This is from the end of my most recent crossing. It rambles on a bit, as the brain does at sea...
As we wrap up 18 days at sea I thought I should write a bit before my brain goes back into “normal or real life” mode. Something happens when I’m at sea for an amount of time. The way I think about things changes. My priorities change, thoughts go deeper while at the same time things simplify. Maybe it’s the lack of stimulation or some kind of sensory deprivation that does it. Maybe it’s the unavoidable realization that we are very small in a very large ocean. For a week or two we feel appropriately insignificant to the great big world. Holding on to this perspective is difficult as soon as we’re back in cell phone range and the smart phones start buzzing, but it’s a perspective that is important to have from time to time. It is equally as important to give it up and come back to land and real life. Some sailors spend just a little too long at sea and start to give up on the world on land. At sea many things seem unimportant and one can start down a long road of indifference. Though our actions, efforts and beliefs aren’t necessarily making major changes or a big difference, it is important to give those beliefs and actions their due diligence and continue to care.
On this crossing we have had relatively perfect weather. The weather pattern was different from the norm, however, and took us on a route much farther south than usual when sailing from west to east. Usually we would sail north by north east towards the Azores, stop to refuel, reprovision or just relax and continue south east towards Gibraltar. This trip took us out of Antigua and north by north east for a few days before planting a large low pressure system to the north of us. The system dictated that we stay south and ride the bottom edge of it. The breeze filled in and we basically sailed on the rhumb line all the way across with breeze abaft abeam or behind us. The breeze was on average around 20kts and we averaged a boat speed above 10 knots for most of the 18 days. Fast, great sailing at a comfortable angle, we couldn’t have asked for more. A crossing as good as this one is a pretty spectacular thing. The boat responded well to all of the conditions and was a pleasure to sail. Even as we approached Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean we had strong breeze behind us and couldn’t seem to slow down if we tried! We were sailing main only and were still well above 10 knots!
Everything seemed to align for this trip. The weather was ideal and the night sky was full of action. We left with the moon waxing and had moonlit nights for the first 10 days. The full moon coincided with a lunar eclipse that the clouds parted for and we observed the bright white fade into a dark yellow as the shadow of the Earth fell across the moon’s face just before sunrise. The sun rose before the Earth moved passed the moon and it left us pondering the basic physics and geometry that are in play when the three local celestial objects align. I’m sure I knew it all once. At least my very expensive education led to a blog with correct grammar! As with every moon phase the moon began to shrink and night watches started with darker skies filled with stars. Sailing under a full moon is beautiful and a bit easier but when the moon stays below the horizon and the world is pitch black I can see the stars. Light pollution is everywhere in our world, even on small islands in the Caribbean. Staring up at the stars and planets from the middle of the ocean can take my breath away and again I feel small, but it’s a wonderful feeling. From the boat we watch as Nature and the Universe turn and roll on and on with or without us. War, oil, climate change, politics, Nature doesn’t care about any of that. Long after we destroy the planet we live on, it will continue to exist. The wind will blow, the waves will roll, and the night sky will still be there providing a spectacular show for whoever can take the time to watch it. On and on, constantly moving. The boat keeps sailing and the watch schedule rotates. Yet another way sailing is like running long distance. I keep moving and the miles tick by. They’re not all easy miles, like a rough day at sea, but they pass and eventually I arrive at my destination, whether its 3000nm across an ocean, or 30 miles ahead of where I started.
Cardio training offshore is another story. This trip was as comfortable as one could be but it was still at an angle or better yet, rolling from one side to the other, making even basic squats and jumps difficult to do without falling over. The last month before a marathon is pretty important for training and heading offshore for a three week crossing is not in any of the training guides. Though my muscles are constantly adjusting to the angle and roll of the ship, it’s not quite like running for hours on end. Most days I would run up and back on the windward deck for as long as my ADD would allow. When the wind did die down and we had to resort to using the engine I ran around and around the deck for an hour or two at a time. With a rough calculation I determined I run about half as fast as normal when turning 180 degrees every 85 feet. People train for and set records for 1/2 and full marathons on treadmills, this was my version of gym training. Running around and around, ducking under sheets and runners and balancing when the boat pitched or rolled is the ultimate full body training. Using all my muscles for balance and resorting to catching myself on a life line when I couldn’t must be good for the core and upper body as well as the legs. The running paired with 30 minutes of team circuits at the back of the boat will hopefully leave me with some muscle strength when I step off the boat in two days. We did the best we could on this trip and I know full well I’ll be paying for it come the 18th, but it was worth it.
Like marathon running there is a point in every delivery that makes me think, “how long is this trip?! How much farther?” and like mile 7 that point is usually around day 7. I get offshore, usually to some slightly unpleasant conditions, hammer through it for 2 or 3 days and enjoy the reliability and comfort of the trades for a couple days after. Finally, after adjusting to the watch and sleep schedule and finishing the book I brought along, I start to get antsy. This feeling lasts for a few days, through a tv series or two and a few more books. Then, all of the sudden, the trip is over. The excitement of the next port, whether it’s a new one or one that is well known, starts to seep in. My head starts to fill with friends that I’ll see when I get there. My legs start to ache for my favorite runs. In Mallorca I can’t wait to put in some long distances out in the country, through the rolling hills and old farms. My stomach starts to rumble for whatever local cuisine is best. In Spain it is the datilles con bacon tapas, the bocadillos jamon for breakfast, and the red wine! I look forward to and dread at the same time, signing back on. Checking email and Facebook, finding the next job, making travel arrangements and packing. A good crossing, like a good run, has a little bit of everything in it and leaves me wanting more. I’m excited to tie up the boat and run around and I’m excited to jump back on board and head off again. Just keep moving, I guess. 18 days at sea with nothing to do but sail the boat and nothing to see but the sea and the sky, gone by in flash. Let’s hope the marathon feels the same way!