Transatlantic with eight kids
In the spring of 1960 1 received a call from Jack McKenzie, with whom I then crewed on Bill Gillerlain's Intrepid. He was crewing on the transatlantic race to Sweden and had arranged a berth for me. Five minutes later, I received another call offering me a job, one I had been looking forward to. The job required starting immediately. My wife and I had a short discussion about which offer to accept -- including such topics as growing up, the relative importance of fun vs. responsibility, and the high cost of divorce. I chose the job, but the certainty of some day making a transatlantic trip existed from that day. The only question was when and how.
The "how" was established from 1972 on. In that year we bought our Yankee Clipper 41, a Garden-designed ketch. Slainte was the vessel and, having added five more children to the three we already possessed in 1960, we did not lack for crew.
We sold our home and moved into an apartment. With eight children, this was no minor commitment. One of the conditions of buying the boat was that my wife would not make the transatlantic. She would meet us in Spain and continue through the Mediterranean part of the trip. There remained the question of the date. Several years before we bought Slainte, we had selected 1977 as the year to go. Inasmuch as we owned a Sunfish at the time we selected the date, you may feel perfectly justified in considering us presumptuous. We did, nevertheless, leave in 1977.
For five years, we worked at preparing the boat and ourselves to make the crossing. I will not relate all of the additions, changes, and improvements we made to Slainte nor what they cost; the memory of this frequently makes me nauseous. As anyone who has made extended passages knows, planning consists principally in making lists, striking off items from them, and making more lists. We filled notebooks with lists. We eventually struck off enough items to feel justified in departing.
We prepared the crew by spending five weeks a year cruising Lake Huron's North Channel. We routinely went directly from Chicago to Mackinac non-stop, in order to season the crew to overnight and distance sailing. We had cruised extensively in borrowed boats, but these were longer passages.
I was not too concerned about my own qualifications, since I had competed in 25 Mackinac races and three Southern Circuits and had been, for a number of years, a destroyer deck officer in the Hunter-Killer Force, North Atlantic. I had also chartered in Maine and done substantial sailing in the Caribbean.
Of my crew, Sean, at 22 had five Mackinac races under his belt and three years in the Navy. The rest of the crew had only Lake Michigan sailing experience: Gavin Globensky, 19, a replacement for my 19-year-old son who did not make the trip with us;
A surveyor for a marine insurance company spent an afternoon aboard the boat and said when he left, "I have been surveying yachts for many years, and I have never been aboard one before when I did not have any recommendations for changes or additions." This engendered a warm feeling, although subsequent events proved that both of us were over-optimistic.
Incidentally, it gave the children a great deal of glee, when people in Annapolis who saw the name Slainte and Chicago on the transom asked what route we took to get there, to tell them, "I-80!"
We left Annapolis on June 2 by way of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, thence to Cape May and straight east to our first stop: Horta, 2,500 miles away. The second night out the weather began to deteriorate. For the next four days, we were in a gale of wind, to say the least. For 48 hours, we averaged a little over 4 knots under bare poles. For the next 48 hours, we averaged over 4 knots with a small 100-square-foot storm staysail up. Thereafter, we enjoyed relatively good sailing, with a total of only three other days of strong winds until June 25, when we were powering the last 80 miles to Horta. We had anticipated, and gotten, an immense calm as we approached the Azores. We had saved our fuel for this reason and were now grateful that we had.
At that point, a number of things happened in fairly rapid sequence: our engine broke, we discovered that the water in our last 50-gallon tank was contaminated, and we met a Taiwan 50 in mid-ocean that was out of fuel. We gave him 30 gallons of diesel fuel and the end of a tow line, and we arrived together in Horta on June 27. We had averaged 100 miles a day for the entire trip.
Another 1,200 miles
After four days we sailed another 1,200 miles to Cadiz, Spain; lost Sean, who returned for the Mackinac race; and gained my wife and a neighbor's daughter for the next two months in the Mediterranean. We cruised through Spain as far as Cartagena; crossed to Italy by way of the Balearics, Corsica, and Sardinia; and left the boat at the Port of Rome to be shipped home.
One of the major reasons for making the trip was to "salt down the children" a bit. Two examples will allow you to draw conclusions as to whether the goal was accomplished.
Moira had left her rag doll at home. My wife brought it over to her and delivered it in Cadiz. When it was suggested that it was a lucky break that she had not brought the rag doll with her, considering the gales, leaking deck, and the general hubbub of the crossing, Moira casually replied, "That wouldn't have been any trouble. In the gales, I'd just put her in a drawer." Remember: Moira was 6.
On our last night in Horta I told the children that we were leaving in the morning. Somewhat apprehensively, they asked, "How far is it to Cadiz?" When I told them it was 900 miles of North Atlantic, they replied in surprise, "Is that all?!" Then they resumed their card game. Their longest trip under sail before this journey had been 285 sea miles to Mackinac!
The kindest thing that has been said about the state of my mental health for taking a three-and-a-half month 5,000-mile cruise with eight children in a small boat was: "Totally bonkers." Perhaps they'd be right if I went with children other than the ones who made up my crew. As for me, the only thing that would stop me from leaving again tomorrow would be the possibility of leaving yet today.
"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." - Robert A.Heinlein
(just joined and need 10 posts to see the pictures in the thread concerning rigging jacklines...)
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