Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The J/42 EIGHT BELLS Great Adventure

J/42 cruising sailboat sailing in Mexico Dr. Paul McDonough wrote about his experience on the J/42 EIGHT BELLS cruising somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle in the Sargasso Sea.  "So, there you are sitting around on yet another woolen, gray, Sunday afternoon in New England in November.  And, as you’re thumbing through the travel section, you stumble across the full-page color glossy ad for the Willauer Cruise Line’s annual romantic passage on Eight Bells from the “Pink sand beaches of Historic St. Georges in Bermuda to the soothing tropical paradise of the Virgin Islands”.  Before you get all jiggy and succumb to the toe-tapping refrain of “ooey, ooey, baby” of Sam Cooke or Jimmy Buffet’s attitude change, which might begin to sound between your chilly ears, read on.

Having read bits of Carol’s e-mails, I said to myself “Boy, am I glad I wasn’t on that trip!”  Then, I realized, I had been and it occurred to me that both sailing and childbirth had an essential component of amnesia.  Otherwise, there would be no human race and the western hemisphere would be unfettered by marauding Eurocentric, phallocentric, christo centric, smallpox bearing interlopers, and to this day would have its indigenous peoples carrying on their traditional, quaint rituals of human sacrifice, infanticide, cannibalism and sweat lodges awaiting the end of the world on December 21, 2012, without ever having celebrated a single Thanksgiving or even seeing one episode of Monty Python. 

Every great saga of the sea from Homer, Coleridge, and Melville ends.  Some end positively, with a buoyant, uplifting, happy finish, like the iceberg that brought Harvard a new library in 1912, or Melville’s launch of the “Save the Albino Handicapped Cetacean Movement”.  Others, though, end sadly, even tragically, like the cancellation of Gilligan to reruns, after a mere 7 seasons.  Ours, too, ended.  Not, however, before the following occurred:

Let’s begin with the weather.  There was some.  In fact, there was all of it. It seems our friend, Ida, didn’t quite behave as expected, baffling and inspiring Aeolus, the other weather Gods and us.

Like most major cruise lines, the Willauer Line, which might more appropriately be named the “Don’t Stop the Carnival Cruise Line”, had a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat buffet.  It was vastly over-hyped.  The standard was set when the sommelier, Jeff, said “Drink the water and try to keep it down”, and “how do you want your saltine?”  Dinner on Tuesday was another mega-feast when we gingerly tried a peanut butter cracker.  Wednesday was the banana.

The cruise was a bit like a cross between Outward Bound, absent the Canyon Ranch pampering, food, or, for that matter, character-building and my Great (times 5) Grandfather Kunte O’Bama McDonough’s maiden voyage from the Old Country on the Middle Passage cruise on the Proto Luxury liner, Good Ship Amistad.

It was a bit like being a Turducken.  Why a Turducken, you might ask?  Well, it was like being in a washing machine on the cycle that miners use for their coal dust bibs, marinating in diesel fuel, food scraps, metal filings, fish scales, laundry which never made it to the laundry with the ingredients that gave it the title “soiled” in the first place, all sorts of girl chemicals and devices from Carol’s locker, stuffed into the belly of a mechanical bronc at Gillies in Pasadena, Texas and all put inside the mid-ship of a Trojan Horse to be left for a week in the unventilated convection oven of the 17th latitude.

There was no need for naturalist on board since over the 6 days we saw no, that is no sign of life beyond the unfortunate, soggy examples on board.  No birds, no fish, no bugs, no nothing.  Empirical confirmation of Darwin’s correctness and our position on the wrong side of the long-term survival equation.

It was a week of notable milestones during the maelstrom.  First, our trusty vessel celebrated her passage of 50,000 miles of voyaging throughout the World; although 40,000 or so of those happened since we left Bermuda.  And, second, Conor celebrated his 33rd birthday, expressing the hope that all future birthdays would be similarly festive.

It was also a week of green flashes.  A meteorological refraction version of which occurred on Thursday, but they began on Monday with Conor’s basil complexion, continuing with the split pea soup and, finally, with the multi-grain science project on Saturday. 

There was no need for a lecture in cultural anthropology on board, since we had Andrew.  There is nothing like a 20-year old, barely post-adolescent to pinpoint the lowest common denominator of conversation.  With 24 hours to work with, he was able to squeeze in more than an ample supply of 2nd grade poopy talk, egged on and aided by, fellow dude, Dr. McDonough.

Despite all the unpleasantness we had a great crew, talented experienced mariners.  Peter rose to every challenge and there were many.  Jeff and Andrew were superb sailors and companions.  When they find our notes in the bottles and the Navy Seals assault team comes, we wish no harm for our captors.  There’s a Stockholm syndrome aspect to our situation.

I don’t want to paint an overly negative portrait of our voyage.  It certainly could have been worse.  After all, we could have been out in fair weather playing golf."