Time to See the Sea

To the very end, I think, we did our utmost toward the big transatlantic plan.

Zartman- Bras D'Or

Danielle Zartman

To the very end, I think, we did our utmost toward the big transatlantic plan. Rushing through Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island at breakneck speed, skipping one pleasant-looking harbor after another; overnighting to St. Pierre to jump off from there, rather than exploring the south coast of Newfoundland, getting everything in readiness—even to pre-rigging a stern warp for gales, a parachute anchor bridle for storms, and assembling a better ditch kit than ever before. When we sailed slowly out of St. Pierre in the thickest of fogs, we had been careful to leave no excuses not to go—Ganymede was ready and seaworthy, we had all the required supplies and charts, the windvane was working perfectly at last, the forecast was good, the season was right. And with all the excuses out of the way, we were left with nothing but reasons. We had carefully avoided serious discussion of these while working our way northeast along the Canadian coast—there was too much other stuff to see to. But as Ganymede gently rippled her way eastward under easy canvas, with the Beast (as we've named the windvane) at the helm, we could avoid them no longer.

The first was most obvious—Emily was seasick. After nearly two months of constant seafaring, she hadn’t got her sea legs on, and though we’d kept hoping for improvement, she threw up twice throughout that first day. The other two girls, though not ill, were showing already the restlessness of children at their wits’ end for something to do. Perhaps instead of getting used to being under way they were tired of it already, a thing that boded ill for a potential 16-day passage.

The second had been obvious for some time, like an elephant in the room that wouldn’t disappear and couldn’t be bundled into a closet. Not that we hadn’t tried, but pore over charts and pilots and calendars as we might, it boiled down to this: Europe cannot be easily cruised in six months. And unless we suddenly came into a small fortune, that’s all we could afford to be there for. Possibly less, if the Dollar-to-Euro exchange rate continued crummy for us. We had to face now what we had put off in hopes of a last-minute solution: At the speed at which we’d have to cruise, we would have one week apiece for Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales; two weeks for France, as many each for Spain and Portugal, the briefest time each in the Canaries and Cape Verdes, and a whirlwind tour through the Virgins and Bahamas. It would mean (we actually counted for the first time) seven major offshore passages in one year, plus a dozen-odd overnighters. Not much time to explore and gunkhole in return for that much sea time, and an awful lot of time cooped up in the boat for the children. They were better about it now than when we’d arrived in Newport—another year living aboard had made them that much more used to enduring small spaces, but being under way they still require an inordinate amount of attention and feeding and doing-for.

We had to face it: unless we wanted all those long crossings for their own sake, it made no sense rush around the Atlantic so fast. I really only wanted this first North Atlantic crossing for the sake of doing it, but once you’ve got your boat and family all somewhere, well, you have to get them all back, and the joy of being at sea would begin to pale for us grownups, not to mention the girls, by the fifth or sixth multi-day crossing in as many months.

It was something we had not heretofore considered—was our wanderlust a selfish desire that would be harmful for the girls? No one denies that onboard a boat is the only proper way to raise kids, but children need to go easy, “Feeding after their manner,” like Isaiah’s lambs. I remembered poor Emily’s plight after a rolly three-night passage during which she had barely managed to eat. What about three weeks of that? My heart was bleeding for her now, and this was the first, and a comparatively mellow, day. The girls’ manner of feeding—to carry on the metaphor—is to have lots of shore time between days cooped up onboard. They hardly care where they are, so long as there is a beach littered with shells, rocks, and loathsome dead things to fetch back aboard. Our best times cruising were when we were in San Blas, Panama, sailing a mere ten miles every two days or so, and exploring each place most thoroughly. Our current plan would involve a whirlwind tour, with hardly time to see a couple of towns in each country before hurrying off to the next.

Danielle had the hardest time letting go, but finally had to admit that in spite of our best efforts and highest hopes the outlook contained far more tribulation than reward. In the dripping gloom of that famous Grand Banks fog, at the very threshold of stepping irrevocably into the Atlantic, we reluctantly gave way to reason and shaped our course instead for Trepassey Harbor, the last port on the south coast of Newfoundland, but the first waystation of the return to our original plan—the one we’d dared to hope for before beginning to consider an Atlantic crossing—to cruise Newfoundland slowly, thoroughly, and enjoyably, without needing to regret any harbors missed in haste, nor any interesting thing passed up for lack of time.

Of course there’s a bit of a letdown, especially after all our plans, efforts, dreams, and expense to make Europe happen, but changing plans are a part of life we’ve grown accustomed to. Maybe someday when the kids are grown and gone we’ll have means and leisure to cruise unfettered where we please, but for now we do what we can, and even if it be small we’re enjoying every moment and expect to look back without any regrets.

We are the Zartman family: Ben & Danielle, and our three girls, Antigone, Emily and Damaris. We created this blog to chronicle our sailing adventures on Ganymede, a home-finished 31-foot gaff-rigged cutter, which has been our home since 2009, when we sailed from San Francisco, California, to the Sea of Cortez, then down along the Central American coast. Currently in Newport, Rhode Island, we plan to sail to Canada, the U.K., and beyond this summer.