I did it. I have survived my first off-shore passage. Six days and 950 nautical miles from
Bermuda to Antigua. I could not have done without The Patch. The small round plastic disc of drugs placed behind my ear, which means the difference between feeling a little woozy and wanting to throw myself off the boat. All hail The Patch.
An off-shore passage, like all slightly (ahem) extreme human endeavors, is a lot of mind numbing monotony with moments of sheer terror punctuated by the sublime.
We had three adults on board, so we worked on a three hours on/six hours off watch system (watch – meaning standing at the helm and watching for other boats, watching that we stay on course and that sh*t don’t go wrong). Reducing time to three-hour increments, funky sleep patterns and a general malaise that being on a rocking boat with nothing but ocean for days puts me in, made the days seem to meld into one. The connection to how long I had been at sea and how much longer we had to go felt very vague and tenuous, as if being at sea was just a continuous state without beginning or end. This feeling was only enhanced by my inability to do much under sail. My queasiness even with The Patch made doing anything below perilous. I was basically asleep or on deck, just being on a passage.
Things went wrong, we had serious rudder issue, we tore a spinnaker, there was not enough wind, then too much, but these things didn’t seem good or bad to me but rather just part of the natural rhythm of life under sail. (I am sure that it’s feels very different for Captain James, who bears the weight of the responsibility.) I started to wonder if this was the state of just beingness that the yogis talk about. Then I discovered I could read on deck. I think David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” stopped me from going totally loo loo (thanks Amanda). It felt like he was the person I was spending most of my time with. He wrote about tennis and I kept wanting to call him and ask what he thought of Agassi’ memoir. Then it would register that I was in the middle of the ocean with no way to communicate, I didn’t know him, and most insurmountable, he’s dead.
The millions of vivid stars and beauty of the sea at night help to ease the fear factor of being on watch in the middle of night, alone, with everyone on board asleep and the safety of the boat in your hands. The less said about me freaking out about a mast light that appeared out of nowhere and turned out to be a planet rising the better. Lets just say there was something lovely about the night shifts but I was always relived when they where over.
When we made it to Antigua the rush of satisfaction and excitement at having “made it” that I expected did not materialize. It was lovely to be able to swim and have the boat stable enough to go into galley and make a cup of coffee. But I wasn’t in a mad rush to get off Ondine. I needed to ease my self back into the world beyond being at sea.