My favorite watch is whichever shift allows me to watch the sunrise. As hard as it is to get up in the dark and don layers to go above, being alone on deck with the anticipation of the sun splitting the sky into a new day fills me with a very satisfying blend of peace and optimism. On this particular day, Monday, the 28 of September, 2015, I find myself watching the sun rise off the starboard aft quarter of a catamaran in the Mediterranean. I know it is rising over Italy, but land is too far away to see. Autopilot is set to an apparent wind hold of 90 degrees, and since I came on shift, I’ve seldom seen the apparent wind speed drop below 13 or the boat speed drop below 6.5. The sails are taut, the boat is surfing the meter high swells, and we are generally still on course, which is a nice bonus to the stability of this reach. To further add to my overall contentment, last night while washing out a jar that had contained honey, I had the brilliant idea to make a pot of coffee, which I then poured into my clean jar and put into the fridge. This morning I have delicious Italian cold brew to go with my sunrise, and I didn’t have to fumble with the pot in the dark. As I watch the glowing orange seam in the horizon widen and wait for the first glint of the actual sun to appear, I reflect on the events that led me to this moment.
When the possibility of this delivery first came up, the basic description was a two-month journey from Venice to Guadeloupe. As amazing as it sounded, and as much as I wanted to do a crossing, I have a fairly new business, a fairly new relationship and all the normal life and financial responsibilities in Seattle, so I didn’t think I could be gone that long. When the opportunity to consider one of three legs of the journey came up, I jumped at the chance. First Mate from Venice to Palma, a trip all the way down the east coast of the boot of Italy, around the toe, through the straits of Messina, across to the gap between Sardinia and Corsica and on to Majorca, with a few stops along the way.
While my current sunrise shift marks only 2/3 of the length of my expected journey, barring some unforeseen catastrophe, I’m confident in declaring my experience a resounding success. As I reflect on what key elements I want to take from this delivery to apply to others, I’ve so far identified four key factors. The crew, the tone set by the captain, the structure of our days and, oh my god, the food.
Obviously the characters in any social dynamic, personal or professional, can make or break the experience. In this case the captain who reached out with this opportunity is someone who I knew personally and professionally. Captain Adam Hauck is a very capable sailor.He has varied experiences. He’s enthusiastic, inclusive and level headed. I trust him with decisions that affect my safety, I knew I’d learn a lot from him, and I enjoy him as a person. I suggested another friend and colleague who I know is seeking as many sailing experiences as possible. Adam Clemons is someone I know to be positive, introspective, calm and delights me with a quirky sense of humor and an appreciation for just about everything he encounters. He also smiles bigger than anyone I know when sailing, and I thought that smile would be nice to have around. The captain signed him up. The final member of our entourage was an unknown young Brit with next to no sailing experience but who is incredibly eager to learn. He’s been working as a deckhand in a French port cleaning super yachts, and prior to that he had lots of cheffing experience. It turns out Matt Davy is also very polite, upbeat, and hilarious. He’s a handsome lad with a penchant for accents and a love of Disney movies and old school American rap. The four of us seemed to hit it off right away when we met at the airport in Venice. The rest of the trip has further cemented solid working relationships, the sharing of cultures and skills and built solid friendships among us.
Our captain set the tone immediately. He arranged for his three crew to arrive within hours of each other on the same day. He met us at the airport and bought us Italian espresso and beers before we had even left the terminal. It was a perfect first meet and greet. He then sprang for a water taxi to take us to the boat we would be calling home, and paid a bit extra to take us the long way, through the Grand Canal. Since none of us had been to Venice, it was a wonderful treat and established the idea that this trip would be enjoyable even though it was work. He gave us a few days in Venice to provision, get over jet lag and sightsee a bit, and then we were off.
Though I had no doubt our Captain had planned and prepared for this trip, he demonstrated an openness to input about stops, boat preparation and scheduling. In the first few days, as he told us what he had in mind or had done before, I regularly heard him say, “Let’s try it,” when additional suggestions were made about where to run jack lines, how to handle schedules, etc. He also continues to find ways to boost morale as the trip progresses. When we were stuck waiting for a huge power boat to finish at the fuel dock in Brindisi, he sent one of the crew to a restaurant in the marina to get gelato for all of us.
The structure of our trip was largely set by the captain at the beginning, but involved a few tweaks based on our input. We’ve been running solo watches that are three hours from 07:00 to 19:00 and two hours from 19:00 to 7:00, so the number of hours you are peering into the dark is limited. During the day you are guaranteed a nine hour break. Because there are four of us, this also causes the times of our shifts to change day to day, so everyone gets to experience sunrises, sunsets, etc.
The responsibility for meals runs in the same order as our watches. We rotate cooking days, each cooking lunch and dinner one out of every four days. On our meal day, we also clean up. The day after our meal days, we pick one project to do on the boat, such as cleaning out the main food pantry storage locker or cleaning the cockpit thoroughly. Then we have two days in which watches are our only charge. There is always something to do, but we are assured enough hours to sleep.
The structure, though not overly rigid, provides some cadence and clarity to the days. The great crew dynamic makes flexing the structure easy, if say, you need someone to take part of your watch as you’re prepping a meal. And we all seem to help with clean up, though it is one person’s responsibility.
The final element of this trip that has been a constant source of delight is the food. When you are on a delivery like this, aside from a few boat projects and navigational tweaks, a lot of time is spent thinking about when to sleep and what to eat. Having enthusiasm for the food makes it far more enjoyable. On this leg of the journey, we have the advantage of not being offshore more than a week at a time, so we are able to have fresh foods. We have the additional advantage of having done our food provisioning in Italy, so we have an abundance of fresh mozzarella, amazing olive oil, Italian cured meats, and excellent coffee.
There is also the sea, and our three fishing lines, which yesterday caught several fish. And if that wasn’t enough to set the stage for culinary success, we also have a professionally trained chef aboard. While he is only responsible for a quarter of the meals, he is happy to make suggestions and share knowledge. We agreed that every day I would teach him something about sailing and he would teach me something about cooking. So far, while on this delivery, we have enjoyed fresh baked loaves of olive bread (courtesy of our young Brit), tuna sashimi that was still the temperature of the sea from which it was plucked, fresh Caprese salads, mussels steamed in a chili broth just spicy enough to make my nose run, chicken dishes simmered until the meat slid off the bones, stir fry with tender beef and crunchy water chestnuts, Parma ham quiche with peas, pasta with pesto and artichoke hearts, arugula salads with balsamic vinegar and fresh shaved parmesan… You get the idea.
The sun is now high in the sky, my coffee is long gone, but we are still cruising along at 6+ knots. Soon my watch will be over and I’ll be making lunch – perhaps porcini mushrooms sautéed with garlic served over greens with the rest of the fish we caught yesterday? I told you we think about food a lot. But, I can also anticipate other adventures. Maybe today the dolphins will come back to play, as they have on several occasions, or we will get entangled with what seemed to be the entire Italian Navy in the middle of the night (it’s a funny story now, but at the time I thought we might become the center of an international incident). Perhaps today we will find the perfect angle to really get the spinnaker to fly, one of my personal goals, or maybe the Brit will teach me to bake bread. Or we will finally catch a giant fish on the “big lure.” No matter what happens today, I know that the peace and optimism inspired by the sunrise will carry throughout my day.
Post script: the day held the excitement of all three lines hitting at once. We must have sailed through a school of tuna. Three of us pulled in fish simultaneously. I seared some of them and grilled peaches in balsamic to make a chutney for lunch. They were delicious with a Greek salad. The rest of the delivery was also a success, and I did learn to bake bread. After 19 days aboard S/V Dakini, I left the boat in Palma, but the delivery continues on without me.
Captain Lisa Cole, pictured here bicycling on Majorca, lives in Seattle, WA, where she is the co-owner of SheSails, a program where women teach other women to sail: www.SheSailsSeattle.com