Like all first times, perhaps, it lacked foreplay. We rushed it a bit and went straight to the meaty part, too eager to know what “it” was about. I was giving myself willingly, for I knew beforehand that it would be painful, with a rough couple of days in the weather window and route we had opted for, however I was ready to lift the veil of mystery that surrounds blue water sailing, and be confronted once and for all with the mighty ocean.
I so wanted to belong to the exclusive club of people who’ve done it, can talk about it and compare experiences with a knowing look.
And so, after the first twenty-four hours it took us to leave land behind and truly get offshore, we were treated to what people commonly refer to as the “washing machine”. A couple of days and nights of twenty knot winds in three-and-a-half metre waves hitting us on the side every ten seconds or less. At the end of each watch, when I felt most tired and vulnerable, and was about to be released from duty, the moment I both longed for and dreaded would come, where I’d invariably have to go below deck, make my way to the heads to pass the tea I had seeped on for the previous three hours, before getting into bed. There was one minor hiccup with this plan: doing my deed while holding on to the appendix I had once thought of as an oddity next to the toilet when first visiting Obelix – a handle, but proved to be a life saver under the circumstances not to get thrown around the head’s walls while trying to pee, sent my body in resonance with the jerking motion of the boat, and I only had time to rush back out to empty my stomach in multiple bouts of retching, thankfully, in the bucket placed on the cockpit floor and strategically filled with a bit of water to make the rinsing over the sides easy. During these early days, I could convince myself that despite the physical discomfort, the mental benefits were immense with an unrivaled sensation of emancipation, trust and surrender, nevertheless I couldn’t help but secretly promise myself that once this offshore passage was over, I’d never do another one.
Don’t get me wrong, the ocean never felt out of control, threatening or hostile, but simply well decided to give me a glimpse of its ardour and what it was capable of.
And then, it calmed down, and, like a caring lover, took me in his arms and started caressing me gently, as if to say “Now you’ve seen what it’s like, what about we do it again, but we take it slow this time?” And how I loved it slow! With nothing to prove and not afraid to appear tame, the ocean offered me the smoothest ride, with days on end of bliss, calm seas and horizontal horizon. Of sparkly nights above and below, filled with stars and milky way, phosphorescent plankton and whitewash. Of peaceful sunrises and sunsets. Where we could easily have imagined ourselves in the Hauraki gulf, if it weren’t for the depth sounder that refused to measure itself against the kilometres of water below us, and the lack of landmark to orientate us.
I plead guilty of sometimes getting through it absentmindedly, giving away my body but not my soul, thinking instead mundane thoughts like what to cook for lunch or dinner, where I would dance next, or whom I should write to. Or drifting to sleep near the end, or even at the beginning of a watch. But I started feeling comfortable, and getting a lot of pleasure from this atypical situation. My senses were heightened, I felt privileged to witness hours usually discarded, and experience circumstances of rare occurrence. Like jumping from the boat in the big blue, in the middle of no air, or taking a natural shower under a squall. And to answer a question I had often asked myself, my libido too was increased and I wonder if it was the connection to the elements, the return to a raw state of being, spending most of my time naked, or a natural reaction of my DNA wanting to replicate before an end judged near and certain. I now understand why many families are eager to train kids to take watches from a young age! Love at sea, what else?
No wonder on our last night, I chose to listen to “In the mood for love” soundtrack, which seemed so suited to the circumstances. Though by then, I was glad it was coming to an end, because, I had run out of positions to keep comfortable. Even though I had explored quite a few already, sitting, standing, squatting, on the side, lying down using my feet to steer, adding pillows and beanbag, no matter what I had tried, after an eleven-day ride with only twenty hour remission at Minerva Reef, my body ached and I had a sore bum!
Regardless, I enjoyed every moment until the arrival, and, as if to give me an extra reason to come back soon, near the entrance of Savusavu Bay, Fiji, as I was lamenting over the lack of sea creatures encountered on our way, a pod of dolphins and pilot whales were spotted by our buddy boat Vivace (who had caught up with us with their speedy catamaran despite our 3-day head start). We slowed down to enjoy the spectacle of their pirouettes and then pressed on to arrive during daylight hours. One last squall reduced the visibility to next to nothing while navigating up the bay, but Vivace in front of us showed us the way, and as it cleared up, we were greeted by the Copra Shed marina officer helping us grab a mooring and await clearance. Pride, relief, elation.
One thing is clear, after such an intense and rewarding experience, the love story has just begun, and the ocean and me, we’re in it for the long run…