Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ship of Fools on the Voyage of the Damned

We live in an astonishing age, where it is possible to keep in touch with the rest of the world from just about any corner of the globe.

I know this blog is supposed to be about my running and Boston Marathon crap, but I am pressing it into service to fill my current communications needs.

I think I have just conscripted my Boston Blog into the Caribbean draft...

My problem is that I left town on Monday on very short notice. I received a call from my father - who was in Freeport, Bahamas - that he needed my help. Desperately. A few phone calls confirmed this.

My apologies to those I failed to notify about what was going on.

My father - and this is probably where I get my insanity gene - (that and the one that makes me as dumb as a sack of hammers in the face of the obvious), has decided to sail some 3,500 miles in a 65' Cape Horn Trawler called the Dream Chaser - something that has to qualify as the trip if not the adventure of a lifetime - and despite his being much better served in my not very humble opinion by being in an assisted-living facility. My Father, bless his pirate soul, could not disagree more. Such is the dance between fathers and sons.

And my Father actually needs to have this boat - the Dream Chaser - in Panama City, to get it through the Panama Canal before April 15. And sooner is even better. Health-wise, he can barely stand and I think he should be not only in a care facility, but a hospital. But my Father has always been happiest on or near the water and in my heart and soul I understand why he has to do this. He is not so much chasing dreams as fulfilling one. And like him, if I had to choose between a small condo and days filled with monotonous routine or life aboard the Dream Chaser, I would choose the Dream Chaser.

So, I bolted town at a moment's notice, missing both Robbie Burns' Celebrations, scotch-tastings and any number of social obligations. And a couple of jobs. Once again, my apologies...

My Father has talked about the Dream Chaser for years. Has extolled her virtues to such an extant that I have taken it all with a grain of salt. But when coming aboard for the first time, I must confess I am floored. The Dream Chaser really is nothing short of amazing, from stem to stern.

We left Freeport, Bahamas at dawn on Wednesday, January 15, a glorious sunrise lighting our way. The Dream Chaser is absolutely, truly, astonishing. She is a beautiful ship, originally designed and built for around-the-world voyages and to be at sea for long periods of time. In even the roughest seas. Her appointments are gorgeous. The wood work and interior craftsmanship, utterly flawless. The galley is amazing and the engine room spotless. I can see why my Father fell in love with her at first sight and pined for her for years until she was his.

Forty-five minutes under way I just kind of weasled my way into taking over at the wheel.

Which was a good thing, because as we soon hit the big rolling swells in the open South Atlantic, all Hell broke loose. For most of the Crew that is.

Within an hour everyone in our crew of five - except me, and Dad - was violently seasick and losing their breakfast over the side. The net result of this was that instead of two or four hour watches at the helm, yours truly was at the wheel for twelve solid hours.

Dad was happy as a clam sitting behind me on the bridge, but the rhythmic rising and falling of the deck has a tendency to lull him to sleep... Which meant I felt very much alone.

You can't make this stuff up...

But the Dream Chaser has a way of instilling confidence as she is remarkably steady under way. And when you look out over the bow to the horizon, feel the deck humming under your feet and with the wheel rock steady in your hands, you just know that a safe harbor and a good anchorage are just around the corner.

Not wanting to pull into a strange port in the dark - and a plan not advised in most books about sailing in the Bahamas - the Crew then decided on Plan B - a safe, wind-protected anchorage - and proceeded to sail another ninety minutes in the dark after the sun went down. We anchored off Grand Abaco.

I have never been on the Dream Chaser before this trip, but she makes it all seem easy. Did I mention that this was all done in the dark? All this was done by using the ship's radar and computer navigation. Nothing like learning by doing, and I was astonished at how easy THAT was...

The galley invites you to cook up a storm and after a day of bobbing and weaving it is good to sit and drink and eat. I still can not believe what an amazing boat the Dream Chaser is. A floating palace.

Afterwards, bored to tears, I baited a hook with salami and caught two ten pound fish in less than ten minutes. Snappers we think. The first one was delicious. My Dad seems utterly rejuvenated by watching me catch the fish. He beams as if he had caught them himself.

We crash into our bunks and I must confess, I sleep like a baby. Sawing up and filleting the fish is actually the hardest work I have done all day.

Jan 16. we sailed to Harbour Island on Eleuthera Island - look it up!

Voted the Caribbean's prettiest island, and one of the best beaches in the world. The sand REALLY is like icing sugar and actually IS pink!

Getting into the harbour was a treat - supposed to be one of the trickiest harbour entrances in all the Caribbean and a local pilot is highly recommended (you can read it in the local Guide Books). Of course, we did this on our own. And yet again the Dream Chaser proved what an able ship she was. Her instrumentation, radar and GPS and depth sounder and all the other bells and whistles, made navigating a course seem fundamental and easy.

When Brian and Tom weren't hanging over the side, they were lying down. They roused themselves for the entrance, as we navigated a fifty metre channel with reefs and breakers on either side...I guess this appeals to the pirate captain in me. So maybe growing the beard was a harbinger of things to come.

But it is exhausting. None of us can convince my father to leave the boat. He's actually said he wants to die on it. Greaaaattttt for crew morale.... My word, but we Hemingson clan can be a bunch of drama queens. But in a way, I can see his point. In life, why would you not want to die as you want to live? Doing this makes him happy. Who am I to say it is wrong? But if he should go to Davy Jones on this trip, what then?

This has led to much black humour about what we'll do with his body if that happens... The freezers are pretty small. The Viking funeral pyre he wants? Not sure if we have enough gasoline on board as the reliable Volvo Penta burns diesel.

Not sure what we will do with our seasick crew members. Tom may actually have to leave just in order to survive and fly ahead to meet us in Jamaica and Panama City.

Looks like I am going to be spending all my waking hours on the bridge.

I do miss everybody. Hope you are well.

The Caribbean is dotted with Cell Towers so I can call out every few days. Cyber cafes as well.

Cheery notes appreciated. My e-mail is getting overwhelmed, so please keep them brief!

Good Rum is only seven dollars and fifty cents a bottle. Tom and I bought a gallon of the miracle elixir!

And yes, I am completely and utterly aware that I got myself into this by agreeing to do this. The Old Man can be hard to turn down. Actually, at this stage, I'm not sure I'd know how.

All of my wounds in life are mostly self-inflicted.

Still not sure what I have agreed to or gotten myself into to....

Sat. Jan. 19.

Arrived in Nassau. Becoming a bit of a computer navigation whiz. Figured out the auto-pilot after several moments of high terror at sea. It is actually very straightforward if you think it out step by step.

Much less puking among crew. Praise the Lord, pass the rum!

But my Father is deteriorating rapidly. He is getting dragged to the hospital whether he likes it or not. It breaks my heart to see him like this and I understand full well his reluctance to yield. If life is an ultramarathon, surely there must be times where you can just clench your teeth and grit your way through it. Can't you?

A very strange way to see the Caribbean...

More photos...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vince you are a wonderfully engaging writer - reading your blog is almost as good as being there - but without the sun, the rum or the barfing !!
I sure wish I was there.

Sharon in cold Vancouver

3:42:00 PM  
Anonymous The 3:45 runner said...

There's a movie in there somewhere ... glad to hear you're living life to the fullest, and then some!!


3:04:00 AM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Well, I think you're going to come home with stories. Good ones, bad ones, I don't know, but stories. Good luck with it.

10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Lora said...

Don't get too lost in the rum down there. And bring some of that sun back north.

Ya got one heck of a Dad - no wonder I get suck a kick out of reading about your life.

and what's that they say about the apple?

4:17:00 PM  

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