Bill Teplow - Singlehanded Sailing on a West Wight Potter 19 - San Francisco to Hawaii
Subject: Bill's Big Voyage
Date: Sunday, 7-21-02
From: Nomi Teplow

Dear Friends,

For those of you who don't know, Bill has been dreaming and planning to sail to Hawaii for many years. He said it was an old dream he'd had since childhood, and talked about it frequently. I kept pushing the idea off my mind whenever he brought it up, hoping he was just kidding, wishing he'd forget about it, thinking he had changed since he was a little boy or even a young man, and that even he himself must realize that he was no longer the "loner" he had considered himself to be when I first met him almost 33 years ago, that now he was a family man, with two loving daughters, and with many good friends and relations, and therefore, this dream should seem to him just as crazy, unimaginable, and dangerous as it seemed to me. But my hopes did not "bear fruit", as we say in Hebrew. He was not kidding, and he did not forget his dream. On the contrary, in the last few months, after he had finished two big, demanding geothermal jobs in Nevada and North East California, the preparations and plans for the big voyage had become real, serious and intense. He decided this was the time to finally give it a try. To my very serious missgivings and worries, he answered that he was intent on having FUN, and that if the voyage did not prove to be FUN, he'd turn around without any hesitation or pride-nonsense, and come back home. As long as he COULD, that is. There's a point, he explained, at which going back is much harder than going forward. The winds blow in the Hawaii direction, in general, so if you change your mind half-way there, you've missed the boat, so to speak, because you can't sail such a long distance against the winds. But he promised me he'd go south for a few days, to see how he felt, how the boat behaved, whether it really was any fun, then he would either turn right, towards Hawaii, or left, towards San Diego, or Mexico, from which he'd come home a lot sooner. He bought all kinds of sophisticated safety and emergency devices to appease my worries, and a lot of food, water, tools, etc. and at the end of all those preparations he seemed really well-equipped and very organized and ready. Having seen him go through all kind of mountain and sea and river adventures for many years before, I knew he has always been very responsible, very cautious and careful, so what could I do or say? How could I stop him from fulfilling such an old fantasy, such an exciting, exhilarating dream? Could I -- really, that was what I felt -- cut off his wings?..

So this morning he left. He seemed calm, serious, and focused, but also full of excitment and anticipation, eager like a child. The sky was quite cloudy and gray and the sea was very rough -- the water was almost brown, and full of what we call in Israel "swans" -- those annoying little white-crested waves that chase one another endlessly, but it did not deter him in the least. He put on his yellow rubber suit and his orange life jacket -- his brother Joe, who came with his son Ben to see him off, took some pictures, Hagari too came to say good bye, and then at 11:30, according to plan, he raised the sails and away he glided, confidently, happily, out of the Berkeley Marina.

By now it was a really stormy, scary bay he was sailing into. I stood in the cold wind on those big gray stones at the edge of the Marina, and I waved to him for a long time until he made his first tack and saw me and waved back. Then he made his second tack, then the third, and I kept seeing the yellow-orange figure growing smaller and smaller, and the brave little boat called Chubby struggling and wrestling with the wind and the waves, until he was close to Angel Island, and almost indistinguishable from the other boats, so I left and went home with a heart full of very mixed emotions, as you can imagine.

At about 3 pm he called me from just outside the bay, he had just sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, and he sounded content and confident. I thought this was probably the last time we would be speaking for a long time, so after we hung up I started using all the psychological defense mechanisms I could muster in order to not worry. Of course, as the hours passed, it was hard to not think of him all alone in the great huge expanse, in that little tiny boat, with the evening slowly falling... Going outside to the front porch at about 8:30 pm, I knew that he was at least enjoying thoroughly the lovely pink sunset -- he's such a sucker for such things -- and I saw that he had an almost full moon, which, at least from our porch, looked warmly, fuzzily gold and friendly, so I hoped he was having a good time... Of course the main dilemma is that on one hand I want the sea to be calm and soft with him, so he can turn on the Auto-pilot, or "heave to", and light his little stove (which he had cleverly hung from the ceiling so it won't tip over when the boat rolled and moved), and make himself a cup of hot tea, or heat up one of those 50-or-so cans of raviolis or chilly he had stocked up the boat with, but on the other hand, I guess if he wants to get to Hawaii in three weeks he needs the winds to blow quite strong and steady, and a calm sea is not really what he needs...

Strangely, as I had told him before he left, the fear for his life I can deal with somehow (suppression, denial...), but the thought of him alone in such a cold, empty, huge, INFINITE space, especially as it grows dark at night, that is very, very hard for me to take. I guess we've become a little bit like a mother and father for each other after all these years, we feel each other's pain so closely and sharply...But also the joys, of course, and that's why I had no choice but let him go, without complaining...

As I was sitting here, thinking all these thoughts, at about 9 pm, he suddenly called again! What a great, magnificent surprise! I knew why. It was the moon!!! We have something with this particular phase of the moon, Bill and I, something that goes back almost 33 years... just kidding, of course. He called because he was now close to Pacifica, a town just south of San Francisco, still within phone range, but the winds, he said, in defiance of all the predictions, were blowing now from the south, so he couldn not go south, as he had planned, but had to sail west, towards Hawaii, and would soon be out of phone range... He said that according to the weather report, the winds should change in a day and a half, and then he could still go south, but of course by then he would be very far towards Hawaii... I can't say I liked this change of plans. But he sounded very happy, he said he had been seasick for about 4 hours after coming out of the bay, but now the sea was much calmer, and very beautiful, and he was feeling very good, sailing in a river of silver, he said. He ate the BBQed chicken he had made for himself on Friday night, when we had our Bon Voyage Poetry Club dinner, and a ripe nectarine, so everything was fine. I have to say, though, in spite of his thrill and romanticism and Zen Master shtick, which I truely admire and love under normal circumstances, to me, this whole thing still defies all logic, and I can't, I simply can't allow myself to actually picture him there, in the middle of the OCEAN, for God's sake!!! It's too much, just too much...

Before he left this morning, I took a sharpy marker and drew a Hamsa hand with an eye (a good luck sign in Eastern Jewish and Arab tradition) on the top of his back, where I hope it would stay for the duration of the voyage. Above the Hamsa I drew sun, wind and clouds, and around all this I put a heart, with some easy-to-guess words. I drew the same thing inside the boat some place, and I invite all of you to think of him and pray for his safety, whether he goes all the way to Hawaii, or whether he turns around and comes home in a few days. I'll keep you posted.

Just thought I'd share this with you...
weaving and untieing at the loom...

J-35 Red Dress, Hawaii, 2009

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