ORLANDO, Fla. – For the past week, the world has been off my radar screen - literally. The only things on my sailboat's radar screen have been the bright green blips occasionally indicating other vessels within the 16-mile sweep of Voyager's relatively antique radar set or the less defined spray of smaller dots showing intense rain squalls in the area.
At night, aside from those ghostly green images glowing from that radar screen, there is nothing but the plunging boat and the big bad black ocean and sky. It is exhilarating, humbling and scary, especially when the wind is howling, the sails are straining and tons of water rushes over the low side of the heeling sailboat as it cuts through heaving seas a couple hundred miles from the nearest land.
In my long and relatively over-stimulated outdoor life, nothing matches the feeling. It is a passion that came early. Heading down the wrong path as a troubled teen, I had the good fortune in high school of having a former Navy captain as principal. Russell Van Brunt developed an affection for all things Puerto Rican while serving in San Juan during WWII. Since the Rivera's were the only Puerto Ricans in our blue collar town, he counseled me to get off the streets and become a sea-faring man. He helped me become the first in my family to attend college, starting my higher education at Maritime College in the Bronx, where my son Cruz is currently a senior. I bought a small sailboat as soon as I could afford one, and have been sailing ever since; going around the world on Voyager between 1997 and 2000, celebrating the Millennium with my family on the International Dateline on remote Tonga Island in the Pacific, and sailing 1,400 miles up the Amazon River through Brazil, Colombia and Peru in 2001. The wars since have severely cut down on available sailing time, but I still manage to squeeze some in.
This adventure in water world began last Friday, with the start of the 18th biannual Marion to Bermuda race between 50 sailboats of various sizes and designs, including my vintage one-of-a-kind ketch Voyager. A ketch is a kind of sailboat with two-masts.
We left from the picturesque New England port of Marion Massachusetts in blustery weather heading to the Atlantic Ocean island of Bermuda about 660 nautical miles away. The weather alternated between ferocious gales and frustrating calms. We managed to blow out three sails, torn to shreds flapping and straining.
And against a fleet of mostly modern, high-tech sailing machines, we modestly finished the race 27th out of 50th.
Old boat, Old sails, Old Skipper
The best part of the journey was the camaraderie among our eight-man crew, including Gabriel Miguel, my older son. The boat alone on the ocean is one of the few places grownups can spend quality time alone together.
Four days, 13 hours and 43 minutes after we started in Buzzard's Bay, the real world rushed back in our lives when my Blackberry exploded with 426 messages shortly after crossing the finish line off Bermuda's St. David's lighthouse in the pre-dawn dark Wednesday morning.
The theme of those messages was echoed by the Customs inspectors the next day. While my head still filled with vignettes from the ocean passage, all the agents wanted to know about was the latest on Casey Anthony.
Now the only thing on my radar screen is the courthouse in Orlando.
Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.