Moondancer is a lovely 31.5-foot sloop rigged sailing boat built in 1974. She was designed by Maurice Griffith, a well-known yachtsman, designer and writer of the era, and built by Terry Erskine, a respected boat builder in Plymouth. She is a Golden Hind, one of about two hundred built over the years. They are known to be comfortable, ocean going cruisers, yet with a shallow draft and bilge plates allowing her to sit on the mud in tidal estuaries or explore up rivers where a deeper keeled boat would not be able to go. They aren’t fast boats but solidly built and sea kindly in heavy weather.
I bought Moondancer two years ago, against many people’s advice but following a time-honored dream of adventure upon the open seas. I was warned of the extortionate running costs of owning a boat but also of the amount of care and attention that such a mistress demands. They have been right all along. The other side of the story, of course, is the rewards that come from working with such an age-old friend as a small ship and of the dreams and possibilities that can be realized together.
So now we find ourselves set on a course, following a calling and steering towards our dreams. I am at the helm but all I can do is work with the winds and weather that I am given. We dance with the elements and move at the mercy of something we have absolutely no control over. For many this evokes tremendous fear and I feel it in myself. Perhaps this is part of the nature of life; however much we love control, really the challenge is about letting go.
The learning curve over these last two years has been immense. I thought one just had to feel the breeze on your cheeks, learn to work the sails and listen to the sea but I have discovered that to be a sailor takes far more than this romantic notion. Suddenly I need to be a carpenter, a mechanic, a plumber, a marine engineer, a navigator, a skipper, an electrician and much more. I have learnt a lot about my boat through working with a piece of sand paper, a spanner and a pot of grease and aspire to know every inch of her; every block and shackle, every warp, sheet and halyard. This is just the beginning and there seems no end. What of the clouds, the trade winds, the tides and currents and the profound language of the sea forever changing and reflecting every shift of the breeze?
We are in this together now; Moondancer, myself and the other crew, working as a team, endlessly giving to each other. As we roll about, tumbling over waves and swell, there is someone cooking in the galley, someone on the helm guiding her course and another trimming the sails allowing someone else to sleep, rest and restore their energy ready for their turn on the helm. We have become one and look after each other as Moondancer looks after us.
As we set off we do so helped along by the breath of angels who have guided us and helped us through unimaginable gifts that have made this journey possible. Through out my childhood I had a dear elderly Aunt called Auntie Sheilah. She would remind me of how I would run to her bed side each morning to hear what had happened in the latest chapter of Kunta Kinte Roots by Alex Haley, a book that she was reading at the time. It is the story of a small boy growing up in a West African village who was taken as a slave to the Americas. This is my earliest memory of a connection to Africa. Since then I have visited over twenty different African nations and fallen in love with the many manifestations of African culture along the way. Some years ago my Great Auntie Sheilah passed away and left me some money in her will. It is this that has allowed the manifestation of this dream, sailing Moondancer towards the African coast. It is in her memory that I offer this journey.
We have been given a VHF radio, self steering gear, freshly baked loaves of bread, bottles of rum and brand new paper charts from here to the River Gambia. Friends have offered countless hours of help painting and varnishing caught in the magic of a shared dream and experts have given their wisdom and advice generously. No one in my community has a yacht. As the saying goes; “There are the Haves, the Have-nots and the Have-yachts”. We all have a dream and when gifted with an opportunity to live that dream what choice do we have but to leap at the chance of living this life to the fullest?
So we set sail in gratitude, humbled by the immensity of the ocean, listening deeply and feeling the wind on our cheeks once again like so many who have done so before us.