Opinion » Maxed Out

Tick this off the bucket list



Silly me, silly me, silly me. Like Charlie Brown, I just have to take a kick at that football. I know I'm going to wind up flat on my back but there's that elusive hope, that aching desire, that insane dream...

Actually, I'm way better off than Charlie Brown. I got to kick the football — at least for a little while — a couple of days ago. Sailing a broad reach in 20 knot winds with the Darwin Sound's spinnaker proudly flying and a full mainsail powering us to a brisk eight-plus knots, steering was almost an aerobic activity as we made the crossing from Gran Canaria to Tenerife, both islands in the sprinkle of dots that make up the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. It was exhilarating and was the first chance I had to feel the boat's seaworthiness.

But I race ahead of myself.

My Wonderful Wife and I arrived in Las Palmas several days before I got to kick the football, after a series of flights that made me long for the joys of invasive dental surgery, sans novocaine. As air travel goes, it wasn't so bad. The important words in that sentence are, however, "as air travel goes."

That's all I want to say about that part of this trip except to mention the return ticket won't be used. It won't be used because it was less expensive to purchase return tickets than it was to buy one-way tickets. Go figure. It reminds me a bit of the down-the-rabbit-hole reality of having to pay Canada Post to not deliver my mail when I'm not going to be there to pick it up for an extended period of time. Think of how much money Canada Post could make if we all just had them not do what they were established to do. Don't think about it too long... you'll get dizzy.

And just to underscore the absurdity of the price structure of travel, for almost exactly the same outlay as round-trip tickets, we were enticed to buy a "package" that tacked on five or six nights at a five-star hotel, lovely and copious breakfast buffet included, thank you. I wasn't tempted by the large room, comfy bed, air-conditioning and lavish breakfast though. After all, there was a stuffy, small cabin awaiting me on the Darwin Sound where I could have happily sweated the night away. But the luxe hotel was only a block from the marina and being mindful of my hosts, Al and Irene Whitney, I opted for giving them a few more days of privacy, big-hearted guy that I am.

It was a good thing I did. When we walked over to the boat the next day, it was more or less impossible to find, let alone enter, the cabin destined to be my home for the next several weeks. It looked as though someone had taken the entire contents of the boat — a not insubstantial 45' — and thrown them madly into the salon. The overall effect reminded me of those rooms filled with balls parents toss their unruly children into so they can enjoy their McMeal in relative peace, albeit the salon was filled with clothes, spare parts, parts not so spare but definitely not where they belonged, cushions, cooking utensils, packs, food of all manner, dishes, tools, ropes (called lines on a sailboat, and don't you forget it, bucko) and all manner of other things I could neither describe nor identify. If there is a place for everything and everything in its place world, we were solidly locked in the everything-not-in-its-place part of that equation.

But fear not, Cap'n Al had it all under control, if not quite at his very busy fingertips. "This job'll only take 15 minutes," and "I thought I'd have this done before you got here," became the dual rallying cries of the next several days. I did not fear, for if there is order to be wrought out of chaos, I knew the excruciatingly organized, if deceptively dishevelled Whitneys — who, after all, have lived much of their lives on sailboats, catering to people far more discerning, not to say picky, than myself — would be able to whip this pre-departure disorder into shape faster than you could say Jack Robinson... in a minimum of 37 languages, none of which you are familiar with.

My faith was not misdirected. Within the allotted time, we were, which is to say the boat was, in ship shape, not a misnomer in this particular case. We were, well, a mixed bag. Cap'n Al and Admiral Irene are seasoned salts. Sailing the Darwin Sound, handling its complex systems and seemingly infinite lines, understanding the ocean they're bobbing upon is like breathing for them; no sweat. For us, it's more like learning a new language... with earplugs firmly driven into our ears. But we're fast learners and this ain't no three-hour tour, Gilligan.

And we'd better be. In a few days — probably long before this column is published — we'll leave the last of the Canaries behind, sail south until the butter melts, pick up the trade winds and turn west, pointing the boat in the general direction of Barbados, more or less the whole of the Atlantic Ocean ahead of us. Gulp!

Crossing an ocean under sail has been a dream of mine since the day, many decades ago, on Lake Champlain I felt the wind fill the sails of a boat for the very first time. It was exhilarating, in much the same way skiing is. Instead of gravity being the engine though, wind was. Suddenly I felt a palpable connection to generations that came before and harnessed that same wind to explore an unknown world, spread civilization, wage war and generally bring humankind further along the journey toward where we are today. Blame them if you want but you might as well blame the wind.

I know hundreds of other sailboats are following this same route right now. I suspect we won't see any of them. The Atlantic is vast; our boat isn't even a speck. Neither are theirs. As much as I know they're there, I also know we're alone. Like a slope of snow I can never be sure won't avalanche, there is nothing about the ocean I can take for granted. Am I scared? Is that a rhetorical question?

But excitement trumps fear and I feel comfortable we'll pull into Barbados sometime during the second week of December, pop the cork on a bottle of champagne — maybe two — and begin to try to process all we've experienced.

So hold that ball, Lucy. I'm gonna kick that sucker clear across an ocean.


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