Sea Over Bow: A North Atlantic Crossing
Coming October 2018
Sea Over Bow tells the story of my first ocean crossing. There are few truly wild places left in the world. The middle of the North Atlantic is one them. It’s a place to test yourself, certainly, but it’s also a place to think, and dream, and try to make sense of your life.
I was living in a tiny condo in Waterloo, Ontario when I met Chris, and though I was determined never to get involved with a man again, I decided quit my job, sell everything I owned, and sail away with him. What’s the worst that could happen, I asked myself? My heart was already broken.
Sea Over Bow is an adventure story, for sure, but it’s also about finding the courage to start again.
Published by Signature Editions
Available at The Nautical Mind Bookstore in Toronto and other independent bookstores
Also available online at Chapters and Amazon
Advance praise for Sea Over Bow
“More than a taut, well-told, and at times harrowing tale of a 26-day ocean passage, this is also a captivating story of family, self, and love lost and found. Kenyon swept me along from first page to last.”
— Ann Vanderhoof, author of An Embarrassment of Mangoes
“Sea Over Bow is a charming and insightful look at the storms we have all survived, whether on the ocean or not, exploring the possibilities of how we might have both safety and freedom at the same time.”
—Diane Schoemperlen, author of This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications
Excerpt from Sea Over Bow
May 26 (Day 5)
It’s mackerel with rice and peas tonight, a high-end version of boat gorp—rice cooked in canned mushroom soup with a tin of tuna and a can of peas thrown in.
From time to time, I look up from the simmering pot—I’m waiting till the rice is almost cooked to add the mackerel and peas. Outside the galley window, the sea is the most incredible shade of blue; I never get tired of looking at it. Sun sparkles on the water as far as the eye can see. We’re sailing in a sea of diamonds. I cut the mackerel into chunks, stir it into the rice, dump in the can of peas. When I look out again, a band of puffy white clouds has formed on the horizon.
By the time I emerge from below with two steaming bowls of gorp, they’ve turned into a band of dark clouds.
“I don’t think it’s going to rain,” Chris says. He digs in. “Mmm. This is great.”
As we eat our dinner, he checks our position. Another 100-mile day despite the light winds. So far so good. But the dark clouds are getting closer. They’re also getting darker.
They’re almost on us by the time we finish eating.
“Maybe we’d better tie in a couple of reefs,” he says, handing me his empty bowl. “Why don’t you go below and close up.”
When I get back, Chris has already shortened sail and zipped up the canvas around the cockpit.
“Maybe it is going to rain,” he says. Big drops of rain are splattering on the windscreen and there’s lightning in the distance. Not the pretty kind that dances around the tops of the clouds. Big, angry bolts of lightning are stabbing the water. And they’re getting closer.
We’ve never been struck by lightning, and may we never be, though they say that sooner or later, every voyaging sailboat gets hit. In theory, steel boats are rarely damaged by a lightning strike, and injuries or deaths by lightning are uncommon. With so much steel in contact with the water, the electrical charge just dissipates harmlessly into the surrounding water. In theory. But I check the abandon-ship kit just in case, make sure it’s zipped up, ready to go, in easy reach. My bigger fear is that we’ll get hit and Chris will be knocked unconscious—or worse. For the first time, I feel a long way from shore.
The wall of clouds is on us now, rain pelting, thunder crashing, lightning all around.
“Don’t touch the steel,” I remind Chris.
The wind heels us over, even with the tiny bit of sail we have up, burying the port rail in the water. Six knots, seven, seven and a half. Suddenly it begins to ease up.
“There,” Chris says. “I think that was the worst of it.” He switches on the radar to confirm that the bank of clouds is moving away, spends a little too long looking at the screen, zooms out, then out further.
“This squall is moving off, but there’s another one right behind it, and behind it, there’s something so big and black I can’t see the other side of it.”
I do the only sensible thing: I go below and put the spare GPS and the handheld radio in the oven, which is somehow isolated from the rest of the boat. That way, if we’re struck by lightning and all our electronics are knocked out, we’ll at least be able to tell where we are and call for help.
The second squall has come and gone. I stand in the companionway where I’m safely (I hope) surrounded by wood. Chris studies the radar.
“There’s good news and bad news. The good news is I can see the other side of the next squall and it looks like it’s the last one. The bad news is it’s four miles wide.”
I brace myself for the worst. How can four miles of thunderstorms pass over us without at least one direct strike? Never get caught out on the water in a thunderstorm, I can hear my mother saying. You’ll get hit for sure. Never stand under a tree. Or anywhere outside, for that matter. Lightning can travel through wet ground, strike you dead before you know it. Not that you’re safe inside. Don’t ever touch an aluminum window. Or stand near the stove. Or the sink. Or worse, between the two. If lightning hits the house, a fireball will come out of the stove and arc to the sink. Go to the basement. Stay there. It’s the only safe place.
You’re just like your mother. Afraid of everything. Why don’t you go down below, pull the covers up over your head.
After the first half hour, I find myself releasing my death grip on the sides of the companionway and even watching the lightning rather than squeezing my eyes closed at every flash. The wind is fierce, the rain torrential, but they are nothing compared to the lightning. A deafening crash then a jagged streak of light, how close now? I start to count, one thousand, two… I never get past two. The storm is right on us. Lightning strikes the water to the left of the boat, to the right, leaving us completely blinded between flashes. It’s terrifying. But it’s also really quite beautiful, in a holy-cow-I-wish-I-were-watching-this-on-TV kind of way.
Something happens during that first storm at sea. I find myself surrendering—what else can I do? I feel very small out in the wide ocean, in the violent storm. But I feel something else, I feel free somehow. And it’s a kind of release. There’s nothing I can do.