There is no deeper darkness than a night passage, sailing on a moonless night. We’re 50 miles off the coast of Florida, with full sails headed to Cuba. It has been a while since I did a night crossing and I will admit to a certain nervousness when pitch black is all I see beyond the bow. Sitting alone at the helm with nothing but the glow of our radar, I can see that there are other vessels navigating these waters – distant lights on the horizon. Right now, I’m alone in the darkness.
I took the helm from Ben three hours ago…one more hour to go. The hardest part of this watch was getting up at 1 am and staying alert. So far I have only had to dodge an oil tanker and a cruise ship, all the other AIS (Automatic Identification System) signals on the radar are other boats in the rally headed the same direction as us - south to Cuba.
I can’t help but wonder what Ben was thinking during his first solo night watch. When he was younger our family lived aboard a sailboat full-time and night passages were special. Back then, both of our twin sons, Ben and Jack, would groggily get out of their birth to help with a night watch. Our helm was exposed to the wind and elements, so the boys would wrap in a blanket and snuggle under our armpit, clutching a mug of hot chocolate, sucking on Hot Tamales, reading Emily Dickinson, talking. Those were special times indeed.
Our passage from Key West to Marina Hemingway in Cuba is 90 miles. We started across at sunset so that we could arrive in the light of the day. For our catamaran, Snowcat II, this crossing will take about 16 hours. The traditional monohull sailboats in the rally will take longer. This is a relatively short trip when compared to the 16 days that our family sailed crossing the Atlantic in 2002…but that’s another story.
Our family has been intrigued with Cuba, ever since we heard the late-night cheers of Cubans setting foot on the beach of Dry Tortuga. They'd made it to U.S. territory - eight people in a dilapidated boat - resilient people from a nearby country that we could only fantasize about. Twelve years ago we had to navigate around Cuba as we sailed from Florida's Dry Tortuga islands to Honduras, but we always hoped to visit one day.
Our lives have changed since then. We sold Snowcat after four years and 15,000 miles of sailing. When we left on our adventure, the boys were seven years old, Dean had his own environmental law firm in Denver and I was teaching nutrition at a local college. When we sold the boat in Honduras and returned to the U.S., the boys were in middle school and Dean and I were ready for a new life. We didn't know if we could find jobs in Steamboat Springs, but we decided to throw out our anchor and see if it stuck...it really stuck!
Now we are sailing Snowcat II to Cuba. The boys are in graduate school with busy lives of their own but amazingly they found a way to join us for a reunion of sorts. All of the Massey's together for one more sailing adventure. Cuba here we come!