There was no cake for me on my birthday, no gifts, no candles, no Facebook shout outs (at least that I could see), and certainly no birthday shtup. Mike wrote me a lovely card on a plain white piece of paper that I opened first thing in the morning and then Wolfe and Ben (our steady crew) wished me a happy birthday too, and that was that. I think there was an intention of a birthday cake at some point (the 3-2-1 cake I have referred to in an earlier post), but my birthday was the day when things really started to fall apart. Moral was low for the skipper, and he just couldn’t handle organizing a cake for the admiral (that’s me) with 2 ingredients (one being water). But I didn’t blame him, and I certainly did not want to add to his misery by pouting.
It could have been the day when we all pointed fingers or started getting angry with one another, but it wasn’t. A series of breaks, including a bilge pump that Mike had fixed 3 or 4 times before, a freezer that decided to quit, a refrigerator that went on the fritz for a few hours, the auto pilot (it worked until it got tired, then needed a rest for a few hours, then worked again), and the master volt regulator failing to charge the batteries on the boat (which are needed for everything), one of the heads clogging, were disheartening.
Had that been all, we might have been just a normally frustrating experience. But it was the broken tiller arm that took out our steering that really caused us the most anxiety. As always, these things happen at 0300 (I’m on nautical time now), in the inky blackness of night (the moon was just a sliver), during a squall (of course). With a wind shift of 180 degrees at 35 knots, it was boom (literally), just like that, and we became a sailboat without steering.
But that is when our crew came together. Emergency tiller assembled in the matter of minutes, new one hour watches figured out (I was not strong enough to handle the emergency tiller in 18knot winds so I just sat there, exhausted and helpless, trying to stay up to make people drink water and eat something and get some sleep when they got a break.) No one panicked. Everyone just did what they needed to do, hour after hour after hour.
We managed with an emergency tiller through strong, favorable winds the rest of the way to Antigua, about 90 miles. And while I was anxious, I never doubted, not even for a second, that we would make it, although I did often say to myself, “well, this sucks.”
But make it we did, a bit battered, but not completely broken. A rainbow greeted us as we approached Antigua, and from that moment, things started to get better. We are now at historic Nelson’s Dockyard in beautiful English Harbor, Antigua, waiting for repairs to be completed, seeing new friends, drinking rum, eating sushi, snorkeling, hanging at the beach for 4 hours, drinking a nice rose in the water with new friends. We even had a visit from Prince Charles, who came to Exodus to say hello and shake our hands.
The lessons learned from this passage, for both Mike and for me, are too numerous to enumerate, but we are both clearly wiser and stronger for having done it. From having to fix things numerous times, we have learned patience. From figuring out that we could get our broken part out of the boat and have it welded instead of waiting 3 weeks for a new one we have learned ingenuity. From the realization that we don’t know shit compared to the seasoned sailors out there, we have learned humility. We have learned faith, and perseverance, and again, the importance of a strong sailing community- the Salty Dawg group has been by our side to lend a hand (or a tool) whenever we have needed one, not to mention organizing a number of moral boosting activities.
Mostly, we have learned that boats break…that’s just what they do, no matter how well you prepare, or how new your boat is. One friend recently said, “you can be assured that while you are sleeping, your boat is breaking.”
So would we do this passage again? Well, certainly not soon. But apparently passage making is a bit like childbirth. When the labor finally ends and the baby is finally out, you can’t imagine ever doing it again…but after a period of time, you kind of forget the misery and just remember the white sand and palm trees…so we shall see about that.
For now, it is simply time to relax.