In the summer of 2011 I crossed the North Atlantic Ocean. I was 20 years old and had never sailed before in my life. I was a mixture of surprised (that I had been chosen) and very grateful to be included as a crewmember on board Ben’s boat the Guyar. So grateful that I spent all of June biking over the Hudson River into Kingston and helping Ben make his boat sea worthy, throwing pound after pound of anti fouling paint onto the hull. Upstate New York in the middle of the summer feels like a tropical island. On my way home I would prey for a thunderstorm to rinse away all the sweat, oil, and paint on my body. Two months later out at sea I picked some anti fouling paint out of my hair.
Ben age 25, the skipper of the boat, had sailed his boat from France the previous summer and was know preparing for the return journey in August. Ben grew up in a big old mansion on Rokeby, an old manorial estate left behind by history. I moved off campus and into a small yellow house on Rokeby my sophomore year. Anyone living at Rokeby long enough is bound to become a carpenter, a mechanic, or a sailor. Ben was all of the above. Patrick age 26 grew up in Tivoli, a small town several miles up the Hudson. He was the definition of the term sailor. Patrick was Irish and was proud to be Irish. Patrick also grew up sailing on the Hudson. Unlike Ben however, he made sailing his living sailing large yachts from Rhode Island to the Caribbean. I knew the least about Sedderick 26 having met him only once at a party in upstate New York. We talked about our love of surfing. He and Ben studied together in Montreal. In the previous Sedderick had accompanied Ben from France to Cape Verde before returning home to Montreal.
We sailed out of St. Johns Newfoundland under an unusually clear night sky. I was told my first watch was “10 to 12,” and I had assumed this to mean 11:50. Ben woke me up annoyed that I had overslept on the first watch of the trip. I was ashamed and tried to explain my mistake. That night I used the stars to keep a steady heading and thought about what an amazing opportunity I was living.
The next day waves were pounding over the bow. Sedderick and I slept in the fore-peak at the front of the boat and had the roughest berths. There were times my entire body was suspended momentarily in mid air and I would have thought I was in space if it were not for the rough landing back into my berth. Everyone got sea sick. Moving around the boat was to suffer. No reading, no eating, no talking, I just wanted to be left alone in my berth. Luckily the cold mist would bring me back life on my watches.
The second day I thought we were in a full-blown storm. Ben said it was a light gale. The ocean seemed like it was in a full-blown argument, everything was moving and occasionally a wave would washed over the boat. I loved it.
On the third day the weather stayed the same but I felt much better. Sedderick on the other hand seemed to be getting worse, so much so that he stopped going on his watches. The three of us resorted to a schedule of four hours off and two hours on around the clock.
Over the next two days Sedderick slowly lost his mind. Once I woke up in my berth and saw him starting at me with big blood shot eyes. He demanded to see the book on sea sickness and when I told him there was no book of that sort on the boat he would snarl at me calling me a liar. He didn’t sleep and barely ate and grew pale and nervous. On the fifth day he told me he was seeing red dots everywhere and he began to tear up. We moved him onto a settee-berth in the main cabin away from the front which was still taking a beating from the storm.
Finally on August 6th early in the morning Sedderick lost it. I was coming off of my 12-2 watch and Patrick was just putting on his jacket. Sedderick was standing up on the settee fully awake. Suddenly he began accusing us both of spying on him and trying to poison him. I looked over at Patrick worried and told Sedderick to calm down, the morning would dawn soon. I walked over to him. Before I knew it he swung at me and I fell to the floor, I heard glass shatter and Patrick yelled. The next moment Ben had turned on the lights and Patrick was bleeding profusely holding his face. Sedderick had struck Patrick over the face with a heavy glass bottle.
For the next twelve hours Patrick and I sat outside. Ben screamed at Sedderick telling him to stay in the front of the boat and not to move. Sedderick had pulled his emergency locating device and the coast guard had been notified that we were sinking and in danger. We were 500 miles offshore and luckily had a satellite phone. After canceling the plane the Canadian coast guard had located a cargo ship called the EMS Ermenia from Bangladesh that was on its way to Canada. We meet up with this enormous ship and managed to get Sedderick on board and back to land.
I had never lived through anything as intense and frightening in my entire life. There were a few moments where I thought something tragic would happen. The incident brought Ben, Patrick, and I together as a solid crew for the rest of the trip. I also came to look up to Ben as a great captain for handling Sedderick so well.
The next two weeks went by slowly. Schools of dolphins would visit us every day and at night they would light up the phosphorescents in the water. I came to regard them as spirits and my mood was always lifted in their presence. On one day the wind died completely and we went swimming and drank whisky. On another we did not speak to one another the entire day.
We arrived to France early in the afternoon on the 22nd of August 22 days after we departed. We pulled into a dock slip in Concarneau in Brittany. On the way in we passed the giant forteress that used to be the medeval city. When we got on land the town was holding a Gallic festival to honor its heritage. I did not know there was a Gallic culture in France. We walked down a narrow street and found a café to sit down at. I immediately bought a sausage.