Tag Archives: sailing

Sleeping my way through the first day at sea

My skipper, Alan, let me off watches and cooking for the first day to allow me to find my sea legs and adjust to life on the ocean. I needed it.

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Hasta luego, Puerto Ayora. Until next time.

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A big grin as we set off… will it still be there in three weeks?

I popped a travel sickness pill just before we set off from Galapagos as dusk set in on May 13, 2012. ‘I take pills for the first couple of days’, said Joel, a young American crew member ‘and then after that I’m good’. I followed suit. Slight nerves about the upcoming journey together with a bit of boat rock were giving my stomach that sickness potential.

Matt, another crew member, cooked dinner first night. Spaghetti with a vegetable sauce. Perfect. No wine. A sober boat. I fell asleep shortly after food, swayed to sleep as the 50 foot catamaran climbed and descended gentle nighttime waves. It wasn’t even 9:00 p.m.

I woke up every few hours and finally decided to get up at 7:00 a.m. The sun was shining; a beautiful first day at sea. A fat tuna jumped out of the water; a seal swam close to the boat. We were making good speeds – over 8kn an hour – and already it felt a long way from shore, over 100 miles at this point. I went out on deck and stumbled around a bit and looked out at the views: 360° of nothing but a vast, composed ocean and a 180° sky speckled with the odd fluffy cloud.

I checked out the route progress and boat speed. Our estimated time of arrival for Tahiti fluctuated between 2nd June and 5th June in the morning. We were looking at spending at least three full weeks at sea. Repairs and victualing had been done back in Galapagos. Hopefully all would be well for what is one of the longest crossings out there.

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Over 3,000nm to go… wish me luck

During the day I learnt how to put up the spinnaker on this boat, switching over from the genoa, and I held a few ropes and did what little things I could, but mostly I observed. And made tea.

And then I lay on the hammocks up front, face down, watching the hulls slice through clean, clear water. Up close, against the white plastic, the water was a brilliant blue. Hypnotic. I fell asleep and woke up a few minutes later in a bit of a panic. What if I rolled off? I guess that would be me done, finito. I felt less worried when I gave up the panic, but decided that I’d quite like to get to Oz and see friends and a certain someone, so I moved back indoors.

I tried to write a diary but was too dozy and ended up asleep in my cabin for a few hours. Drug induced or my body trying to figure out what the hell was going on? I’m not sure. I’d only taken half a travel sickness tablet this day, surely it wouldn’t have the power to knock me out?

Washing up after a lunchtime bite, I looked up to see a fishing boat heading straight for us. 60ft of bulky metal towing four smaller fishing boats, this wouldn’t be a pleasant encounter. I alerted the others. Matt jumped up top, switched onto manual and steered us off course. A vast ocean with nothing and now a potential collision. Why they chose to head straight for us, who knows. A game of chicken? They won.

That would be the last boat that I’d see for twenty days.

Late afternoon, I woke up from another state of doziness to discover that Matt had got a bite on the hook he’d been fixing up for a couple of hours. He pulled her in, a skipjack tuna. The boys spilt her blood and guts and prepared her for the evening meal. I couldn’t watch. The blood bothered me less than the fact the boys were so close to falling into the ocean. No lifejackets.

And then after a tasty fish and rice feed, my eyelids grew heavy and an early night beckoned once again. This tiredness was a symptom of sea sickness that would take a couple of days to straighten out. Ah, sleep. My own cabin. Wonderful.

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Sail me to the coconuts

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The time arrived. I was really going to do this: sail across the Pacific Ocean from Galapagos, Ecuador to Tahiti in the Society Islands of French Polynesia with a crew I’d barely met and a captain who sounded experienced and sensible on paper but where I had no real certainty of the weighting of his reputation.

Trust your gut instinct’, a friend told me, ‘if it doesn’t feel right, don’t get on the boat’.

Another friend told me a horrific story about a guy who had spent a two week ocean crossing being raped by the skipper so as not to be thrown overboard. It seemed like the worst scaremongering story out there, surely something so sick couldn’t be true?

Rather than making me fearful of life, travelling has taught me that with a bit of savvy and a good dose of openness and interest in the world, the chances are that good people will enter your life. Call me naïve, if you like, but the people whom I’ve met and the experiences that I’ve had have helped me to re-trust life. At some point you have to trust, I think.

So here I was, keen for a sailing adventure, excited to be doing something so spontaneous and random. Of course, if it felt even a bit dodgy, I wouldn’t step on board.

Once again though, life threw me a trump card. The captain and crew, on early impressions, seemed pretty sound. All men, I had to feel okay about spending at least three weeks non-stop with this little clan who had already established themselves on the sail over from Panama.

I decided to go with it.

Although I was only guaranteed a ride to Tahiti (mainly because there were no stops between Galapagos and Tahiti), I was hopeful that if I pulled my weight they’d keep me on as crew for the next leg to Tonga and then Coff’s Harbour, Australia.

But no plans. Go with the randomness and see where I end up.

So, sail me – no, sail with me – to the coconuts, to the exotic paradise of Tahiti where the beautiful, world-class surfing wave of Teahupoo peels a couple of kilometres out to sea, where the award winning tribal tattoo artist Mana Farrons makes his home in Papeete, where wild pigs roam the forests and where palm trees fringe beaches of white sands and fallen husks.

And where my fantasies of tropical life will meet with their reality. How can I be disappointed?

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Baby, can I drive your boat?

I’d climbed Volcán Sierra Negra in the morning and was now back in the middle of Puerto Vilamil on the island of Isabela trying to figure out how to get back to Isla Santa Cruz where I was hoping to meet the captain of a catamaran bound for French Polynesia.

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Boat building in Puerto Vilamil marina

A hitch later and I arrived at the marina where I asked a couple of guys perched on some railings about boat times. ‘That man there’, one said, gesturing towards a guy walking towards us, ‘he’ll take you for $30’.

Half an hour later I found myself riding up top in the captain’s cab – up on the flybridge – whilst twenty nine kids and their teacher snuggled in downstairs under the sun protection of a tarp and the safety of a burly deckhand.

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Leaving Isla Isabela behind, Galapagos

We bounced along, away from a sunny Isabela and towards an increasingly greying sky. Rain started to patter down.

‘Can you…?’ asked the skipper, pointing to the wheel and the captain’s seat, having clearly remembered my earlier jests about being able to captain his boat. My friend Ollie had pulled a similar trick back in 2011 during a trip between Koh Tao and the mainland in Thailand. Whilst he may have got away with dishing out a bit of bullshit in order to convince the crew that he could captain the small ferry, why did I think I could pull the same cheek?

‘I can drive it, you know’, I’d told him, ‘can I drive it?’ It had been a mischievous ask, and now he was off of his pew and I had to deliver. I jumped over into the hot seat whilst he pulled across the rain screen and secured things up top.

And in those few minutes that I turned the wheel the wrong way and in the moments that I tried to steer us on the least choppy path possible, all my Galapagos photos went sliding down the tarpaulin. My little camera made a secret escape attempt. Oblivious, I continued taking my steering seriously until captain finished up his rain mission and returned to his rightful duties.

I sat back in my co-pilot seat and pondered what lay ahead in my adventures beyond this Galapagos trip. This little moment at sea and at the helm had got me thinking: how would it feel to do three weeks without stopping? The stretch from Galapagos to Tahiti could either destroy me or cure me of my ocean fears, I figured.

And then, finally, I realised that my camera was missing. I did a panicked scout about, and the captain killed the engines. Because there she was, nestled on the edge of the tarpaulin, waiting for a big wave to give her enough lift to fly off into the sea. Burly deckhand reached up as we held our breaths; he would either knock her into the ocean depths or save her from a watery death.

Thankfully it was the latter and the remainder of the trip, although wet and stomach lurchingly rough, was accompanied by a little bit of fuzziness. My Galapagos photos may be poor compared to what other people manage to capture, but they’re still my photos, some of my memories.

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Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz comes into view

Ah, another little adventure with a happy ending. (And I meant the fact we got the school group across from Isla Isabela to Isla Santa Cruz safe and sound. Of course. What were you thinking?!)

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Speed boats vs. sailing boats

It was a fun way to start this trip away, spending Sunday morning bouncing across a bit of chop on a little speedboat. Out at sea you get such an alternative vista of the world – of the land at least – back towards Poole and the surrounding coastline. You step outside your norm, you observe and escape at the same time.

But which is the best way to go about doing it – under motor or sail?

I don’t really know the politics, but have observed quite a split in opinions. If I had taken my Day Skipper teacher’s advice, I wouldn’t have stepped on to a boat called Delirium, but I wasn’t going to start getting funny with friends. I’ve noticed how often speed boats seem to take on more hedonistic, dangerous names whilst sail boats rely on more romantic, playful names like Restless or Kids’ Inheritance. These names seem to be an extension of the differences between sail and motor.

Whizzing along in a speed boat is fun – the wind whips your hair into a knotty, exciting mess, the spray blasts into your face, you feel alive. Speed boating is thrilling and naughty; you burn fuel, you create excess noise, and if you’re honest, you pose a bit (or a lot, in some cases). In terms of sailing, physically interacting with the elements and successfully harnessing the breeze gives you a huge sense of achievement.

Sailing is often viewed as being much more smooth, real and rugged; there is dignity in sailing, – something upright and honest about its nature.

My hippy side pulls towards the hard graft and reward of sailing, of a communal effort to get the yacht moving, of the peace created by nature carrying you over the water; but don’t get me wrong, I do get why people love their speed boats.

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