Great Adventures There for the Taking
My first offshore adventure was in 1980 when I sailed from Scituate, Massachusetts, to Bermuda. The boat was a 56-foot ferrocement ketch some restaurant pals had built over 10 years with tips they’d accumulated serving seafood in a sweaty joint on the Boston waterfront. I was fiscally challenged and almost didn’t make it. I was able to go only because I’d hit the state lottery twice in a week for about $600, enough to contribute beer and food and buy a plane ticket home.
The concrete boat, aptly named Perseverance, was hardly a tub. Unlike most cement homebuilts that littered countless backyards and mudflats in the ’70s—half completed and faired like sidewalks— Perseverance was a thing of beauty. Her hull was flawlessly faired, her joinery exquisite and her rig and sails, while bought used, were solid.
We left Scituate on a cold morning in October armed for navigation and safety with paper charts, a sextant and sight-reduction tables, a Walker log, a single-sideband radio and a Loran-C set that one of the crew had donated, presumably as a hedge in case our math skills weren’t up to much beyond calculating a tip. Compared to the electronics on yachts and ships today, our gear was downright primitive, but we’d all learned to navigate by dead reckoning. Offshore work made that technique more complicated, but it was nothing mariners and adventurers hadn’t employed for centuries.
One challenge I took on during our six days at sea was learning how to use the sextant. I was hardly a math savant, but I caught on quickly to the ancient instrument. The Walker log, hanging on the taffrail trailing its little spinning bullet, frequently gagged on weed in the Gulf Stream, but generally worked well, indicating our distance traveled. We succeeded at getting noon sights almost every day, and we all were fairly skilled helmsmen, able to hold a respectable course as the heavy boat rolled down the swells. We only fired up the Loran to double-check our analog navigation, which, when we spotted the isolated island group that lies 578 nautical miles off the North Carolina coast, proved pretty darn good, I’d say.
As we struck the sails and fired up the diesel on approach to St. George’s, a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, equipped with the best navigation suite money can buy, surfaced a quarter-mile off our transom and steamed past us into the harbor. We’d arrived at the same place the old-fashioned way, which we thought was pretty cool. (Ironically, the U.S. Naval Academy has begun teaching midshipmen celestial navigation after a 20-year hiatus. The reason? Risk of cyberattacks, potential threats to GPS satellites and loss of electrical power aboard ship.)
Navigational gratification notwithstanding, my first sojourn offshore produced its fair share of pleasures: lying on the rolling foredeck on a clear night watching the masthead connect the dots with the stars; marking the Gulf Stream from a distance by towering cloud buildups and learning we’d entered it by the temperature of the saltwater in the faucet; dodging giant ships that didn’t know (or care) we were there. What a great adventure for a young man who got lucky in the lottery.
This issue is dedicated to that same sprit of adventure—something the sea has inspired and enabled for millennia. Among our adventure-inspired stories, author and safety-at-sea expert John Rousmaniere writes about several Force 10 storms he has weathered during his long sailing career. And Justin Ratcliffe reviews a yacht designed to go anywhere and writes about a company that specializes in charter in remote corners of the globe. Adventures are there for the taking. There’s nothing like slipping the lines and heading for the horizon.