Festina lente - Hurry slowly by Jackie Parry
Sailing oceans is not like a plane or car ride. Nothing is certain except a vast puddle of water and a great stretch of sky. The days pass, measured not in hours but in distance. It’s dynamic, fantastic and petrifying all at the same time. There is rarely pattern or logic; you deal with what’s received, as it arrives . . . moment by moment.
We receive weatherfaxes; they’re usually in direct association with my emotions. When we are tossed and buffeted I feel beaten. In good weather I shift from thoughts of selling the boat to designing a new vegetable rack.
On watch: When all is settled I become drenched by memories that have no regard for place or circumstance; some thoughts enough to make me blush into the night. Recollections of those I have hurt make me squirm. I cradle my own hurts in time with the rocking motion. I recall good times as a kid, card games with my family by candlelight during frequent power cuts, it makes me smile. I think of things I should have done with my life; when the sailing charms me I realise there’s still time.
Boredom plays no part; clearing up, downloading weatherfaxes, radio scheds , power monitoring, fixing/maintaining, reading, checking the lines and rigging, resting and sail changes too! Navigating with paper charts, we join the dots, creating a highway that proves we are moving. I long for sweet grass and grand trees, succulent roast chicken and gooey ice cream. We keep moving; our thoughts do too, drifting away like clouds.
Off watch: Snuggled in a comfy bunk I listen to the patter of rain on deck, the ocean rushing alongside, and creaking lines. When I hear Noel ‘galley squirreling’ I anticipate the smells. Tea means it’s my time to stand watch (like Pavlov’s dog, I become instantly alert). Coffee means I can close my eyes as he’s making a mid-watch eyelid boost. Efforts of sleeping are linked with conditions; the gentle motion like a swaying train, or the vicious rolling in a malevolent and restless ocean where your insides jostle within your skin.
Orchestral music: The halyards play a rhythmic beat of hollow notes on the mast. The soft hum of the wind generator sends an alert of wind increasing; the thud, slap-slap death throes of flying-fish, either rescued by soft-hearted crew or left hidden in the dark to gasp their last breath. Noel can be soothed by the engine’s hum. I find it jarring like the dissonant chords of raw wind.
Seascape: The broad shimmering band of the Pacific Ocean is saturated with rich blues. Low blue-grey clouds give way to fuzzy yellows along the horizon. The sun glides beneath the rim of the world and for a few glorious moments the sea turns into a thick rich mixture of molten. We are a minute particle upon the eternity of ocean and sky, that particle our home and world. Birds scoop a flight path around the sails. We watch the moon rise lazily to her peak, lighting a silvery path just for us; marvelling in the waxing then waning. Bright and bold Sirius becomes my neat shot of pre-dawn adrenaline, bolting me from day-dreaming as it curves across the black canvas.
Travelling Tangs: Amid the tangy brew of percolating coffee and salty damp, is the strong olfactory confirmation that a flying fish has landed on the deck. Onions sizzling in the pan is a near daily event on board, meal creativity starts here. Sun-dried canvas evokes memories of summer holidays in our youth; the damp cockpit cushions, penetrated by salt, never quite dry. The contrasting whiff of exhaust encourages sea-sickness, the sweet smell of freshly baked bread inspires hunger.
Nigh-time: Watching for the lottery of squalls under the cover of darkness, the lightning cuts the atmosphere in two. The clouds seem to rub out the stars. My sodden hair slapping against my cheeks during downpours, while muscles bunch above the rotating deck; our harnesses are firmly in place. And finally dawn, where the horrors vanish and the air becomes so crisp, it feels as though it would shatter with words.
Paradoxical beauty: Pounding waves, great geysers of water, white bubbles chuckling softly amid giant swells; plunging into the void, pushing away thoughts of what lurks below. Disgruntled clouds carrying punches and marshmallow trade clouds. Trusting my partner with my life enables me to sleep. Malcontent wind and waves provide rude awakenings. The dawn paints the horizon in breathtaking crimson or sadistic black. Stiff and useless salt incrusted lines, like icing on a bun. The crucial burden of stores, lifted with the seas. Green phosphorescence streaks behind magnificent dolphins, the paradoxical beauty of the ocean - a lesson in humility.
Togetherness: We’re a tag team, six hours on/off. We reef, eat breakfast and evening meals together. We both operate all aspects of the boat, an important skill when only two on board. On calm seas we brush up on celestial navigation, writing, and eat finer meals; in bumpy waters we eat one pot repasts. Shifting winds, unkind seas, and endless squalls are frustrating but mellowed by the kindness of my partner; the gift of an extra hours sleep.
Home: The unique colours of the Australian sky are drawing us home. As the sun slopes off behind the horizon it paints Aussie golds, woven with tinges of low pearly clouds; the sea is warmed by the reflection of yellow. We’re absent from society, but not for long.
The essence of life at sea: It’s a love hate relationship, a roller coaster. The journey becomes etched on our skin. Vibrant bruises match vivid sunsets. There are tremendous stresses on equipment, and our bodies. Daily, we learn something new; about sailing and ourselves. Sailing the oceans isn’t easy, but offers magnificent rewards with perseverance. We whinge about the effort, but secretly we are glad, if it was easy everyone would be doing it.
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