The boat’s name is Asteroid. She’s a 68-foot Van Dam cruising ketch, custom built in Holland in 1986. She’s strong, safe, and easy to operate. She’s a million-dollar luxury motor-sailer, registered in the Caiman Islands, giving her a real off-shore-account black market feeling, though I’m pretty sure everything is legit.
Sixty-eight feet is a lot of boat; there are five bunks(beds) and three heads(bathrooms) with the captain’s cabin in the aft(rear – the most comfortable place on the rocking boat) having a queen-size and an actual bathtub. There’s a washer and a drier, a well-equipped galley(kitchen) with tons of fridge and freezer space, and also a gimbled(self-leveling) propane range/oven setup. There’s a main salon with HDTV, two couches and even a fireplace; a dining area, tons of bookshelves, and an office with all the toys – radar, VHF radio, single-sideband radio, PC with digital charts, labtops, autopilot, GPS, and much more, all interfaced together, in addition to all the paper charts and non-electronic instruments. The interior is designed by some European guy with three fancy names, all mohogany varnish and elegant curves. There’s a watermaker under the deck to de-salinate sea water into drinking water, and an engine room complete with two generators, an inverter, and three banks of batteries. There’s even a workshop with a vise in the forepeak(frontmost compartment) that used to be a darkroom.
The cockpit up on deck has both fair and foul weather stations, a dodger(windshield) and a bimini(sunshield). There’s a lot of safety gear aboard; a water-activated self-inflating liferaft, life rings and vests, a ditch-bag for abandoning ship, and a dinghy, the boat-on-a-boat for getting to shore from anchorage.
The sails are all roller-furling, which means they don’t go up and down, they just wrap around the stay(cable connected to the mast), or around a cable inside the mast, when not in use, and can be out-hauled with the touch of a button. There is still a generous amount of lines and block-and-tackle on deck, and about fifteen electric winches(also operable by hand cranks) that control the sheets and halyards(various ropes). There’s plenty of hustling to be done across the teakwood deck, I assure you.
Actually, my duties were pretty light; there’s no daily swabbing of the deck, no endless maintenance and back-breaking labor – the skipper(captain), Richard, can be quoted saying “strictly pleasure” numerous times. I did help to tack(turn) the boat across the wind when I’m on deck, though this most basic of sailing maneuvers can be done by oneself. I cooked a meal or cleaned the galley every once in a while, but otherwise the main “work” was keeping watch: maintaining a log every hour of our position and status; monitoring the horizons and the radar screen for other boats, shipping, and weather changes; and keeping the boat headed in the right direction, which is determined partly by which bearing we’d like to keep headed for Antigua, and partly by which bearing the wind decides to blow. If we aren’t sailing on a close or beam reach, we simply won’t go anywhere – the boat is too heavy. We’d drift with the current. One thing that always gets me about sailing – you’d think that the optimum wind would be directly behind you, but in reality, the best combination of speed and comfort(the boat lists over to the side quite a bit when under sail) is between 25 and 90 degrees off the wind, nearly headed directly into it! A bit counter-intuitive, but if you think about the forces involved, transferring from sail to mast to keel to water, it starts to make sense. A lot of invisible physics are involved.
I was a little bit seasick at first. It’s not a fun feeling. Being sick is one thing; seasickness is like the flu or whatever – queasy, nauseated – but being sick, and facing another two weeks trapped aboard the boat that’s making you sick… well, that’s bordering on Hell. Thankfully I gradually became accustomed to it, and there was only about a day and a half of hating life, not wanting to eat or read or write or move, and before long, just as the skipper said, I wasn’t even noticing all the heaving and yawing and crazy motion of the boat.
I was given the foremost cabin to myself – the crew quarters. Unfortunately, the farther forward you go, the more dramatic the roller coaster ride becomes, and the only thing farther forward than my bunk was the forepeak/workshop where my bicycle was lashed down, in pieces, to the vise and wall fixtures.
Laying in bed, there is a lot of noise. The least of it is the woodwork creaking, the bunks and cabinets sounding like they’re about to twist off the bulkheads(walls). Then there’s eerie gurgling, scraping, and rattling noises made by the water escaping down the outside of the hull, mutated as they resonate through the aluminum, which often made me think I was hallucinating. And then there’s the slamming. The forces acting upon the bow of the boat are immense – 76 tons of boat runs up one side of a wave, and sometimes just falls right off the other side. It sounds like a huge gorilla pounding the hull at random intervals, or perhaps(more appropriately) being inside a shark cage as great whites try and punch through the sides and bottom.
Then there’s the motion of the boat, which is actually ludicrous to imagine, even now. There’s a seat at the very tip of the bow up on deck, which is the foremost point on the whole boat, and hence the most violently up-and-down. When I’m sitting up there, it’s great fun – my feet can dip into the ocean(or I can be splashed head to toe) when it’s at its lowest point, and suddenly, a split-second later, I am heaved to heights of up to 20 or 25 feet above the water. But when I’m trying to sleep, only ten feet aft of that point, and actually below the waterline, it’s like being on a stack of trampolines. I am literally tossed about on the mattress; thankfully they’re equipped with lee-cloths(side-netting) to keep you from falling off onto the deck.
Somehow, despite this slamming shark-cage roller-coaster horror-flick trampoline effect, I managed to sleep quite well. My dreams have been rather vividly interesting, though….
I haven’t worn shoes, or even sandals, in over a week. I’ve been surrounded by endless ocean, at times over 6000 meters deep, for just as long. It has been a sufficiently epic change in scenery to match the momentous “leaving the States” stage of this bike tour. As we crossed out of American waters, I held an American flag between my hands, taught and flapping in the strong wind as I faced the direction of my homeland, now gone over the horizon. And with the words, “I’ll be back someday,” I released the stars and stripes to the waves in our wake.
Someday, America. Someday.