I know that some offshore sailors manage to write books about their experiences at sea, but after only sixty days (paltry in comparison to most committed blue water pioneers) I’m struggling to come up with a narrative thread for this week’s post. It’s not that nothing happens ? of course things happen, it’s just that after a while anything becomes banal, the once glimmering narrative threads lost amidst the mundane weave of daily life. Every life is lived daily, after all.
I still appreciate the way that we are still able to shrink the world down, focus its many energies into something so simple as getting from one place to the next. After all, few places in the world are out of reach of a few months of patient travel ? overland or by sea. For all intensive purposes, flying is magic. Sure, it brings places closer together in terms of the time it takes to travel between them, but it does no justice to the actual distance overcome, the miles covered. To someone who has flown from Canada to Australia, for example, the idea of travelling that distance at the pace of a slow jog has the potential to bring on heart palpitations. Similarly, most vacationing Albertans in Acapulco would laugh at the ludicrousness of the idea that they could have arrived by bicycle, given a few measly months of sweat and energy bars.
It is time we have lost grip of, not space. When I muse aloud about this a few days ago, Steve just laughs (not cruelly, more a laugh to humour someone who has finally let go of the last shreds of reason). Most people, he tells me, would never have the patience to wait a few months to arrive anywhere. Maybe, I say, but most people never try.
For me, though, these slow miles are powerful in the very way they plod past; what is a few thousand when the horizon is only ever and always ten miles away?
After all these days at sea, the relief of the singular task has receded and been replaced by a small stirring restlessness. It is hard to hold a goal firmly enough so as to make up completely for things like green vegetables and long walks. That said, when we arrive in Valdivia, Chile in but a couple of days, we will have travelled more than eight thousand miles since leaving Vancouver Island eight months ago. The world, in all its many watery miles, isn’t really that big after all.
In the first lifting of the dark this morning I stood in the cockpit and looked out over the grey rolling world. Here and there are birds ? petrels and shearwaters and one great albatross a few days ago who brought with it an official welcome to the southern ocean. But asides from these untethered gliders for weeks now there has been nothing ? no planes or ships break the line of the horizon, no dolphins or fish break the surface of the sea.
For a world so absolutely covered and filled with water, it has started to feel like an empty sort of place.
I just finished reading a biography of James Cook, the British Navigator who famously died in Hawaii in the late 18th century. At night I try to imagine him where I am now ? these waters became well known to him over the years. It’s easy for me to ignore the vastness that stretches beyond the visible horizon. In the interest of keeping a firm grip on a world that is knowable I choose to reduce this immense space to just that which can be seen.
I know, however, that the possible panic is really kept at bay by the absolute fact that land is out there and we are pointed straight at it. For Cook, the world was a much less certain project. All three of his journeys sought to find things ? continents or passages ? that did not exist or were virtually impassable.
Our world is now so known it is hard to even comprehend the idea of true exploration.
After fifty days at sea since Mexico, I’m ready for that other world, now.
Last night the wind flat out died and so Steve took the sails down and went to bed without waking me up. This is pretty normal protocol ? we haven’t yet felt the need to motor through the night, and if we’re not moving there’s really no reason for someone to be up. Some nights I might just carry on sleeping, but I’m beginning to suspect a fundamental change in my internal clock that might account for why I woke up naturally at two in the morning. After almost two months at sea now, I have come to see the hours between one and seven in the morning as a productive, if not altogether quiet, part of my day. For those who know me and my usual propensity for early and dedicated sleeping habits, this may come as a surprise.
Yesterday, I woke up because of the rain. Like letting fruit fall to the ground and rot, it’s hard to let good rainwater waste away into brine. With rain, we have learned these few months in the tropics, comes wind; with the water running smoothly into a pot in the sink I set the sails and put on my rainpants. Of course, as soon as the rain stops, the wind loses its reason to be and I spend the next four hours fiddling with the sails, pretty much in vain. Two knots here, three knots there. And at least forty degrees off course (and the course is a liberal ?anything with some south in it?). Give me a flipping break.
At four I turn on the computer to look at the grib file. I know it’s just a computer model used to predict weather, but I study the little feathered wind arrows like they are Truth. Highs and lows sweep across the world down here, but their patterns are staggering and swervy. I study the maps for a while as we go nowhere slowly. The only truth in these pages is that four days from now, anything could always happen.
At six, the wind dies completely and so I take the sails down again to relieve us of the slatting and banging of unhappy canvas. To make an already surreal daily routine more bizarre, our clocks are set to Easter Island time, which at GMT -5 is pretty wacky. The banks open at eight am in the dark. Now, although there are no banks, it still feels off somehow for daybreak to be assigned such a mature number. As if the day itself shifted, and not just our way of organising it.
I’m not tired enough yet to call it a night, and so I make a cup of tea and sit knitting in the dark cockpit. We bob and roll unproductively over a huge southerly swell.
At seven, the time has come and, with the sun still at least an hour away, I crawl back into the forepeak just ten miles and a few rows further along than when I crawled out.