2012-08 A Dreamer’s First Passage

Sept. 12, 2012

This post is guest-authored by Patti Dimiceli who, along with her husband John, joined us for the trip from Wrightsville Beach, NC to the Chesapeake Bay. Besides being excellent crew, Patti is the acclaimed author of “Embrace the Angel” (http://embracetheangel.com/) , the incredible story of her daughter Amber and her battle with cancer. Following is Patti’s story of her passage aboard Shear Madness.

Monday evening, 6 pm

The Passage Crew – John, Patti, Kathy, and Bradley

As I sit in the pilothouse of “Shear Madness,” I can smell Kathy cooking up a delicious Moroccan dinner and hear the generator’s soft hum mixing with gentle laughter of the water slapping the hull. Like a dancer’s body surrendering to the music, I feel the boat swaying from side to side ever so slightly as it pivots on its anchor. When I look up from my computer screen, the blue gray rippled water forms the foundation of a scene I’ve dreamed about for a very long time: Being cut off from land, on a boat, with time suspended in this perfect moment. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is off our port side, a dark green line of trees and shrubs divide sea from sky, the setting sun gives the white and gray clouds a luminous, almost dreamlike look. How can I make this moment last forever?

Cape Lookout Sunset

After leaving Wrightsville Beach while the rest of the world was sleeping this morning, we headed offshore and into the undulating seas. Ten hours later, we dropped anchor to swim, check the bottom for growth, read, relax, and get ready for our 30 hour passage around Cape Hatteras and into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, headed to our home in Annapolis. Lots of questions fill my mind: What will the seas be like? Rough? Calm? Will it be cloudy, rainy and dark or will the half moon give us enough light to see the horizon? What time will my 4-hour middle-of-the-night watch start? Although both Bradley and Kathy have spent a good deal of time going over procedures and checklists, will I forget anything? Being on a Nordhavn gives me a true sense of safety and security, but Mother Nature and human nature make me a little nervous. Will I… will they take the trust of putting our lives in each others’ hands as seriously as life and death? Because it is.

Many of the questions I’ve had for years about “living the dream” have been answered in the two days since we’ve been aboard, but a few still linger. I’m convinced that John and I will commit to finding our way to the water, then create a plan—not a dream—to do it. The big question is: Will this offshore passage cement or dissolve our desire to do offshore passages… to cross oceans? One of the most important factors in buying a boat is how you want to use it. We constantly ask ourselves: Do we want to stay close to shore, cruising The Great Loop, lakes, and local waters or do we want to go further offshore to the Bahamas, the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, and on to the waters of the world? No doubt tomorrow will give us some clarity and help us define the rest of our lives together.

Tuesday morning, 9:21 am

Leaving Cape Lookout

Heading out to sea! After a peaceful night full of rest, at-anchor sounds of the boat, and a very deep sleep, I am ready to face whatever may come my way. Waking up for brief moments through the night, I had to reorient myself, “Oh, I’m on a boat,” then fall fast asleep again. Once, I thought I heard the sounds of someone, something swimming and lay there listening and imagining. “Is that a fish… a dolphin?” I wanted to peek out the port but would have to crawl over John to do it. Before I could think further, I returned to sleep. Living on a Nordhavn is beginning to blur the lines between reality and dreaming. The “butterflies” in my stomach are mixing with the bowl of fresh fruit that is breakfast. A last “lap of the boat” check is under way. We want to be sure all lockers, drawers, and loose items are stowed and fastened. Watch schedule is set, safety at sea instructions absorbed, and the most reassuring statement by Bradley: “Wake me if you have any questions, or doubt, or feel uncomfortable in any way.” Whew! I am not alone.

We’re planning to go around Cape Hatteras about 25 miles offshore (subject to weather, of course) to ensure that we don’t join the over 600 shipwrecks that are sleeping on the bottom of the ocean. “The Graveyard of the Atlantic,” as it’s known, is notorious for its weather changing quickly as well as its shifting sandbars, colliding waves, and unpredictable currents. I think we’re as prepared as we can be, but I’m still a bit apprehensive. Bradley and John set the fishing lines to trail off the stern, using the lures we brought aboard with us. Kathy loaded and turned on the Crock Pot so that we can eat whenever we want through our night watches, then settled in the main salon to read.

John’s got a big one!

4 pm

Just finished my first watch: 4 hours. In that time, I did four Engine Room checks and four entries into Shear Madness’ ship’s log. Excited by being on board and the opportunity to learn more about the displays, gauges, reading the seas, charts, etc., I was definitely not bored. John, Bradley, and Kathy napped and relaxed. Seas are following on our starboard quarter at 4-6 feet and getting bigger. Wind is about 21 knots. Our speed is averaging 8.5 knots, a nice push by both sea and wind. The ride is comfortable, made more so by the stabilizers. The boat rides in a circular, gentle counter clockwise motion but I hardly notice the movement at all. It’s so soft and continuous that it’s actually relaxing. I am loving Nordhavns more and more!

Earlier we passed a 60′ Hatteras fishing boat going the opposite way. At first glance, I thought was a 40-footer since it was being tossed around so much. It’s bow vanished beneath the waves then rose up carrying the seas over the tuna tower. “Oh, I wouldn’t want to be in that boat,” I thought as I captured the action on my video camera. A half hour after our fishing lines were set, we heard Kathy yelling, “Fish! Fish! Fish!” With the autopilot on and the the horizon clear, the three of us ran to the stern to see one of the fishing lines straining. Bradley strapped on his rod holder, got one for John, and the two of them spent the next twenty minutes or so reeling in a big tuna. Carving our catch into steaks, we anticipated the next evening’s dinner would be fresh and delicious.

7 pm

We have officially rounded Cape Hatteras! Glad it’s still light out and we can see the sea.

Quite a workout, but success!

Winds have picked up to 32 knots; seas have risen to 6-8 feet, though it seems more like 10 feet as they come in sets. Walls of water replace the horizon as the boat dips down into the troughs. The good news about it being light out is that you can see the following seas. The bad news is that you can see the following seas! Good news: We are traveling at over 10 knots at 1100 rpm. Bad news: We may get to the mouth of the Chesapeake a lot sooner than first anticipated and may have to adjust our time to allow for tides, etc.

Now that both the seas and wind have picked up, the rolling motion has greatly increased, but it’s not uncomfortable. I laugh at myself as I walk like a drunken sailor and find myself overcompensating to step up or go down a step, sometimes missing. My body is definitely getting a workout. Timing a large movement from one handhold to another with the crests and troughs takes some practice but it’s fun. “One hand for yourself and one for the ship” is a phrase I learned while living aboard a 38′ Hans Christian sailboat and I’ve never forgotten it. Today, it has even more meaning. As time goes on, I am feeling more and more comfortable with being on a boat offshore. Many of the questions and doubts I had are being answered and my confidence is building. The displays and gauges in the pilothouse that once daunted me, now reassure me that we are on course, not ready to collide with anything, the engines, stabilizers, and systems are all okay, and the weather on the screens match the weather I see outside. In this case, knowledge is not only power, but adds to my sense of well being.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse through the anchor chain

The four of us have fallen into a rhythm. We move around Shear Madness in tune with the boat, the weather, the watch schedule, and each other. Privacy and personal space is respected and readily available. We also enjoy each other’s company and learning about the people we’ve chosen to trust with our lives, if only for a few days. No matter what happens after this, sharing this adventure with Bradley and Kathy will always have a special place in my heart… in my “Memory Bank” of life. Waiting for darkness with some trepidation.

8 pm

Just as the sun was setting, Bradley spotted another pod of dolphins racing us through the ocean! Unpredictable and frisky, they kept us with us, even at 9 knots. The four of us stood behind the Portuguese bridge shouting encouragement and greetings at these delightful creatures. I couldn’t stop smiling and feeling like a kid on my first trip to the aquarium, but even better. These creatures were free! As I sit in the main salon writing this, I can see the last sliver of light fade. The sunset was glorious, especially since it was cloudy all day. Despite the fact that it is dark outside, inside the boat it’s warm and cozy. I see a metaphor. It reminds me of life—sometimes dark, stormy, and unpredictable. No matter what dark, stormy “weather” is going on outside, having a warm “light” on inside can give you a sense of peace, calm, and confidence.

Wednesday 4 am

Night watch complete, I lay in my bunk (actually, it’s a nice, comfy Tempurpedic double mattress) reflecting on the past several hours. I am as relaxed and comfortable as I have ever been, even more so. Why? Because I am not tethered to land… to the internet, phone, TV, appointments, obligations, responsibilities. The only responsibility I have is to the crew on this boat. Although it is huge and, when I’m on watch, their life is in my hands, being in a Nordhavn and having Bradley and Kathy patiently walk me through the systems, engine room checks, displays, etc. have made all the difference in my comfort level. Because I am a “Student of Life,” I know what I don’t know and look forward to learning more about the cruising life on a trawler.

John and Patti relax on the flybridge

In the wee hours of the morning, Bradley and I sat in the wheelhouse talking, debating, solving all of the world’s problems. We both agree that fear is the biggest motivator which drives most people to make decisions in their lives. It’s fascinating to explore this theory and how it applies to boating, especially passage-making. “Just do it!” is advice that’s repeated over and over on the “Nordhavn Dreamers” message board. These words pushed me to overcome my fear and make the decision to join Shear Madness on this passage. Even though I knew it would only be for a week, I needed to live the lifestyle to know it. I’ve gotten a lot of pleasure reading about the adventures of all of the “doers” on this site. Now I feel as though I’ve become one, too. This experience planted the seed, gave me a glimpse, opened the door (or hatch, if you will) to a whole new world full of wonder. I want this to last.

12 noon

Slept like a baby. In fact, I could have slept more if I were at home and not about to go over the lower Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel and up the bay. Way too excited to linger in bed. By the time I got dressed and dashed up the stairs to the pilothouse, the three of them were up, had coffee, and were about to wake me to see us making the left turn towards the bay. Funny, I thought passage-making would be monotonous. But my days and nights have been filled with events, watches, meal times, good conversations, staring out to sea or up at the sky and pondering, filming, photo taking, and a bit of reading and writing. This morning we splurged. Our usual breakfast of fresh fruit was followed by some scrambled eggs and pumpernickel toast. Kathy used her bread machine to make a loaf which was much better than store bought. (Note to self: Add bread-maker to a toaster and VitaMix for onboard appliances.) Coffee in hand, I found a nice spot on the flybridge to relax and reflect upon where I’ve come from and where I’m going.

Kathy and Patti in the tender

9 pm

We dropped the anchor in Mobjack Bay early this afternoon. It is a large inlet on the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay. I feel a little melancholy to be connected to land and everything it represents again. Time to return to my “real life” responsibilities, appointments, and obligations. But I wonder, which life is more real: Being on the ocean or living on land? At this time in our lives, John and I need to find a balance—as well as a plan—to enjoy both land and sea. We don’t have to choose between them.Perhaps a smaller boat, which would allow us to keep our land home and save money for cruising, is a more practical … a more realistic approach. It would get us on the water sooner rather than later and give us a chance to live the lifestyle and hone our skills without mortgaging our future. This clarity came to me in the cockpit of Shear Madness late this afternoon. As I stood at the transom rail with the boat behind me looking out on the water, I realized what was really important. “No matter how big the boat or who the builder is, the view is always the same.” As long as I have time and the health to enjoy it, being on the water with the man I love is all that truly matters.

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  3. #3 by Anonymous on September 13, 2012 - 5:41 am

    Thanks Patti, for the wonderful diary of your adventure. You courage will pay forward to all who take the journey.


  4. #4 by Cheryl Aulerich on September 12, 2012 - 3:40 pm

    As always, I enjoyed reading about the happenings on The Shear Madness. Love the different perspective, as well. Thank you for sharing!


  5. #5 by Cedric Rhoads on September 12, 2012 - 3:02 pm

    Thank you so much for your lovely story, Patti. As a fellow Dreamer, I think that we all share in a good portion of your own concerns. Having a plan and building toward this life at sea benefits greatly from having your assumptions and perspectives validated. Or better still, exceeded. It was quite helpful to me to understand your and John’s considerations, and how your time with SM and her crew helped you in this regard. Again, thank you.


  6. #6 by aschwanda@aol.com on September 12, 2012 - 2:16 pm

    Great posting!!!


  7. #7 by Dannielle Brown on September 12, 2012 - 2:05 pm

    Again, I always love to take a break from my hectic day and escape through reading one of my favorite adventure stories-The Shear Madness Chronology. These breath taking adventures always leave me wanting more. However, this time around, I find myself asking this question ” Bradley and Kathy….when is it my turn?”


  8. #8 by Anonymous on September 12, 2012 - 12:56 pm

    Great adventure… Thank you for sharing.


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