We sailed into the Bay of Islands on the North Island of New Zealand on November 16, one year to the day that we
dropped our dock lines in Havre de Grace, Maryland and headed down the Chesapeake Bay on the start of this adventure. It has been an exciting and a fulfilling year - a year in which Gryphon carried us 10,000 miles
across two great oceans, crossing the Equator and the dateline, and visiting sixteen different countries. We endured icy decks in Maryland and torpid heat in Panama; sailed in conditions from flat calm to 35
knots; and spoke English, Spanish, French, and Polynesian with varying degrees of success. We sailed, we dove, we hiked, we talked, and we swam; we ate, explored, fished, and sunned. It has been a year full of
awesome experiences giving us wonderful memories of people, places, times, and events. Hopefully, the pictures will come out.
Looking back in my mind's eye, certain images leap to the forefront of my memory. In
a year absolutely filled with new experiences, these are not the only great moments of that time but rather are the 'higher'-lights of a whole year of highs. By no means do I intend to diminish the thousands of
memories that are not listed here; I only mean to capture the sublime thrill that these times have ingrained in my mind. Even applying a ranking is unfair as each experience was, at its time, a great exhilaration.
Nevertheless, here are my best ten moments of Year One, starting with number ten -
THE BEAUTY OF ISLES DES SAINTES, south of Guadeloupe in the
Caribbean. Here are beautiful Caribbean islands offering the continental allure and charm of a French village, the peace of quiet anchorages, and
the expansive visages from historic hill-top fortresses. Early in the year, it was our first time in these islands, and the first 'new' islands we visited. They foreshadowed the adventure yet to come.
Number 9 - In the manner of a death-defying amusement park ride, VAIKONA CAVE on Niue thrilled us by pushing our comfort zone. We swam through underwater tunnels, scaled near vertical walls,
and clung to stalactites and stalagmites as we inched along high ledges. No safety wires, no warning signs. This is not the packaged thrills of American
parks; rather the raw pleasure of having pushed one's limits - and lived to tell about it!
Number 8 - At sunrise from ten miles offshore, the island of UA POU in the Marquesas was an awe inspiring sight.
The blood-red sun turned the massive, towering pinnacles and peaks of the island's silhouette into a raging inferno - the island painted red from waterline
to mountaintop; clouds all around the island and streaming from the peaks were bright orange. Even the water itself was red. It looked like a scene from hell - Mephisto's island. Ten minutes
later the reds faded and the island stood majestic, but nothing like moments before.
Number 7 - Machete swinging and bush whacking, we followed the remnants of trails for three hours
HIKING TO THE TOP OF MAUPITI in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. Our reward was unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean, the Maupiti lagoon, and the volcanic crags and cliffs of the island
itself all spread out at our feet below us. Aside from the splendid views which were reward enough, we had the exhilarating satisfaction of a long, difficult - and apparently seldom accomplished - effort completed.
Six - We had been there several times before by boat, DOCKING AT THE CUSTOMS
WHARF IN BERMUDA. But this was the first time that we had done so alone after having accomplished an offshore passage of some
duration by ourselves. Six hundred miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to Bermuda in less than four days. It was miserably cold near Norfolk and a cold front near Bermuda brought
35 knot winds. When we tied up to that wharf, we knew that the rewards were worth the effort.
Five - Underwater there are many exquisitely beautiful animals, but none more graceful than what
we saw DIVING WITH MANTA RAYS. Like prehistoric birds in flight, these fish with ten- or twelve-foot wingspans would soar, dive, bank, and loop - sometimes gliding only inches away from us
divers. In the Tuamotus on Rangiroa we happened to be diving at a time when a hundred or more Mantas were cruising and feeding along the reef.
Even the dive shop owner of seven years said he'd seen nothing like it before.
Four - PASSING UNDERNEATH THE NEWPORT BRIDGE for the last time was a defining moment for me. We were disconnected
now from the people driving over that bridge. We had sold the cars, the business, the house; quit the jobs, and given up just about every common measure of security to pursue this adventure. It was
the same morning that we threw off the dock lines one final time at Warren River Boat Works in Rhode Island and pointed our bows south. We didn't know when or if we'd return to the
familiar waters of Narragansett Bay. And we still don't.
Three - In the Galapagos Islands, observing intimate scenes of rare or unusual wildlife
became almost commonplace as day after day we were introduced to new species in their natural habitat. Representative of all these experiences is the memorable MATING RITUAL OF THE BLUE-FOOTED BOOBIES. No
more than ten feet away and oblivious to our presence, they carried out their routine of whistling, skypointing, gift-offering, and clattering for hours on end. But they were at their
most lovable and comic when they'd look coyly down at the ground and alternately lift their big blue web-feet as they'd waddle in place.
Two - THE PACIFIC LOCK GATES OF THE
PANAMA CANAL are the most massive of all the locks because of the high tidal range of the Pacific Ocean. When they opened at the end of our Canal transit the Bridge of the Americas stood before us and
for the first time Gryphon had Pacific Ocean waters under her keel. As we left the lock and the gates closed behind us, I had the very real sense that we were finally
committed to a circumnavigation, and I started to think of the Caribbean Sea as being 30,000 miles ahead of me instead of 30 miles behind.
But without doubt, my most vivid memory of the
past year was RAISING THE MARQUESAS after seventeen days of sailing, covering 3000 miles of open ocean. For two and a half weeks Gryphon was an island unto itself, carrying us relentlessly on. Day
by day the miles slipped by; our progress marked as small ticks on a large chart. In that time we saw only two airplanes and the distant lights of a ship only
once. When finally the islands loomed before us, it was hard to judge height and distance; even the colors seemed odd after the constant blues and grays of sailing for so long. As we rounded
the headland of Fatu Hiva we saw people in fishing canoes - the first people we had seen in seventeen days. We were back.
Copyright 1999, Jeff Williams, All Rights Reserved