The Real Thing

Never believe your own PR.

Whether he's crossing the Atlantic or the English Channel, small-boat adventurer Alan Priddy includes a psychiatrist on his crew list. We can all use a little shrinking now and then, especially while at sea. I know I've been in need of some couch time myself lately, indulging in something no boater can afford to - vanity. It's an end-of-the-season game we all play, as we turn the past summer's cruises into tales of myth. Waves get bigger; feats of seamanship become more spectacular. A little pride in your abilities is fine, as long as you keep things in perspective - something we're not always good at, no matter what the season.

For example, a few years ago I got caught by a storm in the Bahamas. I'm in my foul weather gear, salt crusting my beard. It's Man against the Sea, Captain Courageous. Then, on the top of a giant roller, I see a ratty out-island sloop with goats, chickens, and crates piled on deck. Sitting on the lee side of this floating third world garage sale are four women: big, bright, and shiny in their Sunday best, as if on Nassau's High Street. One sees my boat, waves, and yells downwind, "Cool breeze, mon." This was backed up by a mad hatter's grin from the "captain," saluting me with an empty bottle of Kalik beer. I think I'm a hero, and these guys are out for a damn joy ride.

From this, and other embarrassments, I've learned it's the unassuming ones, those not involved in their own self image, who are the real thing. The best captain I ever worked with looked like an Iowa farm hand. And back in 1985 my local Evinrude dealer in Freeport, New York, quietly became the first person to cross the Atlantic in an outboard-powered boat. Twenty-seven years earlier, a 22-footer with twin outboards laid claim to making a 4,177-mile passage from Copenhagen to New York with bombastic press releases and brave speeches. That is, until someone found out that the boat spent about 20 percent of the crossing on a freighter's deck.

In contrast, my hometown hero, Al Grover, was the genuine article. He and his sons made the 2,269-mile crossing from Newfoundland to Portugal by way of the Azores in a 26-footer powered by a pair of 65-hp Evinrudes and a 9.9-hp auxiliary kicker. It was a remarkable display of impeccable seamanship and a large pair of brass ones. All Grover got for it was a form letter from President Reagan and a yawn from the press. But he couldn't have cared less.

Alan Priddy is another boater who keeps his pride well in check. In 1997 this modest 47-year-old and his three crewmates - including the shrink - took an open 24' RIB with a 165-bhp Yamaha diesel stern drive from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Portsmouth, England. They harbor hopped for 21 days to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and Northern Ireland, making average jumps of about 600 miles. When asked the inevitable "Why?" the best Priddy could come up with was, "We wanted to do some cruising, meet people, have a few beers, and see what was going on." He rarely mentions the ice-choked 40-foot seas, debiltating frostbite, exhaustion, and sickness that came with the trek. Was he insane? Not according to his psychiatrist.

Priddy, a true seaman, keeps it in perspective. Early in 2002 he'll attempt to beat the 76-day around-the-world record set by the heavily promoted 115' Cable and Wireless Adventurer. He aims to do it in 24 fewer days in a 35' RIB. My odds, as always, will be with the quiet little guy. So tell your stories, build the myths, and have pride in your abilities. But keep your attitude in check; before someone, or the sea, does it for you. See you outside the inlet.