This is the final article in the series written by Danica Cowan for the Rockland Courier-Gazette covering the Cowan family’s 2001-2002 trip to the Caribbean. Posts below are from that trip, above are for the 2013-2014 trip.
In the wee morning hours of June the first, while the island of Bermuda slept soundly in their tidy pastel houses, the harbors were all astir. For weeks, dozens of vessels of all shapes and sizes had been itching to weigh anchor but had been unable to do so because of nasty weather. A few had left in spite of the meteorologists’ warnings only to return a day or two later abashed and battle worn. But now the opportunity to escape had presented itself, and everyone was ready to bolt.
The sound of rising anchor chain resembled the clink of knight’s armor, resonating throughout the still morning air. The water beside our hull boiled from the frenetic jumping of hundreds of small fish as we slowly wound our way out of the labyrinthine harbor. The tiny ocean oasis of Bermuda quickly sunk into the waves like a sea turtle, and we immediately found ourselves in the grey open ocean. The ambiguous heavens looked as if at any moment the skies would clear to streaming bright sun or they would band together to form an ugly thunderhead.
As we pulled away from the speck of land we spotted a fellow escapee headed for home. The crew of the yacht, Alice, had also been held hostage on Bermuda by the nefarious weathermen, and was also headed to Maine. The captain was a professional photographer, and offered to take some pictures of us under sail if we would do the same for them. Being the more maneuverable vessel, they made a parallel course to ours, we both snapped away, then they pulled ahead and were soon a dot on the horizon.
The first two ponderous days we hoped would be a sign of things to come, for we had learned the hard way that excitement and adventure are quite undesirable out on the open ocean. Alas, each subsequent day the seas increased and the winds decreased, in accordance with Murphy’s Law.
We had but one heartening sight during those days of progressively worsening weather. For three days straight a pod of dolphins would frolic in the wake of our bow, yet they would scamper off in a fright when our bow crashed deep into the waves. The last time we spotted them one particular dolphin repeatedly slapped its glimmering grey tail upon the surface of the water, either in warning or mirth. Following one final slap upon the writing sea, the dolphins were gone.
After contacting our weather guru via ham radio we found we were in for another rough ride, and embraced the cliché to “batten down the hatches.” With every nerve-wracking plunge into the waves, green water churned and gurgled on deck and poured down through our leaky main saloon skylight. It literally looked like it was raining down below. The way our bowsprit rose up into the air and plunged into the waves almost rhythmically with the evenly-spaced, gargantuan swells reminded me of the dunking stool we had seen in Bermuda. From medieval up through colonial times the dunking stool had been used as a form of punishment and public humiliation for nags and gossips. My father, who had to go up on the bow to replace our torn jib with the storm jib said it was more like riding a bucking bronco.
After a week of being tossed about and not getting much closer to home very quickly, we altered course towards Cape Cod to avoid being set down on Nantucket Shoals. That following morning we sighted land, and by that evening we passed through the placid Cape Cod Canal. The following evening we anchored in Gloucester, Massachusetts to make some much need repairs before we would finally be able to return home. We spent a few days in Gloucester mending torn sails and recuperating from the offshore passage before our final leg home.
We weighed anchor the evening after our final preparations. We left on the heels of one gale hoping to get in before the next arrived. Ordinarily we would wait for better weather, but my father was due back at work in a matter of days. My father, being a marine engineer, could not simply put off his return, for if we were late he would miss his ship. We sailed all that night through the gale and then motor sailed the following day trying to beat the weather. It was so rough that we would have liked to turn back, but that wasn’t really an option. We had to press on.
On the fateful morning of June 14, 2002 I was roused at the ungodly hour of 4:00 am. The previous night had been so rough I couldn’t reach my pajamas all the way up in my cabin in the violently bouncing bow. Thus, I had to sleep in my clothes. Now, this was quite convenient. Since I was already dressed I could save my goose-pimpled flesh from the clammy morning ocean air. In my groggy state I became remotely aware that I was supposed to stand fog watch, as we had become enveloped in the stuff on our way up the coast of Maine. We had all been looking forward to sailing past all the familiar Maine islands, and especially at seeing the Owls Head and Rockland Breakwater lighthouses. Alas, all we could do was hear them through the grey wispy walls. However, it was somewhat heartening to see the familiar land formations on the radar and to have our home port on the chart.
It was not until the fog had lifted a bit and we were actually inside the breakwater on our mooring that we could make out Rockland’s shore line. After that misty veil lifted we truly realized that we had made it. The four of us had sailed our 60 ft. gaff-rigged schooner from our home port of Rockland, Maine to the Caribbean and back with our limbs and vessel intact.
We have overcome many obstacles and endured numerous hardships to make this dream a reality. When we first bought Koukla on the verge of sinking no one though we would be able to get her in working order, let alone sail her to the Caribbean and back. Three years worth of blood, sweat, and tears went into that boat and we were able to embark on our venture. After all that, it still took two months of living on board with no working toilet, three days of non-stop nausea in an ocean gale, and two weeks without a shower just to get us to the Caribbean. And TV, internet, phone, and running water? Forget about it! With all this combined with the fact that I was stuck on a boat with my family for nine months, people have asked me if I would do it all over again. My answer: Absolutely!