Articles By Gord
As I see it... Sailing in the mid-Atlantic

July 2006 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

The way I see it... Sailing the mid-Atlantic

With shoulder bags at our feet, Catherine and I stood in the long queue slowly inching our way towards the security check at Barcelona airport. In my hand I held my boarding pass and passport. In my pocket a bit of cash and on my Visa card a bit of space before it burst. “You know Gord, if we're ever going to do it, now would be the perfect time.”

She was right. The temptation was tremendous. Sixteen wonderful days had sparked this suggestion.

We had flown from Toronto to Santo Domingo, boarded our tiny ship the “Bolero,” and set sail.

They're called repositioning cruises, and they are an incredible deal. Not all cruise lines offer them and those that do, occur only twice a year. Usually in November when they drag their ships away from Europe, down to the sunny Caribbean, and again in April, when they sail them back. For the price of a one week Caribbean cruise, we got sixteen days, return airfare to Toronto, an outside cabin and a rare life experience - a trans Atlantic crossing.

The cruise began with three Caribbean ports of call, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Martinique. It was the perfect beginning. Time to settle in, familiarize ourselves with the layout of the ship, meet other passengers, and soak up that delicious sunshine.

For Catherine and I the adventure really began when we left Martinique. The next six and a half days were spent crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Neither of us could have imagined what that would be like. You might think that six and a half days to get anywhere would be much like your childhood car trips with the folks. “Are we there yet? I'm hungry. I have to go to the bathroom. Tell her to stop hitting me. Are we there yet?”

It was never like that. We marveled at the vastness of the ocean. No other ships. No planes. No gulls, no message in a bottle. Nothing. Water meets sky, sun melts into stars and the following day? More water. Repeat. I could not help but feel my insignificance. The experience was truly humbling. And in those moments of reflection, the sound of the little engine that could would creep into my mind as it chugged along.

There were onboard activities offered, but I've never been all that keen to learn the “Hokey Pokey.” There was great excitement one afternoon when a lone whale sped past us. Passengers crowded the deck for a glimpse and the conversations it spawned...

“Where do you think he's going?”

“Where's he coming from?”

“Maybe he's late for dinner. Or maybe he's running from something evil and dark and lurking in the depths beneath us... his wife?”

As the days progressed the flowers in the dining room wilted, the dinner buns solidified, we were asked to conserve water, but worst of all we were told that the ship's supply of wine was rapidly dwindling. Now I knew how Gilligan felt. No hope, not a single luxury. “Gee, Skipper, there must be something we can do? Couldn't we send some of the crew in a lifeboat to pick up a case or two of wine? Just to tide us over?”

Day seven, five thirty in the morning, Catherine and I along with a few other passengers are huddled about the forward deck rail. The wind is cool. I love the smell of the air and the feeling of the ship slowly rolling. It is peace and contentment. Catherine peers into the darkness, while all about us there are low conversations and then someone - then Catherine- “I see it. There's a tiny speck of light way out there in front of us. I think it might be another ship.”

It was the Portuguese island of Madeira.

I suppose you might consider it a bit of a stretch, if I were to suggest that first sighting of light from Madeira brought the same sense of exhilaration to us that I imagine Columbus and his crew must have felt. But it was LAND. And after six and a half days all by our lonesome, this was a borderline miracle. The lights grew brighter and more of them, stringing out along the island's shoreline, creating definition. It was beautiful. The Captain moored outside the harbour entrance, Catherine and I still with the crowd on deck watched Madeira unfold before us in the dawning light.

I thoroughly enjoyed Madeira, loved its climate, the old touch of Europe in its cafes and streets. An ultra modern cable car ride to the top and for the adventuresome, sledding back down to the centre of town. (This is not sledding as you might imagine it. No snow. No cold. Picture a basket on skis. You in basket, 2 guys pushing you and you're sliding through city streets.) Toss in a couple of golf courses and a very relaxed lifestyle and it becomes a no brainer... I'd return in a flash.

Our little engine that could steamed on through the Straits of Gibraltar, then on to the ports of Malaga, Ibiza, Marseille and finally to dock at Barcelona.

“Now would be the perfect time.” Catherine's words played in my mind and tugged at my heart. Sixteen glorious days, spent lost and wandering. To continue that forever. To pick up our shoulder bags, leave the queue, the airport, walk out into the brilliant sunshine of that April day in Spain and disappear. To pull a ‘Shirley Valentine.' Freedom. To feel like a child again.

All of that in a simple little sixteen days.

Tempted? I hope so.

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