Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea

Drakes Bay

October 19, 2019

5am. The alarm sounds to wake me though I’ve been up since three o’clock. 

For some time I lay in the dark listening to the wind whine in the rigging. Mo tugs at her chain. I wait for sleep to descend again, but it has slipped away in the night to play with the coyotes calling from the headland.

Today we return home. My heart pounds. The bunk rejects me.

I make coffee but can’t sit to drink it. By flashlight I continue the endless job of tidying the deck in preparation for our Golden Gate entry.

6am. A pale dawn silhouettes the mountains. We are underway for the Golden Gate Bridge. During these final jaunts, I have been worried the engine will fail or the windlass will quit and that I will be forced to enjoy the ignominy of a tow. But Big Red fires as usual; the anchor picks clean. 

I point Mo to the E and toward Limantour Beach, well clear of the Chimney Rocks reef. Yesterday on the leg down from Bodega Bay, we encountered a long, large swell from the NW. At Point Reyes and over this reef, seas stacked up frighteningly. Giants curled and crashed and leapt for the lighthouse. At the reef, their break extended well past the green buoy. Without a moon, I can’t see them now, but I can hear the roar of white water. Mo passes through billows of spume and rolls deeply.

9am. Motoring in flat calm. The morning is drippy. A high fog flows from the N as we pass Duxbury Point. These will be my last hours alone with Mo, and I feel an urge I can’t define. Not to be out to sea again, but an agitation. We’ve nearly run our course. A thing I have ardently desired is imminent. Do I desire it now?

At Mile Rocks, we will be joined by other vessels that will sail us in. At Cavallo Point, family and friends will be waving. At the Sausalito Yacht Club, I will encounter other friends and the press. Closure and an opening, but an opening to what? 

There is a sense of foreboding, not at the idea of being home but rather at the display that will accompany my return. Will I be what people expect? Will I remember my remarks? Will I make a sailing blunder for all to see?

Having passed so many difficulties, having relied so often on my own resource and on Mo’s extraordinary ability–and still to be worried about what others will think. It appears I have not left my faults behind. “What we have done, we have done,” I say in my own defense.

“And we did it as well as we knew,” says Mo.  

“Senior, it is the time for coming home,” says Monte.

10:30am. I am an hour early to Mile Rocks. Already there are three boats waiting and two climbing the light W wind from the Gate. Congratulations are shouted across the water as we heave through the swell on the bar. Now there are ten boats, including friends who sailed out to see me off a year ago. Slowly I let the wind and tide draw us closer to the gate. Red rocks, red bridge, gray sky. Now there are fourteen boats in the flotilla. Horns blast as we slide below the great span, and then we are in the bay.  

For years I have followed the track of the Figure 8, always pressing on and pressing further, and now the double loop is finally closed. 

12:30pm. I let Mo take the wind on the beam and we race toward Cavallo Point. One last charge. Show them what you can do, my friend! Then a cheer at the point as we swing round. Waves and cheers and the flood pulling us further in.

Then we are nosing into the yacht club. A bagpipe sounds. Hands reach for lines. Other hands catch Mo’s rails. Gently she is eased into the dock. Another cheer for Mo. Joanna approaches smiling. A kiss for completion. In that instant we have pierced the veil. We are home.

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“Home is the sailor, home from the sea” is a haunting line, filled with profound relief and a touch of melancholy. 

In it the sailor’s deep longing for completion, for return, is fulfilled but not without cost. That other place must be abandoned—where he has fought and held his own; where the fates have let him see and live; where he has stood in awe of the raw, alien beauty, where he has felt more himself than anywhere—on this he must turn his back.

Because for all its attraction, the sea is not home. 

The wind blows. The waves continue their heave and roll. The sea awaits. Always the sea awaits…

28 Comments on “Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea

  1. That same line from Robert Louis Stevenson has been on my mind as I read about the last days of your long voyage. Welcome home, Randall.

  2. Good shit man! I’m really going to miss your posts.

    Congrats man. Such an incredible accomplishment. What a great adventure.


    PS when does the double figure 8 begin?

  3. Oh My Gosh, We feel the confusion of both your pain and pleasure. Welcome back to confusion

  4. We are all going to go through our own withdrawals not having your adventures to look forward to. I teared up watching you come through the gate. So happy you’re home safe but felt a bit of anxiety for end of such an amazing journey. THANK YOU SO MUCH for having us along for the ride!

  5. Mom is weeping and all I can do is wag my tail and lick her leg (I’m just a little chap!) She’s rubbing my butt and muttering something about greatness and human soul and courage and what makes life worthwhile. For me that’s a tasty bone, but I guess it takes all sorts. Greyts and Moi all happy for you and The Missus. But we’ll miss your tails, specially The Mom.

  6. Randall, another of your beautiful descriptions of your short passage under the Golden Gate to close the Figure 8! Your feelings remind me of the George Gordon Lord Byron poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon” when freed from a prison that had become his familiar home, the prisoner ends his poem with “Regain’d my freedom with a sigh”
    Thank you for taking us with you, what a journey you have given to so many! Welcome Home dear Friend.

  7. Congratulations, finally.
    I recommend “Endurance” by former space station astronaut Scott Kelly. He spent a year on the space station, and he chose the title of the book in full deference to Shackleton’s “Endurance”. A year in space above the oceans, a year on the oceans. Both miraculous achievements made possible with skill and technology. And both you and Kelly have gone through reentry.
    I hope we run into each other again.

  8. A wonderful close to an epic voyage! Congratulations and blessings as you regain your ‘land legs!

  9. Can only imagine the tumult of emotion that came with the last few days of your journey and potentially will stick around as you get used to sleeping on land again. Considering how remarkably you met the challenges of the Figure 8 voyage, I have no doubt you are equal to the task of returning to ‘real life’ again.

  10. I have been anticipating your re-entry for longer than I care to admit. I don’t think one ever fully transitions back.
    Your writing has followed a beautiful progression, getting better and better and better until it can’t get any better! This post is a fitting conclusion both from the perspective of the magnitude of your adventure as well as from a literary perspective.
    Thank you so much, Randall, for including all of us. What a gift!
    Aloha, Mary
    PS. Please look me up when you come to Hawaii again! PSS. Congratulations Jo!!!

  11. Thank you again for carrying us with you on your voyages. I happened to be picking up my boat from Svendsen’s in Richmond as you drifted down the fairway towards the marina. I looked up from a particular challenge they had set me in extrication from behind another boat and squeezing out next to a big power craft to see you and Moli and your several passengers. I resisted the urge to jump up and down and wave, but I did motor down eventually to see you safely in your slip. Well done, and well returned. I still hope to shake your hand one day!!

  12. Thank you, Randall, for allowing us to share in an experience few people will ever know. Although we’ve never met, I’ve loved following your journey, feeling vicarious joy in your milestones and angst at the challenges you’ve faced.

    May your life continue to be filled with amazing adventures and the love and support of family and friends, near and far.


  13. Inspiring words to conclude an inspiring odyssey. While no person can master the sea, you have mastered your vessel and found a communion with the sea. The fact that you were able, via satellite, to virtually bring us along with you sets this epic passage squarely in the modern era. Cheers to you and your ship and to your brave and patient wife and to your dedicated shore team. It’s been an illuminating story and I’m very happy that you were able to complete what many said was crazy to even consider.

  14. It’s been such a joy reading your posts and following your journey. Seems like just the other day we were up in Port Townsend having lunch with you as you sailed Moli south from Alaska and now the voyage is complete. Bravo!

  15. Thanks so much for these final and most eloquent thoughts. Though I’ve followed your voyage from the secure confines of my home and office, your blog posts – so well written and always too brief – drew me in and captured the imagination of this gray old sailor. While my life’s voyages will never include one as epic as this, you’ve graciously allowed me to sail along with you and Mo to places I would otherwise have never been. And for that I am sincerely grateful. Welcome back.

  16. Randall – A wonderful conclusion my friend. Yes, in my heart, I heard you enter under the bridge – even though I could not see. Now, my friend, you need to re-enter life slowly, taking time to enjoy, taking time to relax and reflect, taking time to measure all you have done. Yes, there will be public functions that say they need you. Take time to re-enter carefully and slowly. What you have done is too precious for a moment’s glory – your life is too precious for a moment’s glory. Remember the drop as it falls into the ocean. Even though it may seem small, it adds to immense power. You know this far, far better than I ever will. My very best to you, my friend.

  17. What an incredible accomplishment! Your strength of will and tenacious pursuit of your goal has been something to behold. Thank you for sharing all the ups and downs with us! Your story has encouraged and emboldened many in their everyday lives. It’s important to see this tale gets told on a bigger scale. I’m (fingers crossed) looking forward to the book and subsequent speaking tour. I’m envisioning listening to you and shaking your hand when you get up to the Seattle area and share from your heart, the lessons this adventure has taught you. Well done Randall & Mo!

  18. A very touching and poignant tribute to the conclusion of a magnificent adventure, Randall. We’re so happy you successfully completed such an interesting and inspired undertaking.

  19. Sir Randall
    A wee bit of my soul imagined floating beside you along the vast, endless reaches of sea. Your words really do share the elegant prose of other famous seafaring legends. “If you write a book, they will buy it”
    True that.

  20. Well done!! You are now part of a club of one. Someone might repeat the voyage, or do it faster, but you’ll always be the first one to do it. Congrats!!

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