Part II: Excerpt: 'A Fractured Mind' by Robert B. Oxnam

Now we were on the way to Newfoundland, a chance to forget the past and revel in the present. I rubbed my face to clear my head, bolted down a second Danish, darted below to the head, and immediately became sick, purging both my breakfast and an awful memory. It was not exactly an auspicious start for what I had called "the voyage to get my life back together." The pattern for the next seven weeks was already established in the first hour. It would be an incredible maritime experience, interspersed with ghostly recollections about the past and anxious ruminations about the future.

On one level, it was the trip of a lifetime. We managed to sail through a severe storm and navigate our way through Cape Breton and onward to Newfoundland. Dolphins followed us all the way, so close we could recognize them individually and see them almost as household pets. We sailed up the back of a sleeping humpback whale, twice the size of our boat, which just snorted, shot a spray of foul-smelling water, and sounded gently into the deep. We became friends with a family of "Newfies" (as Newfoundlanders call themselves), marveling at their hospitality and their strange dialect (I later learned that it is very close to what was spoken among the working class in England three centuries ago). We anchored in the long fjords of southern Newfoundland, with thousand-foot cliffs and cascading waterfalls, spotting only one other sailboat in six weeks. After my friend left, I single-handed the vessel back from Nova Scotia to New York, stopping in Halifax long enough to visit the cemetery containing bodies of many Titanic victims (I was a Titanic buff long before the famous, and often inaccurate, film was produced). And, with a little divine help, I was whisked back to Long Island Sound by a persistent easterly breeze (as opposed to the usual southwesterly air that would have made the trip take twice as long).

Sailing solo is a demanding experience, requiring enormous labor to keep the boat on course and out of danger. Essentially, you are the captain and the crew, working almost constantly, sleeping short two-hour naps, awakened by an alarm clock to make sure all is okay. At night, the radar was set with an alarm to indicate if any vessel or other object came within a sixteen-mile radius. Like most single-handed sailors, I heard strange noises at sea. At night, I would listen to the cries of whales, the whistle of the wind in the rigging, and even imaginary voices. I really thought I was being approached one night by a bunch of kids drinking beer in a small outboard, but that seems unlikely a hundred miles at sea. Odd happenings aside, I proved that I could single-hand happily and safely, and that was an accomplishment. Like the climbers of Everest, my only real justification is that I did it "because it's there."

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