It Was a Mostly Good Year

One year ago, on 4 January 2017, Eric and I set sail from St. Augustine in Corroboree with the goal of sailing around the world. So far we have covered 2,895 miles, made 41 landfalls, and added over a dozen new islands and countries to our life list. So when our son Dane and his wife Gray visited us here in Colombia this week and asked each of us to name the highs and lows of our voyage thus far, it was hard to pick just a few. Having now had an overnight to ponder the idea, here’s what we would say:

For me, the absolute highs were our stays at Warderick Wells in the Bahamas and Grenada, because these are the two places we were able to volunteer. Warderick Wells is also fantastically beautiful. The entire island and surrounding waters are a protected land/sea park, and under the ranger’s direction we cleared trails, painted a shed, and sanded and varnished ancient deck furniture. In Grenada, we had an unforgettable time interacting with the kids in the after-school program at the St. George’s Library. We also did data entry to help bring the library records up to date. In both places, we were more than sailors passing through. We got to be, for a short while, part of the community. That means a lot to me.

Corroboree in Warderick Wells, Bahamas

Trail clearing in Warderick Wells, Bahamas

After-school program in St. George’s, Grenada

For Eric, the biggest high was the sighting of our first, and so far only, whale, a humpback, off the coast of St. Vincent. He was at the helm when a massive black head poked out of the water a mere boat length away. As he yelled for me to come see, the head submerged, and we stood there exclaiming and practically jumping with excitement as the dorsal fin glided past. Then the fin submerged, and the tail and flukes lifted from the water. The next instant, they gracefully slipped back under, and the whale was gone, back to the deep.

Humpback whale off St. Vincent

For both of us, one of the ongoing highs has been the companionship of the other cruisers we meet en route. Some we crossed paths with only briefly, sharing a laugh, a tip about the next port, a horror story of  the passage from hell. Others we can look forward to meeting again as our boats leapfrog each other along the way. They come from all over the United States, Canada, Europe and South Africa, and represent dozens of professions and speak almost as many languages. Some, like us, are relative newcomers; others have been sailing for a decade or more. Their advice and experience has been invaluable to us on the steep learning curve of this first year.   

But now, the lows. Where to begin? We have had so many equipment failures and repairs and made so many mistakes. Thankfully, none of them was fatal. Probably the scariest was dodging three hurricanes in two weeks—Irma, Jose, Maria—while holed up in Antigua. It caused our family and friends considerable worry, and we in turn worried for our fellow cruisers, not knowing how they were faring elsewhere. Eric ripping open his finger on a fence and needing stitches in the ER during that same period didn’t help.

Jolly Harbour, Antigua, Hurricane Irma approaching

Corroboree hauled out and strapped down for Irma

For Eric, the most depressing low was in Bequia. We had just seen the whale off St. Vincent that morning and were exuberant. Then a few hours later, nearing Bequia, we got caught in a severe squall. We didn’t get the sails down soon enough, and the wind, though short-lived, was so strong  it bent our metal jib boom, necessary to give shape to the sail. When the squall passed, we limped into Bequia, where it rained nonstop well into the next day. Though we knew the boom could be repaired, the absolute gloom of the rain spun Eric’s mood a hundred and eighty degrees. Sometimes, it’s not the big things but the little disasters that get you down.

Sunset after the rain as we left Bequia

For me, the low was our engine rebuild. We knew by the time we were in the Bahamas in February that we had a problem. Fear of the engine dying at the wrong moment dogged us from then on. It made it hard to enjoy the beautiful scenery while Eric was trying to sort out how and where to get the problem solved. When we reached the east coast of Puerto Rico in May, it took ten weeks to effect the repair. Where Eric has the engineering background to understand and work with the mechanic, I could only stand by with a knot in my stomach as we encountered one glitch and delay after another. It made me feel not just nervous but useless. Now, every time our engine roars up at the first touch, I send a mental thank-you to the universe and to the mechanic who fixed it.

Corroboree’s dismantled engine, Puerto Rico

So, a year later, here we are, and naming a few highs and lows doesn’t begin to capture our emotions on this first anniversary of setting sail. As always, we are acutely aware of how fortunate we are to have the health and resources to undertake this voyage. Increasingly, we are confident in our boat and ourselves. When a new problem arises, we can point to all the other difficulties we’ve surmounted thus far.

Perhaps the biggest overall lesson of this past year has been that you can’t go home again. We had looked forward with both anticipation and misgiving to visiting many of the islands we visited forty years ago on Duprass, and indeed, most of them had become built up and generic. Not surprisingly, therefore, it’s the brand-new places we visited—the Dominican Republic, Culebra, St. Martin, Bonaire, Curacao and now Colombia—that we reveled in. Once we transit the Panama Canal, all the places we sail to will be new to us.

Thanks for sharing our adventures. With a bit of luck, 2018 will be a very good year.

 St. George’s, Grenada, preparing to sail to Bonaire