letters to Murray 368
Murray Davis, Cruising World’s founder, died last December at 80. Murray and Barbara Davis launched CW 35 years ago with a mission to foster, as Murray wrote in the first issue, “the safe enjoyment of cruising under sail.” In his February 2009 Editor’s Log, John Burnham, then CW’s editor, noted that Murray saw cruising as “a developing skill, an art that has no finishing line, only degrees of competence and endless rewards.” John understood that Murray’s vision for the fledgling publication was one of shared learning: CW would be the forum for sailors exploring the path toward informed and skillful cruising. John extolled CW’s bounty of “stories of mastery in the making.” He said he was reading one of these, about “a cruising couple who’d reached a stage in their first major cruise when they realized all that they’d accomplished and how much it meant to them,” when inspiration struck: To further Murray’s vision, he asked readers to describe their own moments when the meaning or magic of their efforts to cruise under sail really became clear. We’d publish them, in tribute to CW’s founder, John said, as “Letters to Murray.” And here they are.
Lynda Morris Childress
To read all of the responses go to the CW Forums
What moved me to write this letter was John Burnham’s recounting of Murray Davis’ grasp of the essence of cruising as “a developing skill, an art that has no finishing line, only degrees of competence and endless rewards.” I first went cruising when I was only a month old. I’ve continued to this day for 55 years, and that statement makes it very clear, I think, exactly how I feel about sailing and cruising!
Two years ago, Gloria, my wife and first mate of 34 years, and I took a year off to go sailing. We sold our boat in the United States and took delivery of Tango, our new Southerly 42 RS, in Itchenor, near Portsmouth, England. Our loose plan was to cruise along the Atlantic coast of Europe, sail across to the Caribbean, then up through the islands and Intra-coastal Waterway to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where we arrived exactly one year later.
We’ve done coastal cruising for most of our lives, but when we first set off on Tango, we’d never sailed together on an overnight offshore passage, so we had much to learn. Unbeknownst to me, Gloria was afraid of how she’d react to large seas. We were lucky to have wonderful weather while cruising in southern England, then across the Channel and down the coast of France and northern Spain.
Sailing down the coast of Portugal, we were caught out in a stiff northwesterly breeze, with eight- to 10-foot swells building rapidly. Tango behaved wonderfully under reefed main and jib. I had the swing keel up about two-thirds of the way, moving the center of rotation aft and giving the boat a very comfortable ride with the waves on the aft quarter. I was worried not about the boat but about my own physical endurance in that weather and the fact that our next port might not be accessible in these wavy sea conditions, meaning that we’d have to continue south overnight. However, the day was sunny, Tango was sailing fast and comfortably, and I was happy. Later that evening, safely tucked in at our intended destination, Gloria confessed that she’d been afraid when the seas had built up, but seeing my grin and my obvious confidence in the boat helped her to overcome her anxiety; she’d felt relieved of that fear that at the time I didn’t know about.
This is but one of many instances in which both of us had cause to reflect on how we’d improved as sailors and what we’d accomplished. The rewards are recorded in our memories.
Summer holidays have always had magic attached to them. For me, it was perhaps something akin to entering a fantasy world, as our home was on a bay in the west of Ireland. There I could go out sailing and exploring in the family dinghy almost every day I was home. The world was mine, and I was free to dream of what might be.
During a summer in the late 1970s, during one of her last years of service, I was fortunate enough to be a trainee on Asgard, the Irish sail-training vessel. The 51-foot gaff-rigged ketch, built for Erskine and Molly Childers, had a fascinating history as a private yacht, a gunrunner-she delivered rifles from Germany to the Irish Volunteers; the arms were subsequently used in the Easter Rising of 1916-and then as the first Irish sail-training vessel.
Dreams, especially ones that have come to pass, beget more dreams. Years after I sailed on Asgard, I met my future wife, Daria, one fateful day in a pub after work, and for the first time in a long time, I started to dream again. We soon discovered that we both had the same, deep-seated wish, mine born on my trip on Asgard, and Daria’s on a sailing trip to New Zealand: We wanted to cast off and go sailing full-time to see the world. We embraced this plan with all our hearts. At first, we chartered boats for long weekends and other holidays; then came the day when we bought a 40-foot sloop. Having temporarily relocated to the United States, we cruised the length of the East Coast at every opportunity. The sea miles added up, and our wealth of experience grew. We knew from the outset that our 40-footer wasn’t our “world cruiser,” but she was a fine craft nonetheless.
Five years later, we found our dream boat: a 30-year-old 57-foot ketch. It was love at first sight. Perhaps it was having sailed on Asgard that made her seem so absolutely perfect. But there she was, and she was soon ours to take home. We named her Aleria, Latin for “eagle.” Four years after finding Aleria, we disengaged from the spiderlike web of shoreside life and went cruising. We followed a path that would lead us to tremendous adventures.
If you ever feel the need to experience how small and insignificant you are, consider crossing the ocean in a small boat. It’s at once daunting, frightening, magical, mystical, and most certainly spiritual. Let your own journey start. Live your dream.
County Mayo, Ireland
Crossing the Atlantic we were a thousand miles from anywhere. I was tired and a little disillusioned. Ocean sailing was scary and not what I had imagined. Until this particular night.
There was a breath of wind, just enough to keep the sails full. I was on watch sometime between midnight and four am. The ocean was so calm it was like a mirror and as I curled out from under the bimini to look around all I could see were stars. Millions of them, both above and below the boat! I lost all sense of place and was just sailing through the cosmos, it was hard to tell which way was up!The only sound was the gentle chuckling of the water as we sliced through the sea.
It was unbelievable and magical and then I understood. Sailing is the joy of the unexpected, the small moments that define a life that is being well and truly lived…
And that is what i had hoped for from sailing. To live. And to be aware that I was living. I just hadn’t expected quite such a beautiful awakening.
During an offshore passage between Key West and Pensacola on a friends’ 48-foot Soveral, my mind swung through every emotion. At one end of the spectrum, pure oneness with the universe; at the other end, sheer terror after losing the propeller and shaft out the stern of the boat.
Earlier during that day, a large pod of dolphins joined us a couple of hours before sunset. Just as the sun starting sinking below the horizon, several high-pitched squeals rose from the pod, and the dolphins hastily swam due west of our position. With the golden sunset as our backdrop, we watched as the pod fed on a large school of baitfish. The scene was spectacular as the baitfish jumped out of the water to avoid their pursuers. The dolphins followed their prey out of the water into midair and came down with great splashes.
While off watch later that evening, I awoke in the aft cabin after a sound sleep knowing that the hull breach from the lost propeller and shaft earlier had been plugged and secured. The cutter-rigged ketch was under full sail, and even in the dark cabin, the heel was noticeable from the 18-knot breeze outside. I looked aft out the stern windows from the cabin and saw the most spectacular sight of my life. The vessel’s wake was stirring the plankton on the ocean. As far as I could see behind me was a trail of soft glowing green light. The glow stretched to the horizon.
I have been on many sailing adventures since then. I have great stories to tell, but that one day and night, as well as that entire trip, has yet to be topped!
In short, my wife and I first formed our dream of cruising while driving through an Arizona desert. This is how it happened.
My wife has always talked about visiting tropical beaches. On Sunday, May 17, 2009, my wife, our 9-month-old daughter, and I went on a daytime car ride to the top of Mount Lemmon, near Tucson, Arizona. The whole day, as we were taking in the nature, we were talking about the subject of visiting tropical islands. As we were discussing how to get to the islands (e.g., fly to Hawai’i or Fiji), the idea came up about sailing to the islands. Neither of us has ever sailed before, but we have been on the ocean in powerboats. We have a friend who is an avid sailor and is almost a certified skipper, so we’ve heard him talk about sailing before.
We called him a few days later and told him about our interest in sailing. We figured if we wanted to learn about something totally new to us, we should start with someone who has successful experience in the subject (a shortcut to success). He gave us some ideas about going to sailing schools on the U.S. West Coast as he’s already done and is doing. He also invited us to help him crew a boat he’s looking to charter later this summer!
As we started to do more online and offline research, we discovered there is a whole new world out there we weren’t exposed to, especially the cruising idea. We’ve found tons of information in books, magazines, websites, blogs, sailboat companies, etc. all within a two-week period! We are now formulating a plan to get us into the cruising realm and we realize we are not going to learn everything overnight. It is going to take time, money, effort, getting out of our comfort zone, etc., but everything worthwhile requires this process.
As I personally started to think about cruising, I discovered something about myself that I didn’t realize. In my office cubicle at work, I have pictures of dreams and goals all over the cubicle walls. After we discovered cruising, I noticed 23 out of 37 pictures on my walls has something to do with oceans, sailboats, cruise ships, island beaches, etc. I also noticed I had similar pictures in our home office. It’s like I’ve peeled back an old layer of an onion, only to discover something unexpected and wonderful.
Who would have thought a seed of a cruising dream would sprout in the middle of saguaro cactus and sagebrush?