Confidence–and a bike

It IS all about the bike. Allen Sports becomes a product sponsor of the Flying Fish Transoceanic Odyssey.

It IS all about the bike. Allen Sports becomes a product sponsor of the Flying Fish Transoceanic Odyssey.

First of all, these will be the last words written here about knee replacement surgery.

I am not going to be one of those guys who dwells on my infirmities. Boring. This is a journal about a grand sailing adventure not some whiny little blog post about how much my knee hurts. Enough!

To emphasize that point, I want to welcome Allen Sports as a new sponsor of the Flying Fish Transoceanic Odyssey. Allen Sports is a multinational company that had confidence in this project despite the fact that the principal of the venture they were endorsing (me) was lying flat on his back unable to walk, much less pedal a bike.

Last week an incredible carbon fiber folding bike arrived on my doorstep. “It will be your ground transportation as you travel the world,” said CEO Alex Allen. “Our Ultra1 model is made of carbon fiber and aluminum so it should hold up really well in a salty environment. With 20 speeds and high pressure tires it makes for some bad ass transportation.”

This tangible expression of confidence from Allen Sports is better than any medicine. It is also a wake up call for me to get off my ass and out of bed and make my knee bend again. Ocean sailing is all about self sufficiency. If there is a problem, you resolve the problem or the problem doesn’t get resolved. I have been land bound for a few years and I may have forgotten that simple gospel truth about sailing. Likewise, it’s not up to surgeons, or therapists, or narcotics to make me feel better. It’s up to me.

This week my goal is to walk again.

Next week I’m getting on that bike.

This time next year…I’m going overland across Fatu Hiva on my new wheels!

The anchorage at Fatu Hiva, Marquesas. Photo: Mon Odyssée

The anchorage at Fatu Hiva, Marquesas. Photo credit: Mon Odyssée

Sailor Boy

As a boy sailor I was given a long lead to chase my dreams. Here I pose with with 18-foot Icarus during a teenage sailing adventure from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Newport, RI

As a boy sailor I was given a long lead to chase my dreams. Here I pose with 18-foot Icarus during a teenage sailing adventure from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Newport, RI

Sailing memories flood my mind as I lay restless in bed today, still unable to walk 10 days after a knee replacement surgery.


I could obsess about the excruciating pain and second-guess my decision to have a prosthesis inserted into one of the most critical parts of my body–but it is better for me to meditate on the positive.


I am remembering myself as a sun bleached 14-year-old South Florida boy. I was restless then, too. With hormones raging and frustrated in school, I was trying to figure out what I wanted from life. All I knew was that I wanted to go sailing.


“I’m running away from home,” I told my parents one day. “I love you, but I gotta go.”


Why? Who knows? No child could have asked for better parents, or for better siblings. My life was perfect. I just needed the time to discover that on my own.


I had a 12-foot wooden sloop that I had named Cutty Shark. I wasn’t thinking about the nautical history of the great clipper ship Cutty Sark when I named my boat. I was thinking about the Scotch whiskey by the same name. I painted the boat bright yellow to match the label on the whiskey bottle. My parents did not think it was nearly as funny as I did.


My Dad said, “Well, if you are running away in that boat let me give you a ride to the boat ramp.” And my Mom said, “I’ll pack up some food for you.” It was not exactly the response to my rebellion that I had in mind.


“I’m going to Key West,” I told them. The year was 1969. Key West was 150 miles away. “Give us a call when you get there,” Dad said, waving goodbye. And that was that. I ran away to sea at age 14 in a tiny yellow boat named after a bottle of whiskey.


The story has a happy ending. A couple of weeks later, Mom and Dad drove down to Key West in our family station wagon towing my boat trailer. There were smiles all around. They even treated me to a seafood dinner at the A&B Lobster House. I was hungry.


What amazing parents I have. To allow their 14-year-old kid to leave home, in the middle of the school year, and just go sailing alone over the horizon. It was remarkable. It was probably the single best example of parenting I have ever known. It cured my restlessness (for a while). I was a better boy because of it.


Right now these memories are better than morphine for the knee pain. I close my eyes and smile as I think of a fresh breeze filling my sails. Those were days when I had the freedom to be anybody I wanted to be.


Those days will come again.

All is (not) Lost

IP460 Flying Fish shows her lines as the bare hull is released from the mold

IP460 Flying Fish shows her lines and traditional full keel as the bare hull is released from the mold

It may not be prudent to view the Robert Redford film All is Lost when you are planning a long, singlehanded ocean passage.

It is definitely not a good movie to watch if you are also recovering from knee replacement surgery and you are semi hallucinating on the narcotic painkiller Percocet.

In the film, Redford is sailing alone through the Indian Ocean when his boat collides with a partially submerged shipping container. His hull is gashed by the collision and much drama ensues. The nightmare scene for me, however, is when the boat is being ravaged by a storm that turns the hull upside down. The view through the hatches and portholes becomes one of bottomless ocean–a view I hope never to see when I look out of the windows in my boat.

This is why in the selection of a builder for Flying Fish I wanted to know about stability curves and ratios, and the critical point of boat heel and recovery. In physics, these forces work like a lever arm. The center of gravity pushes down on one end and the center of buoyancy pushes up on the other. This combined force is known as the righting moment and it works to rotate the hull back to an upright position. But it is not enough that the design simply resist rollover; if a capsize does occur what is critical is the recovery time for the hull to return to the upright position. A more detailed explanation of stability curves and righting moment is attached here.

Heavy displacement full keeled sailboats like the IP460 being built for me are not considered very sexy in this new world of lightweight wing keeled supersonic sailing machines. I’m okay with that. I’m not one of those sailors who needs to get there first; I just need to get there. And when I look through my hatches, I want the view to be sunny side up.

Anatomical Refit

A complete knee replacement is what I need to become seaworthy. Leg issues didn't seem to slow down Ahab in pursuit of his obsession.

A complete knee replacement is what I need to become physically seaworthy. Leg issues didn’t seem to slow down Ahab in pursuit of his obsession.

I don’t want to be a bionic anything.

I am attached to my own flesh and bone. But when I walk, my knee joint grinds bone against bone and that’s when the neuropathic fireworks begin. The cartilage in my left knee is gone. Aging and accidents and osteoarthritis have taken a toll. God’s own caulking compound in my knee has worn away leaving a raw set of nerve endings that hurts so bad it makes me want to whack a white whale.

So tomorrow I go to the University of Miami Hospital where a surgeon will replace my flesh and bone with titanium, ceramic, and ultra-high molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). I’m getting a new knee. I’m going in for an anatomical refit.

I have been assured that knee joint replacement surgery is hardly more complicated than filling a tooth cavity. More than 600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the United States. With an aging population and obesity on the rise, demand for total knee replacement surgery is expected to exceed 3 million by the year 2030. Note to daughter Lilly: Forget about sailing for a living and consider orthopedic medicine–ka-ching!

Recovery is said to be quick. A healthy person can be ambulatory in six to eight weeks, if they pay attention to the counsel of their physical therapist. Pay attention? Heck, I’m thinking about moving in with her! I want my legs back.

I would never consider setting sail across three oceans if my boat was in any way unseaworthy. Likewise, I feel I have a responsibility to myself and to my family to be physically fit for this voyage. I need to be kneeworthy.