Pedaling to Bermuda

I once sailed my Westsail 32, Antares, from Virginia to Bermuda. Through 760 miles of open ocean, Gulf Stream storms with towering seas, setbacks and survival, I was completely alone. I’ve crewed aboard boats all over the world, but I had never experienced conditions like those of the first days of the passage.

I was mugged by a nasty northerly gale just off Cape Hatteras. Battered and bruised by steep, breaking seas, I lay ahull, pummeled by the storm for 36 hours. Great walls of water like giant wrecking balls slammed into Antares, tossing her sideways and throwing me violently across the dark cabin. Water seeped through the companionway hatch, and the contents of broken lockers floated across the floor. Lightning flashed, torrential rain pounded the deck, and wind shrieked through the bare rigging. When the storm blew over, I found a jibsheet wrapped around the propeller and a cat’s cradle of lines and halyards encircling the mast.

The interior of the boat was soaked. I hadn’t eaten for two days, and I was a wreck. Without sails or power, Antares rolled wildly in the big seas.

I had to get the sails up, and there was no choice but to climb the mast. Swinging in a giant arc far above the deck, I held on with a viselike grip and untangled the mess of loose lines. At last I was under way, but I just didn’t have the heart to continue on. I turned back, beaten and exhausted, and headed home.

I collapsed into my bunk, feeling despair on the one hand and relief on the other. In a few days I’d be back in port. For three hours I slept like a dead man.

Then I woke with a jolt. I could hear my mother saying to me when I was 14 years old, “You can make it. Just keep riding and you’ll be home in a few days.” At the time I was far from home on a 760-mile solo bicycle journey around Michigan. I’d been riding for four days when, sore, tired, and lonely, I called her to come and pick me up. “If you quit now, you’ll always regret it,” she said. “You’ll make it. Just keep pedaling.” So I did, and four days later, overjoyed, sunburned, and triumphant, I pedaled up the driveway to home.

Now, 30 years later, I lay in my bunk, looking at the clouds sweeping across the hatch, and thought, I can’t quit. I’ve worked five years toward this, and I won’t give up. Just keep pedaling.

So I did. I turned Antares around and reset the course for Bermuda. The next day, in calming seas, I climbed over the side (I had to) and unwrapped the line from the propeller. After that things began to look up, and in four more days, overjoyed, sunburned, and triumphant, I sailed down the channel into St. George, Bermuda.

I don’t know if Mom ever had any idea how much her words of encouragement would mean to me, but I’ve thought of them often through the years, and they have served me well through a lifetime of ocean adventure and world travel. They have kept me pushing on when I felt I could push no more, they have given me strength on the darkest nights, and they have made all the difference.

Charles Scott has made numerous distance passages as crew all over the world and lived aboard Antares for ten years.

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