Stamford man returns home after sailing across Atlantic Ocean from Spain despite ‘cascade of failures’

Photo of Brianna Gurciullo

STAMFORD — David Tunick pulled into Stamford Harbor on his sailboat Wednesday after about an eight-week trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

Tunick had once sailed his boat, Night Watch, from Connecticut to England about two decades ago. This summer, the 78-year-old sailed it back home from Spain. On both trips, he traveled alone.

Tunick, a New York art gallery owner who lives in Stamford’s Shippan neighborhood, prepared for his recent voyage by seeing a number of medical specialists and even having his gallbladder removed.

Reflecting on his journey, Tunick thought of the line from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

“I’ve never seen such a cascade of failures of equipment at one time or another — the generator, the engine, the autopilots, the communication system, the whole electrical system,” said Tunick, who has been sailing offshore for more than 40 years.

While Tunick said he had hoped to sail from Spain straight to Stamford, he wound up stopping in two ports to make repairs. He said he also received advice from fellow sailors virtually.

“It came home to me once again how tight-knit the sailing community really is in helping one another, the people that are out there doing this kind of thing,” he said. “I was in touch with people by email and by text, very, very occasionally by phone. ... In the end, I really had a shore team.”

Tunick had planned to depart from A Coruña, Spain, in late May. But he said Night Watch needed a few more days of work before it was ready to cast off.

All appeared ready to go on June 4.

“I get on the boat, literally I push the ignition button and the engine doesn’t start,” Tunick said. “It turned out there was seawater in the engine.”

A week later, the problem was fixed, and Tunick was on his way southwest. As he was navigating the shipping lanes along the coast, the winds turned into a gale. His steering got stuck, and he said he ended up north of Spain.

“The boat is getting hammered with waves every few seconds,” Tunick said. “But the boat is just handling it magnificently.”

Tunick has owned Night Watch — a Sparkman & Stephens-designed, Abeking & Rasmussen-built vessel — for nearly 40 years.

About two days later, the wind shifted. Tunick eventually made it to Horta on Faial Island, which is part of the Azores. But his steering jammed again in the harbor.

In the days it took to fix the steering, Tunick spent time in Horta — a city he described as “one of those fabled ports” for sailors.

On the next leg of his journey, he said he got caught in the Bermuda High, a high-pressure system.

“I couldn’t move the boat because there was no wind,” Tunick said. “I mean the jellyfish were literally swimming by me faster than Night Watch could move.”

Meanwhile, the sun beat down on his boat.

“It was too hot to go out in the sun during the day,” Tunick said. “So I would go out on deck to do what I had to do every morning just before dawn when there was some light ... and the same thing at night right before dusk.”

The cabin below deck offered little relief, with the sun heating up Night Watch’s aluminum hull. At times, he lost power.

He said he thought in those moments: “Well, if Columbus did it, I can do it.”

Tunick said he lost about 20 pounds on his trip, which he attributed in part to losing his sweet tooth. He had stocked up on chocolate bars, M&M’s and chocolate milk, but he never touched them.

It took about four weeks instead of two as expected, but he finally got to Bermuda — with his engine, generator and autopilot systems all nonfunctioning.

Tunick said he poured his “heart and soul and hard-earned money” into his boat for about four years in preparation for his trip.

“But you can’t be certain of everything,” he said. “You just have to be prepared when it goes wrong.”

After a week in St. George’s, Bermuda, he headed northwest with everything repaired. But then the batteries on his boat began to overcharge. Fearful that a fire could start, Tunick packed up a bag of essentials in case he had to abandon ship.

One day, Tunick was standing at his chart table when an “asynchronous” wave hit the boat, throwing him to the other side of the cabin. He slammed into a piece of metal and hurt his ribs, an arm and a hand.

When he finally arrived in Stamford Harbor Wednesday afternoon, Stamford Yacht Club members and junior sailors were there to meet him.

Tunick recalled that at one point, someone handed him a glass of champagne. After he drank it, he went home and slept.

“It was just — I have to say — very emotional for me and very, very happy and a wonderful welcome,” Tunick said. “I love Long Island Sound. I love Stamford. ... I love sailing out of here. I love every place you can go in the Sound. You can be alone, anchor by yourself, go swimming. You can be with other boats. You can be with friends. It’s just terrific.”