Newlywed neophyte cruisers on a new Catana 50 learn as they go across the Med and the Atlantic. From our June 2011 issue.
Ria contributes immeasurably to our adventure and doubles as our social secretary and alarm system. Without meaning to, she provides constant amusement, such as when she takes it upon herself to protect us from a swarm of menacing dolphins who otherwise would surely sink the boat. She also helps set our daily pace by requesting frequent walks, in exchange for which she volunteers to pre-wash all dishes. We have her to thank for countless introductions, as many locals we meet are initially far more interested in her than us.
An unexpected benefit of our trip is how it has renewed our faith in human nature and, especially, in cruisers. Coming from U.S. big-city life, where you hardly know your neighbor, we’ve been overwhelmed by the spirit of generosity that pervades the cruising community. On countless occasions, fellow cruisers have come to our help when we’ve most needed it, teaching us how to solve our latest problem or lending us just the small piece we lacked. The epitome came when we hauled out in France to redo our anti-fouling. Due to the weather conditions, we had to paint on a weekend, when no yard workers were around. Yet somehow we were joined by six volunteers, people whom we’d literally just met, and they toiled with us for nine hours. I felt a bit like Tom Sawyer, with the exception that he probably didn’t treat his fellow painters to lots of wine, cheese, and pâté.
Our favorite cruising grounds in the Mediterranean were the pristine fjords of Croatia and the plentiful islands of Greece. Indeed, the medieval town of Dubrovnik may well be the single most beautiful anchorage in all of Europe. Meanwhile, the Greeks have sociability built into their genes, and several local fishermen adopted us during our stays in remote anchorages, making our time in the Aegean all the more memorable. Far sooner than we would’ve liked did winter begin its steady march, and it was time to turn back east for Gibraltar.
Our toughest decision preparing to cross the Atlantic was whether to undertake it alone or with crew. Caution argued for the latter. Yet we knew that we’d be much happier on our own, and by this time, we’d built up just enough confidence in our sailing skills to try it solo. While several books describe the standard Atlantic passage as a milk run, our crossing was anything but. Our wind meter clocked gusts up to 51 knots, and the waves regularly exceeded 25 feet. Vérité held up wonderfully. But the passage was a little tough for Veronique, who was too often in the grips of mild but persistent seasickness. Yet she soldiered on in style, and she somehow found it in herself to produce one gourmet meal after another that would make her French ancestors proud.
My own spirits were high throughout the crossing; my dominant emotion was awe. I was in awe of the power of the elements pounding around us; I was in awe of the perpetual-motion machine on which we sailed that could travel from one continent to another on wind alone; and I was in awe of the generations of mariners who’d made this trip before, without the modern conveniences of GPS or autopilot. There were also the occasional moments of fear in the dark of night when the waves and winds were at their height and Vérité felt like a cross between a freight train and a bucking bronco. Those were the times that I felt most alive.
We made landfall in St. Barts on December 28, after 16 days at sea. Our arrival in the Caribbean was a microcosm of our first nine months of cruising: a little painful at the outset, but increasingly blissful over time. In the middle of our first night anchored in St. Barts, a large powerboat dragged onto us, causing damage to our bow. We’d made it across the Atlantic without incident, only to get hit upon our arrival in a safe harbor. Go figure. But then everything started looking up as we indulged in several nights of parties, including an all-night dance fest aboard Octopus, the megayacht owned by Mircrosoft co-founder Paul Allen. Note: The onboard submarine is about the size of Vérité. Everyone was celebrating the New Year. Veronique and I were also celebrating the end of the first of many chapters in our cruising life.
Ted Halstead, an author and public speaker, set sail on Vérité in March 2008 with his wife, Veronique Bardach, and their dog, Ria; the goal was a circumnavigation. They’ve spent time in the Med, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific. Currently in Fiji, Vérité is headed next for Indonesia.