My Rite of Passage During the Summer of ‘76
by H. Downing Lane
In this memoir, H. Downing Lane recalls the 25-day transatlantic sailing trip he took in 1976 as a young man, the details of the journey around Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and other locales, and reflects on its significance as a coming-of-age learning experience.
H. Downing Lane was 26 years old in 1976 when he decided to sign up for a transatlantic sailing trip into the Arctic with an accomplished captain named E. Newbold Smith. In this vivid, often exhilarating memoir, Lane draws from journal entries written during his time at sea to share an account of the remarkable voyage.
The Atlantic crossing was a 25-day affair, from Chesapeake Bay, around Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the coast of Norway. It was undertaken at a point in Lane’s life when he was feeling particularly vulnerable, as he was recovering from an accident in which he had lost an eye. He wished to “prove [his] mettle,” not to the other men aboard the boat, but to himself. As it turned out, Captain Smith was something of a kindred spirit, as he too had survived a devastating accident many years earlier. Lane provides the reader with a realistic vision of what life aboard a sailing vessel is like, from the often freezing temperatures above and below deck, to the many challenges presented by simple bodily necessities. He describes various technical aspects of working on the boat, but his language never devolves into jargon; his account is always perfectly clear and accessible.
Lane seasons the text with literary and philosophical quotes that frequently allow him to consider the greater meaning of his experience, and even of life itself. There are also numerous stunning photographs included of the boat and the various stops along the way.
This was a time before Google, YouTube and a time without GPS and the internet so it is difficult to connect. A harness from the backside, a snap shackle and a 10-foot line attached to the front was our lifeline on deck. Each time I went forward, I felt like a gladiator - armed and ready for combat with my adversaries: the gale force 60+ knot winds, freezing water, near-frozen fingers, pelting rain, mountain-like waves, slippery deck, a constantly tangling harness and my adrenalin at peak levels. A lifeline snaps onto a lifeline railing. Confidence strapped from body to boat. Secured to our vessel helped us move with assuredness. Sure afoot on a slippery deck did not stop me from crawling forward against the motion of the ocean. Learning to crawl was as necessary as learning to claw my way forward. Getting a grip and handhold was like a mountain climber scaling a seesawing summit.
I knew my survival instincts would kick in if ever I felt in danger. The key was to make sure I took all precautions. So I focused on keeping my footing and stability while snapping and unsnapping shackles. Somehow my hands never got frostbitten, and my feet and boots were warm enough. I mostly stayed in the present and envisioned completing each task, as Newbold had suggested - no need to rush. If I had let the worst case scenarios enter my mind, I might not have completed them. After each sail change, I felt an incredible relief, a huge sense of accomplishment, a renewed sense of confidence and pride, but always a greater respect for nature's forces. After each venture to the bow, I felt like I could "thread a needle on a rollercoaster". If the occasion ever arose, I was set for surgery. I even remember feeling, "Well, that's done. No more of that." But we were still a week away from our destination and we still would face two more powerful storms. Apparently, I still had some maturation - I changed that sail twice more in those remaining days before we arrived in Reykjavik.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
H. Downing Lane
is a retired educator, tutoring business owner, English teacher, coach and
administrator who sails in his spare time. Presently he is writing a series of
books that chronicle his sailing adventures.
Born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland, he has returned home after 40 years to write. Henry taught sailing for eight years on Long Island Sound and sailed competitively on the Chesapeake Bay, crewed transatlantic to Iceland and Norway, been a crew member of a number of Annapolis – Newport and Newport – Bermuda races and sailed much of the Caribbean and Bahamas.
In 1978, he sailed the SORC around Florida. In 2008, he purchased Mystique, a 40′ leopard catamaran, and in 2013, he sailed it to Santo Domingo, the Turks and Cacaos and eventually to Florida.
In 2016, he sailed solo for 51 days through the Exumas. On another adventure he and Lainie Wrightson had a calamitous time together – losing both rudders – the basis of his second book, Bluewater Mystique.
He has chartered boats to sail the Dalmatian Coast, Belize, Abacos, Eleuthera and the Maine coast. While maintaining his blog www.bluewatermystique.com, he has written numerous blogs about life and sailing.
He is a dedicated learner and loves sharing his experiences and stories.
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