When you dream about sailing off to far-flung destinations, do you picture tropical islands, palm trees nodding in a balmy trade wind, clouds brilliant white against an azure sky? Or do you think about the challenges of piloting through rock-infested waters, watching ocean rollers break against sheer headlands, the raw and solitary beauty of waters where few others venture?
I think there’s at least a trace of the explorer in every sailor. Sailing in itself is an unpredictable activity—you never know quite what’s going to happen each time you leave your mooring or launch your boat—and it’s not a game for those who like to live their lives to a schedule. By definition, sailors are adventurous people who know that the value of an experience is enhanced by the effort put into attaining it.
Some of us are more adventurous than others, though, and take this philosophy a step or two further than the rest. I speak of the hardy souls who thrive on high-latitude sailing, up (or down) in the regions where a 70-degree day is a heatwave and where leakproof foul weather gear is the height of sartorial elegance. I spent much of my sailing life in British waters, where you either cultivate an indifference to discomfort or you give up sailing, and always wondered what it would be like to sail somewhere gnarlier than the North Sea, more hardcore than the Straits of Dover in a chilly spring easterly.
I got my chance a few years ago, when I spent two weeks in the Beagle Channel with Hamish and Kate Laird on their aluminum cutter Seal. The sailing was as hardcore as most of us could want—though all in a day’s work for Seal and her crew—and the wild beauty of the glaciers and fiords of Tierra del Fuego left such an impression that I still recall it, seven years later, as vividly as if it was just the other month. There is an elemental purity to such sailing, and it is not easily forgotten.
The only problem is, I can see it becoming addictive. Just when I thought a quick summer voyage up the East coast to Newfoundland and back would scratch that itch, now I’m wondering how to get to the Kamchatka Peninsula…
Peter Nielsen is SAIL’s Editor-in-Chief.
He lives and sails in Marblehead, MA