (3-4 days) to get into the “rhythm” of being at sea, so the approach of land doesn’t change your state of mind as dramatically as the longer leg between the Caribbean and Bermuda does. That’s a long-winded way to describe that we were all getting anxious to arrive, but it wasn’t consuming us.
Thinking back, I don’t recall much else happening on Thursday, but I did start to notice a lack of excitement or natural “peace” on the boat, much different than how I felt on passage in May. We started motoring again on Thursday afternoon, which had become a common theme since leaving. Our voyage last spring was spent under sail for all but a few hours of the 10-day journey. We had now powered along 4 times as long as the spring, in a quarter of the time. I was unsettled by the haste under which we were trying to make Bermuda.
Aside from powering through the passage, I was taking notice of other circumstances that were spoiling the experience. Richard was constantly referencing the weather reports, and the resulting route that we must follow to perfectly approach the Island. Instead of sailing to the wind, allowing our path to change slightly to capture the most favorable winds, he insisted on sticking to the planned route, laid down from the beginning. His incessant discussion of boat systems, and of course his continued nit-picking of anything I did, was beginning to wear me down. What happened to the adventure of sailing - the harnessing of the awesome power Mother Nature delivered in order to pilot us, without trying to outsmart her every move?
I went to bed that night, beginning to dread the week at sea that awaited me on the other side of Bermuda...
Friday arrived with a continuation of the same weather - winds “on the nose”, and the accompanying waves crashing into our bow. We were experiencing the exact wind and wave direction that Richard had anticipated when we set sell on Tuesday - with all his preparation, I couldn’t figure out why we followed this route. With 180 miles to go, we were headed almost directly into the wind, which was originating from the exact direction of Bermuda. So much for sailing - he was adamant on getting there, and as you’ve come to expect, he was the boss. We furled the jib, reefed the main, started the motor, and began what would be a 24-hour slog into St. George’s harbor.
Since the start of our passage, the crew had rotated through two primary duties - dinner preparation and boat cleaning. I had helped prepare the Chicken Picatti and rice ensemble a couple nights prior, so now my turn at sprucing up the place had arrived. I had learned in our conversations that undiluted vinegar was the cleaner of choice for all boat surfaces, and Scott even remarked that he uses the same on his shower tiles at home...but let’s not get side-tracked by my bunk mate’s personal hygiene routine - we’re much too civilized for that. So, with vinegar in hand, I went about the job of disinfecting all surfaces that anyone had contaminated with their grubby little paws over the last 24 hours.
Richard, not surprisingly, had equipped the boat with a rechargeable Dyson vacuum and all her accoutrements. What better accessory to bring to sea for a captain that sucks? Ha! Anyways, I began vacuuming the cushions of the salon, in the exact manner I watched the other crew perform over the last few days, and was given an earful from the ever-lurking overlord about scuffing the furniture with the rotating brush. “Use the other attachment!” he commanded.
After cleaning the galley, salon surfaces, furniture and floors, I was left with the one envious task of scrubbing the head. Imagine the job of cleaning a miniature porta-potty, utilized by four men who are aiming at a moving target under the best of conditions. I approached the task with the brilliant idea of locking myself, naked, in the room, spraying everything with Lysol, scrubbing the toilet, and then turning the shower to scalding, hosing down all surfaces to rinse and help disinfect, before washing all the filth off myself...while the boat pitched and rolled beneath me. Naturally, an exceptional idea.
The first problem arose when I emptied the aerosol can in the enclosed space lacking any ventilation - should I open the portholes above, I would be treated to the salty sea that continued crashing over the cabin top. Holding my breath, I emptied the can, trying to avoid asphyxiation. Once content that no surface had been left untouched by whatever poison Lysol packaged, I scrubbed the toilet with cleaner and turned on the shower. Having run the engine for the better part of a day, the water came out, scalding to the touch. I danced around, avoiding the boiling cauldron of water, while the room quickly filled with a cloud of steam. To everybody’s surprise but my own, the boat’s fire alarm began to wail. I’m sure there is nothing more fearful to a surprised crew, short of a hole gushing water into the cabin, than an alarm alerting you to a fire. Within seconds, Richard had opened the head door, allowing the enclosed steam, and my naked form, to burst forth into the frightened cabin. I won’t elaborate on Richard’s unpleasant response, and chastisement of my idiocy, but I’m pretty sure the crew was finding humor in how often I had put myself in hot water, literally, over the short trip. After rinsing off, and allowing things to cool down on the boat, I dried off and got dressed.
After showering, and for the first time in the voyage, I began to feel uneasy and somewhat nauseous. The constant beating into the wind and waves, the running of the engine, and perhaps my run in with the various cleaning chemicals all combined to put my stomach out of sorts. As soon as I sensed this, I immediately laid down in my bunk and tried to nap. Despite the constant banging, as our bow climbed over the back of one wave, and slammed into the trough of the next, I fell asleep. When I woke, dinner was being served, and though not enormous, I had developed an appetite.
Richard, in his nerdy excitement, had briefed us, unsolicited, days before about this meal. Though the previous dinners were professionally prepared by his cousin’s, nephew’s third wife twice removed, or something, he was proud to share that this meal was his creation. He had previously marinated and cooked a beef brisket, along with concocting his own horseradish, which he warned, would clear your sinuses. He encouraged me to take an extra helping, having heard me honking and coughing up phlegm since arriving in Connecticut. His attempt at humor, met with a resounding round of silence.
As little as I wanted to stroke his ego, I complimented his brisket, but remained quiet about his horseradish, having tasted more spice, and less texture, in a bowl of Carmel corn. After scarfing down dinner, I retired back to my cabin, hoping to conquer the nausea completely by my night shift.
I awoke in a much-relieved state but, before relieving Scott of his watch, I sat with him in the cockpit and let him know that I was likely going to end my trip in Bermuda, planning to fly home from there, rather than endure any more of Richard’s pleasantries on the trip further south. Scott understood, highlighting how Richard had behaved much worse on this trip than he had a year prior. It was perplexing to me why Scott would return for more abuse a year later, but he’s closer in age to the captain, served as a green beret for years, and was not getting the same “attention” from the anal-retentive skipper as I was.
After the cleaning episode, I had been lying in my bunk wondering what I still had to prove, accomplish, or experience by staying aboard. On the one hand, I had never seen Antigua, and could likely enjoy more of the actual sailing once south of Bermuda. Yet, Antigua wasn’t going anywhere, and I had found peace behind the helm a couple times in the last 4 days while under sail. Was it necessary to squeeze out a few more hours of that pleasure, at the expense of enduring more of the same unfiltered chastisement from a man I had come to despise? The kids, and presumably Tara, missed me and I missed them. I really didn’t feel like I had much left to prove, and if this was as much vacation as it was an opportunity to strengthen my sailing resume, then the lack of enjoyment should have well tipped the scales in favor of calling it quits. And so I did.
Later in evening, the peace I had hoped would envelop me on my last night shift at sea was broken when Richard rose from his bunk, and joined me in the cockpit. As if I needed any more persuading to abandon ship in Bermuda, the cu de gras came when he told me never to steam clean the shower again. As I think back, it is comical at how conniving and overbearing he was.
And then, I had my chance...he turned to me and asked if the trip was going as expected. Here was my opportunity to give him an earful of how poorly he leads his crew, how ill-suited he was to command men, to give instruction, or sail in the company of others. I could have told him at that moment of my plans to depart, satisfied in knowing that there was nothing he could do - that I could relish winning, leaving him a crewman short as punishment for his unappreciated comments. But I didn’t. Part of me wanted to take the high road. The overwhelming reason was that I had become Pavlov’s dog. Instead of taking initiative, I had been trained in the last 5 days with Richard to avoid the whip, walk on eggshells, and avoid any actions or comments that would poke the beast. And so, after giving him a half-true answer of how the trip had gone thus far, I went silent.
I was treated to my last beautiful sunrise on Saturday morning. It would be my last watch. First light came around 0630, and as the orange globe burned its path through the sparse clouds to the East, we made our last descent on the Island we had pursued for 600 nautical miles. The crashing waves and howling wind continued to repel us, a futile attempt at stalling our final approach.
In two more hours, we found ourselves in the lee of the island, finally free from the onslaught of waves and wind, which had harassed us since Thursday evening, as the mouth of St. George’s harbor invited us into her belly of tranquil turquoise water. We had arrived, safely, 98 hours after leaving Westbrook, CT, under the cover of dark and a blanket of cold, into the serenity of a long-extinct volcano, and the rainbow of pastel houses dotting her landscape.
I find it hard to describe the feeling of leaving the vast and unforgiving ocean astern, and gliding into the protection of a harbor. I have a sense of accomplishment, a taste of triumph, and an instant relief, knowing that for the moment, I can let go of the anxiety that has protected me from the constant dangers at sea. And yet, there was still a sense of anxiety, as I reminded and encouraged myself to act on the decision to abandon ship at port.
In preparation for landing, we were busy with retrieving dock lines from the bowels of Tango, tying bumpers to life lines, and hoisting our yellow “quarantine” flag. We had to first land at Ordnance Island, where the customs office would welcome us officially to their country, and inquire into the purpose of our duffel bag overflowing with unmarked $100 bills, diseased fruits and vegetables, firearms, and viles of mad cow disease. More importantly, this is where I would share my decision with the remainder of the crew and our fearsome leader, Richard the Lioness that Bermuda was my last stop.
I waited until the four of us were in possession of our passports, which Richard had confiscated upon boarding the boat, and would be holding until the conclusion of our journey. I did not want to risk his kidnapping my only lifeline to escape, so had waited for this opportunity to raise my voice. “Richard, you should probably know that this is my last stop. We can discuss further back at the boat, but I’m flying home from Bermuda.” He was facing away from me, filling out a form at the counter with the customs officer, and other than a slight pause, there was no reaction. He, nor anyone of the crew, made a sound. Victor looked at me with a sad countenance as if I just informed him that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real - or whatever the Dutch version of the same rodent might be.
Richard finally said, “well, do whatever you need to clear that with customs”. I told them that I would be staying until Tuesday, having already looked up a return flight and found a hotel to rent downtown Hamilton. At that comment, Richard, said “you’ll be flying home tomorrow (Sunday), you can’t stay on the boat until Tuesday to which I replied, “Actually, I will be flying home Tuesday, and getting off the boat today, as soon as we’re done here. I have a hotel”. And in the closing minutes, Royce pulls ahead for the win. (Screaming fans)
As we walked out of the office, in a gesture of truce and unequivocally confirming my hypothesis of being the least popular kid in high school, Richard patted my back and said “no hard feelings, bro”.
And so, when handed lemons...squeeze them into a nice warm cup of English tea.
Until the next adventure, friends.
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Home Base | Denver, CO
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