Every once in a while, the changing tides of life and work leave me not with a mountain of things to attend to, but with a couple of weeks of nothing to do. While from an economic standpoint this is rather less than desirable, from a seafaring point of view it can be a bonanza. After all, I’m usually too busy trying to keep body and soul together to do much more than some afternoon sailing after work. But late this summer, when a gap between projects at my full-time job left me at a loose end, I was just in time to volunteer for an offshore delivery from Rhode Island to Norfolk, Virginia.
The boat was a 38-foot cold molded schooner I had done a bit of rigging on for the new owner, our friend Chris Museler, who was staging for a winter in the Bahamas. The timing was slightly…surgical, since Hurricane Jose had just passed, and we were trying to catch the tail end of Maria as she headed east into the open ocean. There was a narrow window between when the wind would blow fair (if slightly hard), then not at all, then from directly ahead.
Being a habitual racing sailor, Chris put a lot more faith in the pinpoint precision of weather routing services than I do, but to my astonishment, they were absolutely spot on—so accurate that we tied up to the dock just ten minutes before the computer model had predicted. No doubt it helped that Chris and our other companion, Tim, are experts at midnight sail changes, and we always managed to keep the optimum sail area for the wind.
Between all sorts of fun with a pretty stiff breeze, rising sea state, and pop-up thunderstorms, the first 30 hours were a bit too busy to do much more than hang on when on watch, but as the weather mellowed on the second day we could really enjoy the voyage. Magic is about the sweetest little schooner you could ever wish to sail, with every detail of her layout carefully designed, and working as perfectly as when she was built twenty years ago.
It was a perfect day, slipping along through the white-crested seas, and an even more perfect night under a sky now cloudless and absolutely alive with stars. Since I first went to sea 22 years ago, I’ve spent scores of nights sitting at the helm gazing at the stars, and what struck me on this occasion was that while I’ve changed immensely since my first voyage down the Pacific coast of Mexico, the sea and the sky are exactly the same as they were then. That night watch could have been any of hundreds I’ve stood over the years—all the same stars, the same slosh of water alongside, the same lift and roll as waves passed under the keel. If not for the memories of voyages past: of children; of life; of joys and sorrows come and gone, I might have been that same youth of long ago standing his first night watch on an ancient wooden ketch bound for Mexico.
We entered the Chesapeake Bay just before sunset on the third day, and it was fully dark as we chugged up the double dogleg channel into Hampton. A night of uninterrupted rest, a mad rush to the airport after sleeping in, and the trip was over: we were back among the throngs who do little more than drive to work and back, people who will never see the grandeur of the moon setting into a silky black sea or wait, shivering, for the first ray of the sunrise to warm their salty cheek. Back among people who though rich in things are poor in experience, and are much to be pitied for it.
But though much time seemed to have passed, I still had no work on the radar, so we took Ganymede on a mini-cruise instead. Things could not have been better: we sailed all the way down the Sakonnet river to Third Beach to anchor, then crossed under Aquidneck Island, tacked up the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, and anchored in a tiny cove at Dutch Island, all without using the engine. After a good explore ashore and a blustery night, we motored Ganymede to a spot with a better lee and spent the day reading books and playing games in the cabin, with a fire in the woodstove morning and evening to take off the chill.
On the last day we tacked further up the West Passage, ducked under the south end of Prudence Island, and put the rail under sailing for the Mount Hope bridge and the entrance to the Kickemuit river. If the tide hadn’t been running so strong, we’d have picked up the mooring under sail. As it was, the pickup stick was wrenched out of my hands as Ganymede shot by, and we had to fire up the engine and double back for it. Oh well, four days of cruising with less than an hour of motoring ain’t bad.
Sadly, that might be it for the year’s seafaring—with fall well underway and the clock about to change, the next visit to Ganymede will be to take down her sails and snug her down for winter. So be it; we had some splendid sailing this year, and one thing is sure: the sea, the stars, and the sunrise will be no different next time we get out to see them.