It’s 1030 on Wednesday morning, Halloween. I’m sitting in the cockpit, tucked under the dodger, looking towards the stern of the boat and the vast sea we’ve crossed in the last 24 hours. The sky is a light blue and cloudless, sun shining and warm.
I’m not on watch again until 1200, so have some time to catch up on the last day at sea, our first day on the Atlantic.
My alarm sounded at 0530. I slept well all night, having combined a lobster dinner, bowl of apple crisp with ice cream and Nyquil. Deadly combination for combating a cold...or insomnia. I sprung from bed, and put on every article of warm clothing packed, knowing the 40-degree black night above would be chilly. For those curious about what one wears at sea in New England, I’ll share my selection: Wool socks, long John’s, fleece pants and sweatshirt, waterproof, insulated bibs and a coat, ski gloves, fur-lined hat, headlamp, PFD harness and tether, and waterproof boots. All brought to you by Helly Hanson. No such thing as bad weather...just bad clothing.
With the help of our headlamps and deck lights, we cast off the lines, pulled into the narrow channel leaving the harbor, and motored out into Long Island Sound. We were underway.
Westbrook, CT is on the North side of the Sound, 15 - 20 miles west of the mouth. It took us a couple hours before we were rounding Montauk, turning to starboard, and pointing the nose into the Atlantic Ocean. Bermuda lay appx 600 nautical miles ahead.
I had the first watch, from 0600-0900, so was behind the helm. If it wasn’t readily apparent by now, I learned quickly how the Captain likes to manage. He’s like a helicopter parent with an only child, and no day-job to occupy his time. He means well, but probably wrote the Forward for the book on micromanagement. Everyone was up, excited, opinionated, and crowded in the cockpit. The winds were fluky, so I accidentally jibed (stern crossed the wind and the main sail swapped sides), and I got an earful. Swimming to shore was no longer an option, so I took the feedback as best I could. Water off a duck’s back.
i went below after my shift to get out of the cold, and to get some zz’s. I knocked out for nearly 3 hours, as the motion of the boat, and rolling waves rocked me to sleep. Unlike last spring, where the first 24 hours were marked by an uneasy, somewhat nauseous adjustment to the sea, I felt perfectly fine. The Dutchmen were less fortunate, both getting sick in the popcorn tubs Richard packed aboard. I really want to like this guy - he has some brilliant ideas.
By nightfall, I was ready for my second shift. The watch system works as follows: In the daylight hours, from 0600-2000 (8pm) we rotate 4 guys through 3-hour shifts. Sometimes a buddy will come hang out in the cockpit with you, but it’s your job to stay on course, man the sails, and not wrap the boat around a telephone pole. Simple stuff. At 2000, we switch to 2-hour watches through the night. The fatigue from the cold, the darkness, and the solitude contribute to more risk, and thus a shorter shift. I had the 0600-2000 shift and enjoyed my first hot meal of the day - baked manicotti with vegetables. I was grateful for some extra helpings on account of the 2 sick crewmen. A day of sailing and napping can really work up an appetite. High class problems.
I’m noticing a lot of differences now between last year’s voyage north and this one in the opposite direction. I’ll note the positive upgrades to begin. The boat. I’m still sold on the idea of buying/renting/stealing an Oyster. The accommodations are larger than the spring trip, with 1 less crew, and are well kept. The organization of the trip, the safety briefings, boat overview, and rigging all helped expand my knowledge of an ocean-crossing preparation.
The downsides are not several, but very noticeable. I am getting a first-hand look at bad leadership. Richard means well, but with no kids, no employees, and a wife who manages everything, he has little experience in motivating or bringing together the team. I hope we don’t run into trouble at sea, because though he was extremely detailed in the duties to abandon ship, the leadership and communication required to calm and organize a scared or injured crew is absent. In four days, I could count the number of please or thank yous on half of one hand, yet the number of orders and instructions are in the dozens.
By comparison, our toothless captain Hank from the spring was in control but laid back as well. He took a personal interest in the crew, displaying some curiosity, but could be very direct when needed.
The food. There were two boxes of cereal aboard when I arrived - Special K and generic Honey Nut Cheerios. When we made our way through most of those two boxes, and a couple yogurts, the captain purchased two more boxes and two more yogurts. I went to make lunch yesterday, which he said very clearly was on our own, and had the choice of bread, 1/8 pound of turkey and mayonnaise. My toddlers go through more deli meat in one day than he purchased for 4 grown men for a week. Lettuce? Nope. Tomato, cucumbers? Nope. Mayo and bread.
The cu de gras was the “coffee incident”. The coffee he purchased was the grocery store brand with the plastic lid. This is important, as when I later suggested he buy something more palatable (which I would reimburse him for), like Starbucks, he explained that his wife doesn’t allow bagged coffee on the boat. Before departing, my Kohl’s/grocery store mission was to purchase a plastic sealed container to hold the grounds from a nicer coffee. I did this and was then told to keep the coffee in my cabin and make damn sure no grounds appeared anywhere. I could go on, but you get the point. Leadership.
Given that I’m on Richards side of the ball during the work week, I keep thinking of what I stand to learn here, or anyone does, if they hold a role in command of people. For one, I know I can get a little feisty like him with my team and have a mentality of knowing the right way. We both have the awesome responsibility to get our crew safely to port, which can be stressful - our child-like outbursts are mere reflections of that stress.
But, now I see it from the other side. It’s not easy taking orders, and certainly so if they come from an unsympathetic mentality. A please and thank you, or an invitation to provide feedback would go a lot farther, get the same intended result, and build more trust in the leader. But for the love of God, don’t buy the generic brand of Cheerios and coffee - you have free crew for a 14-day passage, and a boat worth nearly $1m. Let me play the Jewish role on the boat, and you be the generous, benevolent dictator.
For my team or my bride, who might be reading, I’ll be more patient, empathetic, generous, grateful, and cheerful when I get home. For my kiddos, the same. You see the brunt of daddy’s short temper more than anyone, and you don’t deserve that. I know you’re doing the best to steer the boat. Except Charley - I know she’s just trying to push my buttons. Just like I’m doing with Richard. God love her.
On a final note, as I was writing today a Bermuda long tail (looks like a grey sparrow) just flew into the cockpit and landed on my head. What’s to complain about when you can enjoy all these new experiences...
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)
as we blog our sailing adventures
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