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