Quicksand Dreams and the Final Passage

"No more adventures, please", my only request before we leave.
"Just one more", he replies.

The feeling is one of standing on a diving board, looking down. My
ribcage full of butterflies. I am nervous. This time we know what we're
jumping in to.

Ignorance was bliss.

The weather forecast predicts… pumpy. Every cruiser around here is
heading south and I'm yet to meet anyone who is excited by the prospect.
Anyone who gets this far knows that the next bit will be harder.
Windier, wetter, colder. Hard work. But I retain faith that we'll get
there. And keep dreaming about the cup of tea on the other side.

The final leg.

October 27

The poltergeist is back. I've so far been taken out by a flying pressure
cooker, had scalding soup pour out of a pan down my leg, had a plastic
bowl crack, throwing different soup across my arm, and a kettle push me
with such force that I flew across the room in mid- fill.

The vengeance of a final trip, or maybe just a bumpy ride.

Days and nights pass as I stare at the sea, absorbing it all. No books,
no music, no conversation, not even writing. Just absorbing.

Delightfully, we remain in VHF contact with Brandy and Mark from
Restless. After much organising and weather-watching our two boats left
within the same hour and seem very well matched. They are slightly
faster than us but in three full days there is still only eight miles
between us.

Two things I never thought we'd do: cross an ocean in tandem with
another boat, and ask for professional weather forecasting advice.
Indeed, I laughed at people with their own professional 'weather
router', hanging on their every word before so much as changing a sail.

But that has been us these last few days: "are we too late?" was the
question posed to Bob McDavitt, senior forecaster at the New Zealand Met
Office. Most boats jumping on this weather window left three or four
days earlier, and were faster than us.. but at that stage we were still
recovering from the salvage mission. Now we were ready, had we missed
our chance? Bob McD thought not.

I could argue, with some degree of honesty, that the passage to New
Zealand takes us into previously unexplored (by us) meteorological
conditions. And that the Grib files leave us with more questions than
answers. And that this trip is notorious amongst sailors as one of the
less pleasant, with higher potential for getting pummeled.

Indeed, for most boats that have remained in tropical waters throughout,
starting their Pacific adventures in Panama or Mexico, these are the
scariest seas, or could be. And the collective trepidation is
contagious. (In light of this, many cruisers choose to leave their boats
buried in a hole in Fiji during the cyclone season so that their vessel
never has to leave the gentler cruising seas.)

But for Restless and Zephyrus, who both began their journeys in southern
Chile having previously rounded Cape Horn, what's to fear?

Frankly, a return of what we've seen. As Andy said the morning we left –
wasn't ignorance bliss? Truly. The Gribs we saw in Chile showed 20 and
30 knot winds and various passing pressure systems, and though we
understood them in theory, we didn't know how they would feel in
reality. Now I know to fear reds and purples (the colour coded wind
arrows over 20 knots) and passing lows with blue in the middle. And I
know that the forecast we see for this coming week will be… exciting.

Or, as Bob McDavitt predicted in his free weekly weathergram, 'spirited
and bumpy'.

nightshift:

In sailing-ese (how has it come that I can even write this stuff?):

/"With winds of 25 to 35 knots on the beam, we started those days with
two reefs in the main and a reefed jib but rapidly became overpowered
and switched the jib for our former staysail (Zeph no longer has an
inner forestay). Only a few hours later, in the mid of dark, did we
reduce again and the storm jib, by far our favourite and much-loved sail
– always welcome in times of need and fear- remained up for the next 48
hours."/

Or, in less technical terminology, 'conditions were a bit shit'. Other
terms that spring to mind: washing machine cycle, uncomfortable, too
strong, too big, overpowered, tiring.

On one of our regular radio chats Brandy said the conditions made her
dream of reaching New Zealand, and spending an entire year on land. I
had to confess in response that I'd spent much of my shifts staring at
the glory of the powerful ocean, bubbling and foaming to the horizon and
beyond, trying to conjure a sense of nostalgia for this special time at
sea. A sense of poignancy for the passing of time, enhanced alertness
that this was the final section. Maybe even a twinge of sadness.

But no, not an ounce. Land, Land, Land. I asked Andy for some words for
the day's tweet. Without pause for thought his response: "there's no
place like home, there's no place like home". If only we could click our
heels three times.

Around then we discovered that not only had I left the data cable that
connects our computer to the sat phone carelessly dangling but, thanks
to a newly sprung leak, the USB end had been gradually immersing itself
in a pool of salty sea water.

An end to comms, or at least email comms, just when we'd written to
Wizard McDavitt asking for an update. The subject line: 'should we run
or should we hide?'

Collectively, the decision was made to run as the weather files we had
so far seen showed no sign of improving conditions were we to wait a day
or three in Minerva Reef, our only potential stopover on the passage. A
shame in a way as I was intrigued to be anchored in the middle of an
ocean with no land in sight. Then again, it would mean going through the
whole 'gearing up to leave' process again which, despite anything we'd
be sent, was definitely the worst part of the process.

The morning we left I had had full butterflies in my stomach. Andy went
green and silent. Brandy felt seasick before even lifting the anchor.
And Mark was last seen pulling out his hair with the indecision of
departure, or not. None of us wanted to go through that again.

So last night we turned left, into the waves and the wind, bypassing
Minerva reef, and set a direct course for New Zealand.

For two days the ocean overpowered us and all we could do was go slow
and stay safe. Such a weird sensation when replacing the staysail with
the storm jib – in effect a tough handkerchief for a headsail.

The world went into slow motion. The ocean moved like treacle. And we
moved like a slug. It was the sensation of a strobe light pulsing down
on our entire surroundings, to the horizon. I don't entirely understand
it. Our reduced sail meant we were no longer surfing waves, hurtling
along at the speed of the water. Slower than the waves, our relative
frequencies had changed, and the ocean became a standing wave across
which we crawled.

Until we were slammed back to real-time by gusts, and waves pouring into
the cockpit. But the sensation recurred, periodically.

That night I slept deeply but woke gasping for air. I had been in
zero-gravity, and some kind of survival competition. Some of my
colleagues had mastered the art of floating and finding air, others of
us were battling between the two sensations of outer space and
suffocation. It was with relief that I woke to find I was back on Earth,
safely tucked up in a boat that was merely throwing me between mid-air
and my pillow.

Meanwhile, outside in the cockpit, Andy was gazing out to starboard, the
direction in which the waves and wind were rolling fast. For a moment he
too experienced a change in perception. The waves appeared motionless
and he felt himself and the boat hurtling backwards, at speed.

During my next shift of sleeping the winds miraculously calmed. I dreamt
that Madonna had stolen my only posh dress (the bitch!) and I kept
missing hair and beauty appointments. Worse, she gave the dress away to
another really famous person (who everyone knew the name of but me), who
cut it up and wore only the bodice part with bright red hot-pants,
discarding the beautiful long silk skirt. And someone had taken my
tickets to the ball.

Once again I woke with relief to find that I was still in the middle of
the ocean, this time place of no mirrors, dresses, haircuts, or beauty
salons. I guess there are some things that I'll miss about this life
after all.

These are the quicksand dreams of the sea- swallowing you up and
impossible to climb out of.

October 28, 5pm

At last! I feel alive again. We've had our first nutritional meal of the
journey (pasta pesto), caught up on sleep (dreamless), and settled into
the new wind regime (20 knots on the beam, 1-2m seas). And we're making
headway.

Remarkably, I feel so alive I'm even happy, laughing, cracking jokes,
making tea. We both had a wash today too so that might be a factor-
three buckets of sea water (brisk) followed by three litres of fresh.

And it's day four. Critical. Two days ago the end couldn't come soon
enough. Today I feel like we could keep going for weeks. Explore the
world even- how exciting, what freedom! Yes, for this moment I'm in love
with life. No squalls, flying implements, or seasickness to contend with
for six hours and I'm a new woman. Let's hope just these conditions last
for a few more days.

638 miles to go.


Midnight.

Holy Moly. This is like some kind of final test of our mettle, or mine
at least. The wind turned more southerly and picked up, ten minutes
after my 11pm shift started. I was on the verge of tears. Then started
deep and focused breathing. Just keep breathing.

We're screaming along, or that's how it feels. The extent of wildness
increases as you point closer to the wind and we really now should keep
'beating' (sailing close to the wind) in order to maintain our course.
If only my nerves can hold out.

The person breaks before the ship.

Occasional dancing phosphorescence reminds me to smile. Deep breaths,
white light, dancing phosphorescence, smile. Deep breaths, smile. Smile.
Breathe… and it gradually becomes manageable. I can do this. Keep
breathing.

No, I can do this. It's almost calm now- amazing, the power of the mind.
But no, a quick glance at the GPS and I see it has calmed. Dramatically.
We've dropped from a speed of 8 knots to 4. Weird.

I'm counting down until my midnight sched with Brandy. Ironic to have
developed such a dependency now, at the end of the trip when I should
feel the most competent. Six hourly radio check-ins with a friend
near-by and email advice from a professional forecaster, who have I
become? I laughed at those people before I even got here.

I think that's the point.

I give thanks that conditions remain calm over sched o'clock and hail
Restless. Brandy, my fairy godmother since I first arrived in Chile, has
a deep gravelly voice, warm and comforting in even the craziest
conditions, and a wonderful ability to laugh through wildness. I really
have been counting down to hear her; Andy's not much use right now. He
clearly wants me to tough it out and stop asking inane panicky things
about things I really, after nine months of sailing, should know about.

But in truth, I feel like the learning is only just beginning. It's
taken this long to start mastering my fear. Or at least acknowledging it
and continuing to function.

I was a bit down-hearted earlier when I realised that every sail change
we have done since leaving Chile, without exception, has been done by
Andy. I have winched sails up and down at the start and end of journeys,
but I hate carrying the heavy cumbersome sail-bag up to the bow. I'm
scared I'll drop it in the sea, or go in with it, so I kick and squeeze
and drag it along the deck, one hand always on a stay, and generally
make a dog's ear of the whole affair. At a time when time and grace are
usually of the essence.

But I have improved a lot, I think, at steering at least, and other
cock-pit located jobs. And I demand to be awake and outside when a sail
change occurs. He used to ignore me on that point but really, if
anything did happen to him and, at worst, he fell overboard, I want at
least to know about it and be suitably dressed, and awake, before losing
the plot.

So, there are a few things I've decided if we're to continue with this
sailing malarkey, either long or short term. First, I need to enjoy it.
It has to be a choice, a positive life choice, for us both. Second, I
have to know how to operate the boat by myself, even if it isn't pretty.

Right now I'm not sure how I feel about either of those.

I'm zipping between other boats in a sailing dinghy, a fast one. Like a
laser. Having a great time. The wind acts like gravity and I'm flying
along, playing with it, up, down, in, out, across, over, left, right.
Hang on, I'm surfing. This is gravity I'm playing with. No, I'm
snowboarding. I'm snowboarding on my laser. Yee-ha.

"Hey, that's cheating", one guy shouts across at me, with a grin, and
promptly turns his boat into a surfboard to join in the fun. A snowboard
surfboard. Wind like gravity. Is that all I ever needed to understand?

If only one had the ability to step outside such dreams. If so, surely
this one would have spelled warning. Instead, I am woken by Andy's
voice, firmer than usual, "Rhian, get up mate, it's getting pretty crazy
out here… time to reduce sail."


October 29^th

"Grandpa", I shout with joy, a huge smile warming my face. How long has
it been since I've so much as touched or seen this beloved old cashmere?
Embroidered holes in both armpits and around the collar, this jumper has
accompanied me on every outdoor expedition since I inherited it, age 14.
It even came back to me after being given away during the tsunami in
February- the grateful recipient posted it to await us in Easter Island!

Ironically, Grandpa the man was not the outdoors type. More likely found
enjoying a good opera, port, or a round of Bridge. And he certainly
wouldn't have worn holes in his armpits, with pride. Still, as I slip
the old top over my head it's like receiving a hug from across generations.

Andy has his comfort clothes too, most especially a chunky woolen hat
from Chiloe that he demands at all times of stress or bother, even in
the tropics. All is well if Chiloe is on his head.

My underlayer is another hug- a green merino wool t-shirt, a departure
gift from a good friend. Come to think of it, all my remaining clothes
remind me of specific people. Even down to the thick stripey socks on my
feet.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that it's getting colder,
deliciously so, and I'm all snugged up.

The crazy winds appear to have abated and we're bang on course. Plus, a
huge bowl of cold pasta, a mug of hot Milo, and a couple of hours kip,
have made me a content human again. We are such base creatures.

The waning moon is just over half illuminated, a slight belly on its
fuzzy edge. We'll be in New Zealand before it has disappeared entirely.
Moonlit passages are the best.

Plus, we crossed two significant landmarks while I slept. A nice surprise.

1. The 600-mile mark, now only 568 miles to go. Almost half way. At a 5
knot average speed we'll arrive in… four or five days. Damn. Longer
than I thought.

2. The East-West Meridian. Hooray! In the eastern hemisphere at last.
179 deg 53' to be precise, and counting down. I was kind of hoping to
see the change myself but won't go back for it. I wonder if Andy even
noticed.

—-

It's 3.30am and the second time this night that I've been woken two
hours into my three hour sleep for a sail change. The first, at 2145
(while surfing on lasers), was to drop the jib and replace it with the
former staysail: we were being overpowered. By the time the sail change
was fully implemented and course tweaked it was 2215 and made sense for
me to just start my shift.

"Spirited and bumpy", predicted Wizard McDavitt. –Spirited and Bumpy-
Brandy reminded me on our midnight sched.

Indeed. Thank god we reduced sail. Most of that shift was spent with me
staring wide-eyed at the looming clouds, bracing for our increased
speeds of 7 and 8 knots, with the staysail! Average wind speeds were
25-30 knots, gusting 38.

Finally, these numbers begin to mean something to me as I understand how
the effect is intensified the closer you sail to the wind. Add 5 or 10
knots to a downwind route and you just glide faster and better (to a
point). Add it when you're beating and you effectively double your
relative speed. That is, for a 5 knot wind increase you might go 2 knots
faster in the direction of the wind. Which means it feels like the wind
is coming at you 7 knots faster. So the boat tips up more, ropes
tighten, sails are taut, and everything screams together a pitch higher,
both in reality and on your nerves.

"The boat is stronger than the person. The person breaks before the
ship." My mantra.

A couple of hours later and the black clouds finally remain behind us,
the winds becoming more consistent. The moon starts to rise orange,
stars fill the heavens, phosphorous flashes in waves, and we're making
good speed, on course. It's momentarily glorious. It is glorious. "Oh
for the life on the open sea" (chorus of a song stuck in my head all
night).

I've been thinking about what makes us do this. Not us- Andy and Rhian-
that I think I know. But this mysterious collective of 'cruisers' we
have met along the way. I like many individuals a lot but remain
skeptical about the community as a whole. Something just doesn't sit
right. It's like their presence makes the whole experience less of an
adventure, more 'normal'. And therefore easy.

And it's not normal. Really. It's hard work. Mostly it's not about
sundowners, baking, and pot-lucks. Or at least not when you're at sea.
And I am incredulous that all these perfect smiling people are going
through the same experience as us.

Are their souls thrilling with the expansiveness and power of the ocean?
If so, wouldn't you expect to meet a different type of person on the
other side? More like the great solo sailors and explorers of the last
century. And with a compulsory twinkle in every eye.

Sieze the Day.

Or is this what 21^st century day-siezing looks like? Complete with
EPIRBs, GPS navigation, satellite phones, life-rafts, and national
rescue services.

How deflating.

Another thing that struck me as strange, but I now empathise with (at
times), is how many cruisers don't like sailing. Or sailing passages at
least. Anything with an overnight in. It's like they go out of their way
to do short hops, stay in kind seas, and pay people to tell them when to
go and in which direction.

I thought this was all about sailing. About being out there, on the open
sea. Absorbing its magnificence.

No. A collective dread is currently mounting in Tonga and Fiji as people
prepare themselves, mostly mentally, for the passage ahead. And on the
radio huge whoops of congratulations are passed on whenever a boat
safely reaches the other side.

Not many folk check in with –it's great to be out here-. Even Brandy and
I are talking about hotels with clean sheets and hot bubble baths, fish
and chips, and going to the movies.

But yet I still want to sail in Patagonia and Alaska. My heart doesn't
listen to my brain when it tries to explain how much harder that would
be, because of the weather. Harder than this is off my scale of
comprehension.

It's now 0615 and the sun is rising. The second sail changed hailed a
return to the jib, conditions having settled again. Still strong, but
steady.

We've done more sail changes on this passage than any other. To the
point that we now just do them rather than me saying first- wait, how
will this work again? What do you want me to do?

On the most recent change I was toasty warm and deeply sleepy. Andy said
he could do it on his own and I very almost let him. After all, it's my
rule, not his, that demands I'm outside and dressed for such events. And
surely I can break my own rules?

He's already dropped the staysail by the time I've pulled on my 15 soggy
layers plus wet weather gear, boots, and harness. And in truth I'm still
asleep.

I spend a minute or so blinking up at the windvane just trying to
understand where we are, where the wind is, what we're trying to do, and
why, and how I can help.

It's okay, he's not done anything fancy so I can let out some main and
turn us downwind to blanket the jib area and make it easier for him to
winch up the new sail.

But don't turn too far downwind or we'll crash jibe. And watch for those
metal halyards flying around the mast and rigging.

Something snags, I look to see what's happened, and we crash jibe. But,
amazingly, I remembered to put on the preventer so no great damage was
done. No decapitating booms this time. At least I'm learning how to
predict and deal with my mistakes, if not how to prevent them entirely.

You know, there is another way, and it's what most people do. It's
called roller furling and involves having just one headsail that can be
rolled up completely, let out completely, or only partially let out…
and all done from the safety of the cockpit. No flying halyards, no
lumping sails up and down the deck, no stuffing sails in and out of
bags, no need to leave the cockpit. Genius.

Andy 'old school' Whittaker remains skeptical. "When roller-furling goes
wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong." Probably so. But I keep dreaming of
this other life.

Some folk tell me that this boat is great training – if you can sail
this, you can sail anything. But that's the point: I can't sail this.
And I've never done a sail change on my own.

In this age of technology you don't just need pure brawn to be a
competent sailor. Install bigger winches, self-tailers no less, put up
roller-furling, hell, go all out and build a hard dodger so you don't
get soaked every time it rains or the boat takes a wave. I'm not talking
about buying a winnebago here, just enabling. We do, after all, carry
the EPIRB, the GPS, the satellite phone, life-raft, and every kind of
weather forecasting software and technology. We are sailing in the 21^st
century whether we like it or not.

Is this a slippery slope? Definitely. Without all these modern
developments there would, without a doubt, be fewer cruisers out here.
The removal of GPS alone, returning navigation to sextant and compass,
would send most people back to their houses and cars.

The remaining 'old school' must be despairing. Things aren't what they
used to be. Indeed not. This weekend sees a huge party in Tonga and Fiji
followed by a 'raleigh' as people sail collectively to New Zealand. For
many of the participants, there is comfort in numbers.

I'm torn. I don't know what I think anymore. I think the old school
moved to higher latitudes a long time ago, and these were Andy's
mentors. The life they lead, and led, is one that we aspired to.

However, I also think it made sense to 'crack our teeth' in more
temperate waters, with more people around. To learn in gentler
conditions and also know about the bigger cruising picture.

And I think that anyone who is attempting a journey like this on a
relatively small, family-sized, boat, without professional crew, is
brave. No matter how tricked-out their ship, no matter how experienced
or not. And especially the women. The many women who never had a dream
to sail the Pacific but are accompanying their partners and enabling
them to fulfill a life's ambition, together.

These women find big seas scary. Some get very seasick. Several have
children on board and so are also looking out for their safety. And
feeding them. And schooling them. And doing night-watch. And playing
number two to the skipper- a role that for many of us emancipated career
types does not, quite frankly, come naturally.

When things go crazy on the boat Andy looks after the outside and I do
inside. Yes, I'd rather be able to do both but outside is still a scary
place for me when seas are metres high or cables are flying that
shouldn't be. That's why he gets the title 'Captain' and it suits me
fine. It's his dream after all.

So I was surprised yesterday when I asked if he enjoyed the passages and
he said, after some thought –Not really, no.

There's too much unknown and we're only at the beginning of our learning
and experience. When it comes to climbing, or ski-ing, or hanging off
ropes, or surfing, or any other adrenalin sport he has tried, he knows
his limits.

Out here, the weather doesn't really care what your limits are, or how
well you know them.

So, until the limits are higher and experience longer, we will continue
to use GPS and email, to receive weather files, to tune into the HF
radio networks, and to carry a life-raft and EPIRB.

This is the 21^st century and technology does enable us to go to places
we would have previously not attempted without further training. The
ocean is still magnificent, both in power and expanse. Coming here gives
me a glimmer of what it must have been like in the Age of Adventure, 50
years ago, in relatively empty seas.

It's pretty amazing that so many people, untrained as I, are
experiencing it today.

Oct 30 1330

Glorious conditions, glorious sailing. And all because we discovered how
to use the traveler (traveler: sliding bar along which pivotal point of
the boom attaches).

During that first horrific introduction to sailing in Chiloe, a friend
joined us on Zephyrus to 'bash her about a bit' and taught me at that
time: Sheet for Shape, Travel for Trim.

Which is all well and good if you know what it means. I got about half
(Shape- shape of the sail, but how do you know when it's right? You just
know. Great). Trim left me stranded.

But today Andy woke me with a bounce and a grin (I was dreaming about
cabbages). "I've discovered something you're going to love." We're
nearly there? Alas, no. The Traveler.

It's pumped up again, we're overpowered, and continually turning up into
the wind. At a stage where we might have to change sail, but neither of
us want to lose the associated speed. We just want to get there now.
Letting out the mainsheet (Sheet for Shape) changes our course but it
remains a bumpy ride. Letting out the traveler (Travel for Trim) has
calmed our motion dramatically and also improved our course.

Wow. That's amazing. I was dreaming about cabbages. No, really. It was a
great dream. We were in San Francisco and we'd found this enormous
amazing allotment. And some very cool people who worked there, growing
food for this whole huge city community. And we arranged a great deal –
they got to spend a night on a small, cute, boat called Zephyrus, and we
got to camp in this amazing, huge, secret allotment garden. There was
just one tiny door in a hidden wooden fence, innocuous, but once behind
it the city smell and bustle was instantly halted and replaced by Fresh
Green. The smell of growing food, greenhouses, and muddy potatoes. And
huge green cabbages. And we got to sleep in a tent immersed in that
delicious aroma.

Andy by now has taken off his foul weather gear and is attempting to
kick me outside for my watch. "Nice. Yep. That does sound nice. Fresh
aroma. Just what I think when pulling off these stinking boots."

Back to reality, catapulted outside, and indeed it's glorious. Yaay for
Trim. Travel for Trim.

We've been on the go for six days now. Four to go. We never seem to get
any closer.

Oct 31^st

Strong winds, rain, big seas, we just want to get there now. The number
of remaining miles reduces every day but continues to feel
dishearteningly high.

I've had several emails lately from women who just arrived in New
Zealand. They each were on boats that left two or three days before us,
and would take two or three days less time to get there as well. For
each, the relief associated with arrival has been immense. Not one of
them seemed to enjoy the passage. Did, the men, I wonder? It's not said-
in so many cases the whole adventure is the man's idea so maybe he's not
allowed to admit when it's shit. Then the whole family would revolt.

So it's a relief to me that Andy's not loving this either (though it's a
shame as well). In a backwards kind of a way. At least we remain
compatible in what we enjoy and endure.

One lovely thing has sprung up this last day. Two actually. The first-
visits from the Wandering Albatross. So beautiful, makes your spirit
soar watching them fly. We've seen a few now, all quite young, probably
on their first five year exploration of the world. What an adventure. We
wondered why they're so far north and figured their parents told them to
go and explore the foreign lands first, with gentler conditions, before
settling in the South. Like backpackers, student exchanges, gap year
kids, and apprenticeships, the world over.

The second is making a new friend. She's called Lynnis and 'though we've
never met she's is only 50 miles from us, and has started joining some
of the radio scheds we have with Restless. It came about last night on
the 'Penguin Net' when she broke in, slightly panicky, requesting an
early check-in because they had broken a shroud (one of the thick metal
wires on the side of the boat that holds the mast up, or down I guess.
Pretty fundamental to keeping the mast vertical anyway). She, her
husband, and the crew member were all okay, and the boat had a temporary
fix, but she clearly wanted people to just- know.

The Penguin Net started in March when a small group of boats left the
Galapagos together, sailing west. It has since expanded organically and
now includes people checking in from across Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia,
and Vanuatu en route to Australia and New Zealand.

It turns out that we were the closest boat to Lynnis, and we even carry
spare rigging on board, so we arranged to check in independently with
her via HF. Twenty-four hours later all is well but we certainly have a
new friend, and it's a nice feeling. Puts a smile on my face. She joins
our scheds where we share conditions, positions, and weather forecasts,
and just have a chat. Mark has re-branded it the 'ladies morning coffee
net' and he's not far off. It's more about companionship than anything
else. The last thing I thought I'd be seeking mid-ocean.

But here's a thing. Lynnis had a problem. She shared it on an HF network
where maybe 20 boats, widely dispersed, check in. She was fine, but was
comforted to have people knowing about their concerns. It also led, very
quickly, to a potential close source for help should they need it, in
this case us. And we now keep in contact and will continue to do so
until the boat reaches safety. No need for a MayDay, SOS, or other
emergency call.

Now, take the case of our friends who lost their boat. They were very
well prepared with excellent safety equipment on board. They, too, had a
problem with their rigging. Which triggered a chain of other events.
Their emergency and communication equipment was, some might argue, more
up-to-date than that which Lynnis and her boat carry (who don't have any
form of email or weather services on board), including satellite phone
and an EPIRB. And when the situation went beyond their comfort level
they phoned the appropriate number in France. Who, rightly, triggered
the local emergency rescue services to come to their aid.

The first that the local boating community knew of their troubles was a
MayDay alert followed by reports of a Navy rescue operation and a
sinking ship.

Only after the events had unfolded did we realise that there might have
been a different outcome, if only the local community had been
contactable earlier. At the very least there might have been someone
nearby with whom they could have talked through the situation with.

That was one of the things that made me saddest. That she might still be
floating.

Satellite phones are gradually replacing long range radio as a primary
means of communication. We have one, and in truth we would have likely
not bought an HF/SSB (single-sideband radio) had it not come equipped
with the boat. I would now think twice about that decision.

Though we have a phone, there is no standard protocol about how to use
it (unlike the well-established HF communication). We always keep our
phone off except to send emails. And we only have a few numbers
programmed in. We never even thought to swap numbers with our friends.
And even if we had, our phone wouldn't have rung had they called. Not so
with a radio. Even if you don't check in regularly on a net it's usually
possible to track someone down on one of the most-used frequencies. And
that triggers local helping local.

Food for thought in this world that is increasingly globalised, even on
the ocean.


November 1

SQUALL! WIND ON!

As it approaches, the wind increases by an octave. We are surfing up
waves, like a snowboarder or skateboarder attempting a half-pipe. Go
directly perpendicular and SLAM! you fall off the other side. Go too
shallow and you tilt right over, barely reaching the peak, water pouring
in over the lower side and filling the cockpit.

Dolphins surfing. Albatrosses. Small highlights that keep my faith.

Three, four, five, six metre seas. A wall of wave so big it's all you
can do just to look at it.

I am mostly wide eyes, adrenalin, and Milo.

Neptune has not paid us much attention lately, busy concentrating on
more important Matters Oceanic, but he must have just realised that we
have two days left to go and got out his check-list. Tsunami- check.
Storm- check. Downwind- check. Heat- check. Rain- triple check. Cold-
check.

Then he reached the section entitled Big Seas. We had only two out of
three: running with the waves off the coast of Chile (three days in,
still the most terrifying part of this trip), and running across them
from Suvarow to Tonga. But no 'bashing right into them', facing them
head-on.

Right, he realised in the nick of time, must send them some weather
immediately. For their own good.

Gee, thanks.

And that's how it came to be that we were beating into five metre
breaking seas, for two days. An entirely new experience for me, and not
one I really felt needed remedying. But hey, it will make seeing land
all the sweeter.

November 2

Our last day at sea and – at last – a good one. Lovely, in fact. I am so
glad. And relieved. The relief came first, awash with tiredness. Then
peace. Then being glad. Glad because this last day will give me overall
happy memories of the trip. We will arrive tomorrow morning refreshed
and excited rather than battered and knackered. Which was us twelve
hours ago. A long, hard, night bashing into big seas and being knocked
off course.

I finished my book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) this morning, did
the washing up, spoke with Lynnis on the radio, and made crepes. After
Andy woke (he had had an even longer and harder night than I), and we
enjoyed breakfast , we both washed. ICY! It appears that our fridge (the
bilge) has become a fridge again. As have the tanks where our water jugs
are stowed. Even the tinned butter came out hard rather than like
margarine.

Cold. Last night turned cold. Wonderfully, chillingly, so. The kind of
cold where people from cold places say – brrr, it's cold-. I can't
imagine how most folk are faring who set off from Florida or Panama with
barely a long-sleeved cotton shirt in their cupboard! But I'm loving it.
My brain has more clarity. I feel more me. No longer sweaty and lethargic.

How long ago that seems already.

And now it's our last day at sea. Am I sad? Nostalgic? Nervous? Not at
all. Pleased, proud, surprised,- maybe even happy. Not because land is
in site, metaphorically (though there is an element of that), but
because- we did it. Simple as that. We did it. And we did it for no
other reason than to give it a go. Not to save the world. Certainly not
to save money. And not for the c.v. either. That's a good thing.
Refreshing. And it's taken me this long to get used to the idea. Now
that I finally have, how much harder will it be to now look for work,
think up some kind of life-plan, fill in the –what next?-

But all that is in the future. First we will have a cup of tea. And
before that we need to reach Opua where we'll put the kettle on. One
thing at a time.

I got thinking about phrases this morning. Step by step. Weather a
storm. Let it blow over. Such passive concepts meaning – wait. But a
more accurate translation would be –live- or –live now-. While
weathering a real storm your only thoughts are on today. But not by
passively waiting. Rather, actively engaging in every aspect of today,
to the exclusion of all other factors in your life.

Hm.

The greatest achievement in reaching New Zealand, for me, is that we're
both still alive and happy. Not a day has passed these ten months when I
haven't worried about Andy falling overboard. The fear is huge, and
valid, as I'm pretty sure my response wouldn't be the correct and
rational action. I would panic. Not only for the loss of him, but also
my lack of skill in managing the boat in order to go back and get him.
At least on land I'll be back in my comfort zone regarding emergency
response. And Andy, as a result, may feel more free again.

?


October 2, 1930

The last night in Zephyrus, at sea, on a passage, for a long time.
Forever? For a couple of months? Who knows. I don't want to know what
happens next. Not yet. These last hours feel precious.

Dusk has an extra shine to her hue, Andy is three times himself, all the
best bits amplified. The sound of sailing noises, creaks and bumps, one
time spooks and ghouls in the night, are now familiar friends to me.
What a magical opportunity this has been: highs and lows. Filling our
capacity for living, and on some occasions expanding it, to the maximum.

With the colder air and approaching end I feel more alive, more vibrant,
more excited for the future. This journey is reaching its destination at
exactly the right moment, not a day too soon, not a day too late. We
can't yet see land but I know it's close. Sixty miles. Maybe it'll be
waiting for us in the morning.

Tonight I shall relish being at sea for one more night.

(THE END)

One thought on “Quicksand Dreams and the Final Passage

  1. hi,,,a great bit of writting,from someone who challenges their fear,,whether it is for love or personel advancement,it really makes no difference,, it is hard for us that can to truely understand those that have to fight so many feellings to be beside us,,,my question is ,,do i show your post to my partner or let her go into our voyage with what we call ''ignorant bliss''.?
    there is already a thousand question's so probably don't need another thousand that your post would bring into our life's,,,hmmm,,,think 'ignorant bliss' is the best path,,thanks for sharing your trip,safe travels. "different drum'

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