Wednesday, January 23, 2013

From suburbia to the deep blue sea

It’s times like these that I know I’m crazy. Completely off the rails. When will I wake up and realise I’m a little suburban girl from Canada, raised on shopping malls and bike rides through paved parks. Raised on safety handles and guard rails. Keeping me away from trouble and adventure.
When? Today? As my knuckles ache from the tight grip I keep on tables, counters, poles, jostled and thrown from side to side by the relentless waves of the ocean, my captain and partner at the helm, navigating through the swell.
As he shimmies along the smooth fiberglass surface, out of the relative safety of the cockpit to adjust lines and sails and other sailor-type-things, I start to contemplate my fate, should he be thrown overboard.
About all I know is the tiny man with his arms raised on our chart plotter – push that! – it’s the ‘man overboard’ button and it takes the GPS coordinates of where the ‘man’ was lost. Then what?! Our sails are up. Engines off. We are zipping along through huge waves. Turn the boat around? And what would happen to the sails? The boom would swing violently over… then I realise I don’t know how to take them down. Not really. I’ve seen JW a hundred times, I know the lines, the nicely labeled cleats, the winches and the rest, but doing all this myself? It seems I am a goldfish student as far as all of this goes, I get my command, I do the deed as best I can, and then I’ve forgotten.
As I watch him edging away, each moment a potential sea surge could throw him 10 feet, I start to think I should have taken sailing lessons. I should have spent more time practising knots and sails and less time slamming dominoes and beer! Less rum, more learning.
An hour earlier I did my ‘panic dance’, as JW likes to call it. Headed out of the calm bay, anchor up, and full sails rigged. The wind was 4 knots, then 12, then as we rounded the cliff it hit 25 knots in an instant. My eyes became saucers and every muscle clenched. 20 tons of boat jolted up, tilting with the full force of the wind in the sails. JW jumped to the ready, asked me to hold a line on the winch I think, but it’s all a blur, he had to ask me to move aside as my hands started to shake.
When, on this 9 hour journey, he needed to go down below for a bit of rest, having tethered me onto the boat with a bright yellow line, I took over the helm on watch. 5 minutes in I heard a snap bang. Looked around but couldn’t see much. After a while I noticed one of the ropes (lines) hanging down from the mast, looking broken and loose. I looked behind me and there was the same colour rope hanging out behind us in the water. Oh shit! This can’t be good. I had to wake the captain. Turns out the topping lift line had snapped and nothing was holding up the boom. I had no clue!
The day before we’d had a smooth sail – steady winds, calm seas, sun shining. Engines off, sails up, the wind carried us along confidently. We listened to music en route, sat on the bow, checked e-mails and facebook. Basically the kind of sailing I can handle. On days like those I think I’m really getting a grip on this sailing thing, that I’ve learned a lot and that I’m pretty cool. What a life! Carefree. 

 And then SLAM! The ocean gives me a face slap and I find myself trembling and of not much use to anyone in a situation where knowledge and experience are king. Where panic is superfluous and calm is necessary. Thank god for my captain.
My skills in blogging and Scrabbling have no use out here on the ocean. I realise my past lives have ill prepared me for this one.
But like I got used to 6 months with no power in Ghana all those years ago, sleeping on the floor and fending off malaria infested mosquitos for a good 5 years, I will also face up to the less-than-easy side of life on a boat.
I vow to pay more attention to words like halyard, rigging, topping lift, hove to. I promise to learn and practice some nautical knots and watch how the engines are maintained.
As long as I can soak up the beauty of a sunkissed mountain jutting out of the ocean on our arrival at a new island, try the bright pungent local fruits in the many bustling markets once we’ve arrived, and swim with the mind boggling number of wild and wonderful fish living just under us on this journey.
 And as long as I can find a good cappuccino, a bagel and cream cheese (dare I say with smoked salmon?!) here and there along the way, I wouldn’t trade it back for the safety of suburbia at all. 


  1. You are utterly amazing. I've read you constantly from your time in Ghana, and here I thought you'd never come up with something as adventurous. I was wrong!

    1. Thanks so much Dufmanno - how did you find me and I'm very flattered to know you followed me on my next crazy adventure :)

  2. Oh, I have sooo much to learn! Love your post!