Emily Davis

On June 2, I left Philadelphia for Beaufort, NC to board the sailing vessel SHIBUMI as one of its six crew members.  Behind me were a semester of academics, crew, friends, the house I just moved my stuff into but didn’t have time to unpack, and discarded summer plans to work in the city.  I had with me a back pack, sized down three times but disappointingly still too heavy, and a hope that my acceptance of the spontaneous proposal to cross the Atlantic this summer would prove a fruitful experience.  As I settled into my cabin and began to refresh my memory of the boat systems, I wondered what to expect after we unhooked the anchor and left all familiar territory. 

All previous sailing experience I gained through working with my father, Jackie, and past crew like the Williams and the Bumgarners on various boats — the Barneget Bay sneak box that was my grandfather’s, Truce (Chris and Jackie’s first boat, a 35-ft sloop), a few charters (the first of which only remembered thanks to a photograph of my five-year old self cleating down a line), and finally SHIBUMI (the ketch that replaced Truce in 1996; at 65-ft, fully-equipped, it is Chris and Jackie’s current home). 

However, this sailing trip would be distinct from past off-shore ventures.  A trans-Atlantic trip is special in many ways.  First, it requires months of preparation, especially if the owners plan to stay at sea for several years, as Chris and Jackie do.  Second, the length of the trip itself is relatively long.  At an estimated speed over ground of 6 nautical miles per hour, we expected the leg to the Azores to take approximately 16-18 days.  In the end, Cape Lookout to Flores took fourteen days, nearly to the hour, putting us several days ahead of schedule.  Finally, crossing the “Big Pond” has personal significance for all of us aboard SHIBUMI, as well as commanding a sort of rank in the sailing community. 

Once we lost sight of Cape Lookout and began the watch rotation (three hours on, six hours off, three on, three off, three on, six off . . .), the rhythm and texture of my life changed in ways which can surely be imagined but may benefit from some description.  The boundaries between 24-hour days, normally marked by a night’s sleep, began to fade until time seemed to cycle continuously. 

The log sheet that we filled out every hour to record our latitude and longitude coordinates, wave and wind action (we saw up to 18-ft waves as we skirted around a large low pressure system occupying the Atlantic above 40 degrees north), cloud formations, and boat speed and course over ground served to punctuate the seamless cycle.  On watch, you are responsible for the boat and everyone in it, by way of completing tasks that are within the scope of your knowledge, or by deferring to the captain’s expertise.  We watched the radar for other vessels and storms, changed or trimmed the sails, tried each time we caught a fish to get it on board (it’s a frustrating defeat when the big ones cut their lines on one of the boat’s keels, after all the work of bringing them so close to the boat). 

When I’ve finally tired of staring out at the water or listening to TJ’s jabber, I read.  As a result, I’ve gone through more books than I read most summers these three weeks.  Time has the feeling of being compressed, and at the same time more fluid at sea.  The dimension of space too is altered, as SHIBUMI’s 65-ft became the cozy home to six people and two cats.  The meaning of the phrase “going out” transformed completely; the farthest we could get were the safety lines around the deck’s perimeter. 

New textures in space and time, as well as the norms of sleep deprivation and saltiness, made some of my thoughts clearer (although not during my morning shift!).  As the trip progressed, I became more and more sure of how I wanted to play out the last summer before I graduate college, and the rest of my life for that matter. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”  Regardless of where in the world I am, whether it be over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, in Africa, in the UK, or in Philadelphia, I hold the key to my satisfaction and happiness within me. 

Beyond that affirmation, being surrounded by endless leagues of water around and below and sky above, presses upon a person a truer respect for nature than I have ever realized before.  The majority of the globe is covered by the ocean; most people never have the chance to explore this other world, so I consider myself lucky.  The ocean is awe-inspiring both in its beauty — it is dark because of its depth, but crystal clear, and when a wave breaks a bright turquoise is revealed — and the power it holds to enhance the beauty of other things — by reflecting light on a person’s skin, magnifying the colors in the sunset, capturing the glow of the moon, and shining black at night so that eyes are redirected from the dark horizon to the stars in the sky.  In peace or in turmoil, the ocean is a force to be respected if not understood.

More recently, we arrived at Ilha das Flores on June 18, and spent a couple days exploring its rocky shores and lush green interior: the hydrangeas and cannas, the fresh food (potatoes, and meat, meat, or meat), vilLajes of white houses with terracotta roofs, steep walks, black sand and volcanic rock beaches, and cows in green pastures partitioned with postage stamp stone walls. 

Our next stop before Cork, Ireland is Horta on the island Faial, where we’ll  paint the wall of the break water to commemorate our trans-Atlantic crossing and make some boat repairs.  The leg from the Azores to Ireland will be about half as long as the leg from Beaufort to the Azores, but it will still give me more time to reflect on some of the small discoveries I made west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge . . .

Emily’s Little Known Favorite Things at Sea

bullet Watch?  The A-Team is the best watch group by far, although we did have dinner clean-up for most of the trip.  As for watch time, 12-3 am because you can’t see how big the waves are and it’s the best shift for conversation.
bullet Compass heading?  True or Magnetic?  Slicing through the water at about 73 degrees.  True, of course.
bullet Latitude? 40 degrees, right in the thick of things.
bullet Tack?  Starboard, same as my side in rowing
bullet Sail?  Asymetrical spinnaker
bullet Temperature?  at least 73 degrees
bullet Cat?  Nevis, the white circus cat who possesses the charm of a rabbit and the bad habits of a rat (affinity for bad smells and scratching), but definitely has a humor of his own (plus the amazing ability to do barrel-rolls and backbends).
bullet Crystal Light Flavor?  Pink Lemonade (for which sometimes Ruby Grapefruit is optimistically mistaken)
bullet Memory of Herb, the weather guy?  that’s usually my naptime
bullet Knot?  Ocean plait, although a small one’s only good as a paper weight
bullet Cloud Formation?  cirrus, or cirrostratus (aka mackerel sky: “Mackerel sky, mackerel sky. Never long wet, never long dry.”)
bullet Phase of the Moon?  full, close to the horizon, just after sunset when it has an orange glow
bullet Lifesaving device/safety procedure?  The Life Sling (I’m a slave to brand names :).  Circling as opposed to Figure Eight.
bullet Fish that got away?  Tuesday, June 17th. He must have been a marlin.
bullet Malnutritional Ailment at Sea?  Dehydration

Vang? Put it where? How hard?