Sometime on a pitch-black night off the New Jersey coast this past November, I was having serious reservations about cruising under sail. The promised 15-20 knot northerly had morphed into a 20-25 knot easterly with prolonged gusts in the low 30s, and the sea state was, to put it charitably, confused—“a cement mixer,” as one of the cruisers who followed us into Atlantic City later that day described it. I’ve sat out 50-knot blows in the Gulf Stream that were a hayride by comparison. In those long hours between 0200 and dawn, I would have given almost anything to be somewhere else.
Yet just 12 hours earlier we’d been close-reaching down the Long Island coastline on a beautiful sunny afternoon, the wind in the northwest and propelling us across the flat water at 7-plus knots. Life was good, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else—somewhere tropical excepted because it was a trifle chilly.
Some days dog, some days lamppost, as the saying goes. Such are the extremes of the sailing game. It seems to me that one of the prerequisites of being a sailor is a selective memory. So many voyages I’ve made have been borderline ordeals during which patience was stretched to the limit and personal comfort became a distant memory. Yet when I look back at these experiences, I’ve always had a grand old time and emerged with a few new sea stories. Why is it that so many voyages are miserable at the time but enjoyable in retrospect?
Were it not for such fortuitous instances of partial amnesia, I suspect I’d have hung up my seaboots long ago and found a new passion that didn’t involve wet bunks, bruises in peculiar places, intermittent starvation and seasickness, nagging uncertainty and sometimes fear, and the expenditure of considerable sums of money and time.
But where would be the fun in that?