[below I have copied the prologue and first chapter of the backstory that led up to the Atlantic Crossing. I am 4 chapters in, planning to work a bit on this St. Martin-Newport trip.]
Moondancing Across the Ocean
“I have a hypothetical question for you.”
“Would you ever be interested in crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat?”
“Okay. You mind if I ask why not?’
“Because I’m afraid I would die.”
This conversation happened with Jonathan, one of my closest friends. We were on a business trip together, in a rental car, with me driving. I wasn’t surprised that he had no interest in the Atlantic Crossing, what surprised me was his rationale. I could think of many more plausible reasons. Not enough time; who can take off three weeks? Fear of seasickness. No desire to be away from family. Fear of being bored. Fear of being terrified. But not fear of death. I pointed out, without trying to be argumentative, that he was more likely to die in an auto accident than on a sailing trip across the Atlantic. I might have even said during this auto trip. This was exaggerating, of course. Sailing across an ocean obviously carries risks. But these risks are quite manageable. Nonetheless, it was after this conversation that I realized that finding a crew, and especially finding just the right crew, was not going to be easy.
Chapter One – Early Sailing
When I was eleven my Great Grandmother, my mother’s grandmother, passed away and, in a stirring stroke of generosity, left some of her estate to her great grandchildren. My share was a lofty $250. I used this generous bequest to buy a small sailboat.
The craft that met the confluence of my desire and my budget was the Super Scamper, an eleven-foot dinghy constructed of styrafoam and covered with a skin of plastic, like the fancier coolers of the day. It was the sister craft to the Sea Snark and Sunflower, which were hugely popular in the early 1970’s. These boats were prominently featured in my two favorite publications of the era, Popular Science and the Sears Roebuck Catalog. This catalog was the internet of the 1970s, with youngsters pouring over its enticing pages for countless hours. They also had a styrafoam version unclad with plastic, but it seemed so temporary and anyway thanks to Mammo Baker I had the wherewithal to spring for the better version.
The Scamper had a simple lateen-rigged mainsail, just like the much coveted but wholly unaffordable Sunfish. It was wonderfully simple to rig up and sail. Its hull was shaped like a large paddleboard with a four-inch deep cockpit extending from just behind the mast all the way back to the transom. You sat just barely in it as opposed to on it, the slight difference being mysteriously comforting. It was a superb explorer. It weighed in at an astonishingly svelte 50 pounds and could easily be lifted on the roof racks (also from Sears Roebuck) attached to the top of our 1967 blue Ford Custom.
Our Ford Custom, which we later named the Blue Goose, enriched our lives with countless memories. It was the basic family sedan of the times, the cheaper version of the Ford Galaxie. It had a simple 289 cubic inchV-8 and a three-on-the-tree manual gearshift. You could open up the hood and figure out what did what. It had factory air-conditioning, a gluttonous splurge. Its blue vinyl bench seats would scald the underneath of your thigh like a griddle if you were so careless as to sit down in shorts, unprotected, on a Texas summer day. It also had, secured to the floor of the back seat, the anchor bolts for the front seat belts. The exposed heads of these anchor bolts would somehow pick up heat from the undercarriage and reach an unholy temperature. I know this because on long trips where sleeping was in order it was my lot in life, being the youngest, to be relegated to this floor space. I recall on more than one occasion yelping like a startled pup when my tender flesh encountered these searing bolt-heads, only to be shushed by my sister and scolded for waking her. The Blue Goose was also the cause for my Iowa-farm-raised father, pragmatic to a fault, to embrace my decidedly non-practical pursuit of sailing.
The cause of his embrace of the Scamper was an early lesson in experimental aerodynamics. We had for all of my childhood enjoyed an incredibly compact travel trailer called a Mobil Scout. This fifteen-and-a-half-foot marvel of efficiency included a kitchen, bathroom, dining table and queen sized master bed. It had a large fold-down bunk with about eighteen inches of headroom, where I slept. The lightweight construction was wonderfully pliable, so that sitting bolt-upright in the bunk and banging your head was a surprisingly benign miscue. The dining table folded down to a single bed with a cushy mattress, perfect for my sister Marianne, three years my senior. The three older siblings, David, Dorris and Carolyn, were older and off to college by this point. The summer after I bought the Scamper we set off on an extended business-camping trip. My father’s business, Independent Newspaper Markets, took him to small towns across the U.S., and this summer my mother, Marianne and I accompanied him, along with the Mobil Scout.
The problem with the Mobil Scout was that it was shaped like a modestly elongated box. The large square front of the Scout acted like an air break, dramatically slowing the process of crossing our great nation. It was well-established doctrine that the Blue Goose, with the accelerator mashed to the floorboards, could not keep up the requisite 70 miles per hour speed limit, which my father viewed as more of a floor, through any kind of a sustained incline. Then along came the Scamper. When secured to the rooftop racks atop the Blue Goose, the Scamper split the wind like Moses parting the Red Sea. Magically, wondrously, the Blue Goose could now top even the longest hills at 75 mph. My father, not prone to shows of exuberance, grinned like a kid and declared the Scamper an entirely welcome addition to our traveling entourage.
My Father grew up during the Depression and was always happy with what we had. The only hint of envy I ever detected in him was his winsome glance at the Airstream travel trailers. They were fancy and lightweight and glorious, built of polished gleaming aluminum and sporting beautifully rounded, slickly aerodynamic ends. They lived up to their name, towing with ease. You can imagine, then, how my heart swelled with pride as I spotted my dad’s beaming sidelong glance as we passed a car towing an Airstream, on a hill no less. The Scamper had already earned it stripes.
The Scamper was always ready for action. It was amazing, really, that for $200 you could get out on the water and just explore. On our summer trip we parked the Mobil Scout at a state park campsite, somewhere in upstate New York. We chocked the trailer up and hooked up the water and electricity lines. Our chores done, Marianne and I lifted the Scamper down from the roof rack and trundled off to the nearby lake. We ghosted in and out of pristine, tree-lined coves all afternoon. When the wind died, we dropped the sail and paddled using the wooden dagger board, the ripples drawing slow lazy circles to the banks. On a later trip to Rockport, Texas, we found ourselves in the bay, in short swells, with two frisky dolphins skimming along beside us, only feet away. We were thrilled with the company. The waves washed across the bow and into the cockpit, depositing myriad small shrimp and other creatures. The freeloaders danced and squirmed and happily rode the next wave out.