The adventure with Sparrow was marked with toil, unplanned damage, and discomfort but the strong memories made it all worthwhile.
The toil began with the refit, of course. I initially thought with the business and children, I would be using professional help, but I ended up doing much of the refit work myself with the able assistance of Eric Lambert when I ran into something that was beyond my skillset. Eric was instrumental with the emergency rudder, autopilot installation design, alternator installation, and other electrical design thoughts that were so very helpful. The toil continued during the journey, but that was the point, right?
What I hadn’t counted on was the damage that ensued. The loss of downwind sails was somewhat predictable, but the coachroof cracks, mainsail cars and track, rudder bearing, kelp cutter, block pulling out of the deck were all unpredicted disappointments that trashed my overall goal of getting around the world. It demonstrates that no matter how much you prepare, you must battle-test everything on the boat thoroughly before attempting a voyage like this. Julie at one point asked me: “Does anyone make it around on the first try?” Pretty much sums it up.
Discomfort? Sure. It’s what I signed up for: cold, damp misery in the South. No real surprises here, except that for some reason, I never felt queasy or seasick. Normally I’ll feel funny the first 2 days, and again when in rough seas especially upwind. This trip was marked by none, to which I credit the waterline length, narrow entry hull form, and water ballast.
Ah, but the memories. One intention was to experience life’s highs and lows; to feel all that life offers sentience. This one got checked off. One strong memory is just ripping through the Southern Ocean. Here is some raw GoPro footage that makes the waves look small:
Some highs and lows of the trip:
- Greybeards down in the Fifties
- The grace and dignity of the Albatross
- Rounding Cape Horn
- Anchoring safely in Puerto Williams
- Swimming in the South Atlantic
- Losing the Code 0
- Cracks in the Cabintop
- Close reaching for 3 weeks into 20-30 knots
- Cracks in the rudder bearing housing
- Kelp cutter tube leaks
- Mainsail rip
- Turning block ripping out of the deck
- Argentina rejection
When you are faced with a challenge or adversity, how do you handle it? Do you look for a way to get out of it? Avoid it? Face it head-on? Alone in the Southern Ocean there is no escape, you have to deal with what comes. Therein lies the beauty. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
How much comfort do you sacrifice in pursuit of large goals like caring for those around you, advancing your career, or sailing around the world non-stop? How much of your micro-managing boss can you take before you quit? How much traffic before you move or find another job? How long do you care for your spouse with Alzheimers before seeking professional care? There are no right answers in the yin-yang of comfort vs achievement. We must all make choices when things are worthwhile, or when they are intolerable. Crying, screaming, pouting, complaining, drinking, or eating dark chocolate peanut butter cups does nothing except distract you from what you should be thinking and doing to either make things better or move on.
After the turning block ripped out of the deck in the Straight de la Maire, I had reached my limit. That was the moment that I felt Sparrow wasn’t going to make it, or it she did, it would be not worth the time and misery. I didn’t cry, scream or eat chocolate. Turning for the Beagle Channel was without hesitation. As it turned out, the mainsail car system and jib luff would not have survived the trip around. I would have been sailing under staysail alone and catching rainwater by the Indian Ocean.
In the end, Sparrow and I sailed 17,000 miles over 90 days at sea, with another 30 days in Puerto Williams.
The 4 months of time allowed me to ponder my foibles, my strengths, what I like, what I don’t. I’ve been able to come to certain realizations about myself that I doubt I otherwise would have. Like a fish trying to see water, truths about oneself are hard to discern and the uglier ones are even harder to admit. It has taken me decades to learn that the way I was raised is not the best way to be in the world. The culture I was raised in taught that competence was what mattered, and emotions didn’t. I also learned I have nice-guy syndrome. I’ve been too eager to please putting my own needs, wants and desires to the side. On the relationship front, these outlooks and behaviors have caused much difficulty. I’ve realized I am so flattered by any woman who takes an interest in me that I try too hard to make it work. I put my own needs aside too easily in an attempt to please my partner. In that process resentment builds. I need to be more honest with myself, more self-aware, and pay attention to my feelings and be more forthright about what’s going on with me.
Obviously, I like a challenge: it just makes life more interesting. When I do hard things, I can live with myself more easily. I become more content with life. I’ve realized what I’m really after in life are amazing experiences. Amazing experiences can be any number of things in life, so maybe the key is to figure out what they are for you and make them happen. Amazing experiences can be quite simple, others difficult.
For me, they are things like
- Adventure travel (duh)
- Great movie, podcast, or book
- Great coffee, a latte, or wine
- Learning a new concept
- Sitting at anchor with a boatload of friends
- Being with those you love in great conversation
For me, amazing experiences occur when I’m not distracted by the outside world and am able to set it aside. I’m able to focus on what is in front of me. Amazing experiences occur when I do things with people I love, kinda doesn’t matter what. And then there is doing something fresh and unusual. Taking the Road Less Traveled. Memories stand out more. Hiking underneath thunderstorms is more amazing than with benign weather.
Maybe for you an amazing experience is the time in the car taking the kids to school. Or fixing the clogged drain. Or getting the seats you wanted for the Big Game. Maybe exercising your hard-won knowledge in some way.
So now I’ve resolved to consciously make amazing experiences happen to have a full life.
It took much time, but with my reading list I now have a much better sense of who we are, where we came from, and the structures and institutions that have evolved and grown with us over the centuries. The Liberal Arts are needed now more than ever as humanity appears to wane.
Re-entering land life has been harder than I expected. I expected to jump right into the kids’ lives, the business, meeting up with friends. Instead I’m finding myself very alone. There is no one to talk to about “those 4 months”. No one can really understand what it was like, so I’m left alone. Much, much. much more so than when I was on the water.
On the other hand, I have so much gratitude for “simple” things of modern life. Electricity! Potable water! Good coffee! Those around me! Everyone who gets up, goes to work and contributes! The comforts of modern life are a damned miracle, and I am so grateful to all those who make it all work.
Hopefully with Project Sparrow I’ve also shared and passed along something for my children and others around me. To do and experience discomfort to gain accomplishment in life, to take some risks, to do things that are hard and push to see where your limits are.
Sparrow is lying in Charleston, waiting for someone to lead her into another adventure. As for the future, for now I have no sailing plans…but Pauline Carr’s Antartic Oasis lies on the coffee table.
Thank you for joining me on my journey.