I’m staring out at the winglets of our 737 to Chicago, all the dramatic weather that followed our group in the Caribbean now gone away below, replaced with perfect teal sky, erasing the ever-changing, emblematic mixture of winds and wet that made this my most dynamic BVI sailing trip to date: every day an adventure, for better or worse. We had heavy winds punctuated with dead quiet, rainstorms alternating with scorching sunshine, near-hourly wind shifts, but through it all a sturdy boat and an excellent crew.
The weather, unpredictable as it has been for the trip, had a final surprise for us on the last day, unleashing a 30-knot squall complete with pounding rain in great torrents for the final, harrowing half hour as we brought the boat into her tie-down spot in home harbor. What was a lazy downwind sailing day with only a faraway threat of storms became a near-monsoon, a wrenching, half-blind soaked struggle to find a home for our five tons as the wind threatened to drive our boat into the dozens of others swinging dangerously on their moorings.
But the crew, bless them all, rallied to bring us home; lookouts, line-throwers and life support in ever-changing winds. I’ve noticed that over the week, everyone’s found their specialization – their niche at sea.
Some are cooks, eminently respectable in such close quarters, with blunt or missing implements and constantly diminishing stocks. Others are pilots, comfortable with the tonnage and control of the vessel herself in rough seas. Still others are deckhands, nimble and unafraid to get physical with the boat and the environment to bring the boat to order, or navigators, with an eye for detail and precision that bring us to safe harbor day after day.
I look with awe and appreciation toward my wife, Alicia, who served as Executive Officer, my second-in-command for the trip: training the new hands, establishing a routine and discipline aboard, bringing us in sync as a ship. I am proud and honored to have served with her, as I am with all who I got to know as crew this past week.
I see the skies blue over Puerto Rico this afternoon, a wash of brown silt into the harbor from overflowing rivers evidence of a long-lasting and drenching storm that has just now begun to clear. We, in our tiny boat, were on the peripheral arm of that larger storm that spiraled the Caribbean for ten days, the winds and torrential rains we experienced at the end of our trip only a very merciful sliver of what nature could have wrought.
I gather from my conversations with some of the residents that the storm has done immense good for the people of the islands, filling rainwater catches and watering plants that had been wilting throughout the months of spring heat. We need to do our best to remember that we live in a world of interlocking systems, the weather perhaps the grandest and most transformative among these, bringing life – or taking it – in an endless natural machine expressed in a sea of fluid equations all at once, all around the world.
Family members and friends may wonder at our safety (perhaps our sanity) in sailing such a monumental system. My initial planning as well as daily weather reports indicated no pressing danger during our stay, but your assurance is built on mine, mine on theirs, and theirs on a finite understanding of a chaotic global engine we have only begun with our elementary means to establish the bounds of. These are not guarantees – nothing is, and we would all do well to remember it.
In my own philosophy, being a sailor means exerting diligence over the single system you control, and remaining forever respectful of your own tiny place within the many systems you don’t. Having a crew gives you the means to respond faster – more hands, more eyes, more nerves – but we’re still the very smallest of dots on a tremendous and terrifying sea, with only one another for comfort and support.
I learned more than I could have hoped for about the value in trusting your fellow sailors as life’s endless challenges bear down. We took risks, we made mistakes. We saw beautiful places and brought ourselves out and back again, and we did it as a crew – an experience and shared history we take with us back home.
I’m pleased to close with a report that two of our crew members – Joy and David – are now engaged, David surprising his love with an exquisite ring the night of our sit-down dinner at the Bitter End Yacht Club, much to her delight. I’m pleased and proud to have contributed to such a joyous event, even in my small way of helping them find this idyllic tropical spot, and I wish them all the best as they advance toward their wedding next year.
In a few short months, I predict the weather in my own life will change, as Alicia and I turn thirty together, and begin planning the next five years of our life, leaving our twenties behind. I am grateful and humbled to have had such a brilliant crew and such an exciting week of sailing, in these, our adventurous years.