2021: The Practice Year

It’s (finally) 2021! Vaccines are here (I’m getting mine tomorrow!) and we can begin to return to some kind of a normal existence. I am already getting really wound up for spring, the return of warm weather, and being able to go anywhere, even though masks may still be part of the uniform of the day.

Perhaps hard to believe, but Celtic Cross will be in the water in a little more than 11 weeks. Once April rolls around, if I don’t know where I’m going this summer, it’s too late! So following is a preliminary sailing schedule for this spring and summer. It looks like I will not be leaving the Great Lakes in 2021. No matter, a sailor could spend years exploring the Great Lakes and many do just that. I’d like to find a group of 8 to 10 people that have the time to sail for 3 to 5 days at a time and willing to learn what is needed to be a valuable part of the crew. Frankly, cost is not a huge factor here because many of the major costs to crew members are covered.

Hugh Vihlen & Fathers Day in 1993

If this looks a little regimented, that’s because it is. Crossing the Atlantic by sail is a campaign that requires a lot of planning, particularly if you are new to bluewater sailing. Now, there are people that have crossed the Atlantic in a bathtub. Or smaller. Not my idea of fun! When I’m off watch I want a comfy berth to stretch out in. Lots of food, hot meals, and the camaraderie of friends makes the passage an adventure, not just getting there to say you did it. There are books written on crew development, although usually focused on race crews and what makes a good crew. Frequently they are talking about professional crews where many, if not all members are paid. That’s not happening here… 😁 This crew is going to be a team with a common goal: Sail across the Atlantic. Really it is going to be a team that loves offshore sailing where teammates stand watches and sail overnight on 2-5 days passages. Each crew member really needs to bring a commitment to learning what is required to become a valuable crew member and have the time available to take off for long weekends or a week-long periods to sail. Frankly, the ultimate goal of a trans-Atlantic crossing may not be possible for everyone. There are really three major segments of the voyage with stops in Bermuda and the Azores that will break up the 4,000 nm, six week long voyage. That creates the possibility of participating in one or two legs if that is all time allows. Flying in or out of either layover island is easy.

Now, it is quite easy for me to get very qualified individuals to sail with me. There are easily a dozen or more websites such as “crewfinders.com” where I can interview people just to get me across the Atlantic. Nope. This needs to be a shared adventure with friends that we talk about for years to come. Not with a crew that disappears after we tie up at the dock in Portugal. Plus, once we get to Europe, eventually I need to get Celtic Cross back home again! And by the way, the East to West crossing is often preferred. Boats drop down to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa and sail on the trade winds across the Atlantic to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.

So what am I looking for in a valuable crew member? Commitment and enthusiasm is probably foremost. Next is a sociable and flexible disposition with the ability to get along with others in relatively close quarters for days on end. Let’s face it. Everyone can be friendly and sociable when the sun is shining and you have a fair wind. You find out who you can count on at 03oo hours when it’s dark and raining with the wind blowing at 40 knots and bucking 20 foot seas while you are trying to reef the sails. The third criterium is being in relatively good health and physical condition. A medical emergency while offshore is serious. Even on Lake Huron you can be 40 nm from the nearest land which equates to five hours away in the best of conditions. Coast Guard helicopters definitely help, but it will still be a couple of hours at least to get an injured or sick crew member off the boat and into a hospital emergency room. In the middle of the Atlantic? Forget about immediate help. There are points out there where the nearest land is 1,000 miles away. It is up to you and what is on your boat. A passing ship may provide assistance, but that is not your primary go-to solution. What the heck, I’m not in good enough condition to effect an Atlantic Crossing today. I’ve been something of a couch potato during the pandemic. My own fault, of course, but it left me with a spare tire around the middle and the upper body strength of a wet noodle. That is getting remedied as this is being written. I would expect that crew members adopt a similar attitude towards taking care of their weight and physical conditioning. As a final note on health, seasickness (or the lack thereof) is not a criterion. I think those of you who sailed with me in 2020 will agree that the skipper set the bar for the most barfs over the rail. It comes quite naturally to me and it’s great for weight loss. I also provide cover for anyone else who may feel a little queasy out there.

Now, the fourth criterium is experience. Sailing experience of any kind is very helpful of course, and always welcome. But it is not a prerequisite. Time is on our side in this instance. We will be doing day sails on Lake St. Clair and overnight passages up through the northern Great Lakes in 2021 and into early 2022. During this time we will work on sailing fundamentals. In late 2022 we will sail Celtic Cross out to the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence Seaway and down the Atlantic Coast to somewhere warmer. That will be done in a series of long offshore jumps similar to when we brought Celtic Cross north. All of this provides two years of opportunity to gain experience. That plus taking some online sailing courses should provide the kind of experience required.

What’s the plan for 2021? Sitting here in the middle of January with snow on the ground I can easily come up with, oh, thirty or forty different sailing voyages around the Great Lakes this summer. I just don’t think it will go over real big on the home front if I sail away in early May and return by Labor Day. Thus, dial it back somewhat so that I can sail without having Jill leave me. In addition, there is a local non-profit group dedicated to teaching sailing to youth here in Detroit that I wish to spend some time helping. One of their initiatives for 2021 is to develop a Detroit Community Sailing Center that will provide sailing opportunities not only to our youth, but also to adults who wish to learn to sail. It may provide a good opportunity to learn the fundamentals of sailing from qualified instructors on boats a little smaller than a 53 foot ketch if that is of interest. Following here is a table showing roughly what I would like to do with Celtic Cross. I doubt I will actually sail every listed voyage, but I want to get to as many as time permits.

By all means drop me a note if you are interested in joining me for any of this. During the spring I may lean on a few of you to give me a hand with some of the prep work on Celtic Cross, although I am farming what I can out to subcontractors this winter. Until then, I wish you all còir (fair winds) on your sailing ventures.

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