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.
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…
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.
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…