Pacific Crossing Part IV: Interlude

Saturday

Little tin can in the middle of the sea. There ain’t no wind but it doesn’t bother me…

Well, that’s me. Axel is not so happy. It’s day fifteen at sea, and we are hardly moving forward at all, and I think it’s driving him just a little mad.

Still, we both agree to wait out the calm for a day at least before turning on the engine. It grates on both of us to hear the grrrr of the machine, and to feel the whole, windowless cabin get a few degrees hotter as well. Besides, we only have enough fuel for a few days motoring – it’s best to preserve it for an emergency.

At least the current pushing us in the right direction, meaning that even at zero wind we are still moving forward towards our destination. Unlike the time we sailed from Puerto Rico to Columbia – when we sailed forward with the night winds, only to be pushed back with the current, so that we ended each day in pretty much the same spot we’d started.

I sit and try to meditate. To be present in the moment. But I have my usual difficulties with the whole sitting still thing.

I’ve heard that anything you do in life, if done with attention and care, can be a kind of mediation – walking, writing, painting, gardening…

But there is not much I feel like doing with attention and care right now. I sit in the cockpit and look out to sea; and although I sometimes enjoy observing the play of the sea, and letting it calm me; today, it only pains me.

The sea is just so…disappointing today. I watch and watch, but there are no dolphins, no whales. I watch and watch, and Look! There! Look! Is that a fin? But no, it’s nothing. Just the sea. And I watch and wait for something wonderful, but all there is are ripples on the water – sometimes bigger and sometimes smaller, but always just the same.

Sunday

We spend most of Sunday below decks. Squall after squall passes overhead, but at least there’s wind. The boat slides forward at a leisurely speed of 6-8 knots, and the seas are calm enough that both of us can sit below and work happily on our computers and get on with pretending that we aren’t on a boat at all.

Axel has finished his French language tutor program (a first attempt, at least), and has moved on to programming a castle defense game. He spent the whole morning photoshopping together tanks and castle walls and grasslands to use as background, and I like to watch him work – it’s been a while since I’ve seen him so engaged and happy:-).

And I have been sitting across the cabin, struggling with my book, which vacillates from being one of the joys of my life to being one of my worst nightmares, depending on the progress I’ve been making in the last half hour. Today, is a good day, however, and I manage to pull together a few scenes that had been giving me trouble before we left the Galapagos.

******

The afternoon brings more squalls to rock the boat. The wind is playing with us – dying down so that we have to take the sails down, only to rise a few minutes later, so that we really should get the sails up and start sailing.

Axel sits outside, looking at the sky and cursing the changes in the weather. And I’m not sure if I will ever truly understand why he thinks that the weather, of all things, should stay the same…but perhaps it’s because he is German, and the weather in the south of Germany, at least, is truly more predictable than in most places I’ve lived.

The wind picks a little more, giving us hope that it will continue, and Axel itches to pull the sail up again, but instead sits back and repeats his mantra, “Just wait half an hour, right?” “Right,” I nod, remembering those other sailing trips that had Axel pulling sails up and down like a yo-yo trying to predict the fickle wind. It was a good choice…the wind dies not ten minutes later.

And so we wait, rocked by muddled waves; on edge, and looking up at the sky as we float.

******

Evening comes. We sit, slouched about the boat, in a funk.

I don’t feel like cooking, even though it’s my turn by now; so I open some ready made pasta packages; which are tasty enough, if you don’t mind the not-so-faint tang of sodium and powdered milk as you chew.

And later, the sea calms down a little, so I pour water and flour and yeast and salt into a bowl, so that we can make bread tomorrow. It’s been so very long since we ate bread…

Monday

Ooohhh. Smells soooo goood!!

I can’t wait. I smear some butter on the crusty bread, fresh out of the oven, almost burning my mouth as I chew, and only belatedly remember to cut another piece and hand it up to Axel, who’s sitting outside.

The day is overcast, drizzling on and off. But the smell of baking makes it ok; a little piece of domestic bliss out at sea.

What I wouldn’t do for an avocado right now.

Oh yes. I’ve been savoring the memory of our last avocado, which we’d bought in the Galapagos and eaten the second day out. The smell of fresh bread makes it worse, because there is really nothing better than ripe avocado smeared across freshly baked bread, and sprinkled with a bit of lime and chopped tomato and salt and ground pepper…

I hand Axel another piece of bread. A stray ray of sun peeks through the wall of clouds as I look up, and makes me think of summer.

And what I wouldn’t give for a peach! Oh my goodness. A peach!

Our fruit and vege supplies continue to dwindle. We have an abundance of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and garlic, of course, as well as a few apples and oranges, some sad looking limes, and a pumpkin which I’ve been saving for the end.

Oh, and we have cabbage; but don’t talk to me about cabbage. I’m so sick of cabbage. We bought four huge heads at the market before we left, because I liked cabbage back then, and thought it would be good…but after sampling this painfully well-preserved vegetable in all it’s various forms – shredded, cut, raw, cooked, stir fried, boiled… – I have come to dread it’s bland and slippery taste. No, don’t talk to me about cabbage…

And it’s funny now, to think of home, where I could at any time go to the 24 hour supermarket down the road and buy apples or avocados or peaches or ice-cream or feta cheese. And how the only food-related hardship I ever had to face was if they ran out of fresh coriander or baguettes. And I guess it is good, at this point in life, to realize how good I had it; that I had everything I needed and more.

And…it is good, as well, to finally realize how much joy had been sapped out of my life by all the terrible…convenience that we are subject to in the modern world. Because, the next time I get my hands on an avocado, I will be the happiest little Liz in the world. I will have a huge grin plastered on my face, and my eyes will be closed, and I will slurp down it’s buttery goodness in beautiful rapture.

And how different I’ll be from that other Liz. The Liz who had everything at her fingertips; who would go to the supermarket and buy avocados without really seeing them, and take them home and chop them up like Jamie Oliver said, and not even notice when they were Winter Avocados – pale and tasteless and never properly kissed by the sun. And it’s funny how I never had much to look forward to back then, besides vacation and the weekend and christmas and things like that…because everything was there, just sitting on the shelves waiting for me to walk over and buy it.

But now there is nothing for me to buy, and it’s strange how even though it is painful, this time on the boat has given me so much more to look forward to in life – things as simple and sweet as a peach or an avocado.

*****

When night finally comes, it is cool and bright. The moon shines over a smooth, black sea.

Gudrun sits, still on the water; and we wait; and while I am usually happy to have calm weather, I’ve decided that wouldn’t mind a little wind around now either.

Tuesday

Day seventeen at sea. The wind is picking up but not enough to be happy about, and the sun has made an appearance, but there are still enough clouds to maintain a little gloom.

There is one positive thing I discovered this morning, however. We’ve crossed several date lines since we left, but Axel kept the clocks on Galapagos time so that his captains log didn’t get confusing. And for days now I thought I was ‘sleeping in,’ but it turns out I’ve been waking up at pretty much the same time with the sun and it’s just the clocks have been getting later.

So yeah. I feel a little better about myself, now; to know that I’m waking up at 8:30am and not 11:00:-/.

I go below, and decide to break out the pumpkin in an effort to distract us from our slow progress. I chop the pumpkin, and as I heat up some chicken stock to make pumpkin soup, look critically about the salon.

It is getting pretty messy in here. Partially because we’ve been a bit lax these last days – throwing clothes and unused items in disarray about the boat, – but partially because, well, we live on a boat; and not a big one at that.

Our coffee maker is dented, for example, from falling off the bench one too many times; and Axel’s wrenches and swiss army knives (which he insists on leaving out in the open – for easy access :-)) are slowly giving way to the rust; and all my t-shirts and pants are stained and sun-bleached; and if we don’t wipe the ceiling down with bleach, little colonies of mould spring up as we sleep. There are scars and scratches on the wooden surfaces of the boat, reminders of the times that items have broken loose from their fastenings and slid ungracefully about in stormy seas; and hovering over everything, is the faint sheen of salt, which only contributes to this terrible sense of impermanence that grabs hold of me now and then as I potter around our ersatz home.

It’s different on land. On land everything I owned was clean and new. If it got broken, I’d get it repaired; or if it was tatty, I’d throw it away and buy a new one at the mall. On land, I could almost convince myself I was invincible; surrounded, as I was, by all things shiny and new and bright and designed by people called Bjoern or Sven. On land, I went to bed each night, secure in the belief that I was safe – that the world would never end, and that I could never actually die.

But…I cannot keep up the pretense anymore. Not here. Dirt etches it’s way into even my most beloved belongings. The salt air insinuates itself into the cracks in my keyboard; and smudges the sides of my favorite dresses. At any moment, an unruly wave might come and throw my book down to the floor, and it will lie there on the floor, all wet and bent and crinkled.

There is no safety here. Rust, mould, mildew, grime. If you leave things alone for long enough, they will all succumb to the bitter tang of the sea.

And there is, after all, only a 3mm aluminium hull between me and the deep blue; and a lightening strike or a freak storm or a mistimed step are all that stands between us and…

But that is no way to think, is it?

I add the pumpkin to the pot, and stir in some ginger and a little nutmeg.

Mmmm, that smells good!

Do you know what Axel did this morning? He has been commenting on the growth on the side of the hull for days now – the strange inch-long mollusks that have sprouted up along the side of the boat as we travel, and which must be slowing us down by at least half a knot.

And as the sun rose this morning, Axel got out his duct-tape (a sailors best friend!) and taped one of our metal hull scrapers to an aluminium pole, and spent the rest of the morning cleaning the side of the boat as we sailed.

When I woke, he had that loopy grin on his face which means he’s done something he’s proud of, and he described to me how you have to wait until the side comes out of the water as the boat rolls before you scrape, and mentioned several times that I should take a look at how clean the sides of the boat look; and I’m happy about his cleaning tendencies, of course; but at the same time I have to try very hard not to think about him falling into the water, plop, as he leans over the side, and getting lost at sea like one of the other lost husbands that we hear about from the other cruisers over beers…

Pacific Crossing Part III: Memories

Sunday

Day seven at sea. I open my iPad, go to settings, and click to connect to my small wireless keyboard.

Connecting…connecting…connected, it says, and I feel weirdly happy to be connected to anything.

It’s not like we are incommunicado out here, however. We have a satellite connection, through which Axel posts his blogs and keeps in touch with friends via Mailasail. He’s in daily contact with Uwe and Gisela from the boat Venus, for example who left the Galapagos just two days after us, and have had clear weather and smooth sailing all week.

But I haven’t been writing any emails. I sit in the cockpit with my iPad perched on my knees and try to write for twenty minutes, before I start to feel dizzy and put my gadgets aside with a sigh.

It could be worse, I tell myself.

Axel is downstairs working on his latest project – a French language learning application. French for Attention Impaired People, we call it. He sits and types, staring intently at the screen and feel a pang of jealousy at his ability to work, despite the movement of the boat.

The sun sits brilliant in the sky, and brilliant on the waves as well – it glints like a thousand little lights above the ruddy sea. A robust wind sweeps behind us, bringing us forward to our destination. So I hum a little tune as I sit in the cockpit, and stare out across glistening waves…

Monday

What should we eat for lunch?

Nothing comes immediately to mind, so I browse through one of my many cookbooks for inspiration.

Five minutes later, I’m salivating. ‘Crumble some feta cheese over top of the salad’, I read, or ‘this tastes wonderful with Gorgonzola,’ or ‘add a dollop of yoghurt.’ The problem with each and every cookbook I own, you see, is that they are written by people who use refrigerators.

We don’t. We turned off the fridge for the crossing. We only have enough power to run two of three things: our laptops, the desalinator, or the fridge. And although we do have a bit of Parmesan, we have no yoghurt, no salad, no meat, no soft cheese…

I flick the pages and read: ‘Garnish with fresh basil,’ they tell me; or, ‘there is no substitute for fresh, chopped cilantro!’

Fresh basil! Cilantro!! I bite my knuckles and sigh; the last fresh herbs we found were in Panama, almost 6 weeks ago.

I want a salad! I want chicken quesadillas! I want a burger!

But instead, I make cous cous with peppers, tomatoes, and walnuts, with a dressing of freshly squeezed lime. We sit in the cockpit to eat.

“Delicious!” Axel pronounces.

See, there is no reason to feel hard done by, I tell myself; no reason to complain…

But my stomach has other ideas: I want smoothie, it roars, with ice-cream and strawberries and fresh summer peaches!

After lunch, I sit on the floor, picking over our fruit and vegetables. No reason to feel you are missing out, I repeat to myself; look what we have! Potatoes, and apples, and oranges, and kiwis, and limes, and cabbages, and tomatoes…
Ew! The soft red flesh of a tomato gives way under my fingers and dissolves into mush. I continue my picking, and find a few carrots that have started to grow mould, and a sad little pepper, already half disintegrated in the tropical heat.

Climbing on deck, I throw the spoilt food overboard, and watch sadly as they bob out to sea.

Soon they will all be gone, I think, and try not to hyperventilate as my stomach continues it’s tirade: I want a steak! I want french fries, I want a fat juicy Pizza…

Tuesday
I pull myself upright and stare upwards at the little crack in the companionway, willing the air to come in to cool our hot, musty, cabin. Rain comes sporadically – just often enough that we’ve barricaded ourselves downstairs, and only peek out the hatch every twenty minutes to check for ships (or dolphins:-).

Life seems gray. The boat rocks methodically from side to side, and every now and then a huge wave will jostle us below, and cause the autopilot above to whirr frantically as it regains control of the boat.

Across the cabin, Axel sits, shoulders slumped, staring mildly into the space in front of him.

“I don’t want to make any more movies” he says, listless.

I can only nod. We had planned to make an awesome Pacific Crossing movie for our friends – to give them a taste of the crossing and the beautiful intricacies life on the boat.

The first week had started out well. We’d turned the camera on now and then – to give updates on the latest weather and progress, and document important events like putting up the sails or having lunch. But this week, our motivation seems to have leeched away.

There’s not much to report, I think gloomily, unless you count that time when I changed the sheets on the pilot berth. No. There is nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing to film. There is no point to anything. Not now, and not forever, until the end of time.

I look over to Axel.
“It’s just because we are seasick right?” I say.
“Right” he replies.
“And once the weather gets better, we’ll feel like doing things again?” I nod, a little frantically.
“Yes,” he promises.

*******

There has been a break in the weather, and Axel is outside, fiddling with the sails.

Even I, who is usually oblivious to changes in wind and boat speed, can feel a shift in the movement of the boat as it gallops ever-faster across the waves.

I hear a whoop of delight as I lie below, half-conscious, and sleepily imagine the manic grin he must have on his face right about now.

“9.7 knots!” he shouts at one point, and starts giggling that insane giggle he gets when things go especially fast.

I stir groggily in the pilots berth, and murmur an encouraging “Great,” into my pillow.

A little while later, I hear him giggling again. “10.4 knots!!”

Yes, I can tell, I think. The boat is leaning to the side by now, and my face is smudged up against the lee cloth.

I sit up in the bed, and look out into the cloudy afternoon light. Axel is sitting in the cockpit, happy as any sailor ever was; turning winches, adjusting lines, and reveling in the joy of the race. He chuckles again, and I smile as I lie back down.

Not ten minutes later, however, the power slips out of the sails. The boat sneaks back towards vertical, and in less than half an hour, the wind has almost died completely.

Axel swears as the tensionless lines and pulleys start to flap and clatter, and I heave a sad sigh, knowing that he is stuck in his own personal hell up there – captain of a racing boat that he cannot race.

This afternoon, we’d received another email from our friends on Venus, informing us of sunny weather and constant winds just a day and a half behind; and I’m not sure if I believe in karma or destiny, but if I did I’d be certain that this weather was put in our path as some kind of test – for Axel and his eternal optimism, and for me and my melancholy…

******

I doze fitfully inside the cabin. The wind is back, but the sky still overcast, and sporadic squalls come and go as they will. Every now and then, an angry wave slaps the side of the boat, thwack, making me sit up and scream with fright. Axel, impervious to the sounds of the sea, simply looks over with his ‘what, it’s just a wave’ look, which is not all that different from his ‘don’t worry, it’s just a little squall’ look.

I spend my conscious moments trying to regain some semblance of normality:

Breath in, Breath out. Breath in. Breath out.
Ok, now you should drink some water.
Remember to eat. You have to be upright to eat, you know.  
One of these days, Liz, you’re going to have to get up to take a shower…

There are so many things to worry about. So many little details.

By the time evening comes, I cannot sleep anymore. I climb into the cockpit to get some air, but find little comfort in the gloom. The night is pitch black; full of clouds and roaring seas. According to the weather forecast, the bad weather will continue all week.

Please let it be wrong, I plead. It has to be wrong. The weather forecast is always wrong…

Wednesday

I’ve written a poem, which I’d like to share. Ah-hem:

Gudrun is galloping on the sea
We sit inside, Axel and me
And the waves come, and the boat rocks
No matter how much we want it to stop

I sit, chewing on rice crackers and waiting for the low ache in my stomach to go away.

Remember to never do this again, Liz.

Because that is just typical me, to forget how crappy things were. In a few years, months even, I might look back on this trip fondly. I might remember the beautiful sunsets, and the moments Axel and I spend together staring at the stars, and all the wonderful people we’ve met, and everything will be bathed in the happy mist of a hundred frolicking dolphins…

Don’t forget. Remember. Remember. Never to forget how crappy this is…

The wind dies again in the afternoon, so we run the engine to stop the boat from swinging. It doesn’t make much difference, though. We are in a washing machine. Or…perhaps it’s more one of those festival rides. You know, the ones that look all fun from the outside, with all their glittery lights; but once you get on and it starts spinning and jerking about, you realize that it is, in fact, no fun at all, and although the ride has only just started, if it doesn’t stop soon you might just have to puke your guts out.

******

I’m worried about how tired Axel looks. Every twenty minutes, he’s above decks in the hazy rain, sniffing at the changing winds and adjusting the sails.

The waves have been changing directions as well, with swells coming from the north-east, and then coming from the south-east, and sometimes coming from both directions at once. The bolt jolts about indiscriminately.

I hear a flapping above and glance over, but Axel is sleeping soundly in the spare berth. So I climb up the companionway and step outside. The parasailor is flapping furiously in the wind, weaving erratically back and forth in front of the boat.

I stand, indecisive, trying to recount what Axel has told me about the parasailor:
If it swings to the left, I should pull this rope in…
And if it swings to the right, this one…
And if the boat is heeling too much, I should let the ropes out a little to reduce speed…

My mind boggles a little as I look up at the parasailor, which is not swinging to the left or right, but in both directions at once.

What do I do? What do I do? I stand, frozen, until the boat heels alarmingly to one side.

I guess that means I should let the ropes out…?

In the absence of any better idea, I let the ropes out. But the flapping doesn’t stop, in fact, it seems to get worse. Maybe I should have pulled them on? Or perhaps I should have just pulled that one…or is it the other one…or…what should I do? What should I do?

FLAP FLAP FLAPFLAP FLAP. The sound of the sail surrounds me, and scratches at my nerves.

Calm down Liz. Look at the wind. It is sixteen knots. Axel says it can only get dangerous once we are over twenty-five. And it’s coming from directly behind us – there’s the problem! It should be coming from one side, right?

I change course ten degrees to the left, and wait to see what happens; but the noise continues.

FLAP FLAPFLAP FLAPFLAPFLAP FLAP!

I grimace and try another ten degrees change, just as the boat heels again, almost knocking me off my feet.

I begin to loose confidence. The wind is picking up, I worry. And what if I do something wrong? What if I make a mistake, and rip the sail; or…or perhaps I’ll we’ll get caught in a huge squall and won’t be able to get the sail down! I squint up into the ominous black clouds above.

FLAP FLAPFLAP FLAP!

Fail. But just as I lean forward to call for Axel to come up and fix the sail, the parasailor sweeps back into shape with a snap. The flapping stops, and instead I hear only the sound of the rushing waves.

The black clouds drift softly overhead, and I sit, feeling happy – happy to have done something, as if I was a real member of the crew rather than just a warm lump of nothingness that must be fed, and moved out of the way when the sails have to be adjusted.

******

Axel tells me that we just passed the half way mark. He’s all excited about that, but I’ve been having trouble building up my enthusiasm. I think it’s been slipping out of my ears each time the boat rocks to the side.

Neither of us has been able to sleep much, given the constant buffeting, and by the time evening comes, we are both exhausted.

It is early morning when the wind and waves die down. I turn off my watch alarm, which has started to grate on my nerves, close the hatch to keep out the rain, and we both fall into a deep sleep, relying on the radar warner and AIS to warn us of coming ships.

******

I wake up with a start. Strange shapes fill the cabin, and it’s a moment before I realize where I am. I’m in the second berth now, and Axel is in the pilot berth, which is easier for him to climb out of to check the sails.

I climb over the table to stand next to Axel’s sleeping form. It’s funny how I miss him. We sleep on separate berths, have separate watch, and one of us always seems to be either sleeping or working. We spend less time together during then passage than when we’re on shore.

I have this great urge to wake him, so that we could talk, or sit together at least, but I don’t. I pad over to the companionway, and climb the ladder to the cockpit to peek outside.

It’s dark, dark, dark. I cannot see the horizon. There is no moon. No stars. Only darkness pulled in so close that I cannot even see the sail. If it wasn’t for the creak of the blocks and pulleys, and the pull of the boat across the sea, I might have worried that it had somehow flown off into the night.

I know it’s silly, but I’m scared. I stand on the top rung of the ladder, unwilling to step out into the cold night air. Standing on tip-toes, I peer around the spray hood to check for lights on the horizon. And, seeing nothing but blackness, retreat quickly back into the relative safety of the cabin.

Thursday

“Liz…” Axel calls softly from the cockpit, “Come look”
I get up slowly, blinking, and look outside.

Sun!

I climb groggily into the cockpit to see azure and gold – the sun rising slowly on the horizon – and a welcome relief after two days and three nights of pure gray.

We smile and hug. A delightful breeze blows across my face, and Gudrun flies beautifully across waves.

I should probably stay up, I tell myself, and enjoy this moment for a little longer; but I’m feeling a woozy, so I climb downstairs and tumble back into bed.
******

I wake again, a few hours later. The sun is still out, and Axel is in the cockpit, washing our wet weather gear, which was already starting to smell a bit fusty.

I drag myself out of bed (wake up! wake up! Who knows how long the good weather will last?), perch myself in front of the mirror in the bathroom, and begin to pluck my eyebrows…which might not seem like a big deal to you, but for a girl who has been doing nothing more than lying around groaning for the past days, it feels like the first of many steps along the road to recovery.

Once my eyebrows are done, I have a shower, wash my hair, and even shave my legs, which gets a nod of appreciation from Axel.

And, self respect once again intact, I go into the galley and make lunch.

A little while later, we sit in the cockpit eating wraps, with peppers and coleslaw and roasted garlic. We’ve opened a carton of juice, and a bar of chocolate, and for the first time in weeks, I feel like I’m on holiday. Yes, I’m feeling good. Axel and I chat away the afternoon, enjoying the sun and the breeze; and I’m glad for this day, because up until now, the highlights of the passage were pretty much all of the parts where I was unconscious.

Friday

Day thirteen at sea. The boat slips forward, calm and quiet across peaceful waters. For the first time, I manage to write. I sit at my computer for two hours straight, and hardly feel sick at all.

And as I sit, staring at the screen in concentration, blasting Radiohead out of my tinny laptop speakers, I can almost imagine that I’m not on a boat at all.

Axel is working as well – still hacking away at his French for Impaired People game which is going to run on the iPad. He has it so you can click the words now, and select them to make a sentence.

It’s hot. Axel and I just wander around in our underwear these days. The further away we get from civilization, the more we realize the futility of clothing. It’s too hot for t-shirts. Too hot for shorts.

I look down at my belly. You’d think that sailing would have given me a super-buff body by now; sailory trim and tight, yes? No. Truth is, I don’t get much exercise on the boat. I’ve got muscles, yes; but they are well hidden.

The most strenuous cardio work-out I get on the boat is dancing around in the cock-pit when the ‘Blister in the Sun’ from the Violent Femmes comes on. The last few days haven’t helped either; as our supplies of fresh produce have been dwindling, we have been eating more and more carbs – potato, pasta, rice, and, of course, cookies and cake.

*****

Evening comes. Axel calls me outside to see the sunset, which is promising. When the time comes, however, clouds crowd in and obscure our view. No matter, we sit in the cockpit slurping at our pasta dinner, and drinking rum and coke.

I lay my head on Axels shoulder as we talk of the future, and everything feels wonderful. I’m outside. I’m in love. I’m happy…

“How different from just a few days ago,” I mention to Axel.
“Yes, with days like this, you can almost forget the bad parts…” he responds.

Yes, almost, I agree.

Pacific Crossing, Part II: Two times eternity

Wednesday

The morning of day four. The sky is a perfect blue; wind and sea, present but calm; and in the cockpit, Axel is operating our “washing machine” (i.e. a plunger in a bucket of water).

I watch him with a smile. This is more like it! Sun and light winds; smiles and fresh laundry. I almost feel human again, I think to myself, as I finally clamber over to the fruit net to check on the pineapples. They are already weeping sticky juice, however, and must be tossed overboard; which inspires me to go below to sort through our stockpile of fruits and veges that I’d been ignoring for the last four days.

I pick them over, extracting the ones that look worse for wear. The carrots in particular are already wilting in the heat, so I finally venture into the galley (boat-talk for kitchen) to make a coleslaw.

The task is bearable, even though I do have to sit down in a sweaty heap once I’m done. Immediately, my head fills up with plans – plans about FOOD: I’ll make falafel for lunch, with fresh tomatoes and coleslaw and chutney…and in the evening I can prepare dough for bread tomorrow…or maybe, maybe I’ll bake muffins! Mmmmm muffins…

The solar panels are charging like crazy, and the batteries are almost full. We take advantage of this abundance of power by running the desalinator to refill the water tanks; and even turn on the fridge (our main energy guzzler) so we can enjoy a cold beer in the evening.

I sit (upright!) in the cockpit, as a mellow breeze brushes past hanging laundry to sweep the hair back from my face. It can’t get much better than this, I muse happily. Nope. If this was a musical, I’d break out into joyful song right about now.

******

I sit in the cockpit to read my book, which is embarrassingly titled – Stress Management for Dummies.

There are three ways to deal with stress, I learn:

1. Remove the cause,
2. Change your beliefs and values, or
3. Manage your reaction.

When I tell this to Axel, he thinks briefly, before announcing that his favorite is 1. Remove the cause. I nod, sagely, fully agreeing with his pronouncement, before eventually realizing that we are sitting in a boat in the middle of the Pacific ocean, and might be best for me to focus on options 2. and 3 for the time being.

******
By 5pm, I’m hot from the inside out. Only after I climb down into the relative coolness of the salon do I realize that sitting in the sun all day might not have been such a good idea. Still, the mild headache in my temples does little to dampen my spirits.

The sunset is spectacular, as usual. Axel and I chat together, eat leftover falafel with a side of beer, and watch the stars appear in a sky that shifts from glowing orange to deep purple to midnight blue.

We lie on our backs as Axel shows me how to find the compass points using the stars; and when he eventually goes below to rest, I don’t feel alone at all. I read, and think, and stare up into the cloudless firmament; marveling at Venus, the brightest star in the sky.

Thursday

Day five and I wake feeling fine, fine, fine!

Axel is taking pictures of the sunrise. As I step into the cockpit, he turns his camera in my direction, before grimacing a little and lowering it without taking a shot.

“What?” I ask.
“Bruce Lee hair,” he replies, motioning with his chin to my mop of hair, which used to be stylishly “New York” but is now…not.

I make a mental note to chop off my blossoming mullet during our next calm day at anchor, flop down beside Axel, and lay my head in his lap.

The wind is blowing a steady 15-20 knots; the parasailor is strung tight in front of the boat, pulling us forward; and although we are still rolling with the waves, the movement feels bearable – calming even – after the lurching of the last days.

Today is going to be a good day!

I hock around below decks all morning, escaping from the sun. I bake home-made Twix Bars (which get a yell of delight from Axel), then lie with my head propped up on a pillow as I read up on how to identify negative thought patterns, eliminate environmental stressors, and control my breathing to release unnecessary tension.

Axel is happy too, but not entirely satisfied. The whirr of winches from the cockpit comes quite often now, as he adjust the sails to the changing wind, and every now and then he’ll come below muttering things like: “The wind is coming from the north-east <head shake>. It doesn’t make any sense!” or “ We might have to go further south if it continues like this…”
In the afternoon, he comes downstairs to download a new weather report and plot our course on the map.

“Ahhhhh!” he shouts, a few minutes later, in typical Axel style.

I look up startled, because even though we’ve known each other for almost six years, I still haven’t figured out how to distinguish his “Ahhhhh! This thing I just discovered is amazingly awesome and cool!” from his “Ahhhhh! I just stabbed myself with a sharp object or something equally horrible!”

I look over, concerned; but he isn’t bleeding profusely, which is always a good sign.
“196 miles!” he exclaims, “We did 196 miles on Tuesday!!”

I think back. Tuesday, I remember Tuesday. Tuesday was horrible and painful, with rain and wind and all sorts of uncomfortableness…

“Wow! That’s so cool…” Axel is flushed with excitement; but is soon dipping his head with a grimmace, “Dammit! I really want to make 200 miles one of these days. If I’d known we were so close I would have tried harder!”

And I can’t help but feel a little guilty, because I know he’s been holding back.

Axel, you see, is the type of guy who’ll grit his teeth and tighten the sails and do all he can to race the wind and the waves. But with me on board he will, more often than not, look sadly at my inert form stretched across the cockpit, and say something like: “Well, I could leave the mainsail up to get a few extra knots, but it’s less rolly with the parasailor,” and then he’ll go and put up the parasailor…

******

There are some beautiful moments. Like now, as we sit, cuddled together in the cockpit. Bob Marley is crooning softly in the corner, our bellies are full, and we sip contentedly on our sweet, chilled, gin and tonics.

Just thirty minutes later, however, the light fades from the sky. The magical sunset is past, and the night has an ominous feel to it…perhaps it’s the looming clouds.

My iPad lies next to me, full of books and games and sailing simulations; my iPod sits snug in my pocket, brimming with funk, jazz, French lessons, and audio books…but somehow I can’t bring myself to turn them on.

My head is already too full of the days reading. So I stare out across the changing sea, thinking fondly of my past lives in Berlin, Ottawa, New Jersey, and New Zealand; and of the friends I’ve left behind, and what I wouldn’t give to be able to meet up with them for Sushi or a Kebab later this evening…

Axel sits next to me, and we look at each other with the same thought: It’s only 7pm; barely evening. And then, after that there will be another evening, and another, and another…

Neither of us asks our usual “Why are we doing this again?” question, because we both know the answer by now. Because we are stupid, that’s why. And perhaps, just perhaps, we are searching for something else; something other than the stress and ache of modern life.

“I don’t know what to do,” I say.
“Neither do I.”
“Do you want to argue about something?”
He laughs: “About what?”
“We could argue about whether we’ll get a puppy once we get to New Zealand?” I suggest.

But we don’t argue. We simply hold hands and sit together in silence.

*****

My night watch passes uneventfully. I read, learn French, and make plans for tomorrow: If it’s nice weather, I’ll make muffins in the morning. And perhaps I can even sit down and do some writing!

The thought cheers me up immensely. I want to DO something with my time! It is almost a physical pain inside me. I need to work! To be productive! To do something USEFUL!!

But then again, when I consider this urge towards productivity in the quiet moments of the night, I’m not entirely sure if that’s really what I should be doing, or if I’m just being pushed forward by the echoes of the people back home.

I can still feel the wistful envy in their eyes as they’d lay their hands on my arm and say things like:  “You have to take advantage of this opportunity, Liz,” or “Be sure to use your time wisely. You are so lucky!”

******

At 11pm, feeling bored, I switch over to my “How to meditate” audio book. What better time to learn to meditate than on a voyage out at sea, right?

I’m supposed to sit for fifteen minutes and focus on my breathing. If any physical sensation or emotion comes up, I should name it, and repeat it in my head until it goes away – “Itch itch itch,” for example, or “Sad sad sad.”

So I sit cross legged in the cockpit, set my watch alarm to fifteen minutes, and my thoughts go something like this: sore foot, sore foot, undies need adjusting, itchy nose, itchy nose, itchy nose, wave, wave, wave, WAVE, I open my eyes briefly to grab on so I don’t tip over, before closing them again, wave, wave, wave, itchy nose, bored, bored, bored, WAAAVE…

I have this great vision of me sitting on a sailboat, all zen-like, contemplating the nature of the universe and my place in it. And, you know, sometimes I do! Perhaps 0.2% of the time. The other 99.8%, however, I’m just the same old Liz, who thinks about food a lot, and stresses out over getting all salty from seawater and running out of vegetables, and is much too easily startled, and would like nothing more than to hang out with friends in a dimly lit bar in Neu-Koeln.

I open my eyes to sneak a peak at my watch: 3:45 minutes have passed.

It takes all my will-power to sit still for the full fifteen. And after the time is over, I sit there trying to feel something valuable going on inside.

But no, there is nothing going on my head. No feeling of calm or relief; no great realization or sense of progress. I’m not on my way to becoming enlightened, or actualized, or whatever it is I am supposed to be when it all comes down to it.

In fact, all I feel, right at this moment, is a deep and abiding sense of boredom; as if I had just sat there for fifteen minutes wasting my time, when I could have been out there Doing, or Learning, or Creating Something of Value…

I turn on the audio book again and listen a little more. The meditation speaker gives my French instructor a run for his money when it comes to enthusiasm. “The point is to be present in the moment,” he effuses, “It’s not your job to care about the outcome. It is your job to sit there for fifteen minutes each day and try to still your mind…”

****

I finish my watch and crawl into the pilot berth. Not long after, however, the boat begins to lurch. The waves are back with a vengeance, and we rock steadily from side to side, making it necessary to tie the lee cloth on the side of the bed, so I don’t fall out.

The cabin is hot and musty; there is a strange smell rising up from the bilge and up through the floorboards. I jostle about in the bed for a while, tired but unable to sleep, before getting up and climbing woozily into the cockpit for some fresh air.

But just then, rain drops start to fall, heralding the arrival of a squall. So I climb back down the ladder and sit on the bed, unsure of what to do with myself. Axel comes down too, and we sit, looking at each other as we listen to the contents of the boat shift back and forth.

Clank, clatter, bump, the boat leans to the left.
Clink, bump, donk, and back to the right again.
Clank, clatter, bump, great, there we go to the left again.
Clink, donk, clatter, oh, the fun never stops, does it?

I listen, on edge, expecting any minute to hear one of the clanks to eventually turn into a smash-tinkle-tinkle; but for some reason I can’t bring myself to get up again to check that everything is stowed correctly. That deep unhappiness in my stomach has returned, and all I can do is lie there, anchored to the bed.

Never again, never again, never again…

****

I wake with a start,

Is it morning yet!? No, it is still dark.

Only then do I register the strange banging noises coming from outside. It sounds terrible! As if Axel is running around madly on deck.

I bolt upright. Perhaps he is battling with the sail…or, or, what if he is in trouble!?

I jump out of bed and run to the entranceway…only to find Axel sitting quietly in the cockpit, looking up at the sails.

“What was that noise!?” I ask, eyes wide.

“It was nothing, just the sails,” he shrugs.

So I lie back in bed, and use my newly acquired deep breathing exercises to calm the restless flutter in my chest.

*****

I lie in a strange, sometimes-conscious state, and only slowly become aware of a strange noise coming from underneath the floorboards.

Clicky-clicky-clicky.

I sit up immediately, having wisely learnt that an unknown noise coming on the boat is not something that you should ignore.

I lie my head against the floorboards, clicky-clicky-clicky.

I pull them up and peer curiously into the bilge, clicky-clicky-clicky.

But there is nothing there; so I do what I always do when I don’t know what to do: “Axel! Can you come down for a second?”

Axel comes down, and we both crawl around on our knees trying to locate the sound. After a few minutes, we have to conclude that it must come from outside the boat, around about where the keel is.

Clicky-clicky-clicky.

“Well, we can’t do much about it now,” says Axel with a shrug, and climbs back into the cockpit.

I stay below, sitting on the floor.

Clicky-clicky-clicky.

If Axel isn’t worried about it, I shouldn’t be either, I think as I put the floorboards back in place and try very hard to channel his faith and trust that things will work out just fine.

I climb back into bed, and try to ignore the sense of impending doom bubbling up inside me; because although I’m almost positive that something terrible is going to happen at any moment – a killer whale attack, for example, or a freak tsunami – past experience has shown that it usually doesn’t.

Clicky-clicky-clicky.

Still, my mind creeps back to our latest adventure on the rocks in the Galapagos.

Axel promises that it’s impossible for the keel to fall off, but I still have this vision of this little piece of metal, which is sticking out from the side of the keel. Clicky-clicky-clicky. And although it is doing it’s best to withstand the roiling waves and pressure, it is only small, you see, and just can’t manage to hold on. And eventually, it will start peeling away from the side of the boat; slowly slowly; and as it peels, it gets bigger and bigger, until great chunks of the keel are being twisted and ripped away from the hull; and soon, water will start trickling in…

Don’t be silly, nothing is going to happen, I tell myself sternly.

Yes, replies a small but insistent voice, but what if it does?

******

I just had a wonderful dream. Axel and I were supposed to be sailing for three weeks, but one week in, we find an island with one of those old fashioned american diners at the top of the hill. We laugh ruefully as we drive up to the drive-thru, because we probably should have gone the whole three weeks, but now we are here, we might as well go and eat a burger, right?

This time when I wake, the sun has finally arrived. I look outside to see Axel huddled in the cockpit. Exhausted; asleep. It must have rained a lot in the night, because his wet weather cocoon is soaking wet as it hangs in the companionway.

He stirs as I sit next to him, and murmurs a sleepy good-morning.

“Why didn’t you come inside?” I ask.
“I didn’t want to wake you.” he says.
Which I think is a very silly reason not to come inside.

*****

I don’t know what day it is anymore. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

I’m pitched about in the cockpit. The two-to-three meter waves look magnificent in the dirty gray daylight; sweeping up powerfully behind us, before falling away to force themselves under the boat.

“Twelve squalls,” Axel mutters, as he stands beside me shaking his head. And I turn to look at the tell-tale ‘anvil’ clouds around us, as he points and counts again “One, two, three, four…”

The clouds look pretty, in the distance at least, with their veils of rain flowing downwards to touch the horizon.

Thankfully, Axel has perfected his technique of avoiding looming squalls by judging their speed and sneaking around behind them. The rest of the day passes slowly. Axel dodges the squalls, and I lie in the cockpit, moving only now and then to let out a line, or to winch another a little tighter.

“Shit,” says Axel, some time in the late afternoon, and lunges over my barely conscious form to let the parasailor out, reducing our speed, “I didn’t expect that.”

I sit up to look around. The wind whips at my face, and the boat heels alarmingly to the side in choppy seas. I feel the first splatters of raindrops on my face. Axel has been outsmarted by the weather, it seems; and we are running before a devious black cloud that had been hiding behind the one he just dodged.

I sway dopily as the boat is forced sideways by a rouge wave. The autopilot whirrs in disagreement as it tries to regain control, and the parasailor swings alarmingly as we heel over enough that the sea almost pours into the cockpit.

Once we are upright again, I scramble over to grab our canvas spray-guard, which was ripped free by the strength of the wave and is only hanging on by a few lonely cable ties.

“Stay inside the cockpit!” Axel barks. I give him what I hope is a “I-can-look-after-myself” look, but decide to abandon my attempts to rescue the spray-guard, and instead run around the cockpit, throwing any loose items – pillows, buckets, books, and the like – down into the relative safety of the companionway.

Axel starts muttering unhappily behind me.

“Scheisse,” he says, “The BBQ.”

I look over to the empty spot where our BBQ used to be. It must have been ripped off the cleat where it was attached and is, right at this moment, sinking slowly to the bottom of the sea…

*****

“I have to get the parasailor down” Axel yells down into the salon. It’s evening already, and I’d been sleeping.

The rain is constant now, with squalls lining up, one behind the other, as they wait patiently for the privilege of raining down on our sad, wet, Gudrun.

I put on my jacket and waterproof pants and go outside to see what is going on. The wind is gaining momentum again. I feel the rain on my face, and try to contain the urge to go back below, where I would crawl into the pilot’s berth and get myself as unconscious as possible.

For the next two hours, I sit in the cockpit and watch fretfully as Axel clips himself to the safety line, and wobbles his way forward to battle with the parasailor. The wind has picked up to over 35 knots, and the sail billows out with great force, making it difficult to pull down the sock and get it back in the boat.

Every now and then he shouts, “Plus 20 degrees!” or “Pull the downhaul!” or “Let the starboard sheet out!” and I scramble around the cockpit adjusting the autopilot and lines. And although I know that the wind isn’t that bad, and that Axel is clipped in and won’t fall off the boat; I still feel a great tightness in my chest, like a spring being wound tighter, and tighter…

Finally, the parasailor is down. I cheer mightily as Axel crawls back into the safety of the cockpit, and we furl out the headsail.

Success!

Both drenched, we sit side-by-side, enjoying the closeness that comes from achieving something together. And for a little while, I simply enjoy the moment, smiling at the coolness of the raindrops, as they spatter onto my bare hands and feet, and dribble over my rain jacket to sneak onto my face and neck.

It’s not long, however, before I feel the need to scurry back into the safety and warmth of the salon.

I pull off my gear, towel myself dry, and jump bodily into the bunk, to snuggle into the safety of the pillow. It’s only after I am lying there in comfort, that I hear the clinking noise of our glass cups, which we had washed after dinner and placed to dry on the galley counter. They sway back and forth at the boat swings, with ominous clinks, and I can imagine in my minds eye the mess they’d make if they fell to the floor.

I should put them away, I think. But I can’t. I’m stuck here in bed, afraid to get up, or move, or do anything. Paralyzed with something. Seasickness? Fear? Stress? I’m not sure which.

A clink-filled hour later, Axel comes in, exhausted as well, and flops down on the couch on the other side of the salon.

Now, Liz, you can’t be such a wuss. Don’t just sit there sniffling like a girl. Be a real man! You don’t see Axel lazing around in bed, do you?

I look over at Axels still form as he lies there motionless, however, and feel the need to change my tactic: You need to push yourself if you are going to get stronger! Don’t give in to the fear!! You can do it!!!

So I lift my head from the warm, cosy pillow, and stumble over to the galley to put the glasses away. On the way, the boat heaves and I’m pushed against the navigation table and almost fall to the floor.

Everything sucks. Everything sucks. Everything sucks!

Finally, I make it the endless two meters to the galley, pick up the damn glasses and open the dish-ware cupboard to stow them away.

But…they won’t fit. Everything has shifted. The cupboard is a mess, with the plates and cups, and containers and thermoses all jumbled together. As I stare upwards into the cupboard, trying to decide what to do, the boat sways again. The contents of the cupboard rattle and teeter, as if they will fall on me at any minute, and one of my numerous snaplock containers is the first one to take the plunge – falling out and hitting me on the crown of the head.

Ow!

And what do I do?

I burst into tears. I close the cupboard, put the glasses in the sink, sit down to the ground, and cry my little heart out.

Axel, hearing the commotion, gets up and pats me with a there-there, before putting the glasses away; and soon after I crawl back into bed and fall asleep.

Saturday

You know what I miss? I miss the freedom of regular life. I miss the importance of it all. I miss getting up and having a coffee, and then walking out the door on some important errand…

The day is wearing on. It’s Saturday, almost a week since we left. The weather, at least, has cleared up a little, but I still can’t bring myself to venture outside.

The mysterious clicky-clicky sound has disappeared, but the smell in the bilge has only gotten worse. I don’t know what it is. I spent four days in Shelter Bay Marina in Panama cleaning the damn thing…

Finally, Axel can’t stand it any more; he gets out the salt water pump and starts cleaning it out. It makes so much noise! This endless whirrr-whirrr-whirrr, and all the floorboards are up, and of course, that makes the smell that much worse, and I have this dull achy headache, and I’m sitting here crying because all I want is for everything to be STILL for once!

I get up and go outside. It’s sunny, at least. So I do some washing, and try to ignore the bulb of unhappiness that has wedged itself in my throat.

****

Axel informed me that we passed the one-third mark this afternoon. Woohoo. Can you feel my enthusiasm?

Axel has this thing where he says we are almost there. By his logic, one-third of the way is a great confidence boost. Because, after the one-third mark, there is only a short leap to the half-way mark; and from half-way, it is only a little further until you reach two-thirds, and then three-quarters, and bam! before you know it you have arrived at your destination, still wondering where the time went.

So he’s all happy about that. But, you know, I’m not sure if his logic is quite correct. Because by my calculations the last week lasted an eternity; which means stretching out before us, across the endless expanse of sea, is nothing less then two-times eternity…

But, on the other hand, Axel was always much better at math than I…

Pacific Crossing, Part I: Just three days

Sunday

10am Sunday morning, and we wave goodbye to the Galapagos.

I’m glad to be on the way. Santa Cruz recedes slowly into the background as we putt-putt out into the ocean, and I try to avoid thinking too much about the month-long sail ahead of us. Seabirds follow us out to sea, and…

Dolphins! Dolphinsdolphinsdolphinsdolphins…

Axel and I strain our eyes to make out a pod of dolphins in the distance. They jump two, maybe three meters out of the water! Higher than I thought dolphins could jump. My heart leaps, and I am full of excitement.

We’re going to cross the Pacific!

******

We motor until 4pm, when there is enough wind to put the sails up.

At 8pm, Axel goes below to sleep before his long night watch. I sit and look around the dark cockpit. There is always this absence when Axel goes down below; like one of my arms is missing.

The waves woosh by on either side. The sails – tall and white, stretch tight against the wind. The night is a hazy black, and…what’s that!? Ghostly white figures weave a strange pattern in the air off the side of the boat, and it takes me a few seconds to realize that it’s just a few seabirds.

I read a little, then turn on my Beginner French audio lessons, downloaded in preparation for our arrival in French Polynesia – Lesson 1.1. Ça va? Ça va bien merci! The optimistic voices occupy me for a while, but it’s not long before my brain is stretched too tight, trying to wrap itself around all the new sounds (ou, oooo, rrrr!).

The stars are out at least.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? I don’t like the dark. I never have.

Imagine, Liz. Think of all your cruiser friends, sitting happily in their cockpits, reading or listening to audio books. Enjoying the solitude and silence of the sea…

And I can do it too! I breathe a sigh of happiness to be out in the cool night air. I wonder at the luminescence of the sea. I enjoy the swish of the waves, and look, dreamily at the stars peeking through the clouds. Beautiful, isn’t it? And look, there is Axel, right there, sleeping below, not three meters away. There is no reason to feel alone, or exposed, or jostled…

I try to read my book again, but the gloom of the night presses on me, disturbing my concentration. So I listen to Lesson 1.4 – At the restaurant, as the darkness creeps cooly over the horizon and seeps into my bones.

One, two, three hours later, and each minute moves just that much more slowly than the last. I should stay on watch until 12am, really, to give Axel times to sleep; but at 11pm it starts to rain, and when Axel comes up to ask if he should take watch, I nod my head in agreement and scuttle down below to lie breathless in the pilot berth, where I calm myself to sleep.

******

At 6am, I wake, barely rested, and crawl into the cockpit. The sun has returned and the world looks familiar again. Axel has a haggard look in his eyes as he tells me about the night squalls and his frustration with the changing winds. Soon, he goes downstairs to sleep it off, and I sit happily in the cockpit, staring out to sea.

Then the rolling starts.

My favorite tactic in this case, is to stay horizontal. If I sit up, the world is a terrible place. Woozy, sick, unhappy. So, horizontal it is.

We lay wooden boards across the cockpit to use as a makeshift bed while underway, and I lie sideways with my head braced against on side of the cockpit and my legs up against the other. I’m the perfect length. I watch Axel sliding back and forth, grasping at handholds as the waves push us this way and that, and experience one of those rare moments when I’m glad to be short.

******
I lie here. That is what I do. I lie here in the cockpit, groaning; watching the bananas and pineapples swinging back and forth in their net.

Axel sets the sails, and decides on the course, and cooks the meals, and does the dishes. Me? I just lie here…

The wind has picked up and is blowing, blowing us forward. Every now and then, listless, I put in my headphones to learn some French –  Lesson 2.2: On a Tour. Est-ce que le guide parle anglais? – and seem to be making progress, until I drop off to sleep, and wake an indeterminate time later with muddled French in my ears.

Apparently, my seasickness should go away after three days. The first few days are always the worst, they say, then you settle into a rhythm and everything is much, much better.

Yes. Just three days! Just three weeks. Just 3000 miles.

No problem. No problem at all!

******

“What am I going to do with my time?” I ask Axel that afternoon, after waking from another nap. The days ahead stretch out before me, and I feel overwhelmed by their length and number.

Because…what can I do, really? I have nowhere to go! I can’t walk to a café in the morning to have a coffee and write. I can’t go window shopping, or chat to our neighbors, or watch YouTube videos, or meet a friend for a beer or a chocolate cake.

I sit and ponder this difficult question for a while, before getting horizontal again and closing my eyes to take a nap.

******

Evening falls. The air is cool enough that we have to rummage around the bottom of the clothes lockers and pull out our long pants and socks. During my evening watch, the squalls start, so we pull on wet weather gear as well.

Axel, who is supposed to be sleeping, comes up every 45 minutes or so to adjust the sails, and see what the weather is up to.

“Do you think we should reef?” he asks.
“Do you think that squall is going to hit us?”
I look at the black mass gathering in the distance, and try to consider thes questions seriously, but there is nothing happening in my brain. It is just static, mush; so I stare at him and say, “I don’t know,” before getting horizontal again.

I nap, or listen to my overly friendly French tutor tell me how easy it is to learn a new language – all it takes practice, repetition, and a little determination! I stare at our fruit net. The bananas are ripening nicely, but the pineapples are looking a bit too juicy already.

We should eat those before they go bad, I think as I lie.

******

Our days are set up like this: Axel is on night watch from 12am to sunrise. I take the morning watch while he sleeps, then both of us are awake throughout the day. After dinner, Axel sleeps and I watch, then the whole cycle starts again.

And when I say I watch, what I really mean, is that I sleep.

I sleep that evening. Every twenty minutes my watch gives a little alarm to tell me that I should look around, which I do. But there is nothing. Not here in the Pacific – there’s no lights, no ships, no nothing. I float, dream-like, somewhere between waking and sleeping, until Axel comes to relieve me at 1am.

I admore Axels constitution as I lie in the pilots berth in the moments before sleep. I’ve always envied Axel, and his ability to function on very little sleep. In rough weather he can get by on thirty minute increments, and as little as four or five hours a day. In regular life he needs only six hours sleep, while I need eight, sometimes more.

That’s just cruel, when you really think about it. I calculated it one time. Two hours extra every day is 730 hours per year, which adds up to thirty days in total. Imagine that, an entire month extra per year…

Tuesday

On day three we have muesli with fruit for breakfast. We sit quietly together, digesting. And I look carefully at Axel whose tired eyes reflect another sleepless night dodging squalls.

Suddenly, he jumps up and leaps backwards towards the companionway.
“What?” I ask.
“Get the cockroach spray!” yells Axel.
My eyes get very wide. Argh! Rally the troops! Batten the hatches! Man the missiles! WE HAVE A VISITOR!!

Axel jumps downstairs to get the bug spray, which we keep handy, and returns to prowl the cockpit, can at the ready.

“Are you sure it was a cockroach?” I ask, remembering an episode last week when he’d reacted similarly to a piece of onion skin that had fallen down while cooking.

But no, he’s adamant, “Yes, it was a cockroach. A BIG one,” and I shudder, because I dislike cockroaches only slightly less than Axel does.

Five minutes later, after we’ve upended everything in the cockpit, we manage to flush the poor creature out from behind the gas canister. Axel is deadly accurate with the spray, and I watch, torn; my buddhist cringing at the death of an innocent little insect, while another, less impressive part of me is yelling: Die you sneaky, scuttly, nasty animal, you. DIE, DIE, DIE!

“I can’t believe we lived for three days on the boat with a cockroach,” Axel keeps muttering as we continue about our day.

Just a few hours later, I have trouble containing my disappointment as the sunny morning gives way to gray skies. The boat, which had been relatively calm when I woke, starts rolling again, along with my stomach.

Axel calls it “old seas” – when the waves from yesterdays wind are coming from one direction, while the current wind is trying to push everything somewhere else.

Axel manages break his brand new kindle with his ass, by sitting on it while struggling with the parasailor (our light wind sail), and I’m reminded of the time that Mark from the boat Irie said, “You could never be my girlfriend Axel. We’d fight, because you have no respect for material goods.”

And I guess it is true, in a way. His head is always somewhere else.

******

Axel stands, straddle-legged in the galley as he cooks potato curry, while I cheer him on from the relative comfort of the cockpit. Only a small amount of swearing and frustration later, we eat dinner as the sun sets spectacularly behind a herd of dark, low rain clouds.

I’ve been eating very little the last days, and surprise myself by wolfing down the hot meal and even having seconds.

Perhaps the worst is over? Perhaps I’ll be feeling better tomorrow?

But not yet. The night watch is wet with rain. I lie there in my wet weather gear, the happiness of my full belly slowly seeping away with the fading light.

Axel watches me sadly as I lie there looking morose.

“The first week is always the hardest,” he says, “It will get better.”

And I nod as watch the fruit hanging in the net. Yup, the pineapples are definitely going bad…

Update

Hello! Just a quick update: we arrived in Hiva Oa in the Marquesas on Tuesday, and have spent the last few days exploring the island and resting up after the 24 day passage to get here.

I still haven’t managed to pull together my notes from the passage to create a blog entry. The anchorage here is so rolly at the moment, I almost feel like we are still underway and it’s almost impossible to write. Watch this spot, however, it might be 1-2 weeks before we have internet again, but by then I should be able to post all the gory details of life on the boat during the crossing…

with love,
– Liz

On the rocks

It’s almost 7pm. I struggle down the ramp with my overly full grocery bags and wait at the dock for a water taxi to take me back to our boat, Gudrun.

While waiting, I give Axel a call to let him know I’m coming and that I bought fresh veges to make dinner tonight. No answer.

It’s Easter Friday today, which could be the reason why there’s no taxi available. Usually they are waiting at the dock already, nudging each other out of the way in order to get passengers.

Five minutes pass. No taxi. More people arrive on the dock, and we exchange shrugs as we wait, wondering what’s up. I try calling Axel again. No response.

Finally, a water taxi comes around the corner. I gather my shopping bags, and everyone gathers around ready to get on. Just then, however, a guy in a navy uniform comes running down the platform. When the taxi reaches the dock, he jumps on, and the driver whisks him away before anyone else can board. He revs the engine, churning through the water as he turns, and speeds off around the corner as I exchange bemused looks with the others on the dock.

I try calling Axel again. No response.

What if something happened to Axel? I think, concerned; but I quickly calm myself down. Don’t be silly, nothing has happened to Axel. Don’t worry so much!

I wait…

More people gather at the dock, and out of boredom, I call Axel. No response.

Five minutes later, there is still no taxi, but I feel a familiar buzz in my pants pocket. Axel!

I pick up the phone.
“Hello?”
“Liz?” Axel sounds a little harried.
“Hi Axel…I want to come back to the boat, but I can’t get a taxi.”
“Yeah, well you wouldn’t get a taxi, because they are all here. The boat is on the rocks.”
“What?”
“Is there anything you want me to grab if the boat sinks?”
“Um…” I think immediately of my computer and my ipad, sitting in the bag on my shoulder, and then of the Peli case holding our passports and documents which Axel would surely grab without my telling him. “No. I have my computer and iPad. ”
“Ok.”
“Should I come out to the boat?”
“No…what could you do? Better just stay there…they are trying to pull me off. I have to go.”
“Ok. I love you Axel.”
“Love you too.”

I hang up, and stand there for some moments staring across the water, waiting for a taxi to take me I don’t know where. I look down at my groceries (Well, I didn’t have to buy those did I?), and then stare out across the water again as I do a mental inventory of my things on the boat. I’m almost certain I should call Axel again…ask him to save something other than my passport, but I just can’t think of anything that I’d want to save…

You know, I think to myself, if Gudrun sinks, then that means that we can be home in New Zealand in a few weeks. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I spend a few more minutes staring out across the water, before it occurs to me that Gudrun is was anchored just on the other side of the docks. I leave my groceries, and walk up the pier and over to the other side of the dock which has a view of the anchorage. I push past the locals who have started to gather, and place my fingers lightly on the wall as I stare out over the water.

There, perhaps 100 meters away, I see an anchor light swaying back and forth in the moonlight. Several water taxis surround the boat. I strain my ears…is that a yell? Is that the crunch of metal on rock?

I watch. The crowd around me is relaxed, laughing, chatting. Interested but unattached to the sight of Gudrun rocking back and forth in the distance.

One of the young boys is playing reggaton on his cellphone. He can’t decide what to listen to, and keeps on switching songs half way through.

I stare out across the water, mesmerized by the swaying anchor light. I should go out there, I think. But what would I do? And anyway, how would I get there?

I watch, and see a small light on the foredeck. That must be Axel’s headlamp. The reggaton is blaring. Tears start to fall down my cheeks, and the people around me shuffle uncomfortably as they size me up out of the corner of their eyes.

“Are you ok?” a tourist comes up to ask.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I reply, “That’s my boat.”
“Oh.” she replies, her eyes widening.

A water taxi pulls around the corner and approaches the other dock, and the other would-be passengers who had walked over, like me, to view the drama on the rocks, rush back down the pier to catch it.

“Will you be ok?” the tourist asks.
I just nod, and she gives me a sad smile as she rushes away
I consider running to the taxi too…but where would I go to? I would just be in the way.

I turn back to watch the boat in the distance. Axel would want me to take a photo, I think. But I left my camera on the boat today.

I stand and watch a few minutes more. Axel will be so pissed if I don’t take a photo…

So I take out my new phone which I don’t know how to use properly and try to see if I can take a video or a photo…

But…somehow the interface seems terribly confusing, I can’t find any camera, and my mind balks at the act of clicking around on my phone, when I really should be focusing all my attention on that swaying mast out in the bay. I hold my phone in front of me, for comfort, and have to prevent myself from calling Axel again to see if he is ok…

Things could be different

Looking back, there are so many things that could have prevented what happened from happening (spoiler: we are fine and Gudrun is also fine, if a little worse for wear):

If we’d had the foresight to move Gudrun further away from the rocks when the heavy winds started last week, we wouldn’t have shifted into shallow water during the full moon tide.

If I had come home earlier, I would have been at the motor while Axel lifted the anchor to move the boat, and could have motored out of danger when the wave pushed her back onto the rocks.

If we had put the outboard engine on the dinghy, instead of relying on water taxi to get to shore, Axel probably could have pulled the boat sideways off the rocks before she was swept further backwards by the swell.

Or if our Spanish was better, perhaps we could have been able to convince the taxi drivers to pull the rope that Axel had tied to the mast, and was holding out for someone to take, but ever no-one did – at least, not until 3 hours later when a rescue coordinator from the navy arrived to help out.

So sure, things could have gone better for us last Friday night. But then again, things could have been worse:

If Gudrun wasn’t so beautifully and solidly made out of aluminum, for example, we might have sustained more damage than a few small fissures (which were quickly plugged with epoxy – good thing we had some practice already, right!?) and a chunk of metal ripped off the bottom of the keel.

If the local water taxi drivers and authorities hadn’t been so dedicated – refusing to give up, bringing in extra fuel, and keeping hold of Gudrun for 4 hours as the waves battered her towards the shore – we might have been fishing our things out of the water.

If it wasn’t for our friendly neighbors in the anchorage who found me on shore and dinghied me out to one of the taxis, I might very well have had a nervous break down right there on the docks. At around 10pm, for example, when the boat started rising up out of the water as it rocked from side to side (at that point the water depth was 1.5 meters…we have a draft of 2.5)

And if it wasn’t for pure luck, someone – either Axel, or one of the volunteers in the many small boats circling Gudrun as she swang – might have got hurt. We are very grateful that the greatest injuries sustained that night were Axel’s stubbed toe and the battering of our ego’s.

Aftermath

I had the pleasure of taking part in our own bizarre egg hunt over Easter weekend as I sniffed around the boat trying to locate each of the dozen eggs that had flown out of the galley, splattered into random corners of the salon, and immediately started decomposing in the tropical heat (“If only we had eaten more omelets last week!” you could hear me mutter as I crawled around on all fours trying to locate the source of the smell…).

We (well, Axel mostly) spent the last week checking the hull, mast, and rudder; sawing/banging the keel back into place; and wandering the town trying to replace the items that were thrown overboard in the excitement (our dinghy pump, the salt water hose, a diving boot, our wooden cockpit table…)

The Equadorian authorities have been wonderful. They made an effort to make sure we weren’t ripped off by people asking for too much money (we have talked to enough cruisers to know just how common this is when a boat runs aground), and they let us stay some extra days on the island to do repairs without any question.

We will leave tomorrow for the Marquesas, and Axel assures me that Gudrun will sail beautifully.

To all our sailor friends: Be safe in the pacific. Keep an eye on the wind and the tides and the swell; and think of us as you sit snugly and safely at anchor:-)

Hello Galapagos

Galapagos!

The cutest little seal

The cutest little seal

We arrive at Santa Cruz in the Galapagos eight days after leaving Panama.

Aside from some repairs that Axel had to carry out on the water pump, engine, and water maker, the trip was a uneventful (read: peaceful, calm, happy).

We had many beautiful sunsets, a view of the milky way at night, and wonderfully smooth sailing. It was such a magical trip, that I actually feel a little sad when we come into sight of land…

So I needn’t have worried. Thanks to all of you who gave me encouraging words after my last blog post. Perhaps I sounded a bit frantic? Hehe.

Don’t worry. I’m learning to be more accepting of the situations we get ourselves into on the boat. Although, old habits of thought die hard…I’m always in danger of a relapse!

Five. No! Yes, Five.

As we arrive, Andre from the boat Ecapoe, who has been in the Galapagos with his wife Birgit and three kids for the last 3 months, drives up in his dinghy to say hello. The last time we saw him was in July in Santa Marta, and it is wonderful to see his smiling face.

Soon, the customs guys comes on board – very friendly, with bad english to compliment our bad spanish. In the course of his routine questionning, he asks:

“How many GPS devices do you have?”
“Five.” says Axel.
The customs official shakes his head.
“No,” he says, “How many GPS?”
“Five,” says Axel.
“No,” says the customs official.
“Yes,” says Axel
“Five?”
“Yes,” says Axel
“Five!?”
“Yes, five”

The guy nods then, obviously very impressed by Axels copious GPS devices, and Axel wisely decides to keep his mouth shut when it occurs to him that we actually have nine GPS devices – that is, if you count our iPads and phones which we use for navigation as well.

“And how many VHF radios,” the customs official continues his questioning.
“Ah…four,” says Axel, a little sheepishly.
“Four?”
“Yes, four.”

Asistenta

Later, we are at the immigration office. They ask us to fill out forms with our name, address, passport information, and profession. For profession, I fill in “Software designer,” which is not exactly my job, but is the title I’ve taken to using since it is less confusing to most people than “User experience analyst,” which is what I actually do (um…did).

The immigration official takes our forms, and after a few minutes of tapping away at his computer, looks up at me and asks in Spanish “What is your profession?”
“Software designer,” I say.
He looks confused, and repeats “What is your profession?”
“Software designer,” I say, slowly enunciating the words.
He still looks confused, so I point to my form where I’d written it down.
He looks at it and shakes his head, not understanding.
“Con computadora” I say, and mime typing with my hands
“Ahhh! Secretaria!” he says
“No,” I say, shaking my head, “Soft-ware des-sign-er, ah…” I search my feeble Spanish for words to help describe what a software designer does, but end up feebly repeating “con computadora.”
“Ah!!” he says then, and nods knowingly “Asistenta!”
At which point Axel and I look at each other a little helplessly, before eventually responding with a shrug, “Si.”

Oh, nature. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…

I didn’t realize before, just now animal-free my normal environment is. I mean, we’ll get a few sparrows, some pigeons, maybe a rat or two if we’re lucky. And of course, there are cats, dogs, and other pets walking around on leashes or kept in the house.

Here in the Galapagos, we travel to town with the water Taxi, and have to step sideways around sea lions sunning themselves on the dock. In the morning, near the Charles Darwin Research station, we have to be careful not to step on any Iguanas, whose still forms fade into the concrete. Bright red crabs scuttle about on the rocks, and if you look, you will see a beautiful array of birds, including Herons, Pelicans, Warblers, Finches, and the wonderfully named Boobies.

I hear that on Bartoleme Island you can go snorkling with Penguins, and up in the highlands, you can commune with the giant tortoises.

If you are on facebook you should have seen Axel’s videos of our dives. If not, here are the videos Axel made:

I feel spoilt for having the chance to dive in the Galapagos. Perhaps I’ll never want to dive anywhere else again…there are turtles and turtles and turtles! And seals, and sharks, and a hundred thousand fish…a far cry from Santa Marta, where dynamite fishing has robbed the waters of the last remnants of coral reef.

Talk to one of the many biologists you will find dotted across the landscape here, however, and you get a sense of the constant battle between the conservationists and those out to make money off the wildlife. You hear stories of illegal over-fishing of sea cucumbers, sharks and other native fish, even in protected areas, and of certain individuals who’ve made a lot of money helping foreign fisher boats evade authorities…

Meanwhile, on the boat…

Some time during the trip here from Panama, I finally managed to settle into the boat life.

That isn’t to say that I am a “cruiser.” Not quite. I still think wistfully of the time we will arrive in New Zealand (Imagine! We will have a biig kitchen with SPACE, and a nice non-malfunctioning fridge, whose crisper I will keep stocked full of fresh berries and perishable leafy greens, and we might even have a dishwasher, and, oh oh oh, and every day I’ll take a steaming HOT SHOWER…)

But still, I am finally adjusted to life on Gudrun. I no longer swear profusely every time I have to get something out of the back lockers, I’ve stopped worrying obsessively that our anchor will drag in the night, and perhaps the most importantly, I’ve learnt to be more centered and self-contained, so that I don’t become consumed by loneliness each time we say goodbye to friends or move from one place to another, or so easily pushed into a strange depression when something unexpected happens, which is almost every week…

This week, our unexpected event involved the fridge, which simply stopped working.

Yes, the fridge stopped working. Which means that we have eaten the last of the Parmesan, and that I had to throw out the delicious chorizio we’ve been using to accent to our meals, and that there is a very real possibility that we’ll have to leave for our 3-4 week crossing to the Marquesas without a working fridge on the boat.

A year ago, I would be freaking out…”No yoghurt?” I’d think to myself, on the verge of throwing myself on the floor and writhing about in agony, “No cold drinks? No bacon? No CHEEESE!?” My lower lip would be trembling. “I can’t…it’s not possible…I need cheese or, or, I’ll DIE!!”

But, that was then, and this is now. I now realize in my infinite wisdom (could it be I am growing up a little?), that I probably won’t die if I can’t eat cheese for a month. In fact, I might do just fine.

And next?

Our time in the Galapagos is winding down. Ecapoe left for the Marquesas yesterday, and we miss them dearly. Over the next few days I’ll start thinking about provisioning – stocking up on fruit, veges, eggs, and beer, which is all that we are missing right now if you don’t count the cheese.

We plan on leaving next Tuesday for the Marquesas. We *have* to leave actually, since the authorities here have strict limits on how long boats are allowed to stay. Once we arrive on the other side, we will spend some weeks exploring the islands, as well as the Tuamotu Archipelago, and then make our way to Papeete in Tahiti. As usual, Axel will update his blog every day at 12pm our time. Here is the link: http://www.gudrunv.com/

Wish us luck!