Where Dreams Take Flight and Become Reality
Happy Hooking - the Art of Anchoring
Cruising the Wild Atlantic Way
The Butterfly Effect: It Started on 9/11
The Brotherhood: Acquisition of Power
Summer holidays have always had magic attached to them. For me it was perhaps something akin to entering a fantasy world, as our home was on a bay in the west of Ireland. There I could go out sailing and exploring in the family dinghy almost every day I was home. The world was mine, and I was free to dream of what might be.
One such summer in the mid 70s, during one of her last years of service, I was fortunate enough to be a trainee on the original Asgard – the Irish sail training vessel. She was a 51 foot gaff rigged ketch and had been built for Erskin and Molly Childers. She had a fascinating history as a private yacht, a gun runner, and then as the first Irish sail training vessel. She was succeeded by the Brigantine Asgard II, which tragically sank in the Bay of Biscay in 2008.
It is perhaps no small wonder that my voyage on the Asgard was destined to kindle a new dream that might one day change my life. We sailed from Cobh in Cork to Weymouth in southern England. There we joined up with the larger British sail training ships Malcolm Miller and Winston Churchill, plus a few other vessels closer to our size. From Weymouth we all set off in a race to St. Malo in France. At high tide St Malo is an island and this is the only time its harbor can be entered from the sea. In fact the tidal range is so great there that at low tide the town rejoins the nearby mainland.
The sail to St Malo had actually been quite uneventful, except for one long and skinny fish with green bones that I caught underway on the trusty mackerel line I had brought along and we had eagerly cooked and devoured. We witnessed very light winds and even flat calm. I have no recollection of our standing in the race or for that matter if the results were even announced.
The trip back proved to be a little more “interesting” as we sailed right into the teeth of a full gale. The sturdy Asgard pitched and yawed in the violent seas as we beat our way across the Bay of Biscay and back to the southern coast of England. The skipper instilled a deep confidence in her seaworthiness, which she truly bore out that night. The Fastnet Race also happened to be running at the same time, and we heard the “Mayday” distress calls coming in over the VHF radio from their fleet. Helicopters had been dispatched to rescue some unfortunate sailors, whose boats had come to grief and we occasionally saw them circling overhead.
I learned on this day that given a cool head, the right equipment and advance planning, even the most adverse-seeming conditions could be mastered – out at sea as well as in any walk of life. This brief voyage as a trainee left me with a longing for the sea and a deep desire to sail the world. It had a profound influence on my self esteem and character overall, and I wish with all my heart that every young person would have the opportunity to do something like it.
School and college years with their respective sailing programs would come and go. Two careers and a few interim jobs would later occupy my fullest attention. In the end I found myself pursuing a serious profession in the United States where we all worked endless hours. The business grew rapidly and it literally took over our lives. One fateful day in a pub after work I met my future wife Daria, and for the first time since I could remember I felt a need and desire to go home in the evening, to take the weekend off and spend some personal time. I also started to dream again.
At some point we discovered that we both had a very similar deep seated wish; mine having been born on my trip on the Asgard and Daria’s on a trip to New Zealand. We both wanted to find a way to cast off and go sailing – full time – to see the world. As with any important thing in our lives, we embraced this plan with all our hearts. At first we chartered boats for long weekends and other holidays, then came the fateful day that we went out and bought a 40 foot sloop. We started seriously cruising up and down the East Coast of the US at every opportunity. The sea miles added up quickly and our wealth of experience grew. We knew from the outset that this was not our long term boat, not our “world cruiser”, but she was a very fine craft never-the-less.
It was to be another five years before we found our dream boat. She was a 30-year-old 57 foot ketch, and it was love at first sight. Perhaps it was having sailed on the Asgard that made her seem so absolutely perfect. But there she was, and she was soon ours to take home. We had named her Aleria, Latin for eagle, a region on the island of Corsica, and derived from both of our names. And glide with the power and grace of an eagle she did all the way home.
All the while we still had our big dream to sail forth and just keep going. Four years after finding Aleria we had both reached a point where we could disengage from the spider-like web that our lives had woven around us. We freed ourselves, and our dream was indeed about to come true. One fine day we set out amongst fanfare and not a few tears – our own included. We set sail for parts known and unknown, destined to see the world from our own boat. It is not easy leaving behind everything for which you have lived and charting a new course in life, but that is precisely what we longed to do. We followed a path that would lead us on an adventure of unimagined proportions; one that would always lead us home to Ireland to our family and friends.
Once finally underway we sailed north stopping for a while at many ports. Aleria ghosted along silently under light air one fine day as we crossed the Gulf of Maine. Almost inaudible at first and then growing slowly louder, until the entire boat reverberated, we heard an entirely otherworldly sound. We fretted at first and searched the boat for something, anything that might be amiss.
We looked out and saw the seagulls landing on a strangely shaped mound not too far away. Was it a rock? Were we off course that far? We were just starting to get worried when the lump rolled over and stretched out longer and longer. Swimming parallel to our small boat was an enormous Right Whale. It took a while for this realization to sink in. We then looked further around and saw that there were literally scores of whales swimming and then diving deep all around us in their search for food. The sound we were hearing was coming from everywhere around us. It was the whales singing, and indeed perhaps wishing us well on our voyage.
Leaving Maine behind, we sailed across the Bay of Fundy and on to Nova Scotia. From there we then set off on the first leg of our big adventure – crossing the Atlantic. The ocean is vast and seems never ending, stretching on for days and even weeks. Storms come and go again, and the memories of sailing on the Asgard were a constant companion. Both Asgard and Aleria are old style boats; both with a taller main mast forward and a small mizzen mast aft. Just like we did on the Asgard under skipper Eric Healy during the storm so many years ago, we sailed jib and jigger most of the way across the big pond with gale after gale pushing us on. With just a small headsail forward of the main mast and the little mizzen sail on the aft mast the pressure on the helm was minimal and handling a boat of Aleria’s size an easy task for just the two of us.
If you ever feel the need to experience how small and insignificant you are, then you might consider crossing the ocean in a small boat. It is at once daunting, frightening, magical, mystical, and most certainly spiritual. Yes, we have both always felt closer to God out at sea, and even more now that we were so very far from anyone and anything else.
Our arrival home to Ireland, thus closing the first chapter of our new lives, is worthy of remembering as a memory all its own. To await a favorable tide we had anchored briefly in the lee of Clare Island, once home to Grainnuale, sea queen in her day. At sunrise we sailed east along and under the Holy mountain Croagh Patrick, rising up majestically from the shores of Clew Bay. Sun beams shone down on the islands as if to guide our way. A fleet of boats appeared from in shore and followed Aleria in. We were home, our journey had started, and we were living our dream.
Though chided through all my years,
For dreaming ‘bout what may come my way,
By teachers, friends and peers,
I still dream to this very day.
To correct the dereliction,
I know that most still hold,
I state with strong conviction,
Though some may stop and scold.
Perhaps you will see it as sure,
And not something that is new,
I hope in your heart will endure,
That “Dreams do indeed come true”!
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