A day in the life of a crew member crossing the Pacific Ocean

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Anything up ahead?

My home is currently a fifty foot carbon fibre box rigged up with sails that are helping me and a crew of three to cross the mass of the South Pacific Ocean from Galapagos to Tahiti.

What I’ve come to realise is that long distance cruising is as much about adapting to life at sea as it is about the sailing itself. Compared to coastal sailing where you’re frequently making quick decisions and pulling ropes and following carefully constructed sail plans that take into account regular waypoints, out on the great ocean the same awareness of weather systems and sail trim and all that stuff still needs to be in place, but everything is at a different pace. Our first waypoint was over 3,o00nm away. When I’d done coastal sailing back in the UK, waypoints were usually plotted every few miles.

So how does an average day pan out? What does one actually do without going crazy inside this confined space on a vast ocean of no escape? Although different for everyone, here are extracts from a day in my life at sea.

12:30am
I finally get to bed after a two hour watch and hand over to Matt, one of the other crew members. Brush teeth and all that stuff. Then sleep, delicious sleep.

5:45am
My alarm goes off. I push snooze. Twice. But it’s time to pull on some clothes and splash my face with water. My next watch is coming right up.

It takes a few minutes to get into it. I catch up with Alan, the skipper, who is on watch before me and I check over the log book. I notice one of the guys has made an entry about a great dinner the previous night. Always nice to know that my cooking hits the spot.

In amongst all the usual watch stuff, I grab some breakfast and a cup of tea and go to sit up top to watch the sunrise. How did I land this shift?! Mornings are difficult for me but I love this time of the day. Other than the sunrise, there’s nothing to report; no dodgy sounds, no boats on the horizon, no shifty winds.

8:30am
I go back to bed for another two hours sleep. I drop back off fairly easily. It’s taken a while to adjust to these strange sleeping patterns but by having set watches, it’s possible to have some sort of a structured day that your body clock can understand.

10:30am
Up and about. Time to do any small jobs on board, plan the evening meal, take meat/food out of freezer, or read/write/watch movies/listen to music if there are no chores to do. If I’ve had a rough night, I might just grab a few more zeds.

Midday
Log book round up where we find out the miles and average speed for the last 24 hours. Anything below 180nm and a speed of 7.5 feels disappointing because we’ve had some great days doing way above that. Need to keep it all in perspective. It’s funny how little moments become such a focus in this environment.

One of the guys puts together something to eat for lunch, a concoction of yesterday’s leftovers. We’re eating well at sea, even if the chocolates and sweeties have all but run out.

2:00pm
It’s my second watch of the day. In between checking out the numbers on the captain’s computer below deck, I head up to the helm and chill there for a while, watching the sails and the clouds in relation to the numbers on the instruments. I love standing on the upper deck, holding on to the rails of the helm cover and letting the wind mess my hair as I scan the horizon and cloud patterns. I feel invincible and in control of my own destiny: me, a sailing boat and a world of blue. Anything is possible. Maybe a pirate ship of olden times will appear? Maybe a giant whale will rise from the depths and swallow us whole? Maybe I’m having some quality time to let my imagination run free. Yes. Definitely.

4:00pm 
I make an entry in the log book and start to get ingredients out of the fridge for dinner. Right now we’re still eating fresh vegetables but within a couple of days it will be on to frozen and finally tinned. At least we’re not going hungry. I’m so excited to be cooking again after months on the road where few hostels had a kitchen. Here we have spices and utensils and all the things I need to cook up some loveliness. I can enjoy getting food creative again.

6:00pm
We all sit down to eat together and catch up. Because everyone is on different watches there is usually always someone sleeping or having some time out, so its great when twice a day we all gather together. After food I get to sit back and relax whilst the guys sort out the washing up.

And then I try to sleep for an hour or two, although often I’m not tired enough until 21:30, which is just about when my alarm goes off for my final watch.

10:00pm
Final watch of the day. To start with I’m usually pretty groggy and tired. I check in with Alan, look over the previous log entries to see how we’re going followed by a natter about everything and anything, night time reflections on life. Often I head up top for a while where it’s easier to feel in tune with the boat as she glides through a night-time ocean.

Regularly there’s a change in wind around this time so I might help to reef in the mainsail or collapse the spinnaker, depending on what the weather is doing and promising. In all fairness though, the boys seem to do most the laborious stuff. How this sail has ended up being gendered is anyone’s guess! They’re going easy on me, for sure.

Once again it’s a clear night. I love looking out at the blanket of stars that reaches horizon to horizon, a density of sparkling spots in an immense sky. I search for streaks of light, hoping to spot a dying star in its swan song fall towards the earth.

And so the days roll by – sail by – each day not so different to the previous. In a strange way, the monotony is a welcome change from constant on the road movement and daily exposure to new sensory experiences that I’ve become accustomed to in the last year of travel.

I realise I am a bit tired. This time at sea is healthy for me. It’s giving me routine again, space to catch-up on writing and reading. And a chance to rest. I don’t have to plan my next day, my next couple of weeks. My body and mind can relax into this different way of life.

Who knows what will happen when I get to Tahiti. For another two weeks, I won’t find out whether I’m staying on board this boat to Tonga and then Australia, whether I can and should find a new boat to crew on, whether I decide to settle in Tahiti with a stocky, local lad. Or whether I just want to find the cheapest, quickest flight out of there, back to Australia.

For now I have no choice but to stick with this schedule. And you know what? I’m enjoying it.

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4 Comments

Filed under activity & sport, ecuador, nature, pacific, sailing, sea, south america

4 responses to “A day in the life of a crew member crossing the Pacific Ocean

  1. Michael

    Sounds like a nice schedule.

    • Yep, even if it was a little disturbed on the sleep front for someone like me who loves and needs at least seven or eight hours… But I can’t complain. Schedule and routine were good. Thanks for commenting on and reading the post!

  2. Great post. I’ve been interested in learning how watch systems work on smaller vessels.

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