unmoored /ˌənˈmo͝ord/ /ˌənˈmʊrd/ ADJECTIVE
1. (of a vessel) not or no longer attached to a mooring.
2. (of a person) insecure, confused, or lacking contact with reality.
Oh there are so many titles I could have chosen for this post: “Question: How Bad is It? Answer: Uhhhh,” or “The Gale,” or “Swab the Decks,” or “Three Trips Around the Sun,” or “A Positive Crew and a Negative Captain.” At the end of the day, I’m sticking with “Unmoored” as it rolls all the other titles one overarching feeling. Still though, as I look at “Unmoored’s” two dictionary definitions, neither quite does it for me. I’m a person which directs me to the second definition, but my feelings relate more to the first, the vessel, definition. I’m not insure or confused or lacking contact with reality (at least I like to think I’m not) but I feel no longer attached to past physical moorings.
We departed the marina La Linea de la Conception, just north of Gibraltar, in high spirits the morning of Sunday, August 14. One quick stop at the marina’s office and fuel dock to settle up our marina bill and top-off the tanks with 8 gallons of diesel (as an aside, after 4,500 nautical miles of travel [that’s 5,200 land based miles], it was our first refueling since we departed Florida on May 5th—pretty cool!).
As we slipped our moorings in the marina my mind was in the future, already thinking about the sail to the Islas Baleares a semi-autonomous Spanish archipelago located in the Mediterranean Sea, 100-150 nautical miles south of Barcelona. The three largest islands in the archipelago, from west-to-east, are Ibiza, Mallorca, and Menorca.
It was a sunny morning with mild winds. The Rock of Gibraltar was our backdrop as we approached the fuel dock, prepared for a “port-to” tie up (putting the dock on Hazel’s port, or left, side). After maneuvering Hazel James out of the marina slip she had occupied for two weeks, I handed the helm to Rhett (she took over the steering) for the quarter mile slow speed steam through the marina docks and the approach to the fuel dock. As Rhett and Hazel executed their turns perfectly, I silently mulled over if I should just let Rhett take her all the way on to the fuel dock. It would be a first for Rhett, and conditions were perfect for her to keep the helm all the way onto the dock. Besides, I’ve learned that Rhett—with her intuitive style—is better under pressure when she doesn’t have a lot of time to think through things ahead of time.
About 100 feet off the fuel dock and as I was just about to make the surprising “command,” “Rhett, why don’t you bring her in? Don’t worry, I’ll be right next to you the whole way.” I reconsidered. The closer we got to the fuel dock, the more imposing it looked; it wasn’t some friendly and forgiving wooden dock, but was solid concrete and high. Besides we were both a bit rusty as we hadn’t sailed in a fortnight. So I said instead, “Move over, I’ve got this. Go forward on the port side and get ready to get a line around a piling.” In retrospect, I had been so busy considering Rhett’s potential rustiness, I hadn’t given a thought to my own. I really don’t remember what I was thinking—something along the lines of, Easy peasy. Ideal conditions. I’ve done this a million times before.
I settled myself at the helm and took a good look at the rapidly approaching dock and right away knew it wasn’t going to be “easy peasy.” I was in trouble. The wind that I thought was mild was a lot stronger and blowing across our starboard beam thus pushing us towards the monolithic concrete. In addition, I had her moving way too fast through the water. A second later, CRUNCH, and Hazel shuddered to her keel bolts.
Although I couldn’t see it from my vantage point, the point of impact must have been about 10 feet forward of Rhett’s position. Shaken, I hoarsely croaked, “How, bad is it?” Rhett looked over Hazel’s gunnel and replied calmly, “Uhhhhh, let’s get on the dock and you look at it.”—her polite southern way of saying, “It’s bad.”
Now to put this SNAFU (situation-normal-and-fu****-up) into perspective and in context of everything that Hazel and I had been through on this voyage, it’s like driving a large RV out of New York City by yourself and heading west, eventually stopping in Indiana and successfully competing in the Indianapolis 500, then eschewing the Rocky Mountain and Sierra Nevada highways for the narrowest two-lane mountain roads possible, and—finally—backing into a lamp post in a San Francisco Walmart parking lot.
I was really worked up by the whole thing. I remember pacing the decks saying over and over, “What just happened? I don’t do things like that!” Eventually, I calmed myself down enough to look at the port side forward chain a plate that I had bent in the allision. After literally pulling at my hair in anguish for a minute, I determined that I could fix it on the spot and we didn’t need to turn back and get the help of a metalworker. Having a new chain plate fabricated would have taken several days to a week.
After fueling up, making the necessary repairs, and profuse apologies to Hazel for my rough treatment of her, we were on our way—three miles south, around Europa Point (the southern tip of Gibraltar) and east into the Mediterranean Sea. Rhett enjoyed the vistas while I continued beating myself up and replaying the morning’s events.
From my pre-departure weather check, I knew to expect a bit of wind in our first couple days of the 400 nautical mile passage to the Baleares Islands—it should peak at 25, or maybe 30 knots, hold for 12 hours or so and then subside. However, as we put Gibraltar astern, I was so absorbed in my self-flagilation I barely noticed that—well ahead of schedule—the wind had built to a solid 20 knots off the stern.
Long story short, that night we experienced sustained winds 35-40 knots and gusting into the low 40s, with seas in the 10-15 foot range—by all definitions, a “gale.” The irony of this is that in my entire Atlantic crossing, I didn’t see winds this strong. Not until Rhett and Sunny join Hazel and me do we get blasted like this…go figure.
Later the next day as as things are calming down and we’re licking our wounds, Rhett confides that she’s not feeling well and she doesn’t think it’s just from the rocking and rolling of the night before. So, a hundred or so miles from land and with our destination of Ibiza at a range of 250 miles, we pull out the COVID tests and instead of the crew swabbing the decks, she’s swabbing her nasal passages. 15 nervous minutes later—drumroll—there’s no line on the test strip, no antigen detected. Whew. During the whole 15 minutes of waiting we did our best to not let our minds race to the what-ifs.
After a couple more days of sailing, we reached the Baleric island of Ibiza and were having an excellent time exploring until it all came crashing down the morning of August 21 (not the first time things have come crashing down on the 21st of August). On the morning of the third anniversary of Colleen’s death we were anchored in a broad “cala” (Spanish for cove) close to Ibiza Town and I was planning for a quiet and reflective “boat day” thinking about Colleen. However, after waking and getting going for the day, Rhett felt just awful—even worse than she felt the day after the gale. Again the COVID tests came out but this time her test kit immediately showed she was positive. She took another test, same result. Ugh, not good. Given her results, I tested and was negative and remained negative throughout her contagious period—unbelievable given the tight quarters we share.
it was a rough couple weeks for Rhett. She said it was the sickest she’s ever been in her life. After a couple days of her trying to muscle through the illness on board, we decided she needed the ER and maybe even a hospitalization. After a day in the ER we got her a hotel room for several days so she could recuperate in some air conditioning and with a bed that didn’t move (As another aside…the bill for tests, medications, and care during her four hours in the ER? 138 Euro, under $150).
Since then we’ve sailed from Ibiza to Mallorca, and Mallorca to Menorca (where we are at the moment). Although we’ve seen a lot of the Islas Baleares, it’s amazing how much there is to see here. A sailor could spend an entire summer cruising season on any one of the islands.
The reason I focused on “Unmoored” as the title for this post revolves around our future plans as summer turns to autumn. The good news is that European schools are back in session and the Mediterranean summer crowds are starting to dwindle. The not so good news is that we have lots of logistics and unknowns now looming. In the summer we were focused on getting to and into the Mediterranean; yes, the unknowns and logistics were there but the were “tomorrow’s problems.” Now that we’re here in the Med and summer has passed we’ve got to think about getting to our goal of Greece before colder winter weather arrives, where we layup Hazel for the off season, our immigration status in the EU, what we do in the winter, Hazel’s taxation status, and the list goes on and on.
In addition, Rhett’s COVID diagnosis on the day of Colleen’s death anniversary was especially difficult timing. When I had sailed to the Caribbean solo in 2020 searching for some peace after Colleen’s death the previous August and gotten locked down in the British Virgin Islands for a month or so due to the pandemic, I had a similar unmoored feeling—I was more than a thousand miles from home with so much changing. Several weeks ago, Rhett’s diagnosis, illness, our trip to the ER, and her subsequent recovery on top of Colleen’s anniversary brought back so many memories for me from that time. It’s one thing to be in The Bahamas and having the comfort that home is only a 3-4 day sail away. It’s different to be in the Caribbean and a thousand miles from home or—even more so—to be in the Mediterranean and 5,000 miles from home.
I find myself searching for the positives in my “unmooredness” the way I searched for Portugal and the European mainland on the horizon on the last day of my transatlantic sail. On that final day’s sail, I couldn’t see the land, at least not yet, but I knew it was there. I knew it was close.
In a few hours we will depart the Spanish Islas Baleares and head east bound for the Strait of Bonifacio that separates the French island of Corsica and the Italian island of Sardinia, a 300 nautical mile sail. As is my standard protocol before multi-day passages, I just took a COVID test: Negative!
Fair winds and following seas.