Ch. 1: The “Human Factor”

I don’t toy with the idea; it toys with me, pecking and picking at the back of my brain.  “You should go,” it says.  And I should.  At least I believe I should.  Maybe not believe, but think.  I think I should.  Shouldn’t I?  When the idea starts to grip and pull me hand-over-hand into its graces, there is only thing that pulls me fast-and-hard back.  That is Phillip.

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Friends, followers, I dare say it is time.  While filming my adventures, making videos and taking pictures is fun, it is merely a pastime compared to my true passion: writing.  I find the endeavor of trying to capture and re-create my surroundings in such detail you feel you are right there, breathing the air next to me, a deliciously-thrilling challenge.  I am up for it, and it is time.  I want to tell you the tale of my first Atlantic-crossing, from start to finish, complete with plenty of photos.  As I come across footage, while making the Atlantic-crossing movie, that corresponds with these posts, I will share it in an exclusive video on Patreon as well.  Although I hope my words will conjure crisper images, mostly I hope you enjoy the feeling of the journey as I experienced it.

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When I say “Phillip” was the main reason for my not wanting to go I do not mean he had asked me not to go or that he did not want me to go.  Quite the opposite.  He was the first person to encourage me.  Much like the trip I had bravely set off on not one year prior—where I agreed fly to the Bahamas alone and crew for five days on a boat with total strangers in the Abacos Regatta—Phillip encouraged me to sign on for the Atlantic-crossing even though he knew not at the time whether he could join.  No, it was not Phillip’s desires or concerns that held me back, it was the thought of embarking on this incredible journey without him—leaving him behind to stand on the shores while I cast off to cross an ocean—that gave me serious pause.  Had Phillip merely said, “It’s up to you,” I likely would not have gone.  But he did not.  “You should go,” he said, as if his was the voice of the Idea.  And so I decided I would.

“Alone.”

We all eyed him in a mix of astonishment and admiration.  Alone.  It was Yannick.  Our Captain.  Our faithful leader on this voyage, and the man we now congenially refer to as “the Wandering Frenchman.”  I didn’t know him well at the time.  This was probably my third time speaking with him.  And I sure didn’t know in a matter of months I would be stepping foot aboard his boat to cross the ocean with him.  At the time Yannick was just another boat owner who was having work done on his boat at the yard at the same time Phillip and I were hauled out this past winter re-building our rotten stringers, replacing our original 1985 rod rigging and knocking out a few hundred other “while you’re out of the water” projects.  Yannick’s 46’ high-performance French-built Catamaran was docked at the yard at the same time undergoing significant repairs after suffering a lightning strike in September, 2015.

I’m sure this is no secret.  It seems many boat owners—males in particular and Brandon and Phillip in a unique form of particular—can stand around and talk about boats for hours, days even.  While Brandon mentioned Yannick’s catamaran often during these “boat conversations” at the yard, merely as a matter of course, we could tell he was especially surprised at the astonishing array of electronics Yannick was having him install on his catamaran: a back-up chart-plotter, radar, AIS, forward scan, numerous alarms, a siren, even!  It wasn’t until the “alone” conversation that we learned why.

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Yannick is a fighter jet pilot in the French Navy.  He had been in Pensacola for two years working as a flight instructor but was soon slated to retire, at which time he planned to move he and the family—his beautiful wife Clothilde, their five-year old son Nils and five-month old daughter, Clemence—back to France where they would plan to move aboard the catamaran in the following year and then begin cruising northern Europe.  All he needed to do was get the boat back to the France.  All he wanted in order to do that was some high-end electronics and a siren.  Yannick’s initial plan was to sail his catamaran single-handed, non-stop over 4,600 nautical miles from Pensacola, Florida to Roscoff, France.

I clicked on the GoPro the minute this news broke, out of habit (what a story!), and I’m glad I caught it on film.  Yannick explained one of reasons he hesitated to seek out crew to help him make the passage was what he called the “human factor,” meaning: “Who do you want to take with you across the ocean?”  Definitely a legitimate concern.  It’s a small boat and a lot of days.  It’s fun to look back on this clip, though, and realize none of us knew at the time, as Yannick was telling Phillip and I about his “human factor” theory, the pesky “humans” he would taking with him across the ocean would be us.

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Video from our first conversation with Yannick about the crossing, up now in a Patrons-only post on Patreon.

I will admit, his plan seemed a little outlandish.  While Yannick had brought his catamaran up from the Caribbean to Pensacola on a 16-day run with a hired captain, aside from that he had virtually no other offshore experience on his boat.  What he did have, though, was confidence.  He seemed so resolved, so pragmatic about the whole thing, I honestly believed he could do it.  Surely someone who flies jets at supersonic speed can handle a slow boat across an ocean?  Some of those skills must translate?  Well, they do and they don’t.  I will say at the outset one of the most interesting aspects of this voyage was watching someone as capable and smart as Yannick have to adapt in many ways to cruising.  The weather, the elements and the boat simply do not treat you any differently based on your resume.

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At no point did Yannick seem to be uncertain in his decision, though.  At no point did he seem to be desirous of bringing crew aboard to help him make the passage.  He seemed determined—excited even—to do it alone.  “I like a challenge,” he said.  Phillip and I chatted about our interesting conversation with Yannick a little here and there over the course of the next couple of weeks (this was mid-March), thinking how cool it would be when we would finally be ready to cross the ocean on our boat, but that was the extent of it.  It wasn’t until Phillip came home from work one day a couple of weeks later, after having stopped at the shipyard on the way home, with a new piece of information and a seed to plant.

“Johnny?” I asked, a little confused.  I wasn’t even sure Johnny and Yannick knew each other, at least not well enough to meet Yannick’s “human factor” and I didn’t know ocean-crossing was something Johnny had always wanted to do.  Johnny Walker (no relation) is an old friend of Brandon’s and a well-known diesel engine mechanic in the Pensacola marine industry.  We had worked with Johnny on several occasions over the past few years in tuning and maintaining our engine, borrowing some rare tools as needed from his impressive collection.  (Remember the torque wrench we broke when re-torquing our keel bolts?)  We also had the opportunity to buddy sail with Johnny on our way down to the Keys in 2014 when he and his son, Jeremy, were sailing his Morgan 38 down to Key West at the same time.

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Needless to say, Johnny was an old friend, an old salt and, specifically, a proven and reputable sailor and mechanic, and he was now on board for the Atlantic-crossing.

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“Johnny’s going,” Phillip said, with a playful gleam in his eye.  I knew he was looking at me funny for a reason and I knew this information was key for a reason, but it was like I couldn’t get the rusty gears in my head to turn fast enough to put it all together.  Why is it so important that Johnny’s going?  Phillip could tell I needed help connecting the dots.  If Johnny’s going, Yannick is now taking on crew.  If Johnny is going, maybe others could go to … 

“You know who else Johnny thinks would be a good fit to make the passage?” Phillip asked.  Then it clicked.  Me!  Us!  Me?  Once again it seemed a little outlandish.  I might be crossing the ocean this year?  The idea was very new.  My first thought was honestly how cold it might be and what gear I would be wearing.  My vivid imagination apparently wanted to see it first before I could process the actual details.

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High fashion.

Once I got past the fashion block, however, and started to truly digest it, my second thought was Phillip.  I couldn’t imagine embarking on an ocean-crossing voyage without the single person who turned me into a sailor in the first place.  I can’t go without Phillip.  Or at least I shouldn’t.  I can’t. 

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As luck would have it, right around the time this outlandish idea emerged Phillip had a rather large block of time on his calendar, for a trial that was scheduled in June, that could possibly open up assuming certain things fell into place with his case load.  Now it was not just an idea, it was a hope: Phillip and I making our first ocean-crossing together this year!  All of that depended upon Yannick, however, as we hadn’t even been invited yet.  Phillip and I were dreaming about the voyage long before Yannick even considered the idea of welcoming us aboard for the trip.

This was the gut-wrenching part for me.  The one, singular thing that held me back from jumping immediately on the idea was the one, singular person I truly wanted to make the trip with.  We were nowhere near sure at the time that Phillip could make the trip with me.  We spend just a few hours apart and I begin to miss him.  Now we were talking weeks, months perhaps.  I ached just thinking about it.  But, it was an incredible opportunity and it was Phillip who did, and always does, push me to greater experiences.  “You should go,” he said, and I knew he was right.  The one thought that comforted me in agreeing, at first, to sign on without him was how much I knew this trip would mean to him.  Phillip has crossed oceans before, in large carrier ships.  He has traveled much more of this awe-inspiring world than I have.  But one thing he has not done, that he has always wanted to do, is sail across an ocean.  My hope was if I was able to secure us two spots as crew for the passage, he would move mountains to be able to join me.  So it was decided.  I, at least, was going.

My blood pulsed hot through the veins of my neck as I scrolled through my contacts in my phone, looking for one in particular: Johnny Walker.  I needed to tell him one thing: If Yannick would have us, Phillip and I wanted to come.

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Fun video following my initial conversation with Johnny that I shared on Patreon April 8, 2016.  Thanks, as always, to my followers, friends and Patrons who enable me to share this journey.   Get on board!

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One Response to Ch. 1: The “Human Factor”

  1. Pingback: Ch. 2: “No Gloves” | Have Wind Will Travel

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