After 209 days racing a 39-foot sloop around the world alone, Francis Stokes can't get excited over who has the shiniest motor yacht in noisy Spa Creek.
So, though Stokes is back to selling sailboats for a living here, boat-show talk hasn't returned to him.
He won't call a quarterberth "the owner's stateroom" no matter how badly some buy-happy bucko in a BMW needs the ego boost.
Sometimes his mind is still at sea. Where words fail he uses his big, scarred, freckled hands like sculpting tools, fashioning an image of a certain wave moving in a certain sea, never quite like the one just past.
For nine months, Stokes, 57, observed waves, wind, spray and sky, sometimes anxiously and sometimes placidly. They left lonely images he is struggling not to lose.
He took bearings by the sun and stars and charted his tiny advances each day. He went south for 6,000 miles and then east through the Indian and Pacific oceans, around the feared capes of Good Hope and Horn, then north again until he was back where he started at Newport, R.I.
Moonshine, a Fast Passage 39, was among 17 boats that left Newport last Aug. 28 in the BOC (British Oxygen Corp.) Round the World Challenge, the most auspicious sailboat race ever organized. Ten singlehanders finished, and though some boats sank, no one was killed or seriously injured. Stokes, who plucked one colleague from a sinking boat 1,500 miles off Africa, wound up second in class when he finished May 17.
The wind carried him 28,000 miles, and while there are no official records of solo speed passages, Stokes is certain no American has ever gone around the world alone faster. Only one other American, California journalist Dan Byrne, completed the BOC.
Stokes' best day was 190 miles. On his worst days he went backwards. Such a time occurred off the tip of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, often in a raging tempest, at the Cape of Good Hope.
Thirty miles off Cape Town an antarctic gale whipped up 20-foot seas. It was all right in daytime, said Stokes, but the seas were unpredictable. At night there was no way to see them coming. He was below the first night, the boat lying a-hull with sails stowed, when a great, cold wave knocked the vessel on her side and sent him flying across the cabin.
The boat came upright, intact but in a chaotic clutter, as it did the following night during a second hard knockdown. That time Stokes was thrown from of his bunk and bruised his ribs. But the third day the storm moderated and Stokes set sail again, with 100 miles of going backwards to make up.
In times like those he was not gripped by fear, said Stokes, so much as by tension and anxiety. "You wonder whether you're employing the right tactics and you hope the weather goes away. Then you find a key and get the boat riding right, and you can relax."
Somehow the monumental challenges of sailing around the world alone sound less than monumental by the descriptions of this tall, sandy-haired, self-effacing father of five.
He was a third of the way from Cape Town to Sydney when he overheard by radio that colleague Tony Lush and his boat, Lady Pepperel, were sinking 50 miles away.
Stokes radioed his position and Lush sailed south to him. Just before dusk they sighted one another, but with 20 knots of wind and 10-foot seas they couldn't come alongside.
Stokes successfully heaved a line to Lush, a nomswimmer, the boats banged once and then drifted apart. Lush jumped and Stokes hauled him in, hand-over-hand. They left Lady Pepperel to sink. Said Stokes, "I wish I'd taken a picture."
Stokes carried his only passenger 4,500 miles to Sydney, the second of three designated stops for the round-the-worlders, and a funny thing happened. Somehow the presence of another sailor aboard, who by race rules could do nothing to help with the sailing, diminished Stokes' pleasure.
"It took a little starch out of the racing," said Stokes. "I tended to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner, a little conversation." He stopped keeping an extensive daily log and never resumed it, to his chagrin now.
"It's different, too," said Stokes, "in a ticklish situation, when you have someone to use as a sounding board."
The highlight of the voyage was in the next leg, Sydney to Rio de Janeiro, when he rounded Cape Horn at the foot of South America. A two-day mist lifted and there he was, just a few miles from the imposing cape. "It was fantastic," said Stokes, choosing his words. "It was the finest thing I have ever seen in my life."
Now he is back in Annapolis. The Rotary Club wants him to speak. He was named an honorary admiral of the Chesapeake Bay.
Moonshine rests at the dock of Cobb & Stokes, yacht brokers. She's immaculate, indistinguishable from a brand new Fast Passage 39 alongside except that she's rigged a bit heavier and has a fading BOC number, 91, painted on.
She's for sale. One of Stokes' five children is heading for college. "I need the money," he says. Duty beckons.