Four men in a boat

We crossed the finish line in Rio a week ago today, and if there is a prize for the most chaotic crossing of the line at the prize giving tomorrow, we are surely the form contenders. (We should also get a prize for the biggest fish caught en route, at least as far as we’re concerned).

That last day had, as expected, been characterized by fluky, light, and variable winds. Four boats were finishing within hours of each other – us, and three boats from the second start: Gryphon, who had suffered a rudder failure a day earlier following a broach and who had managed to make a temporary rudder out of washboards and a spinnaker pole; Saravah and Mercenario 4, from Brazil and Argentina respectively.

Saravah was gaining on us mile on mile, and we were eking every bit of speed out of Sophie B with our big asymmetric bag. As we started ducking through the islands at the entrance to Guanabara Bay, the wind picked up nicely and Sophie B dug her shoulder in as we powered to the line. A glorious ending was assured….

Sadly, that did not transpire.

First, we mistook the island that marked one end of the line. No great deal, as the course adjustment was marginal. But as we got closer and closer to the line – close enough for the race photographer to take some stunning pictures of us in full flight  – the wind shifted by 90 degrees, rendering the asymm useless and counterproductive.

With not even enough momentum to carry us the last 20m, we had to drop the asymm, and try to unfurl enough of the genoa, while Saravah – having seen our problems and having changed sails earlier – bore down behind us, with a whole flotilla of Brazilian boats welcoming her home, complete with fireworks.

Mayhem. Chaos. The asymm, having fallen neatly every drop over the last few weeks, went overboard. The genoa, only meant to be unfurled to a handkerchief to get us over the line, unfurled completely. Ollie and Harry, who were on the foredeck, both nearly went for a prematurely celebratory swim…. Hardly the ending we had hoped for!


But as we crossed we were given six ice cold beers and a bottle of bubbly by one of the support boats. Ice cold beer! Wow.


After mooring near the yacht club, we tidied the boat and went ashore for more beer and food. And caipirinhas. Lots of caipirinhas.

whatsapp-image-2017-01-23-at-17-08-01Two days in Rio followed, punctuated by frequent beers and caipirinhas. Our first showers in three weeks. A trip to the laundry. And all the other boats’ stories – a lesson in the silliness of ceteris paribus counterfactual reasoning : every boat had had dramas at least as debilitating as our broken pole.

We spent three days on Ilha Grande, about 100 km West of Rio which was idyllic, anchoring in little coves and swimming, and paddling Sophie C (our 40 year old 2-man Avon tender) to shore for more caipirinhas than the surgeon general may deem conducive to good health.

We relaxed to the point of being incapable of making decisions (move to another cove? Stay put? Eat? ) but sleep has often proved elusive. A combination of the muggy heat (yachts are not at their coolest when at anchor) and weeks of broken sleep. We all wake up multiple times in the night, finding each other on the deck at odd hours of the morning trying to cool down.

img_20170124_121158We returned to Rio yesterday, mooring at the Marina da Gloria, a desolate wasteland of a white elephant, perhaps from the Olympics. Leaving Ilha Grande for Rio yesterday, someone commented that this was the first time on this voyage that we were going back to something – the first indicator that the trip was nearing its end. So true.

whatsapp-image-2017-01-24-at-15-21-21And we’d never really discussed how this trip would be brought to its conclusion. We knew we had to hand the boat over to Jan. We have all been struggling to sleep. But no firm plans had been made until yesterday afternoon when it became clear that we were going to leave the boat soon.

whatsapp-image-2017-01-24-at-15-28-17This morning, after an early start before the heat set in, we unpacked and repacked the boat, emptying her of our shared lives of the past month. For breakfast, we drank the bubbly we were given at the finish line with orange juice. We packed our own pathetically small carry-on bags.

And with more than a tinge of emotion, we handed Sophie B over to her delivery skipper for her trip back to Cape Town and scattered ourselves across hotels across the city. And, poof, just like that the camaraderie of the last few weeks came to an end. Not with any animosity, or bad feelings – just the clear understanding that this journey is at an end.

And what a journey it’s been. Since arriving and reconnecting with the world outside our little ship, we have been astounded at the interest shown in the banalities of our voyage. We are humbled beyond belief, by the cries of exhortation, by the care and concern shown by so many. To everyone who has shared our journey, thank you.

And now for the sentimental part. It’s been the trip of a lifetime. Literally, a dream come true. That we have ended up coming second in our class, both across the line and on handicap, is an unexpected bonus. Winning was not our primary goal. But we have made it across an ocean, two brothers and two others, with remarkable equanimity. The occasions when cross words were spoken were incredibly few.

whatsapp-image-2017-01-23-at-17-08-02And it really does come down to that. A story of four men in a boat. Four with a shared love of sailing and the sea, but very different on so many other levels. Would I sail with the same crew again, on the same voyage? Hell yes. And there can be no greater compliment.

As skipper, Harry’s obsession with the safety of the boat and her crew got us here in one piece, with comparatively minor breakages. Petri brought a load of much needed sailing experience, as did Ollie. I have learned more about sailing in these weeks from the two of them than in an entire lifetime.

Ollie’s provisioning and pizza; Petri’s formidable engineering skills. I did what I could to navigate us across an ocean and the vicissitudes of its weather. A better suite of complementary skills and personalities would be hard to marshal.

Will there be another journey? I don’t know. I would love to continue with a hobby of offshore racing; the Mossel Bay Race; the Governor’s Cup; another C2R campaign. We need to decide on Sophie B’s future. Things will become clear.

In the 1980s, before adopting some utterly crazy social views, Michelle Shocked sang that “the secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go”. It is nice to fantasize about a life, itinerant, cruising verdant islands. But too much is lost and put on hold: despite the inherent madness of a household of three kids between the ages of four and fourteen, and a wife in medical school, a month is a long time to be away from one’s family. My trip has burdened them.

And I miss Kathryn and the kids too much.

It’s time to go.


6 thoughts on “Four men in a boat

  1. Thanks Tom, and well done to you all!! I’m truly impressed that you have managed to make the dream came true, it’s been a real delight reading all of your experiences over the last weeks, I shall miss them from now on – but perhaps will get the chance to read again one day.

    Oh, and next time you’re in Paris, come say hello!

    Best wishes and fond memories,


  2. Congrats to what you guys did. Congrats as well to the best boat blog of the whole Cape 2 Rio. From not knowing you or your boat to really enjoying and looking forward to your reports. I will buy you a beer at RCYC. Cheers and well done

  3. I love this post, Tom. Reminds me of times spent cruising the Carribbean with my grandfather. Enjoy what is left of the moment, and then bask in the love of home. Well done on the second place! Kelley

  4. Having 2 nephews on the JML Rotary Scout boat this year, I got interested in the C2R race and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blogs, thanks for that! My neighbor, Rob Connolly is seemingly related to your skipper, so that peaked my interest in Sofie B. You did well, congrats!
    Now my turn to sit at home and wait as I’m the wife of one of the return crew bringing JML home again….still some long weeks ahead of me.
    Enjoy the prize giving tonight and safe journey home.
    Michele Engelmann.

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