Sunrise on the Indian Ocean starts with a flat breeze and a tiny pinprick of pink on the infinite horizon. Then a sere, empty wind rolls over you with the first hint of light and you realize that you are only slightly more than nothing as the vast expanse of everything surrounds you. Then you are alone all over again.
Larry Culpepper has been here now for for 134 days, and cannot get enough of it.
"Here" is at the helm of his state-of-the-art Trimaran Lil Sweet II, which he launched from South Africa in February. Since then he's undergone a drastic transformation: his skin is tanned a deep mahogany and he has shed around 40 pounds. His hair is long and a few shades lighter from the incessant equatorial suns and he's got an unruly beard. But there's still the intense and haunted gaze behind the flipshades; an air of vulnerability. And always, always the visor. Part Robinson Crusoe, part weekend golf bro.
"They said I couldn't make it," he says. He's not talking about the actual completion of the journey, but of his decision to repace all fresh water in his holds with ice-cold Dr Pepper. "I simply do not require water. I glean all my required hydration from this stuff," he quips, sucking from a plastic tube hooked directly to a holding tank beneath the tiller, just one of many innovations he's installed to make his ship more functional and efficient. "And if I need to bathe, well, I just tie a towrope around my waist and jump off the stern. Few minutes in the wake and I pull myself back up, clean as a whistle."
It's not really what he'd envisioned before setting sail nearly five months ago, but then again, he had no clear vision of what he wanted. The escape was the goal: away from the harsh limelights of the College Football Playoffs fresh off a dramatic Clemson upset of Alabama; a fitting cap to another exhausting season. "It was this or retire, pretty much," he says. "Or I go into 2017 burned out and lose my shit halfway through October, just as the first rankings are about to drop."
It took some time to hit his groove. The trip across the Atlantic was clunky, frustrating. He couldn't find a routine for weeks. Incessant luffing and fiddling with the trim and untimely squalls. It wasn't until he was halfway through the final lock of the Panama Canal that he had his awakening. "I was like, whoa, man. This is the closest I'll be to the land of college football again for like half a year." He adjusted his trim. He stocked up on supplies, and he hit the Pacific with a fury. "I was clipping along real good. Reeling off the miles, gettin' some sun, learning this boat inside and out. I didn't think about the Playoffs for weeks."
Until one day, he did. And it was fine. It was just a fleeting thought that passed through the fringe of his mind: some tangential detail affixed to a separate passing fancy. It wasn't until the thought had passed that he'd realized he'd managed to forget. The trip was still weeks away from ending, but the objective had been passed as quietly and quickly as a silent buoy floating a hundred yards off the port side.
Now all that remained was to round the Horn and head for home. To the production sets and studios and all that familiar run-up to the season and the Playoffs. It wasn't daunting anymore, but he still wasn't in a hurry to get there. Within the journey he had found the balance.
There, in the heavy heat of Oceania, Larry found what he had sought without even consciously touching it. The steady roll of the swell beneath him engulfed him with a soothing wash of peace. He breathed in the tang of the spray-tinged air and ran his fingers thoughtfully through his beard. He flipped the shades down against the harsh glittering sunlight dancing off the waves. He smiled a genuine smile, not one of those forced studio grins that cramped his cheek muscles and wrinkled his eyes. He took a deep draught of sweet Dr Pepper and he whispered those five words to himself, the words whisked away instantly on the cooling winds, to be carried away perhaps by a passing bird or perhaps not heard by any being at all but himself:
"Ice cold Dr Pepper here."