Captain Jack here…
There is a magical moment when you put to sea on a sailboat. It is the moment when you have cleared the harbor and the reefs or the rocks, the sails are set for the next hundred miles and the engine is turned off as the yacht begins to heel and work in that rhythmic hobby-horse motion, the bow splitting the waves, the smell of the sea and the mixing of hues of clouds, sky and water, the sound of water rushing and the wind in the rigging is all you hear. At that moment, standing at the helm, looking out in to the expanse of the deep blue sea, with all the work of preparations and concerns of land life behind, with nothing else but the journey before us knowing we have done all things well and feeling secure in our hardy vessel one can begin to kick back and relax. All of a sudden the myriad of things that had occupied the mind prior to this moment seem to fade in our wake like the stars behind the USS Enterprise as she shifts into warp speed. At that moment we have transitioned into the speed of thought. Dreams, images of faraway places, all the places we could effectively go to, the anticipation of it all and yet the resignation to the fact that we are actually traveling at the speed of a healthy runner, certainly slower than a bicycle brings us to the place where we realize we cannot get in a rush about it, so we may as well just kick back and relax. Like the height of the sun over the horizon changes each day ever so slightly, this journey will unfold as the pages of the story turn with the change of seasons. Peace and contentment fill the heart and the mind is freed to travel at warp speed.
Orion was high in the sky in that pre-dawn moment. I could see it through the hatch over my berth. The Kitty Hawk was anchored in the bay in front of Trujillo on the north coast of Honduras. Trujillo, was named by Christopher Columbus after the house of King Ferdinand of Spain with Punta Castilla across the bay named after the house of Queen Isabella. It was on the second of August, 1502 on his fourth and last voyage when Columbus discovered mainland America and landed at this very spot which was to become the earliest European settlement on mainland America and the first capital of Honduras. Here we were 500 years later having organized a sailing boat race from Guanaja to mark Columbus’ historic event. At this time of year most boats are hunkered down in the Rio Dulce which is a hurricane safe haven but a few hardy sailors, now regulars in the North West Caribbean cruising community, joined the event. Scorpio, the constellation dominating the summer sky had set and Orion would not rise in the early evening sky for a few months yet. I got out of bed and made some coffee and sat there in the cockpit reminiscing before the dawn erased the diamonds in the sky, the Milky Way clearly visible still. I was overwhelmed with emotions. I had returned to the place where I did most of my sailing as a child. This is where my family spent the summers.
While growing up, other than the fishermen’s dugout canoes (Cayucos) that raised their lateen rigged sails there were no sailing boats in the bay. After a night of fishing you would begin to see their sails in the early morning as they made their way back to the beach to sell their catch to the waiting women who carried those big enameled pans on their heads.
A cayuco had been my first sailing craft. My father who cut our ranch out of the jungle had charged a local to fashion a cayuco for me from a Santa Maria tree felled there. My brothers and I learned from watching the local fishermen how to tow a cayuco upwind along the beach up to the Laguna Guaymoreto and like them, before I had a sail of my own, we sailed downwind back to Trujillo using a palm frond stuck in the hole in the forward seat where the mast would normally go. Later my mom and I would go to the local general store to buy rope and muslin cloth to have a proper sail fashioned by one of those fishermen. But this is not where I had learned to sail.
At thirteen I was sent away to boarding school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island and Narragansett Bay, the town of Newport at its mouth, with so much sailing history and enthusiasm became my sailing ground. While there I learned about the America’s Cup and became enamored with the lines of that graceful ship, the America, from which the cup takes its name, fashioning a tiny model of her using balsa wood and paper for sails, sewing thread and tooth picks for her rigging. That little model sat on the shelf in front of my desk where I spent countless hours under the rigors of the prep school curriculum, stopping from time to time to glance at her and day dream of the warm Caribbean sea, sailing and exploring around the world. It became a survival tool which saved me from the depression that the dreary New England weather with its endless foggy, gray wet days brought on.
On that ship I would escape not only from the weather but from the whole atmosphere of the place. To me it was a place of prejudice, persecution and injustice. It was a stormy sea, cold and relentless in its advance to consume those about it.
It was at Portsmouth where I first read “Dove” by Robin Lee Graham, who at sixteen set out to sail around the world single-handed. His story got me dreaming about doing the same one day. I began to think about all those things which now give me the ability to be in command of my own ship, all those skills that had been acquired over life’s experiences. Like learning knots and learning about navigation through the woods with a compass or without one, looking to the stars to get a bearing or knowing that the moss grows on the north side of trees when I was a boy scout. Who knew that this skill would lead to this? It is as if my whole future lay hidden within my DNA and in some unspoken fashion my desire to learn about things and how they worked would lead me down a path, fueled by my particular curiosities, which would cause me to accumulate the very skills which all together would make me a better sailor, seaman, self-reliant, an over-comer, not only a captain, but an accomplished yacht engineer.
It was in 2002 when the Kitty Hawk came to be my ship. All of the sudden, spanning the horizon before me, lay a sea of possibilities, those dreams of a teenager now probable but not yet within reach. Besides the acquisition of the vessel, there would be a price to pay. Not fully aware of all it would take to embark on that voyage, in love and blinded to what this marriage to this ship would bring, I dreamed of the places we would go.