Sea Fever? - Atlantic Crossing - November 2004
Have you ever stood in the middle of somewhere knowing that you can make as much noise as you want without the neighbours complaining?
Have you ever been surrounded by water knowing that in a fire you wouldn't use it?
Have you ever tied yourself on so you won't drop off?
Have you ever watched shadows move, non-stop, all day?
Have you ever seen a fish fly?
Have you ever moved anywhere at 11 knots?
Pause for a minute……………
Have you ever seen a 360 ° horizon? It really is something quite extraordinary.
Imagine yourself in an everlasting box of Universe, filled almost to the top with the richest and most mysterious purpley-blue, continually agitating and slopping from side to side like film developer in a developing tray. Imagine the rest filled with sky and a variation of clouds, both voluptuous, angel delight-like clouds and wispy wafer-thins. Imagine a schizophrenic forecast…….
That's where I am now………. They call it the Atlantic……
I can see why they thought the world was flat. This vast and never-ending plate of water has to end somewhere. Everywhere you look is the same, bar a few clouds. And the eye squintingly bright reflection from the menacing sun seeping slowly into the back of your retina as it dances on the jagged surface, unaware. However, today is a good day for “sightseers.” White horses have galloped away and will meet us further along the line with terrifying tales for us to tell of those gallant night watchers in the stormiest of storms. But for now, nothing stands in the way of that two-tone divide –or everything as the fishermen would say.
There's just so much time to think and look. Not much changes looks-wise. Day dissolves into night as the sun lowers its sleepy head into a muffled, clouded heap, darkness surrounds and nocturnal vision begins. Cabin lights dim as red light bleeds into an empty saloon. So much to see, imagine. Night or day.
Days, or weeks without a sight of land or any other human faces –put up with the ones you've got, they're not too bad. Radar screams “LOST FIX,” telling you that this is it, you're in the middle of nowhere, and that's where you will be for the next…….
The gentle swaying easing you in and out of the consciousness of each day like a cradle rocking to and fro, your body lying limp and lifeless knotted in a bed of sea-sprayed sheets, salty-air hair strewn across the crisp whiteness of your pillow. How could you possibly return to that madness? The nine to five, the noise, the smoke, the anger, when this is just so….. simple? So easy-going. The only raised voice is that of someone above you. “Furl the jib!” or “Hoist the spinnaker!” is heard from the deck, but there's never anger in the skippers cry.
Escape the hectic life of a city girl to become……. a sea dog? Grow a beard, fill it with salt. Wear oilskins. That comes next.
Imagination running wild. During a watch and in subconscious slumber. “Wa-wa-tuu-jah, wa-wa.” The head, like a long haired Rasta, gargles in his porcelain kikoyu in the bathroom as you wake to a midnight watch. A sharp “clunk” startles you as one cold metal lifejacket buckle slams against the other making someone stir and shuffle in the corner of the black and motionless room. No wonder sailors go mad. Fuelled and surrounded by liquid and isolation, an active mind never at rest. Let's be grateful for the “Dry crossing call!”
It depends which way you look at it…..the horizon I mean. A cabin porthole, an exciting view. First nothing but pale blue, perhaps a delicate cloud strewn across, then a glimpse of a churning wave as the lethargic-making rocking continues, and then it falls away again. Back and forth and back and forth, becoming more and more angled each time, eyes feasting on that rich inviting, yet untouchable water, mind astray, until “WHOOSH!!” and for a second you're blacked out. Blued-out, by the mischievous waves licking at the glass. And then they're gone. Desperate to come in and join you in your infant-like bunk, but as desperate, it seems, to disappear. If only for a little longer, to get a glance at the vast open sea, gaze at the suns rays through an eternity of icy water and loose yourself in its darkening depths.
The busy and unfamiliar engine room lets out a bellowing roar on the slight opening of the heavy and inhospitable door, frightening away anyone who dares to come close. Only those who can tame the beasts within are brave enough to go inside.
The galley, always alive with nonsensical chatter. Bowls of all shapes and sizes and noises lined up on the long non-slip surface, greens and reds spilling out –a fabulously nautical mess! …and ….well…. MEXICAN?!?! In the middle of the sea?!?!? BUENO!!! The earthy smell of fresh tomatoes and guacamole sliced and diced with love and care and balance! Legs stable, arms flailing manically up and down from cupboard to cupboard to draw, to fridge, to sink, producing gourmet all the time –as if so simple!
Dishes clatter and bowls clink together as they're thrown carefully into the sink in a flurry of bubbling madness to be later scrubbed ‘till they sparkle. Each tiny cupboard crammed with a million other cupboards, drawers, space savers. Like a never-ending Russian doll. Packed cosily like spoons, neatly pressed together in a drawer, a giant culinary puzzle.
The silent moon casts its eerie reflection on the night-time waves while the oily black sea swallows any white horses that are left roaming. Rain beats down shattering the moon-glazed surface as the pitter-patter of tiny bead-like raindrops fall angrily on the flimsy waterproof roof. Eyes watch, mesmerised as a slooshing puddle eddies overhead and smashes into a thousand pieces as it hits the hard, wet deck. Waves, all het-up, froth around the hull, never dull! Full of life and enthusiasm, as the wind whips over every sodden surface. And the moon just peers down, unaffected, shining through today's temperamental tantrum.
But is it a just a fever? An addiction? Why do they all return to the infinite and hostile seas, everyday seeing the same flat line circling them, and like prey they just sit and wait? You learn to love the challenge, every day a little further and another new adventure, reaching a newer destination, seeing something fresh. Conquering a wave just that little bit bigger, braving through a storm that little bit tougher or witnessing the sun winking as it wakes. Breathtaking.
So write it down, take a picture. As long as it's all been captured, it will be hard to ever forget.
The skipper writes: Having reached Antigua the next day the amateur crew headed off to Harmony Hall for a four-hour lunch – see the pictures!