Livin’ the dream

Susan Flanagan
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For some, that means sailing the ocean blue — but not for me

School’s out. Time for summer fun and adventure. A weekend in a tent in Butterpot is an excellent adventure. A day trip to Northern Bay Sands is, too. A Saturday morning trip to the dump may be the ultimate adventure for some.

For our two Australian friends, Roger and Gerry, who were in town last week, summer adventure means saying goodbye to comfort and civilization and plowing through the Northwest Passage in a 50-foot steel-hulled sailboat, hoping to make it out to Alaska by the end of August while there’s still light.

The last time we had seen our friends was four years ago. They were on a different sailboat then — slightly bigger. They took us for a spin out to Cape Spear and back before heading to Antarctica. My husband toyed with the idea of joining them as far as the Azores and flying back, but he had just started a new job and the leave would have been hard to justify.

This time round, the adventurers invited my husband to sail with them to Nuuk, Greenland — the first leg of their journey. He was game. The only trouble was to get back home, he’d have to fly to Copenhagen first and that would have cost more than our family vacation. So, once again he had to decline their fine offer.

Why do they invite my husband and not me? Because they know you couldn’t pay me to sail any distance with them. No offence to their floating home — it’s clean and efficient. And it’s not that I am distrustful of their seamanship. It’s just that life on a sailboat is damp and showerless and the endless up and down would be the end of my gastrointestinal capacities.

Not only that, it is also sleep-deprived. Someone has to be on watch at all times — day and night. Our friends know it might be too much for two people to sail from Greenland to Alaska so they picked up a third crew member when they were in Nova Scotia, a young whipper-snapper mechanical engineer. I’m talking fresh out of engineering — like, he wrote his last exam one day in June and was sailing to Newfoundland the next.

Back in March, when Scott got the offer to sail, he started conducting sleep-deprivation experiments on himself. You see, due to the sticky someone-on-watch-all-the-time rule, crew members only get to sleep for a maximum of four hours at a stretch. Scott began reducing his time asleep by 10 minutes a night until he worked himself down to three or four hours. After that he never slept more than four hours at a stretch again. He did this for three months while writing his final engineering exams.

I’ve done sleep deprivation, thank you very much. After nursing five children I’ve had enough of it for a lifetime. Scott or my husband or anyone else would be welcome to my berth on the Philos any day of the week. That said, it’s still exciting to help others to realize their dream.

When we got word that the boat was close, we stoked the hot tub, made a pot of chowder and booted at least one child out of his bed so that the boat people could have at least one night’s sleep on land, uninterrupted by a cold crew member leaning over them in the wee hours telling them to get the heck up on deck.

After a lengthy spell in the hot tub (definitely more than the recommended 20 minutes), the three took hot showers — their last for a few months — unless, of course, they let cold rain collect on a sheet of plastic and let it drizzle over their head and shoulders. That’s a bummer about sailing in the Arctic, isn’t it — to be forever surrounded by water that’s too cold to bathe in and too salty to drink.

The crew of the Philos made sure they weren’t going to shrivel up from thirst, however. We put Surprise Baby to work filling huge water jugs from Nan’s hose. We visited David Rees down at Quidi Vidi Brewery, a great friend to sailors everywhere, to make sure they had a few Iceberg Beer to bring North with them. Then we went shopping.

I thought my weekly cereal and meat runs constituted a lot of food. But oh no, my piddly shopping carts are nothing compared to stocking up for a three-to-four-month trip to the Northwest Passage.

We loaded 84 litres of long-shelf-life milk, 30 pounds of butter, two cases of sweet potatoes and enough salt meat for a lifetime of Jigg’s dinner. Food has to be packaged for easy storage and be able to withstand bouncing and cold. A lot of it gets stored under the floor boards. There’s not too much excess storage space on board, you see. I would have trouble living in a space where every ounce counts. I’d have to shed my pack-rat ways.

When I dropped our friends at  their boat for the last time, I thought about the adventure that awaited them. I thought of the young man who told his parents in March that he had decided to sail the Northwest Passage with two polar explorers. I thought about whether my husband would have enjoyed the four-hour shifts and the damp sleeping bags. I thought about the fact that although life on a sailboat is showerless and damp, it’s also unpredictable and breathtaking. Sailing the Northwest Passage is definitely an adventure. It’s a life of freedom and seeing a world few people have seen.

Although I’ll stay home in my warm cosy nest, hopefully my children will be adventurous enough to embrace the adventurer’s spirit and get out and see the world.

Susan Flanagan is a writer who has sailed through The Narrows on an Oceanex vessel with warm beds and hot showers, and paddled through The Narrows with Stan Cook in a sea kayak after

circumnavigating monster icebergs while five months’ pregnant with No. 3. She can be reached at

Geographic location: Northwest Passage, Alaska, Butterpot Greenland Northern Bay Sands Antarctica Azores Nuuk Copenhagen Nova Scotia Newfoundland Arctic

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