April 23rd, updated April 28th
It was first light nearing dawn on our way to Bermuda. My trick at the wheel had just begun and we had hit our first few patches of sargassum a couple hours beforehand. I was sitting to weather to feel what little wind there was; The two crew on deck were sitting to leeward, not quite dangling off the rail but doing their best to stay awake, engaged, and dry. Our fourth was below taking a look at the AIS tracker. It was cold for June but everyone was underdressed to better feel what little breeze remained. I was driving by feel, the telltales heavy with dew.
The digital display registering the GPS speed was 4 kts overground, ENE. The paddlewheel registered 2.5 kts. Our bow was no longer pointed toward Bermuda, though our AIS plotter still had us going that way. Phosphorescence tickled the water. The sun arose and the boats we had been chasing all night reappeared on the dome of the horizon, left, ahead, right, and far right, astern. We were with the lead pack. GPS speed became 2.5 kts overground, ENE. The paddlewheel registered .5 kts. The next watch was roused and rustling into their gear. I changed my tether point, slid to leeward, and called for coffee. Half an hour to go on our shift, half an hour more on the helm. The minutes ticked by. The main hung limp. The #1 flapped lazily. Sargassum weed drifted alongside. 2.5 kts, NE. The sun bounced off the lumpy, oily surface of the water below. The sun rose and the ocean became green: an eddy, not quite to the stream. A clump of grass transfixed itself alongside of us, just off the slap of our hull wave. I melted as the power of motion slipped out of my control. The next driver took the helm, locked the wheel, and I went below to get ahold of myself. We fired up the engine to charge the batteries - a daily task - and began to reconfigure our emotions and expectations to our new situation: we were becalmed.
I learned a lot from that experience. Our team was adrift for most of the day. We did all sorts of things to keep racing: chased the puffs, threw up the kite as a new breeze filled in; struck the sails when the wind died again that afternoon, chased the puffs, lounged on deck, lounged below decks, and generally tried to remain calm. Which is tough to do in a race when you are not moving. It is difficult to know which mentality to take when one is floating toward Greenland at two and a half knots while racing towards Bermuda, which lies just ahead in the imagination somewhere a couple points south of due east, drifting somewhat further and further away in our minds eye.
We ultimately retired from the race at the end of that day three for reasons that were more profound than simply being becalmed. Some other boats had never made it past Cape Charles the day before, set back by the tide and unable to slip out past the tankers to the ocean just on the other side of the breakwater. The boats that carried on raced onwards until sunset and were becalmed again the next day; a front came through and many boats suffered breakdowns. Those that faired well sailed on for another day with breeze, were becalmed again, and ultimately caught a few puffs that enabled them to claim victory and respite after making their way into the Great Sound. I, on the other hand, was back to work. Everyone on our team has a different story about our experience. Nobody likes to talk about it.
We are becalmed and set adrift by the coronavirus. The environmental factors are beyond our control. Yet we are still racing: racing to stay in business; racing to keep our kids engaged; racing to find ways to stay sane; racing to support our favorite causes and establishments; racing to secure grocery items; racing to do our best, to stay in front of the screen in the home office for just a little longer before pulling the plug each day, racing to remain calm…
The difference between that boat race and this race is we are on track to “complete the race.” We have a crackpot team. We have a strong board. We have an amazing community. We have a tenacious staff. We’ll get through this. We are getting through this, one day at a time. It’s not the Stu show, the John O’ show, or the Chris Rossi Show. It’s The DSC as a collective, collaborative community… wait, I see breeze up ahead under those clouds on the horizon. A puff on! Our ship races onward.