A “Passage”, in cruising circles, is a voyage that takes more than the available daylight hours to complete. It’s surprising how much sailing you can do without ever actually moving the boat between sunset and sunrise, and for many people that’s all they’re ever going to do if they have any say about it.
Passages are a big deal.
They’re a particular big deal if you’ve never done one, actually. Once you’ve done it, there’s still excitement and anticipation, but the old reptilian-brain fear of sailing off the edge of the earth or being swallowed by a whale or disappearing without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle begins to ease its hold on your imagination. It could still happen, but you don’t dwell on it as much.
But let’s just acknowledge that the time leading up to your first overnight passage(s) can be pretty stressful, and your first night watch (which, if you’re just two people like us,will be done alone) will give you a good cardio-workout even if you just sit there the whole 2-3 hours of your watch.
It’s such a big deal, in fact, that there’s a place in the Bahamas nick-named “Chicken Harbor”. From there, the only way you can continue south and east along the route into the Caribbean (and all that warm sun and sand) is to make an overnight passage of about 26 hours. It’s called chicken harbor because a lot of boats get there, play at making that first over-night jump… and then turn around and go back to the mainland. They chicken out.
Nicki and I did our first overnight passage (and our second) last summer. Midcoast Maine to Cape Cod, Massachusetts should have been 132 miles of favorable winds (if a little lighter than ideal) and clearing skies, promising 26 hours and a pretty sunrise.
First lesson learned: Don’t ever promise anything on a sailboat.
Instead, we got a nasty roll from two distant weather systems, no wind (not even enough for stabilizing sails), fog, and 30 hours of diesel fumes drifting into the cockpit, guaranteeing sea sickness and misery to at least one of the crew… It was pretty awful.
So why do it? I ask myself that, still, because I still have the drive – the urge – to do more and longer passages.
I’m fascinated by the process and the experience. The sounds and sights and feeling of the boat moving and the world passing beneath the keel while the stars wheel overhead. Sunset and moonrise and sunrise and moonset, all noticed and observed and acknowledged as rightful parts of my world. Whale spouts heard but not seen in the darkness, the jump/splash of a fish that sends my heart to my throat because I thought I was alone out here… Arriving in a place I’ve never seen as the sky lightens around us, having arrived with our home around us like a snail’s shell and my lover asleep in the off-watch, trusting me to bring us to this place safely and soundly.
To be truly alive, one must truly live. And to truly live, you have to step outside your comfortable little box and test yourself a bit.
Oh, and that second overnight passage we did? Just the opposite. Absolutely phenomenal conditions, one for the record books.
Good thing too…