Therapeutic Writing in the Caribbean

7 May

Note: I wrote this about a week ago in Tortola, during the ARC Europe / Atlantic Cup start week. It was a nice evening.

I’m back in my element now. After four long days being
social and cheerful, I find myself a bit exhausted. Mia doesn’t understand
this. Introverts (and I classify myself as one), find it physically tiring to be in social situations. Some more than
others, of course (so I’ve read). I’m there now. Don’t get me wrong, I love these events, wouldn’t be doing
anything different. But being introverted, it takes a real effort to be social,
and all of the time. It wipes me out.

So now, here I am. Cold shower to clean off the grit and
sweat from the Caribbean sun. A hot cup of strong coffee that we packed along
with us. Music playing in the background (always Moby’s ambient music when I
write, at least since Australia in 2005). And my computer screen darkened
except for the white Word document I have open currently. I’m basically talking
to myself when I write like this. But that’s easy. There is only me here.

Anyway. This is eventually going to morph into my next Spinsheet article, but it hasn’t quite
gotten there yet. I like to start these out simply as a stream of consciousness
to get my fingers moving and get me in the mood
to write. That takes time as well, that shift. The shift from being outgoing
and social all day to come back to this, thinking about what I’m going to put
down on the page.

There is always a connection to the Chesapeake in some way
with these articles, and this idea provides several in fact, even though it
takes place farther afield. That’s what I love about writing for Spinsheet. One of the things anyway.
That I can usually choose my topic and write from the heart. I find they’re my
best articles, or at least my favorite, even if the subjects sometimes aren’t
so professional.

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This Spinsheet
article is going to (sort of) be about taking new people out sailing. Last
month I wrote about going aground in Rock Hall after having sailed 800+ miles
up from the Bahamas, stopping once for 6 hours in Beaufort. We came up
literally 200 yards shy of the dock at North Point Marina. I wrote about how we
tried everything to get the boat off, and ended up going to sleep at 4 in the
morning and waiting for a tow from Baltimore to arrive the next day around
noon. It was a good story, though a frustrating (but ultimately successful) end
to the trip.

What I didn’t write about, at least in detail, was the crew
on that trip. My dad came along, like he usually does (when he can), so nothing
odd about that. Our third crewmember, Andrew Staus, is (sort of) what this
article here is going to be all about. Because prior to that trip, Andrew had
never been offshore before. In fact, he’d never been sailing before.

I grew up with Andrew. We were nearly the same age, and went
to school together since we were very young. I don’t really remember too many
of the details, but we used to play at each others houses when we were little
kids. So we go back a long way. In high school, he played on the football team
while I played golf, but we had a lot of the same classes, and anyway the
school only had about 400 students in it, so you pretty much knew everyone
(especially in your own grade).

After graduation, we lost touch, as you tend to do with your
high school friends. Ten years went by. Though we were probably friends on Facebook,
I don’t know that I ever even spoke to him during that time.

Our ten-year high school reunion happened last November.
Normally I’d scoff at that type of thing, but because one of my best friends
had the unfortunate position of being class president the year we graduated,
she was responsible for organizing the reunions and I wanted to support her. So
Mia and I went.

We reconnected with Andrew that evening, sharing stories
about our sailing trips and his climbing trips. We discovered that he used to
live in Alaska, goes ice climbing in Tuckerman’s Ravine in New England and had
recently gotten certified as a nurse, in the hopes of working as a traveling
nurse, a pretty neat way to see the world if you ask me.

So when I posted the crew opportunity on my Facebook page,
Andrew bit. Knowing that if he was completely useless my dad and I could handle
the boat just fine the two of us, I took him on. It was an easy decision – I
always preach that on any kind of long-distance ocean passage, a person’s sense
of adventure is more important than their sailing skills. I knew I’d get along
with Andrew in close quarters. He’s spent time sleeping on the side of a cliff
in a bivy sack, so I figured he’s handle the elements just fine. I can teach
someone how to stand a watch in a day, and I’m more comfortable asleep in my
bunk when I know the person on watch will wake me if they have a question
rather than do something of their own accord that might not be right. And they
learn to sail my way, which is also
worth something.

Aside from our grounding in Rock Hall, the trip was awesome
(though we did suffer a bit coming up the Bay – the last night saw a low
temperature of 36º, with 25 knots of headwinds. But then again, that’s why I
brought an ice climber onboard – he was prepared at least!). Andrew did manage
to jinx us though – before we left the Bahamas he’d mentioned that he wanted to
experience a storm at sea – “I want the full experience!” he’d said – and sure
enough, just as we entered the Gulf Stream the wind picked up, the lightening
was all around and the seas started climbing on the boat. He and I went forward
to set the storm jib (though the wind never got above 37 knots), taking green
water in our laps and rain in our faces. “Happy now!?” I joked. He was loving
it (then again, he didn’t even know what to be afraid of).

Two days later I was on a plane again, this time headed for
St. Thomas to bring a Tayana 48 north to Rhode Island, via Bermuda. Dad
couldn’t come for this one, so I’d lined up my friend Billy Rudek – a captain
at the Echo Hill Outdoor School on the Eastern Shore, who sails a skipjack and
a buyboat on the Chester River – as first mate, and agreed to bring along Casey
and Lindsey Alexander.

I’d met them quite serendipitously in fact. They called back
in January I think, inquiring about the Caribbean 1500. ‘We want to sail our
own boat in the event in 2014,’ they’d told me, ‘but we’ve never been offshore.
Do you know of anyone looking for crew?’

Indeed I did! I invited them on the spot, right there on the
phone. They keep their boat – a 45’ Van de Stadt sloop – in Solomon’s island,
and have spent the past four years refitting her themselves, something Mia and
I could certainly relate to. We had dinner at Middleton’s in Annapolis about 6
weeks before the trip was set to depart. I didn’t have any specific interview
questions as such, but let my intuition guide me. They were about my age, and I
got a really nice vibe. We settled it there and then, and they booked their
flights.

I met Casey and Lindsey in St. Thomas the day after they had
arrived. Billy was there too. Our first evening was spent at dinner, Billy
showing off some of his sailorly tattoos and the two of us educating Casey and
Lindsey on maritime customs and superstitions. They’d inadvertently bought a
bunch of bananas at the grocery store earlier that day, and thought I was
joking when I told them to get rid of them. It made the guys on the neighboring
schooner happy though!

The trip north to Bermuda was a picture perfect ocean passage.
Five days close reaching in 20 knots of breeze, clear skies and warm weather. I
overheard Lindsey say to Casey one morning, ‘this is my favorite kind of
sailing!’ No kidding! We stopped the boat to swim a bunch of times, and Casey
and Lindsey learned what it’s like offshore and how to stand single-handed
watches. And like Andrew, they woke me up when something wasn’t right or they
weren’t comfortable, the single most important aspect of offshore crew to my
mind. We swapped them out in Bermuda (they had to go back to work) for
Lindsey’s dad Dave (a liveaboard himself and a very experienced sailor), and
23-year-old Austin, who very spookily reminded me of myself when I was his age
(but that’s another story – and it actually is a good one!). He’d never been
offshore either (and that worked out too, but I’m starting to sound like a
broken record now).

There is a precedent for my style of choosing crew. When Mia
and I sailed Arcturus across the
Atlantic in 2011, our friend Clint came along. He’s only been on a sailboat
once before, with us in New Zealand when we first met. But it didn’t matter –
he’s an adventurous type and humble enough to wake me up when he wasn’t sure of
something. Then, I just had a hunch about Clint, and I love him as a friend.
But now, I think there really is something to it.

And there is nothing better than sharing sailing with people
who’ve never done it. That’s the best part.

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