First Ocean Crossing—Dashed Dreams - SailNet Community
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First Ocean Crossing—Dashed Dreams

We weathered our first storm, and we hadn't even left the dock.

Remarkably, there were no big waves; no howling winds or crashing lightning bolts. And not a drop of rain fell from the sky. This was a storm that was fueled strictly by crew dynamics, or the lack thereof.

We came to Cape Town, South Africa ,to help some friends prepare their new 50-foot catamaran and sail across the Atlantic with them to Trinidad. Cape Town, located at the southern tip of Africa, is just 40 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, whose footprint defines the meeting point of the South Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. The Cape is informally known as the Cape of Storms and is a spectacular, remote setting respected by sailors around the world.

The day we arrived at the boat, nestled in the beautiful downtown area at the very modern Victoria and Alfred Waterfront complex, we felt the tension in the air at once. We sensed that this was not your usual happy crew working together as a team to prepare for a formidable journey. Hoping to improve the atmosphere and initiate some team spirit, we immediately presented the owners with a 12-foot long flag that we had designed and sewn ourselves, sporting the name of the boat.

Over the next few days, we all worked on various aspects of the final commissioning of the boat. Installing a singlesideband radio, rigging jacklines, mounting the liferaft, double-checking the bilge pumps . . . etc, etc, etc. Breathtaking Table Mountain dominated the skyline around us, but was no more captivating than the incredibly scenic, busy harbor. A fascinating combination of commercial vessels from exotic ports, charter tourboats carrying camera-snapping tourists, and private sailboats from all over the world bustled around and somehow managed to stay out of each other's way. Lending to the excitement were all the participants from the Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro Race who were making final preparations of their own before departing South Africa at the same time we were to leave.

It should have been the perfect time. The weather was great, the boat was beautiful and we still had several weeks left to properly prepare her and do some serious sea trials. But it was not to be. The human factor, in the form of individual personalities and agendas, got in the way and everything changed.

We found ourselves thrust into a situation where the captain and his wife did not share the same dream of crossing the ocean. Whether it was the stress between the two of them, or simply the wife's fears or resentfulness at having to make this trip for her husband's sake, we're not sure. But the end result was an extremely uncomfortable atmosphere, and events were taking place that were simply unacceptable to us and the other crew members present. It's one thing to have these concerns while still at the dock, but quite another to be in the middle of the ocean. We knew that we'd never be able to set sail under these conditions, with a storm of sorts already brewing while we were still in port. Ultimately, the entire crew found themselves with no other option than to leave the boat in South Africa and return home.

Believe us, this was not an easy decision to make. We all tried very hard to work things out with the captain and continue with the trip. It was with heavy hearts, bruised emotions, and stomachs tied in knots from the mounting tensions of the previous days that we amicably decided to part ways.

This has been a very difficult article for us to write. It has been less than two weeks since we flew in to South Africa, and now find ourselves once again back at the airport waiting to fly home to Serengeti. Our high hopes and dreams of being part of an exciting ocean crossing have been dashed.

We discovered later that the crew who was in Cape Town two weeks earlier than us had been thinking of leaving before we arrived, but decided to stick it out in hopes the dynamics would change with our presence. To their credit, these guys, also liveaboard cruisers, had return tickets they could have used, but they let that date pass and ended up buying new tickets home. We never imagined needing return tickets, so had not even thought to arrange our tickets that way even though the cost is the same as a one-way.

Should we have known better? Maybe. The idea that there were going to be as many as eight people on this trip gave us cause to think long and hard before signing on as crew. In fact, crew dynamics amounted to our biggest concern before we left the States. A boat can be a small space to share with people you don't know well—we know it's sometimes hard with just two like-minded people onboard. But in the long run, we wanted to do the trip. We felt ready to take the challenge of crossing the ocean and thought this was a good opportunity to accomplish this feat in a large, fast boat.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Time spent together with others on a boat is not like that on land. You are forced into much closer contact and find that different people have different ways of approaching even the simplest task. There must be a lot of give and take, by everyone involved, for a happy and successful journey. Realistic expectations of what the experience will be like should be similar for all parties.

We have friends who happily went away on a week's charter in the Caribbean only to fly back home and never speak to each other again. Actually, it seems we've met quite a number of sailors who have similar horror stories of miserable times spent at sea with one or more crew members they wish they had never hooked up with. I guess we naively thought that this would never happen to us. After all, working through problems is an everyday part of life. If something popped up, we thought we could quickly deal with it and remain part of this incredible adventure. Boy, were we wrong!

So, with our last minute, newly purchased tickets in hand, Serengeti, here we come. Knowing there's still much work to do to complete our total re-fit, I guess we can look at this happenstance as bonus time that will allow us to finish our boat earlier. We were expecting to be away for up to three months.

Are we disappointed? Incredibly. We'd planned for a year to be a part of this ocean crossing and were really excited and felt ready for the experience.

Is it the end of the world? By no means. We've got a beautiful boat to return to and a lifetime of experiences and opportunities ahead of us to sail anywhere we want.

Will we sign up with a big crew again with lots of unknowns? Not likely.



It's been four weeks now since we returned from South Africa. In reflecting back on our decision to leave that boat halfway around the world and fly back home, we've come to some realizations. In the three years that we have cruised aboard our own boat, we have come to know the simple happiness that can be experienced when working together as a team to accomplish a common goal. Sailing is a very rich and rewarding experience, and one that we truly love. Our boat provides us the opportunity to travel and explore in a unique and precious way. The cruising lifestyle that we live places little value on egos, attitudes, and demands. Knowing how wonderful the good times feel, we were unable to remain part of what we found to be a disharmonious and deteriorating situation—a situation that shouldn't have existed in the first place. We're still very comfortable that we made the right decision.

Sue & Larry is offline  
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