The plan was for Thursday. By Wednesday evening, the last of the errands and chores were completed – we were, technically, ready to sail. And we were barely speaking to each other, broken by the stress of preparations and last minute fixes.
Friends from the marina, aboard for a last supper together, were picking up the tension in our airwaves and it seemed like everything we said was just another denigration of New Zealand. After nearly five years in the country, Brian’s daily pastime had become criticizing Kiwis, however he’d drained most of the joy he could get out of this and just wanted to move on. “Your minds have already left; your bodies just need to catch up,” our friend, Phil, succinctly observed.
The boat needed to catch up, too, and the weather wasn’t cooperating. The forecast called for westerly winds, 25-35 knots, gusting 45. The only thing favorable was the direction. A gale warning was set for the region, but Brian was dismissive. “I just want to get out of here,” he kept saying. By the time we turned down the tunes and the bed covers, the wind was banshee shrieking through the rigs around us. We didn’t sleep and we said no kind words as we tousled in different directions on the berth, each trying to steal an extra vindictive wrap of blanket from the other. I kept thinking of our friends, Bill and Penny, who set sail from Wellington into a rising gale and how full of disbelief I was watching them cast off their dock lines, knowing that I’d never set off in weather like that. Not if I could avoid it.
But Brian’s stubbornness and determination to put New Zealand astern felt unavoidable.
Morning dawned a howling gale. A dark bank of cloud clung to the roof of the Kaimai Range to our west; to the north, Mount Maunganui faded in and out of view as squall chased squall across Tauranga Harbour. Friends on the hardstand reported gusts of nearly 60 knots, well above the predicted 45 and casting doubt over the entire forecast.
All the friends showed up to see us off, but instead of grabbing dock lines, they gripped steaming coffee cups as we huddled under the spray dodger, out of the gusting wind. Brian grumped and reflected. This would be our first sail in a year, and the first since we re-launched and re-rigged the boat. What if something was off?
But, if we waited a day, it would be Friday – a notorious maritime no-no. Even sailors who claim they aren’t that suspicious don’t leave on Fridays.
The first captain I worked for was intensely superstitious. Half the seamanship I learned that first season on the water involved remembering not to whistle or the wind would rise. If we set hatch covers upside down, soon the hull would be upside down, too. (He didn’t even turn over soda bottle tops.) No plants were permitted on board. Though we sailed for hire, our whole schedule avoided departing on Fridays.
As obedient as we were to these longstanding sailing traditions, the engine of that ship was notoriously temperamental, likely to leave us stranded on the dock with a full complement of passengers wilting in the summer sun or drifting in a narrow passage into one of those classic rocky Maine coastlines. We often encountered bad sea states when good ones were forecast. The only time I’ve almost fallen overboard was on that boat. Nearly every trip we took was flawed and the captain seemed eternally broke or broken by these circumstances. Nothing seemed to go his way. He needed all the luck he could get, but after two seasons with him I was deeply suspicious of all the superstition. It didn’t seem to be working. It may even have caused more problems than it solved.
A superstitious captain would have made us leave on Thursday, into a future full of potential damage and dramatic stories. Or, wait until Saturday, wasting what was forecast to be a perfect bluebird day at a time of year when the weather windows close almost immediately after they open.
Sailing is about calculating risks, taking certain chances with the understanding that you can’t control the ocean and you can’t control the sky, but you can control yourself (most of the time) and you can control your boat. So why raise the main into obviously adverse conditions? We’re not here to prove anything to anybody but ourselves. And what is it that we want to prove? That we can have fun under our own steam and with each other for company. To depart into the teeth of a gale, just to avoid leaving on a Friday, is more foolish than the suspicion itself.
We decided to stay put. Brian disappeared into a novel. I puttered around the galley, mixing potions and reorganizing hastily stowed stores. Brian did the dishes. I took the last shower I’d meant to have the night before. Brian wrapped the mast in decorative line. I washed the floors. We studied the charts and set up the secondary GPS. None of this was necessary before departure, but now it was done. The day burned away and the wind blew itself out, clocking southerly and clearing away the clouds. By nightfall we were best of friends again. We ate well and slept well.
And Friday dawned clear and calm – many of them do. The coffee klatch reappeared and this time they set down their mugs to catch our cast off dock lines. We set sail with a sense of fullness – full visibility, boat full of water, fuel, and provisions, hearts full of hope and happiness. Our bodies were finally catching up with our minds. It felt like the right time to go.