Perhaps some voyages begin smoothly. When Jason and the Argonauts boarded the Argos in the Volos harbor thousands of years ago and sailed off toward the Black Sea in search of the Golden Fleece, it's likely their friends and families gathered on the shore and thought to themselves as they waved goodbye, "Those Argonauts sure know how to handle a boat." Or perhaps the Christians from Antioch, waving to Paul from the wharf in Selucia as his ship headed off toward Cyprus in 47 A.D., noticed that the captain looked sure and steady.

That is not the way it was for Janet and me in SailingActs.

On the morning of June 18, we woke early. I noticed, checking the barometer, as usual, the first thing in the morning, that the hand had fallen considerably overnight and was still dropping. Locals had been commenting on how unsettled the weather had been that spring, so this didn't surprise or discourage us from leaving that day as planned. Janet and I scurried around taking on fuel, checking our e-mail at the Internet café for the last time, buying last-minute supplies, and saying goodbye to our boating neighbors whom we had learned to know in the six weeks we were in Volos.

We had aimed for a noon departure, but at 1:00 the insurance agent still hadn't brought the necessary documents to the boat as promised. And besides, we were still stowing things and chatting with friends. Janet was on the shore talking to Jenny, who came to see us off, when the agent arrived and handed me the insurance documents. Suddenly we were ready. It was exactly 1:35 in the afternoon.

With so many people watching our every move, I was a little nervous about pulling out, even though it seemed like such an easy task. We'd been living aboard the Aldebaran since May 7, during which time I had started her engine, hoisted the sails, spun the wheel, and changed her name. But she'd been tied firmly to the wharf the whole time. We had no idea of how she would handle.

We began to unfasten the mooring lines. Somehow, it seemed, a growing and bemused crowd began to gather out of nowhere, anticipating some sort of "inept American" spectacle. With Jenny looking on apprehensively from the wharf, the Austrian boat neighbor on one side shouting encouragement in German, and the Dutch couple on the other side defending their immaculate boat from an assault they seemed to anticipate, I threw SailingActs into gear and moved smoothly away.

For a few feet all was well. Then suddenly a mooring line caught and we were almost rubbing against the fine Dutch boat -- a boat you do not want to scratch, especially when the alarmed Dutch owners are standing on deck. This was a situation in which the famous Dutch tolerance perhaps would not apply! To avoid disaster within the first 10 seconds of voyaging, I hurled myself to the rear rail to free the line, then heroically lunged face down across the hatch of the rear cabin and grabbed the wheel in order to get back on course. From this undignified position -- flat on my stomach, legs sticking straight out over the stern rail like a human wind-vane -- I steered SailingActs away from the wharf. For some reason the Dutch woman found this amusing. I could hear her thunderous laughter above the throb of the 42-horse-power, diesel engine from 100 yards off shore. But who needs dignity if you have adrenaline? We looked back and everyone was waving and smiling and so were we. We were off!

We watched the disappearing shoreline where we lived for six weeks. How small it seemed compared to the open sea in front of us! Farewell, Volos, the Internet café down the street, the helpful shopkeepers, the international boating neighbors, Captain Steve and Jenny.

We rounded the harbor entrance, the motor throbbing. Janet and I were still congratulating each other when we noticed dark clouds rolling in from the north. Thirty minutes later, the sky turned black. We stared uneasily, then with alarm, at the dense sheets of rain pouring in the north, then around us, and finally directly on us from above. We continued to motor as the wind increased, whipping the water into whitecaps. I shut down the motor and just ran with the wind, doing three knots with no sails. Janet steered SailingActs as she pitched and heaved in the squall, while I went below to check our bearing and position on the chart. I'd never been seasick in my life, but on this day of many firsts, I got seasick instantly. This was not good.