Journey of a Lifetime

32-mower-gaff-cutterA journey of a lifetime to sail the seven seas solo begins with a dream, a desire to learn about yourself. The dream becomes a reality when you buy a turn of the century 32 foot Mower Gaff Cutter; a wooden, motor-less gaffed rigged vessel, about 32 feet on deck, from stem to stern she is nearly 42 feet overall. She is only 10′ wide, which makes her snug and comfortable for the dream of sailing solo.

Upon her launch, she is christened Mia Ilynn, after your Great-Grandma Mia Ilynn. Then the training begins; family and friends worry that you have lost your marbles. They fear of the unknown that the sea can offer.

No matter what family and friends say, you continue to prepare for this journey – to sail the seven seas solo. You shop for the right equipment – flares, handle-held marine radios, life jacket, foul weather gear, canvas (sails) repair kit, and the list goes on. You prepare by sailing on Lake Erie, known for her shallowness and the storms that seem to come out of nowhere. You train yourself to take “cat naps,” about 15-30 minutes at a time so you can be aware of your surroundings while out to sea. Learn how to cook on a “rolling” stove. Learn how to use the head (bathroom). It takes on new meaning when the vessel is listing back and forth. You learn to listen to your lady (the vessel). She will tell you when something is wrong and when she is happy or sad. This preparing lasts for a few years, and even then you will feel you not ready to leave.

After years out on Lake Erie, it time to move Mia Ilynn out to the ocean. The 48′ mast has to be dropped and supported on the deck for a week long journey on the Erie Canal, and in Waterford, on Hudson, the mast has to go back up. Once this is done then a gentle sail to NYC Harbor where the family and friends wait to say their goodbyes.

Launch Day

The farewell parties are bittersweet, a goodbye that for most family and friends, many believe you will not return from this voyage. In your heart you know you have prepared to the utmost, but are still afraid of the unknown. The winds are blowing gently from the Northwest, a perfect pace to move the vessel from the safety of the harbor. You say the goodbyes and board Mia Ilynn.

You walk around deck one more time and check if the sheets and halyards are fit. Then test the rigging for slack or over-tightness. You go below and check to make sure things are secured. You come back on deck and hoist the main sail (a giant gaffer).  Father and brother hold the Mia Ilynn and make sure your set, then they push her away from the dock, while mother clings to your baby sister, with tears in her eyes. You wave with tears of joy to family and friends as the wind catches the gaffer. You tighten the mainsheet, and the vessel moves slowly out of the harbor and out to the open ocean.

This solo adventure starts from NY Harbor, down the Atlantic Coastal Highway, to Key West, Florida; then across the Gulf of Mexico; to the Panama Canal and out to the Pacific. From there you head toward Hawaii and then to Japan and south to toward the Furan Isles, past northern Australia and onto the Indian Ocean.  From there you will head through “Pirate Alley” – known for the modern day pirates that kill solo adventurers. Then onto the Madagascar Islands to South African Point and then northwest to Rio Grande Do Norte. You have arrived at the port of calls safely with very few bumps.

The vessel Mia Ilynn has held up her bargain and kept you safe. She carried you through some tropical depressions that created 25-30′ waves. She groaned but held true. On the calm days, she danced across the seas with glee. The solo adventure has been nothing but joyful and rewarding. There is one last stretch from Rio Grande Do Norte, known as the Devils Triangle. It is believed by sailors as Davey Jones home, a merciless sea monster. His wrath is said to stir up the ocean waters into fierce storms, where many good sailors have met their fate. You approach with fear, yet with confidence.  The night approaches, and you sense a storm is brewing, you reef in the main and take down two of the three headsails, leaving the small self-tacking jib. You secure any loose stuff on deck and below; batten down the hatches. You put on your harness and hook into the jack-line, a safety line to keep you attached to Mia Ilynn. With the companionway secured, you stand at the helm watching the storm approach – the heart is racing with fear and excitement begins to collide. Knowing Mia Ilynn has carried you through several storms, your confidant and ready to face this tempest. Suddenly, Davey Jones starts to roar, and Mia Ilynn begins to dance with the waves and winds.

Hell and all her fury are released, and you hear Davey Jones screaming.  You hold fast to the helm with all the strength one can muster, head and shoulders bowed against the wind. Waves and rain make the deck slick and footing precarious. The winds pull the reefed gaffer hard, straining the sheets. Hell has indeed come out to play. Mia Ilynn is tossed around like a rag doll. She groans with fury and determination. You hold on and pray. Abruptly, a rogue wave crashes into her starboard side, tossing her violently. You loose your precious footing slid into the gunwale, the jack-line, and harness holding. You regain the helm, in pain, but thankful to be alive. As you stand back up there is a loud tearing sound – the gaffer has torn. You secure the helm and head out carefully on hands and knees to take her down, you stand briefly to maneuver around stowage on deck. The boom swings suddenly and smacks into your chest, taking you out over the angry seas. You hold tight to the boom as it swings violently back across the deck and you drop onto it. You then grab the mainsheet that came loose and resecured it.

Then crawl with pain and frustration to the mast and pull the pin to drop the gaffer, with the upper boom comes down in a hurry,  just inches from your skull. The waves are trying to tear you from the deck. You fight to gain control of the gaffer and tie it down. Suddenly, Davey Jones leaps out of the sea and bares down on you. You scramble to the cockpit and barely get to the helm when he crashes into the deck knocking you down.

After a few more hours of the angry Davey Jones, you see the sun rising and scream, “Not tonight Davey Jones! You cannot have my lady nor me!” Mia Ilynn shudders and moans as Davey Jones crashes against into her. You hold on tight and ride the last of the fury of Hell and the wrath of Davey Jones. Davey Jones is not done with you and makes one final assault. He sends a rogue wave into the port side, rolling Mia Ilynn to the starboard side – the mast hits the water, and everything on deck seems to break loose. You fall into the angry seas and think, “I guess today you win, Davey Jones!”

Then suddenly you are jerked violently and pulled forward.  You come to the crest of a wave and see your tether holding you to Mia Ilynn. You suck salt-water, gagging, but pull with all your might on the tether and reach her. You struggle to regain the deck – with pain and fury you climb back onboard. You grab the helm and scream again, “Not tonight Davey Jones! You cannot have my lady nor me!”

Soaked and exhausted you ride out of Hell. The night spent with Davey Jones and Hell is released by rising of the sun with a brilliant display like never seen before. You stand there soaked and in pain, but beyond thrilled that your lady carried you through. There are less than three days of sail to home; you made it through a journey of a lifetime.  As the third day closes you see the Statue of Liberty on the horizon. The journey is coming to an end. Tears of joy in seeing family and friend for the first time in threes years.

The following morning you sail quietly into the safe harbor of NYC; family and friends waiting at the dock. You smile grateful for the end of the journey but sad that it has to end.

The moral of the story is no matter what is thrown at you – fight, fight and fight until you win. The vessel of life will carry you through.

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