There are three main rules when sailing:
– stay on the boat
– do not hit anything
– the mast has to be facing sky
The last rule was the reason why our sailboat had been named “This Side Up“. Also, there are two arrows pointed upwards just so no one would get confused. If the mast was facing down it could only mean one thing: evacuation. If you had enough time, of course.
We didn’t have any difficulties while casting off from Christmas Island: the island protected us from the wind, we managed to witness a gorgeous sunset, and as soon as we were at the open sea I got ready for my first task in my sailing career – pulling up the sails. I felt a bit awkward to ask what was I supposed to do and by doing so admit that I had no experience whatsoever in sailing, so I simply did the same as the rest of the crew. Luckily enough, the main and head sail were successfully up, the wind was pushing us forward so we started sailing at the speed of 6 or 7 knots. By the way, if there is someone who had never been sailing or who had never been interested in the meaning of all these knots: if you were travelling at a speed of 1 knot you were due to pass one nautical mile in an hour, which would be slightly less than two kilometers.
The sails were up, coordinates typed into an autopilot, and that was it. We could rest after exhausting four minutes of work. I was waiting for captain to give us some more assignments, but he just sent us to bed and told us that he will have the first night-watch shift.
Easy for him to say – whenever I closed my eyes on my bench-bed, I was woken by movements of the boat that I never felt before. After one strong wave, I panicky got up and went to see the captain asking him should we start with the evacuation. He just told me – we have good speed, the sea is relatively calm. Calm? 2-3 meter waves, boat is rocking on all sides, groceries are all over the cupboards, and he says its calm? What did I got myself into?
After the captain I did my shift (night watch consists of three-hour shifts between 7pm and 7am, during which you have to take care of the boats surrounding you, and you can see them with your bare eye or on the radar), and after it, I managed to fall asleep. I woke up few more time, expecting that the crew will do the same, but it didn’t happen.
Morning brought us lighter wind, for which only I was grateful – the rest wanted strong wind to bring us to our next destination as soon as possible. Nobody gave a damn about my paranoia. But, enough of whining, I told to myself – I’m on a sailing boat that will transport me to Africa for free, under the leadership on the captain that can teach me something about sailing. Take advantage of that!
The captain was cool: he had plenty of patience with us rookies: he readily explained to us everything we wanted to know; as a matter of fact, he answered more than once on some stupid questions, taught us how to tie up sailor knots and so on. Also, he was the one in charge of preparing breakfast on the ship – American pancakes. The thing that I noticed straight away was that our diet would we relatively monotonous: our fridge wasn’t working, we only had canned fruit and vegetables, our bread supplies were scarce – we had amount of bread that would suffice only for two days, and as long as deserts were concerned we had some Indonesian biscuits bought in Bali. A lot of pasta, rice and tomato sauce; quite similar to what I’d been accustomed to.
However, the main problem during the first few days was only one: sea sickness. Just like in the case with the sails, I refused to confess that I felt constantly sick. Seb and Li Ti had already accustomed themselves to this kind of life, but I was new in all of that. I tested my body and observed how it would react: when I was lying in the cabin, with my eyes shut, I felt fine. Whenever I was standing or sitting with my eyes wide open I had that strange sensation in my stomach, but it was far from romantic. When I was on the deck observing the horizon I was fine, but as soon as I would try to read a book or spend some time in front of a laptop there were problems again. So, after those tests I either slept or watched the sky from the deck.
Still, a close encounter with the sea sickness was inevitable – it was finally my turn to show off my culinary skills. I was just about to prepare spaghetti in a tomato sauce, in our teeny tiny, damp and not very stable kitchen. Thinking about the nausea I felt and the quality of lunch I would serve I was surprised by a sudden wave so, along with a bowl full of water, I fell down hitting a few kitchen cabinets on my way down. The result: a couple of bruises that were yet to be discovered in the following few days and the water I’d spilled. Luckily, it wasn’t boiling.
The lunch was done but it so awful that I didn’t feel any regrets when I threw it up a few minutes after. My fellow crew members were very supportive: they didn’t criticize the quality of the lunch (in fact, they ate all of it), neither did they make fun of my feeding the fish to a chewed up pasta and tomato sauce a bit bitter than the original.
Speaking of fish, I’d expected that every day we’d catch a sea creature; after all, we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It didn’t happen even though we constantly had two fish-hooks in the sea: all we managed to fish were two – plastic bags.
While you’re on the sea you have plenty of time to think. In fact, that was pretty much the main activity. The sails went up and down and we only had to change their position a couple of times a day, if even that. As far as night shifts are concerned they only took us three hours a day, that is night. We had rest of the day free. We slept a lot, read a lot and, well, thought a lot.
I also came up with a way how to describe sailing to someone who had never sailed across an ocean. However, I think that it is even better not to know, because you might change your mind. Anyway, picture an amusement park: you know that flight simulator. Get inside. Switch it on. Lower the turbulence to some 60%. And there you have it: sailing. Moreover, you have to stay in that simulator 0-24, cook in it, eat, drink, and go to toilet and sleep. From one day to another. One day to another. One day to…well, you get the picture.
During the third day of sailing I finally started showing the signs of improvement from my sea sickness so I was in a much better mood. I even managed to have conversations with other crew members that were longer than three sentences. One day we saw a cargo ship in the distance, contacted them by radio and that was the only contact with the outer world in five days, which is the time it took us to get to the first stop: Cocos Islands.
The last 12 hours of sailing were the worst: we had to put down the sails so we could slow down and avoid arriving to our destination in the middle of the night. Our boat, since we had to put down the sails, was at the mercy of strong current and three-meter waves which made it sway back and forth as if it was made of paper. The groceries were all over the place, Li Ti’s dinner was on the floor, Seb tried to help her just so he could spill his dinner all over the kitchen. In one word, chaos; as if we were in a constant earthquake.
Since the wind was very strong and there was an awful downpour we discovered that the ship was leaking on several places, two of which were right over my bench-bed. Still, on a brighter note, at least the ship wasn’t leaking from the bottom: that would’ve been much greater problem.
Anyway, it wasn’t very comfortable. It’s not comfortable be in the middle of the ocean and not have a minimum control whatsoever over your destiny. I caught myself thinking about the fear I felt in those moments. Fear. Is there any use of it? No. Can it be controlled? Maybe it can. How? Thinking positive. With humor. I went to see the captain and started yelling at him to calm the ship, that I was fed up with everything and that I wanted my money back. In a single moment the laughter and good mood filled the entire ship.
And the sky, as if it was observing the whole thing, rewarded us with a new day, less rain and – the land.
As we were approaching the land the sky was getting clearer, it completely stopped raining, there was not one sign of the wind and the nature suddenly revealed all the splendor of its colorfulness.
Feeling dumbstruck we smiled at each other reading each others thoughts.
We anchored and spotted a few small rock sharks looking for some leftovers. We sat on the deck simply enjoying thee colors of the sea, palm trees not far away from us, white sand while we waited for the customs control. Also, we noticed a small vessel covered with sponsor’s stickers. The customs officers who had arrived in the meantime explained to us that that vessel was of an Dutchman who had arrived the very same morning from the east, but rowing.
All of us burst into laughter and paid our respect to his adventure, especially since that was his third ocean he was crossing the same way. With the gestures they made officers implied that the guy was a bit loony and they also told us one of his anecdotes which included several sharks which, a few days ago, kept him company in the middle of the ocean swimming around and hitting the bottom of his vessel with their snouts, curious to discover what kind of animal was crossing their territory. When you only think that we considered ourselves some big adventurists.
We spent the rest of the day wandering through the soft beaches of uninhabited Direction Island, one of 24 island that make part of the atoll (annular coral reef), dense with coconut palms and other exotic vegetation. Only two islands are inhabited and have 600 inhabitants.
The following day we visited Home and West Island where we actually got to see the people who inhabited it and they weren’t much different from people from the continental part of Australia. There were no topless dancers, colourful flower necklaces, fruit cocktails…quite disappointing. We renewed our stocks, careful to avoid most of the fruit and vegetables since one piece would cost 5-6$! I found an Internet cafe on the island so I managed to let my folks know that I was safe and that I would be absent from the world of Internet for the following three weeks or so until we get to the next piece of land.
I couldn’t even imagine what they must’ve been through during my sailing, especially since I’d spoilt them by getting to them every day, almost without an exception. Oh, parenthood, I can’t wait!
I have to admit that I was sad when the third morning we pulled up the anchor and, once again, set off towards west: the reason wasn’t the one that we were leaving one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, but the very opposite – because it didn’t fascinate me.
I had all these questions running through my head: what did it take to be thrilled about a place? Why did I even travel when not even visually the most beautiful place didn’t leave me thrilled?
Digging through my memories I came up with two answers. The first one was written on a piece of paper a friend of mine from Germany gave me a few years before. There was the answer to the very same question on it:
You travel to know yourself and decide between what’s your choice & what’s simply handed to you by tradition, you have to see what choices & traditions others have, as a contrast.
The second answer was from an unknown girl who sent me a message on Facebook inspired by my post on blog:
The point of your journey is not primarily exploring the world (however, it’s a great bonus), but it is exploring and getting to know yourself through other people, different cultures, different experiences, and cherishing the empathy, collectiveness and openness to the world.
Yes. Every now and then I needed a small help with recalling the reasons.
That was the first time I asked myself one thing: was I fed up with travelling? Did I find everything that, a year ago, I went to look for? I’d seen so many amazing places, hitched thousands of miles, met wonderful and strange people, tried delicious cuisines and exotic drinks, managed to overcome what appeared to be insurmountable challenges, beaten my fears…and most of all, brought in order my head and heart. Was it time for something else, something new?
I’ll have to think about it a bit more when I arrive to Africa. First of all, I had to make sure that I’d survive, both physically and psychologically, at least for three weeks – that it is the time it’ll take us to get to Mauritius.
Once again, moving on towards sunset.
YT VIDEO – INDIAN OCEAN (2):