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…

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6 responses to “Pacific Crossing, Part I: Just three days

  1. Love the stories! And I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one who likes being horizontal when sea sick. Those people who say, just looks at the horizon have never been ill. Looking for the next entry! Dave wants to be your navigator! He-he!

  2. Nicely done! Good writing.

  3. Great entry, Liz. I DO need to know whether the sea sickness got better; a very important factor in our negotiations to follow you next year… Can’t wait to read more. Enjoy the Marquesas.

  4. I really love you´re stories. Thanks for sharing all your small (and bigger) worries so sincerely. I can find myself in your writing.
    Don´t forget to let me know your post address once you´re settled in NZ, so I can send you a handwoven wedding present.
    Lots of love from Las Palmas!
    Uli

  5. As the others have posted… great writing, Liz! I feel as though I’m riding along with you and Axel; perhaps that was my spirit in the cockroach 😀 Luckily I wasn’t in the sights of Axel and I’m here writing this response. 😉 Don’t beat yourself up too bad; you’re making one hell of a trip and are being one hell of a trooper along the way.
    -George

    • Thanks for the comment George. I put lots of extra text in that last one because I know how much you like reading :-). Axel and I have been thinking of you, and are glad you made it out of Ulm before Nokia started this talk of closing down…

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