Thursday, June 14, 2012

The evolution of a sailor

As I sit sipping my coffee, looking out into the bay, my little tube of lip balm rolls back and forth in a steady rhythm on the table beside me.
It’s 7am. It is a rolly anchorage and we had a bit of a bumpy night. But I slept well.
I’m realising two things – that gone are the nights of lying awake, terrified of the strange noises and constantly worrying about our anchor dragging, sending us out to sea, or into the boat behind us. Secondly, the rise and fall of a swell in the bay doesn’t affect me any longer. I’ve become used to my house pitching up and down, with the horizon peaking through my windows and disappearing just as fast, over and over.
It proves how adaptable the human brain is. There was a day when this movement would have had my tummy gripped in nausea.
Yesterday as we made our way from Union Island to Mayreau, with 21 kn winds on our nose and huge swells rocking Shiloh quite hard, both JW and I realised we’ve overcome seasickness. This journey a month ago would have warranted Gravol or Dramamine or Stugeron.
So many things have changed while they’ve stayed the same. There’s been a paradigm shift within me.
When we made all our plans to leave work, home, land life, I suffered from a deep seated fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what could go wrong, and of my complete inability to face whatever that might be.
But the longer we’ve been at sea, the more great experiences and things that have gone wrong, have made this life all that more believable, manageable, loveable.
A ‘boat boy’ has just motored up to Shiloh. I peek out and a blond blue-eyed rasta man is grinning at me. His big red wooden boat is called ‘Yellow’. He offers me fresh baked baguette. I tell him we’re fine, but thanks and he’s off. I love those moments.
I loved the moment a lot less a few days ago, when we found ourselves motoring forward in a crowded bay, only to hear the one engine fail completely. 
 As we started to drift dangerously back toward an old anchored boat, I flew down the stairs, to the port aft cabin, woke our friend and crew member from her nap, and threw all the bedding out into the hallway so JW could get into the engine compartment underneath and find out what was going on.
Meanwhile we called the friends on our ‘fleet’ (the boats we’ve been traveling with), to let them know what was happening. 
 We enlisted two dinghys to act as the port engine and JW motored forward on the starboard engine while I dropped anchor and we all crossed our fingers, hoping it would set. Once we were securely in place, the team dived down to have a look at our port propeller.
Turns out we had motored right over a dark grey, unmarked fishing rope. It had become completely entangled in the prop as it spun, bringing it to a halt. Hence the engine failing. It had even begun to melt into itself with the heat of the action.
As diving and holding my breath for long periods under water while prying melted rope from a propeller are not yet on my list of skills, I stood above, while members of our fleet spent the couple hours up and down, coming up with chunks of the offending rope.
 This experience was not pleasant. But it was not wracked with the horror it would have been, had we been alone or had we been a month younger at sea. But these things happen.
I’m realising that, just like the rest of life, sailing has it’s ups and downs. Things work out. Things work out much better without the fear and panic.
I now know why boats come so slowly into bays, with crew right on the front tip of the boat, surveying and scrutinizing the water below. I will follow suit.
It’s a learning curve. But now it’s a fun one. Some things will change the more I know, some will stay the same.
Apparently seasoned sailors get their dinghy painters (ropes) caught in their props, and even those who have crossed oceans have been known on occasion, when the winds are high or gusty, to spend sleepless nights, worried about dragging anchor…

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