I don’t particularly enjoy ocean sailing, more I endure it. That’s perhaps too strong – I feel a bit indifferent about it, it’s just something I have to get through. It is both an endurance and a sanity test. It’s the sleep deprivation from keeping night watch that gets to me – I am horrible without enough sleep!
For days, weeks, You’re surrounded by the vast grey blue ocean as far as the eye can see in every direction, a following wind with luck and a sea which varies significantly in size and moodiness from day to day, hour by hour. Sometimes she is kind and the boat dances along the waves happily, sometimes not so much but you endure everything she has to throw at you – what choice do you have? You can’t go back, it’s just as far and the winds against you making it a million times harder. Sometimes there is no wind at all – the doldrums, and this is the real test of patients and sanity. We are too many hundreds of miles from land for the engine…we just sit and wait it out.
This time, there has been huge rafts of oceanic weed, frequent enough to make it impossible to fish…the flying fish leap from the water and glide out of the Moonlighting’s way, occasionally tropic birds with their elegant elongated pointed tails and boobie birds with their colourful feet pay us a visit, and dive bomb the flying fish as if to mock us and our fishing ineptitude…
The ocean should be seen as something to explore not fear – but that is a challenging mindset to achieve. Crossing an ocean is such a huge effort. It’s not just the lack of sleep, it’s the physicality of the sail changes, it’s the constant awareness of the wind and how the boat is reacting to it and it’s the squalls. Add three children into this mix and it can be truly exhausting. We’re in the trade wind latitudes – there are meant to be perfect fluffy white puffs of cloud backed by a beautiful blue sky to indicate this, but there’s been none of that so far – just a muggy light grey almost total cloud covering by day. Every so often a squall rolls in. You can see it coming from quite a distance, a huge black menacing cloud that has vertical streaks reaching from it, down to the ocean…rain – a squall brings a lot of strong, unpredictable wind and a short sharp blast of warm, tropical torrential rain. At night it is really quite ominous, the already dark night sky gradually becomes totally black as the squall rolls in creeping up on you slowly from astern. When it catches up with you it’s like someone has turned off the light, even though it was already dark – the stars are clicked off and then the wind and rain starts, causing havoc with the sails and making it difficult to follow you’re course – you just have to go with it, maybe reduce the amount of sail you have up but ultimately it will give up toying with you, and roll ahead searching out its next victim. There is a lull in the wind behind it until everything settles again and suddenly the stars are switched back on. The Dementors of the sea – I wonder if JK Rowling got her idea for Dementors from a night time tropical squall…?
This Atlantic Ocean passage is making me think a year off is not enough, although this does not mean that I want to be out here doing this for any longer right now. A year to complete an Atlantic circle seems disproportionate to the amount of time we have to spend at sea. We’re sailing slowly to the Caribbean, averaging about 6 miles an hour. This ‘speed’ means there is no jet lag on arrival, for every fifteen degrees we sail west our clock goes back by one hour, when we arrive we will be four hours behind the UK.
It’ll all be worth it when we get to the Caribbean – this is what we’ve been telling the children for the past six months (well, years actually)…it’s taken six months since leaving our home port to get there, and we will spent about three or four months there before we have to cross the Atlantic again to come home. I am desperately trying to stay focused on the three months or so we will have there, but five days into our outward bound Atlantic passage my head keeps skipping ahead to the time when we will have to do this again – homeward bound. I’ve even found myself daydreaming about when we do this again in the future… I’m sure William and I will at some point, retirement is likely to be spent afloat and I look forward to being able to explore in slower time, without having the pressure of having to be back within a year for jobs and school. But, I must make myself focus on getting everything out of the here and now. The Caribbean is what this whole trip has been about for years in the making. The warm water, tropical climate, underwater life, snorkelling – This is it…but I need to remain psychologically strong on the ocean passages, it’s easy with the exhaustion to feel a bit low and let your mind wander to places you’d rather it didn’t. Look forward to the Caribbean and don’t look past it…
This is an Expedition, it’s meant to be a challenge, it’s about removing yourself from your comfort zone and rising to that challenge.
If it were easy everyone would do it, and if we wanted easy we would have flown to the Caribbean and chartered a boat for a two week holiday like proper grown ups do – we’re not proper grown ups! Us sailors appear to be hard wired slightly differently…
The kids thankfully really don’t seem to mind an ocean passage. Their world shrinks to the size of the 40ft boat and they largely get on with entertaining themselves with relatively minimal input from their sleep deprived parents. They listen to lots of audio books, watch movies, do some art, puzzles, board games, make dens, play tea party’s with the dolls, spend hours happily making up worlds with the little people and plastic animals and cuddly toys on board, do some school work. They’ll sit in the cockpit and just get hypnotised by the ocean or watch the dolphin show and laugh at the flying fish…Oh yes, and get annoyed with the proximity of each other and fight, shout, scream and slam doors – pretty normal really.
For me, the lush reward of the ocean crossing is the richness and sensory overload of landfall, after the relative simple isolation and monotony of the sea. Exploring a new island, culture, history, food, people and language after an ocean passage is what it’s all about. I’m at heart a traveller or an adventurer and I choose sailing as my mode of transport. This is an experience that cannot be replicated by any other vehicle. There is something very humbling, gratifying and satisfactory seeing your landfall emerge on the horizon after two weeks or more at sea, knowing that you’ve got there under your own steam – nobody’s done that for you. There’s an excitement that ripples through the boat when the grey speck in the distance is first spotted – ‘Land Ahoy!’, the grey speck gradually looms into a shape you recognise as you approach your long awaited destination. And way before you’re ready to drop anchor you can smell the approaching land, just like you can smell the salt of the sea when you’re going to the sea side, except land is sweet, warm, earthy and slightly like…compost.
We’ve taken this year out to give our children the opportunity to grow, learn and explore in the outdoor environment. I think this should be a right of passage for all children. It is important to me that my children see some of the world they are going to inherit. I don’t want this to sound pretentious – Of course they won’t realise any of this until the year is done and dusted and they’re a lot older, at the moment they’re happy with a year off school! But, when they’re older and are able to reflect back on this time, I hope they will be able to see how taking this time as family to explore the globe a little has influenced their choices in life. They are the decision makers of the future – hopefully we as their parents will succeed in giving them the skills to make a difference in life and society, to rise to the challenge and to grow up being the best version of themselves they can possibly be be. Ultimately, I’d like them to just do what makes them happy.
Live each day as if it is your last……Live each day as if it will last forever.