Sunday, July 29, 2012

Back At Sea

There is nothing quite like sailing Home.  

Nova Scotia is on that horizon, though only barely visible, even with binoculars. After less than 6 days at sea, we had covered over 1,050 miles of ocean between Charleston, South Carolina, and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

I joined Schooner Farfarer in Charleston a few days before departure, with the intention of catching up with a few sailors I'd crossed paths with a few years earlier aboard Annie Laurie.  For those of you who are relatively new to this blog, you might not be familiar with Banff, Jeff, and Jodi.

Jeff and Jodi kindly loaned me their EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) after Justine and I limped into Charleston Harbour, en route to Cuba, after five horrible, no-good very bad days at sea. At the time, they lived dockside aboard their Cape Dory, and had no immediate plans to go cruising, and felt the EPIRB would be of better use on a relatively ill-equipped leaky wooden sailboat.  I could not have known it at the time, but the day would come when the United States Coast Guard would receive a distress signal from this particular EPIRB, and a frantic effort to make contact with Annie Laurie would ensue.

One day last winter, as friends and family lay peacefully in REM sleep, a dozen phone calls were made by the United States Coast Guard providing a rude awakening, that the EPIRB belonging to Annie Laurie was transmitting a distress signal.

Jeff and Jodi received the call around 2:00am.  It had been some time since I'd touched base with either Jeff or Jodi, and for all they knew, I was en route to the Bahamas and had gone down somewhere in the Gulf Stream. They were concerned.

Jeff's parents got the call too, assuming Jeff and Jodi were still in possession of the EPIRB, and thought perhaps their son and daughter-in-law were lost somewhere in the Atlantic.

Other calls were made; my parents, Phil's parents...  but our first inking that something was amiss was luckily not waking to a cold salty sea rising above our bunks, but instead a knock at the door by Phil's mom and brother.  After probably 30 missed calls on my cell phone, they had driven an hour in the wee hours before dawn, to make sure we hadn't gone sailing for the weekend. The one night I forgot to bring my phone into the bedroom with me.

For reasons that are still not entirely clear, the EPIRB had malfunctioned, and as a result began transmitting a false distress signal.  But with a signal so weak, it could not provide a latitude and longitude.  The Coast Guard could not determine that it was in fact sitting on a closet shelf in our new house, 2 miles inland.

I was glad to be back in Charleston to apologize in person to Jeff (grey shirt) and Jodi, but even more-so to finally meet their little girl, Ally, who was a new addition since we'd last met. One perfect family.

And it was also a perfect opportunity to catch up with Banff, whom I'd last seen while we were both sailing solo in the Bahamas.  He lives aboard his catamaran a stones throw from where Farfarer was alongside, and he spent some time playing tour guide in, again, my second favourite city in the world.

The crew of Farfarer for the passage between Charleston and Lunenburg were Captain (and owner) Frank Blair, Will MacDonald of Prince Edward Island, and myself.  Frank's reputation preceded him (for some background, read his website HERE) and I therefore had no concerns about the Captain, the vessel, or the passage we were about to make. But seeing as Will was a proud Islander, I knew how fast things might go downhill if we ran out of potatoes.

On our second day full day at sea, just as we sat down in the main salon to enjoy an evening meal, the whirring sound of the reel told us we had a fish on our hook.  We dropped our utensils and ran on deck, and Will being the experienced fisherman, he started to reel her in.

I didn't know I could be so emotional over a fish...

Dolphin, or mahi-mahi, are stunning creatures as they surface from the crystal dark-blue depths of Gulf Stream waters.  With shimmering scales of bright green, yellow, and blue, I have never felt good bringing one aboard.  This 4-foot beauty was no exception.

The fact that we had plenty of food aboard, and a freshly-made meal waiting for us below, I really wanted this fish to have a second chance for that reason alone.  Will had pulled the fish in within a few meters of the rod when something heartbreaking happened.  The fish's mate appeared...

We had the female (probably, it was the smaller fish) just off the stern, and the male swam up beside her, brushing her left side as he passed, before turning a tight circle and approaching her again, brushing her other side.  I know I'm projecting human emotions onto the event, but as tired as she looked, and as hopeless as things seemed, what else could you deduce other than he was trying to comfort her?  The scene could not have been any more heart-wrenching. But then, the rest of the family showed up.

Three baby dolphin swam up behind the star-crossed lovers, anxiously awaiting news from Dad of what misunderstanding could have resulted in Mom's arrest.

Of course I teared-up (it's what I do...) and I said, "We can't keep her, can we please throw her back?  Frank said he would be okay with that, and he looked to Will and asked if agreed. He did. After getting her aboard, and carefully pulling the hook from her lip, Will dropped her back into the sea. She swam away the the same vigour any creature would who had just been given a second chance at life.

Many more stories to share in the coming week... Standby!