The mind has a funny way of distorting time. Take, for example, my first big offshore cruise. It was the summer of 1987, I was 11 years old, and my Dad and his buddies had sailed our newly acquired C&C 37 from our home in Connecticut up to Maine’s lovely Penobscot Bay, where my Mother, my younger brother and I joined my Dad for a few weeks of cruising. Since my Mom (wisely) doesn’t sail offshore, the task of delivering 'Windancer' down south fell to my Dad, two of his buddies and myself.
Sail-World Cruising Editor David Schmidt warm and dry
The years may have slipped astern more rapidly than I’d like to admit, but I can still remember watching my Mom and brother walking up the dock, and the flash feeling of pure child-like excitement and wonder instantly stir-in the pit of my stomach-with pure terror. Sure, I’d sailed outside of the sight of land before, but never at night, with a boatload of relative strangers, or far from my Mother’s always-understanding embrace.
In short, I was entering the world of adults, of sailing offshore and of the unknown. And I was ready…at least so I thought.
A boy learns to navigate the seas on a previous sail training adventure - London to Portland Small Ships Race 2012
I must have already settled into my bunk for the night when the winds picked up, progressing quickly from the mid-teens to the upper twenties. Soon, 'Windancer’s' IOR-optimized hull shape was bashing and slamming through some nasty square waves and green water started occasionally running down the decks. But just as I got used to the motion, it was time to visit the leeward rail…quickly.
Lightning flashed, thunder clapped, and a small, scared little boy dealt with his first real bout of seasickness. I can still remember my Dad’s hand on the back of my harness, holding me safe, and the fact that Mike and Richard were both kind enough not to point out that accuracy was also not a strong suit in my first-time dance with seasickness (fortunately, I improved my aim over the years!). Once I had 'recovered' in the cockpit, my Dad handed me a plastic yellow boat mug that was stained with long-forgotten caffeine, piping hot with fresh-brewed coffee. I had my first sip of 'black magic', and the world of offshore cruising immediately seemed a bit less terrifying.
We made landfall the next day in Nantucket via the outside of Cape Cod (and a foggy passage through the Pollock Rip Channel), and I can still remember being plenty excited to find a stationary horizon and a pay phone (remember those?) to call my Mom. But when I got her on the line-oddly enough-I found myself reliving the glories of sailing offshore with the big boys and not the living-color terror of watching lightning illuminate the sail numbers in staccato bursts.
Lightning - dreaded by all those who travel in sailing boats
More importantly, Mike, Richard and my Dad chipped in and bought me my first watch cap and my first pair of sailing gloves-proof that I had joined a hard-won club of cruising sailors. [And yes, I still have the now-war-torn gloves and battered watch cap in my closet, proud souvenirs of an important coming-of-age.]
Flash forward several decades and many cruising miles, and I still love sailing at night, a hot drink in hand, watching the stars flicker in the heavens. Experience has taught me how to deal with wind, salt and waves, and I have fortunately learned how to quell my propensity towards mal de mer, but I still get a serious flash of excitement each time the dock lines are slipped and the sight of land fades astern.
These days, the waters of the Pacific Northwest are my home cruising grounds, but I’m careful to make it back to Connecticut a few times a year to go sailing/cruising with my parents. Some family traditions are simply too important to let slip!
As I step into my new role as Sail-World’s Cruising editor, I look forward to creating many new great cruising memories, to meeting new friends and to hopefully sharing new adventures with old friends. Mostly, however, I’m acutely aware of the fantastic work that my predecessor (and Sail-World Cruising’s founding editor), Nancy Knudsen, put into this position for many years, and of the massive seaboots she’s leaving behind for me to fill.
The task is huge, and-much like my first offshore cruise-I’m excited about the experiences that lay over the next horizon.
May the four winds blow you safely home,