Sailing the Arnolda to London for the first time was a sheer exhilarating experience. I felt delighted to be able to share this experience with some of my dearest friends. Although this is a cool looking picture for any yachtsman who completed his first crossing of the English Channel, in truth we found ourselves praying to god it would end well.
Considering none of us had any offshore experience, we figured crossing the English Channel would be quite an adventures undertaking. We sure got that part right! A steep learning curve was to be expected, but as the Arnolda started rolling heavily, her inexperienced crew found itself fearful for capsizing the ship. The Belgian coast presented us waves coming in from the side which were clearly in the same frequency as the roll period of the Arnolda. Doubt set in as we unanimously questioned our safety well before the actual crossing. Did we set the bar to high? Was the Arnolda less capable than one could reasonably expect? Not bothered by any wisdom concerning the matter and taking in account none of us were entirely unfortunate by birth, we pressed on. As we mentally prepared ourselves to battle many hours of sea sickness, we found the Arnolda to be more capable than previously thought. She handled head-on waves beautifully as we steered her away from Nieuw Poort in Belgium, towards Ramsgate, England.
Getting accustomed to the thumping rhythm, we felt we would soon be joining those who actually did it. Attending to her every need for nearly two years, added to the feeling of great relief when she could finally return the favour. As London appeared on the far horizon there seemed to come no end to its ever higher and higher rising skyline. A tingling feeling rushed through our soon to be resurrected egos as this awe-inspiring sight past by our eyes. When we finally crossed the prime meridian total bliss took over the crew as the high point of our journey was now imminent. Clearly there was nothing in the world that could cheat us out of the experience which was about to come. The stunning scenery of St. Katharine’s Dock instantly fathered fantasies of future journeys. And as all sea going motions faded from our memory, it began to sink in. ‘We did it’. Lying alongside the Commodity Quay Building I could not help falling in love again as the scenery made Arnolda’s elegant lines look more beautiful than ever before.
For those who got the metaphor, I hoped you had to laugh. Don’t we all remember our first time? Of course it’s just me being silly with words. But in a way it has some truth to it. To us, sailing to London felt like a great adventure and quite an accomplishment. Some might argue that crossing the English Channel is not that big of a deal. But there is a first time for everything. And I guess I’m writhing this for those who still have to make it to the other side.
Our trip to England was unmistakably a big adventure. The above however is only a superficial reflection of the things we really went through. Its human nature to romanticize afterwards, remembering only the good parts. But I thank god that I didn’t take my girlfriend on that trip. She would have been terrified as we nearly shit our pants a couple of times ourselves.
There is however a certain magic to the crossing. Because after doing so you will be one of many who did it, but only one of view who actually attempted to do so. You will find that most yachtsmen will utilize sailboats for coastal exploring, and that only a relatively small percentage will use motor yachts. And even then you will find that many will look for safety in numbers by joining an organized tour consisting of multiple yachts, called flotilla. This does make sense because engine failure is probably the first thing that springs in to mind. But traveling in a group also has its down sides. Firstly you will have to pay extra. Secondly you might feel rushed to keep up with the group. You will probably travel reasonably long distances and visit different harbours, which will leave little time for sightseeing, or for your kinds to enjoy the beach. Your family might become passengers on dad’s great adventure. But be sure that it might very well be your last adventure, as they are likely to get bored by the endless hours at sea.
You might remember the journey as a great accomplishment but your wife will remember attending to her seasick children. Therefore your future adventures will depend greatly on your capability’s to let your family get accustomed to spending time at sea. They might even grow fond to the idea, but only if they have something to look forward too, and you deliver something which is even better. In that sense the danger of losing the support of your family is many times greater than the actual risk they are at, when at sea. Be smart and talk to older couples which sailed open waters before. I found they love sharing their adventures and are very willing to give you advice. It helps if your wife is present. She’ll take it in way better if you are not the one repeating the advice.
For some men the need to sail their own little ship on open waters springs from a deep rooted childhood dream. Some might feel the need for personal struggle with Mother Nature. Others might feel an urge to explore or just finally put their vessel to the test. A common factor in any of these cases is that we all lived towards this moment for quite some time, building up knowledge and mental strength. However it is unlikely that your family members will experience a similar feeling without warming them up for future adventures at sea. They will need their mental strength and determination for what might end up becoming quite an ordeal. If you are lucky, the first few hours at sea it will feel to them as an exciting means to an end. But it might become boring quickly if not frightful if the weather turns bad with nowhere to run. Such nasty situations can best be overcome if everyone remembers exactly why they all came out in the first place.
But most important is your wife. I’m sure nothing much will happen, or most certainly ever happen again, without her consent. For most women only proper guidance can turn a land lady in a sailor lady. Only over time she might realize that her family accomplished something special. Best case scenario she will learn to see that putting them on an airplane would have added little to the family bond as it didn’t impose any struggle. Worst case scenario, she’ll dream about flying to Mallorca not having to spend her precious holiday time stuck on a little boat feeling sick.
Of course undertaking an offshore journey by your self will involve higher risks as you cannot rely on safety in numbers. Heading out for the first time and seeing the main land disappear behind the horizon, will probably induce a worrying sense of loneliness. This feeling will actually add greatly to the whole experience. You will now have to trust that your preparations were sufficient and that you will overcome any issues which might occur. When the time comes that you can no longer see land, you will be all alone with your loved ones, together exploring the last open spaces of our time. Don’t worry to much. You will quickly get used to the feeling of not being able to see land.
Keep in mind that a big part of the experience will live on through the memories you will have about this trip. They will come to you in flashbacks and you might even feel emotional as this will be one of your life achievements. I do have to underline that sailing to England or any offshore exploring is not something to be taken lightly. If you know what you are doing you are reasonably save. But if you have little experience I suggest you take little risk on your family.
I will now continue with a more factual reporting of our journey to England. Later on I will take some time to show how we tried to prepare the Arnolda for her first offshore journey, as she wasn’t up to the task at all.