Excerpt from the song  Sailing, By Chris Cross


It’s not far back to sanity
At least it’s not for me
And when the wind is right you can sail away
And find serenity
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me 


Canvas and wind

Canvas and wind





Leaving the Dark Tickle Harbor astern, there was first a puff, then a breath, then a wind and all from the north.  Up the main and out the jib.  The clouds are few and the sun is, yes, warm.  Passing quickly by Puffin Island, I see there really are Puffins and by the hundreds if not thousands.


The days of pinching into the head wind dissolve into a memory before a glorious beam reach sometime hitting 9+ knots.  The windward amma flies while the leeward still holds above water, the telltale sign that all is in balance so I let her go as she will. The hours turn into miles.


Flying Amma

Flying Amma





My intentions of calling at Rigolet were superceded by the need to transit the Rigolet Narrows on the flooding tidal currents.  As the wind slacked at sunset the currents picked up and the CAP’N LEM progressively built speed through the narrows toward Henrietta Island.  The chart plotter flashed a warning and I called it up to read “Do not attempt to pass the east side of Henrietta Island on any tide other than a neap tide at anything other than slack water”.  I double check, yes I’m on the west side and still the currents increase.  The narrows fork again around Eskimo Island and I take the eastern deep water route rather than save the mile of the western shallower route would afford.  The vessel is making a slow 5 knots through the water but 10.5 knots over the ground. 


All the tidal waters of Lake Melville spill through just three tributaries of the Narrows separated first by Henrietta and then by Eskimo Islands (see lat 54° 08’ 02.7”N ~lon 058°  26’ 39.0”W) and this was a spring* flood due the full moon that was just rising to the east.  In the failing light if day I see the tidal bore and its 3 foot chop all this water is making as it spills with such force into the large lake against a wind I have not yet felt.   I furl the jib and do the only thing I can do, square the bow to meet it at a clean 90 degree angle.  What happens next was… nothing.  As scary as that line of rough water looked the CAP’N LEM simply skimmed through the chop and out into the lake to be caught by a fine wind astern.  Still, it was a full 10 minutes before I stopped shaking.


The tidal bore behind me and the wind in the right direction (sail long enough and it will be in the right direction at least some of the time) I start the long journey to the only anchorage available within a nights sail.


The cloud covered sky glowed with the light of the full moon rising on its other side and gave the islands ahead a foreboding blackness.  But darkness doesn’t change the world, only my perception of it, and I perceived them might close.  I check the radar and the chart plotter obsessively drawing from them short lived comfort.  I check again.  The seas are building behind keeping the progress down the track line steady and fast. 


I’ve explained before.  I am a sea fearing man.  I know the only thing separating me from life and a cold watery death is the hull and integrity of the vessel that carries me and the choices I make.   The CAP’N LEM has proved her integrity time and again.  I ever remain the weak link.  It is situational awareness that is my only edge over the forces of nature that keep pummeling me on these adventures I thrust myself into.   But, at night, at sea, my eyes become liars, my feelings untrustworthy, my mind, a fabricator of false terror.  In the dark, the seas are bigger, the wind stronger and the time, slower.  Only the truth will do.  And the truth is this:  I can not trust myself! 


So, once again, I’m alone, on the water, with a building wind, in the dark.  And I know…I can not trust myself or my senses!  What can I trust!  Luck?  I don’t believe in luck.  Prayer?  Well I do some of that to be sure, and the echo of my mother’s words comes back to me from the past, “God helps those who help themselves”.   Yea, but not even God suffers fools for long.


So, how is it that I can do these things, go these places, experience these experiences and still be here to write to you about them?   Because there are some things that are completely and perfectly trustworthy and they are “Principles”.  The clear and clean principles of good seamanship and good navigation are trustworthy!   The principles of situational awareness!    The principles of knowing where I am and which direction I am going and keeping track of how fast I’m moving in order to predict where I will end up.  The principle of shortening sail before the wind blows.  And this, first and foremost, the principle of telling myself the truth about the situation in spite of how I feel!  And to this end, I must use ever resource available to me to discover the truth and every ounce of the will to make the clearest judgment possible based on that truth to keep the vessel safe and moving toward the goal.  Judgment then must be rooted in the knowledge gained of many nights looking into fog and darkness, the lot that is the sailor’s life.  And this too, I must not allow my fears and feelings to cloud the truth for that is the cloud of which nothing can penetrate!


My only company is the soft glow from the running lights reflecting back off the tips of the ammas, the little flashing symbol that says “your vessel is here” on the chart plotter and the clockwise sweep of the radar antenna.  I use the radar to double check the GPS.  I use the GPS to double check what I see.  I can even use my senses now that I admit their limitations and draw reassurance that dark mass against the sky really is the island I must get around.    


There is 35 miles to be transited between Eskimo Island and Etagaulet Bay where I can tuck into a cove hollowed out of the stone mountains by glaciers long ago, drop the anchor and sleep.  The islands at the north end of the lake only buffer the running swell for a short time and I continue to wallow along down wind with the main rolled down to the first reef. The CAP’N LEM often comes off the face of the swell at 9 and sometimes 10 knots.  I stay huddled in the companion way under the hard dodger bathed in the warmth from the fireplace.   Several times I jump out of my skin at the “quick snap of sheets and canvas as the boom swings wildly from starboard to port or back again in an accidental jibe from the strong winds fickle directions.   Anticipating this, I kept the main sheets at short stay.  This both increases the chance of a jibe and lessens its effects.  Sailing is a series of trade-offs.


When I reach the bay, I force a controlled jibe and work my way into the lee of Point Etagaulet then to the comparatively calm waters south of the hills guarding the bay from the north wind.  Here I bring down the sail, and motor toward the great blackness of the cliffs.  Just when it seems impossible to get through, the blackness of the water changes to reflect the moonlight coming through the clouds and the CAP’N LEM enters the channel to the anchorage.  At 0217, I drop the hook at Latitude 53° 45’ 00.9” N ~ Longitude 058° 58’ 51.3” W in 26 feet of calm water, turn off the running lights, turn on the anchor light and go to sleep having traveled 94 nautical miles from anchorage to anchorage.











*The term “spring tide” is often confused with the season Spring, but spring used in describing a tide simply means those tides of greatest range between high tides and low tides that occur when the moon is either full or new and is a function of the sun and moon working together to create the greatest movement of sea water.  The term “neap tides” are those tides occurring when the moon’s gravity is pulling at a 90° to the suns gravity at the half moon phase thus giving the lower ranges in tidal differences and the weakest tidal currents. 




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