Another long cruise was drawing to a close for us. A circuit of the Atlantic that had encompassed North Africa, Brazil, and the Caribbean was ending with our longest sea passage to date: 40 days direct from Cuba to Ireland. I altered course around Tuskar Rock, the sentinel of the southern Irish Sea. Trimming the sails to the fresh westerly breeze, I dodged coastal fishing fleets and ferries to England and identified the yellow looms of the east-coast towns we passed. Toward the end of the watch, the sea became dark and empty, and I had time to relax and muse about the fact that my destination now was the same as it had been for my first "offshore" voyage when I was 16.
That landfall was the culmination of a sail-training program on Carlingford Lough, where the Mourne Mountains sweep down to the sea. It's only four miles across the lough, but from our lowly positions in the cockpit of a 14-foot sailing dinghy, Carlingford was almost invisible ahead, and the Mournes towered Himalaya-like behind us. I remember the silence of the sea-no traffic or people, just the breeze in the rigging and the chuckle of the steady waves.