In The Beginning
In The Beginning
Year 1
New Caledonia
South Africa

Chapter One
Tortola, BVI

Warm greetings from the British Virgin Islands! As we write this the tropical sun is starting to warm the trade winds beginning another beautiful day in paradise.  Pelicans, boobies, and magnificent frigatebirds are feeding in the waters nearby as cotton-white clouds drift by. We are anchored in the lee of Prickly Pear Island in Virgin Gorda's North Sound aboard Gryphon,  our new cruising home. Since communications and corresponding is haphazard at best from the remoteness of these islands, we thought that a letter like this would be a good way  to update everyone on the happenings of the past few years and our current plans.

 The executive summary goes something like this: bought a boat, fixed it up, sold our house, sold our cars, sold our business, quit our jobs, packed our belongings,  left the security of family, friends, kitties, and careers, to start cruising again to who knows where until the money runs out. (The long version says basically the same  thing, but uses more words and tries to wax philosophic at times.)

 After moving back to Massachusetts in 1993 it didn't take us long to realize that at some not too distant future we would be back on boats exploring foreign countries  and remote islands. It was a lifestyle that we tasted briefly but that we loved. At first we gave ourselves seven to ten years to be mainstream before sailing off again. That  quickly reduced to five to seven, and then to five. Period. We started looking for our new boat in 1996 and in February of 1997 found Gryphon. Happy 40th birthday,  Jeff! She's a J/40, built by J/Boats in Rhode Island - forty feet long, fifty-five feet tall, seven feet deep, and eighteen thousand pounds. In the vernacular she's known as a  cruiser-racer - comfortable and homey accommodations, but with a hull and rig designed for speed as well as durability.

Since the boat had apparently been used by the previous owner as a weekend plaything, there were many changes that we wanted to effect in order to make her  both a liveaboard and a bluewater-ready boat. We spend the next 18 months doing just this. Some of the changes included beefing up the rigging, adding copious  safety equipment, redoing the interior to make it "home", and installing equipment to allow us a higher degree of self-sufficiency for extended exploring in remote  areas. And we have been extremely pleased with the result!

 In one of those friend-of-a-friend things, we sold our house to a couple that also became our friends. They fell in love not only with the house and the neighborhood,  but with our cats too. In the end they kept Saba, Musty, and Camanoe, to which they also added their own cat Corey. They moved into the house in April 1998, and we  moved into a minimal apartment in Providence, Rhode Island. It was our first step in downsizing as we had a huge garage sale, parting with all sorts of things we  hadn't used in years. The apartment had certain practical aspects that we loved - it was close to the boat, which was where we spent all of our weekends, and  Providence has some fantastic restaurants. Beyond that it had little to commend it. It's one of those periods of our lives that we'll look back on one day and say, "What did we do then?"

In June, accompanied by two sailing friends, we competed in the biennial Newport-Bermuda race aboard Gryphon. Entered in a cruising division (as opposed to racing), we looked at the race as a  well-organized means of getting our feet wet offshore with our new boat. We'd done numerous long passages, including one transatlantic by Raine in 1997, but  we'd never been further than Block Island with Gryphon. As it turned out, the race was the slowest in 20 years, plagued by consistently light or non-existent wind. We  took six days, twenty hours to travel 600 miles. And we placed fourth in class!! Awards ceremony, bronze plaque, shake hands with the governor. The works. Very cool!

Back in the states again, we made final system installations on the boat, sold  Advantage Travel, left our jobs, and finally in October we cast off our dock lines one more time from Warren River Boat Works in Warren, Rhode Island and started our  last reach down Narragansett Bay. On the way down the bay we passed our friends Deb and Doug Steinfeld going the other way. These were the people that introduced us to sailing fifteen years ago. Thanks, guys!

We were headed for Havre de Grace, Maryland at the head of the Chesapeake Bay where we would be close to family for a couple weeks  before shoving off for Bermuda. Instead of heading offshore and bee-lining for the Bay, we sailed down Long Island Sound and through New York City. Absolutely amazing. We were within arm's reach  of the UN Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty. Then out into the Atlantic Ocean and south along the coast of New Jersey.

 We were never more than twenty miles offshore, but the wind was directly on our nose and the seas built steadily over the day and night that it took to beat south. As we neared  Cape May at the southern end of New Jersey, we decided to start the engine and motor-sail straight into Lewes, Delaware on the Delaware Bay. Surprise! No cooling water pump! Instead  of chancing a night landfall in a strange harbor with major shipping channels nearby, we chose instead to hold off the coast tacking back and forth between two  navigation marks about eight miles apart. We sailed back and forth three times that night, in twenty knot winds and ten foot seas. Ugly. Wet.

The next morning we sailed into Lewes and immediately angered the Cape May Ferry captains by anchoring in their turning basin. As a direct result apparently, we  were befriended by the Delaware Pilots who also operated out of the same anchorage. The mechanics helped fix our wayward water pump, the pilots talked to  us about shipping and sailing, and the pilot boat captains gave us free dockage for three nights while we waited for engine parts. We met some great people and had  an unexpected and very pleasant, if somewhat cold, stay in Lewes.

 Our next stop was Delaware City where Raine's brother Lee and sister Susie joined us for a day as we transited the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and then sailed to  Havre de Grace. It was a beautiful day and the colors were magnificent with the leaves nearly at the peak of their autumn brilliance. We docked in HdG while we  made final preparation for going offshore - stocking up on inexpensive food and finding the last few maintenance items. Our families came for visits or we visited  them. We explored the head of the Bay. The nights were cold, the days pleasant.

 Monday, November 16, we left the dock and day-hopped our way down the Chesapeake. After the smallness of Narragansett Bay, this Bay was huge! It took five days to make it to the mouth of the Bay. We passed innumerable  ships and fishing boats. We were buzzed by naval aircraft and even passed a nuclear submarine going the other way. But one thing stands out above all else - IT WAS COLD.  Time for us Caribbean muffins to fly south for the winter.

 Saturday, November 21, 2:15pm - Anchor's up and stowed, and we're sailing out of the Chesapeake Bay. In terms of defining moments this is it. We're leaving the United States  and we have no idea when exactly we'll return. Sure there'll be trips home, on airplanes thank you, but from this point on our boat is our home. Where we take her and where she  takes us is an adventure. As we like to say, we'll do this until we're done. No agendas, no schedules. When the money runs low, we'll take jobs where we are. If we find  our own personal paradise somewhere, we'll stay. And if we don't, we'll travel on. It's definitely true, life is the journey.

We landed in Bermuda less than four days later. Six hundred thirty three miles in 94 hours. Better than 7 knots average. Wow! Gryphons can fly!! The passage was windy most of the way, but the Gulfstream was kind to us and the wind was always behind us. We saw several  pods of dolphins and on the morning of our landfall in Bermuda we saw whales as big as Gryphon performing their mating-ritual tail slaps. Landfall in Bermuda was mid-day and beautiful. We  docked in St. Georges and for the next seven days enjoyed the warmth and sunshine of this mid-Atlantic oasis. We had a belated Thanksgiving dinner with our good  friends Rich and Liz Schneider, and watched as Bermuda lit up with Christmas decorations on the homes and shops and in the parks. Raine sent over 100 Christmas  cards from here. Apparently some of you may even receive them before Christmas 1999.

But Bermuda was only a waypoint on  our course south so once again we stowed all the loose bits and pieces and at 1PM on Thursday, December 3, we left the protection of St. Georges Harbor and pointed our bows south. This passage would last six days and  take us exactly nine hundred miles from St. Georges to Virgin Gorda, BVI. It was our longest passage to date with just us two on board and our longest on Gryphon. It retrospect, it was a very good  passage. (Notice how the mind numbs over the bad experiences so quickly!) We had two fantastic green flashes, visits from dolphins, and another daylight landfall in  familiar territory. But perhaps the best part of the trip came at the end when we had 1) a hot shower, 2) a warm dinner, and 3) a full night's sleep.

 Since our arrival on December 9, we've been catching up with old friends and making new ones. We've wandered about the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. We've enjoyed guests  on Gryphon and we've enjoyed solitude. We've read some good books and watched some spectacular sunsets. Our plans for the next year  are still a little sketchy, but don't be surprised if the next letter arrives from Panama, Tahiti, New Zealand... or even right here.

Copyright 1999 by Jeff Williams