ADVENTURES OUT AT SEA II
There is no other sport where the way all the team members interact is as important as it is in yachting, nor one that requires as much technical and tactical proficiency, so much knowledge in meteorology, physics, firstaid, fitness or risk management. And while the technical part is relatively easy to master, inter-personal relationships are a more sensitive matter.
Afew months ago I was telling you about the adventure of bringing over, all the way from Southampton, England to Mangalia, Romania, of a sail boat, navigating it solely under wind power and with a crew of four: Victor, Alex, Ștefan and Andrei. As a result of extreme cold, the expedition had to be put on hold and postponed till spring, and the boat stored at Brest.
One beautiful spring day, in April to be more exact, following extensive preparations that attempted to cover all the weaknesses discovered last autumn, the four returned to Brest with renewed vigour and determination to bring the boat over to our country.
During the winter, the boat has been fitted with a Webasto heating system that would allow them to get through the area that caused them all those winter nightmares: the Bay of Biscay. Apart from that and besides an impressive amount of technical clothing, they also brought with themselves a number of other new items, amongst which an aerogenerator and a set of Tacktick navigational tools; the windows have also been fixed, as was the auto-pilot, the baggage arranged and the storm beds installed. Getting the boat ready to sail out of Brest took four days, during which the four members of the crew drove themselves hard to finish everything in time. In time for what, you ask? Well, apparently the forecast was favouring an April 4th departure, with strong (but not exceedingly so) tail wind. They were to have sufficient wind to get them through the Biscay in only a couple of days.
Dead tired, they managed to finish everything one day later than planned. Come midnight, though, the drama began. Two of the crew members decided to give up, abandoning their team mates only a few hours before they were supposed to set sail. The motive – a combination of fear, exhaustion and different take on the odyssey lying ahead. For Victor and Alex, adventure came first, as they were hell bent on achieving their set objective of sailing over 4000 nautical miles, while for Ștefan and Andrei, with their more artistic natures, the trip held a more poetical, self-discovering dimension. The latter were ready to cruise, while the former were in a race with themselves.
Tension had started to make its presence felt amongst them even before sailing out to sea, and, quite obviously, no one wanted to spend a whole month of their lives in a group that harboured internal problems. We live in times when interpersonal communication and the relationships we have with each other are extremely fragile. This being the context, the two decided to quit. Since in every story “good prevails”, only hours later a replacement was found, willing to leave Bucharest immediately and head for Brest. Laur, too, had been yachting his entire life, and the opportunity to experience this kind of an adventure caused him to abandon everything else and hop on the next flight. The following day they were all leaving, some for Bucharest, some for Mangalia, some on ground and some by sea. The weather forecast was in their favour for just one more day, so they were waiting for Laur with the engine running.
A few extremely windy days followed, with winds in excess of 40 knots, huge waves and bad weather. Each time we talked over the satellite phone (because there’s, obviously, no GSM signal in the Bay of Biscay), they would sound happier and more enthusiastic than the last time.
Adrenaline was at its peak. It was hard, they were cold and just a tad seasick, but the satisfaction of navigating yard after yard, crossing wave after wave and getting nearer and nearer to turning the dream into reality gave them wings. For a few days they ate nothing but crackers, in order to be able to handle the centrifuge-like conditions under which they were sailing, until, three or four days later, they caught the first glimpse of Spain’s sunny coast. By now they were getting headwind, still blowing strong, but at least the weather was somewhat warmer.
As they sailed by Portugal, the wind let down and their tense faces relaxed. At the time of my writing this article, ten days after their departure, they have just entered the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar. For the next few days, they’ll have light wind and sunny weather.
The goal is to make it home by Easter. There’s already a group of supporters following their daily progress through the tracking system on www.siminateam.ro or on facebook. In a country where yachting doesn’t have much of a share of spectacular events, this expedition is followed like the Volvo Ocean Race.
The way we sail has undergone radical changes throughout history. Back when Penelope was waiting for her Ulysses to return from his odyssey, things might have taken an entirely different turn had they had GPS tracking, satellite phone or internet access. Safety-wise, boats are now equipped with life rafts that ensure survival over a long enough period of time, being fitted with food and water supplies and flares for signalling in case of distress.
The human factor, however, is still the weak link. What would have happened if the falling apart would have occurred on water rather than on land, several miles out at sea? Probably nothing. Once engaged, they would have probably not withdrawn. There’s probably a part of them that regrets that decision even as I write, especially now that Simina II is smooth sailing across the Mediterranean. The decisions we make always have consequences more profound than we would think in the moment, as, besides the fact that the crew was torn apart, the confidence of everyone following them was seriously shaken. I will keep you updated on Simina II’s adventures out at sea, with high hopes that next time I’ll be summing up the conclusions upon their arrival in Mangalia, and not recounting the details of some new drama.