Atlantic Calling

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Admittedly, the majority of my offshore sailing has been in the waters I first laid eyes upon as a youngster gazing seaward from Sachuest Beach in tiny Middletown, Rhode Island. A sizable portion of my checkered youth was devoted to hanging out with my cronies at the beach’s so-called Surfers End; many a summer’s day was spent crashing among those Atlantic

Ocean waves just past the interface of sea and sand, and many an evening the rest of the year was passed hanging around big bonfires staring out at them. At some point, the ocean’s power began tugging at me as powerfully and mysteriously as a full moon on an easily misguided soul--something with which I also had some experience--and I developed a strong urge to seek out what was beyond those incoming sets of rolling breakers, out in the deep stuff. What in the world, I wondered, could be out there? What did it look like, sound like?

Not much later, I started sailing.

My inaugural experience beyond the sight of land was a delivery with friends to Bermuda. Sailing through the Gulf Stream in a rising squall was, quite simply, the first great adventure of my life. To arrive at a distant island at journey’s end--with Dark and Stormies, no less!--was beyond incredible. I felt like the first mouse to discover cheese. Surprise, surprise: I wanted more.

I was offered a trip from Newport to Norfolk, and later from Rhode Island to Florida. Then came a ride back to Bermuda, and on to the Caribbean. I began to think of myself as a regular Mr. Atlantic O. But then, in the mid-1980s, I scored a berth on a 60-foot catamaran going from New York to the English Channel. I couldn’t believe my luck; it actually occurred to me that if I made it all the way across, I could die happy. Finally there’d be something of note for my obituary: Transatlantic Sailor.

By the third night out, Mr. O was whipping up the humble pie.

It had started with a full gale just south of the Grand Banks. In retrospect, I thank my lucky stars Sebastian Junger was still a decade away from writing The Perfect Storm. Though terrified, I had no clue what a fine mess we were well and truly in.

But the thing that’s stuck with me about the voyage to this day is something that happened about a week later, when our storm was behind us and we were halfway across. I scrunched topsides for my next watch through the tiny aft-facing companionway, spun around, and was absolutely stunned to see that we were sailing what appeared to be a course straight uphill. And we weren’t sailing to weather, beating into a head sea--we were reaching!

In the ensuing years, I’ve done a lot of miles on several oceans, but the only times I’ve ever experienced that weird sensory phenomenon is in the deep Atlantic. Trust me, it felt as if we were trucking up a long, steep grade in low gear, and it was awesome. Whether it was an optical illusion, a hallucination, or a realization that I was in a place and circumstance far greater than myself, I can’t say. But it left me with a respect for those waters beyond my boyhood beachfront that now knows no bounds.

As we assembled this month’s issue, with strong Atlantic Ocean themes throughout, those thoughts came rushing back. The North Atlantic has it all: high pressure, wicked fronts, destinations both daunting and alluring, hurricanes, doldrums, the whole enchilada. And our firsthand accounts of offshore voyages westbound (page 23), eastbound (page 44), and south around a tropical storm to the Caribbean (page 62) all begin to capture the subtle expressions of its many moods.

It’s a big piece of water, full of challenges and rewards. If you’ve never ventured off soundings and into its vast expanse, maybe it’s time to give it some thought. It’s worth the trip.

Herb McCormick