I have recently been asked to testify as to how I found God. Or in Born Again terms, how I came to know Jesus. Well I'm not born again I don't think, I was born once, christened once and always a child of the Lord. Now I am a man and while I have sometimes wandered away from the foot prints in the sand and at times failed to follow the lead of the Lord, I have never ever lost His guidance and always felt His hand on my shoulder. I believe God gives us the vessel, but it is ours to row for the shore. And so I have always been hesitant to allow myself to fully give myself to God's will. That was until that day in November.
The day started beautifully. Crystal clear skies, a gentle breeze out of the North and flat calm seas, temps in the 50's. I knew that the winds would pick up later that day, but my thoughts were at the time, "This is the perfect time of year to sail on Long Island Sound." It was by all accounts a perfect day to sail from Guilford to Bridgeport single handed in a 27' sailboat. Or so I thought.
My mission was clear. CCB had one more boat that the City had yet to steal from us and our dock was still in place in the Bridgeport Boat Basin. Our lawyer had drafted a Cease and Desist letter to the City of Bridgeport who had threatened earlier that month to illegally seize our facility and fleet and had made good on that threat earlier in the week, by illegally seizing all our boats and storing them at Captain's Cove. But the dock was still there.
I was aiming to make a big public display in protest by sailing back on to our now illegally cleared dock with the last remaining vessel we had and walking across the waterfront downtown with the legal notice strait up to the City Attorney's office. I had called the press and the cops and notified both of my intentions. The press were waiting for a move from the cops but the cops weren't moving for justice, so neither was the press. One reporter from Channel 12 news was planning to arrive when I made landfall in the vessel and would film my walk up to the City Attorney's office. I always loved to make a scene. But I had to arrive on time if they were going to be there.
And so at 6AM I met with one of my Board members who had possession of the vessel and left my car in Guilford by the train station. I figured I would take the train back after my trip and pick up my car- one of the many perks to having a public access boating facility right by a municipal train station- why they shut it down I will never know. But just the same I started out.
I was driven down to the beach where I would canoe out to the mooring where the 27 foot Hunter was being moored. She bounced like a top on the waves and the fresh breeze made her look as if she was a bronco waiting to be set loose in the stall. I could also see a brown beard of growth on her water line indicating to me that she hadn't moved much that summer. But other than the seaweed skirt she wore, she otherwise seemed to be a sound vessel and no worse for the neglect that summer.
Climbing aboard the rocking vessel from a tippy canoe was a bit like landing on a aircraft carrier- you waited for the roll and hoped you caught the line at the right time to pull yourself aboard. We pulled in behind the lee of the vessel and I stood up with hands out stretched. One two three...GO! I was thankful to have shed the extra 40 pounds and I felt the canoe bound back as I launched myself on to the stern of the sailboat at the peak of one of its six foot breaches. My canoe captain jettisoned my bag and supplies aboard and with a tip of his hat he rode a roller back into the beach with the canoe. That would be the last human face I saw as the executive director of CCB.
Once aboard I immediately noticed the smell of funk coming from the cabin. She had a distinct odor of motor oil and mildew. I didn't see any mold, but I did notice a black rim of sooty oil ringing the cabin sole bulkheads. I thought that strange as the boat when I sent it up to Guilford ran great and had a strong bilge pump in it. Maybe the rain had filled it and there was some grime in the bilge that stained the walls. "We'll clean that up this weekend," I thought to myself as I turned on the batteries and made my way to fire up the diesel.
I knew I needed to make a 3 PM landing time in Bridgeport and I had at least 6 hours of sailing time ahead of me, so I did not have a moment to spare. I quickly checked for water pumping in the stern as I fired the motor and took the cover off of the main sail. This boat was equipped with a roller fuller on the jib, but the main had to be raised manually. I thought once I got out to sea, I could lash the wheel and raise the main in a hurry, but I had to remove the cover before I left the mooring. I had told at least a hundred students who wanted to single hand sail a keel boat that trying to drive and do all that foredeck work is impossible. So get as much done as you can before you set sail. 90% of a successful voyage is proper preparation.
And I thought I had done that. I packed a few things that I knew would be of help and maybe even a few things that I didn't need but thought would be fun to have. My foul weather jacket and PFD(Lifejacket) and GPS, a few apples I had picked at my local orchard and a bag of trail mix. I had a few bottles of water and some sun screen and I even thought to bring my brand new 12-volt electric blanket just in case it was cold out there. The last few things I brought were to keep the trip interesting just in case I had to motor if the wind died. I brought my harmonica and my trusty book of short stories by John Cheever. And of course, I strapped a trusty filet knife to my thigh so I could cut lines loose if I went overboard. That should do it or so I thought, I had made this trip dozens of times.
With the motor running and gear stored, I had but drop the line and I would be off. A strait shot down Sound past New Haven and Stratford Point and I would be there. I ran forward and dropped the mooring gear, peeled out the jib and slipped the motor into forward. A puff of black smoke billowed up over the stern and I had set sail.
I looked back at shore to see the Canoe was stowed and my ride no where to be seen. As the mooring field fell into the distance a fear set upon me of what I would find on shore when I made my way up Bridgeport Harbor. That was some 40 miles off I thought and I will have lots of people there when I came ashore- they wouldn't dream of arresting me in front of all those people, would they?
The first hour was quiet. I looked at my GPS and saw I was making a cool 3.5 knots. Not the fastest but for a boat with a bottom that looked like a 1970's porn star, it was pretty good. I shot a text to my buddy John and told him all was well. He shot back immediately and said he would meet me at the dock at 3PM.
At the start of the second hour I could feel a change in the air. The warm summer sun had turned to steely fall shine and the humidity had dropped. Off in the distance I could see New Haven and the horizon had some broken gunsmoke clouds building in. Behind the first array of clouds, I could see a darker more angry cloud developing, but no thunder heads or signs of ugly weather. With the change in the air though, a chill set over me and I reached down to unzip my PFD. I quickly darted below and grabbed my foul weather jacket and put it on. While down below I gave myself a squirt of sunscreen and grabbed a handful of trail mix and bottle of water and returned to the wheel. It was too early for apples and although the day was moving along well, I had many days stuck out on the sound for much longer than I expected before and thought I should reserve some food for the afternoon.
When I got back and had finished re-installing my life jacket with my new found layer- the summer had been free of sweaters and foulies, and my PFD was set to t-shirt and summer mode. I had to adjust for the return of wool and gore-tex. When I looked up from the adjustment, that's when I first saw it.
The calm rolling waves abruptly stopped about a mile off and a confused chop roiled in the distance. I could tell a wall of wind was making its way towards me and from the looks of it, it was an angry one at that.
I knew I was somewhere between Branford and East Haven, a far shot from my desired destination. Perhaps this was just a freshening of the breeze that would get me there on time? Maybe this would be a good thing. I had raised the main sail in the first hour and hadn't notice much of a perk in speed, maybe this was a lucky break?
When the first wall of wind hit, it was actually quite pleasant. A little cold, but fresh like the blast of arctic air that comes in advance of a thundershower on a hot summer day. The boat took a distinct heel and I could hear my gear slam to the floor in the cabin. "Damn," I thought, "I just bruised my apples".
I deduced from the slight song in the rigging and the stiff pull of the wheel that we (the vessel and I) were approaching 15 knots of wind- a little more than I liked, but still very manageable. The GPS came alive as well with readings of 5.5 to 6 knots. That was the speed I needed- Good!
The vessel responded as well as a furry little beast at sea could with its legs unshaven- and despite the short draft keel she took to wind well with full sails and a little too much breeze. I kept the motor running the entire time figuring that would eek us out another knot or two with a head wind. And with that I called John.