What a difference a day (and an ocean) makes! I watched the dawn emerge from the companionway at 6am through hazy eyes and a happy heart. I made it through the channel and was now in the mighty, majestic and magnificent Pacific Ocean. I was so tired though, I felt drunk. My balance wasn’t great, and my thoughts were far from clear, but I was also content in a way that only comes after serious physical and psychological exertion. It was a wonderful sense of achievement. I had the wind at my back, my face turned to home and the warmth of the first sunrise of the trip on my brow.
The morning was spent taking stock after the storm, getting everything in order and cleaning up. I reinstalled my solar panels, shook out the reefs and tidied up all my lines, sheets and the deck. I brought out my bedding to air in the sun, cleaned the dishes and made a third cup of coffee to enjoy this very special moment.
The afternoon was spent doing exactly what I’d hoped to do a lot of on this trip – nothing. I had a full main up and the A-Sail (like a spinnaker) set and the boat was moving along perfectly. Wind was a stead 12-14knts and was forecast to stay like this early evening then slowly easing as the night wore on. I sat on the leeward cockpit seat, watching the waves roll by under the bright yellow, green and red of the A-Sail, framed by a cool, almost wispy blue the sky. The scene was accompanied by some epic playlists shared by friends before I left, interspersed with music from my childhood such as Midnight Oil, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jimmy Barnes and even a bit of Bowie. The breeze on my skin was just the right amount of warmth and I couldn’t be more content. I wondered to myself, could this be heaven…? A few days ago, I didn’t want to leave the cockpit as it was too dangerous outside. Today I didn’t want to leave for a totally different reason. It was the most peaceful and comfy place I could imagine. Life was good.
As the sun started to set, I called the boys, though Sat-phone connection wasn’t great and made a delicious dinner of grilled chicken breast and Greek salad with fresh goats cheese. I watched the setting sun while I savoured each bite.
When you’re on the ocean, either in a boat or on a small island where you have water all around, you’ll often get more than one sunset, especially if there are cumulonimbus clouds to the east. Tonight, I got three. The best was by far the large storm cell off in the distance across the horizon, far enough away to not worry about but large enough that the clouds refracted all the yellows, oranges, ambers and reds of the sun, while lightning was flashing inside. The west and south west were clear and as night encroached, I thought it could be nice to watch a movie under the stars, so I grabbed my iPad, fired up Anchorman and snuggled up on deck feeling rather happy with myself. A feeling that wouldn’t last the film.
During the day you can see a squall coming. They often appear out of nowhere, but the dark wall of clouds and pouring rain inside are clear to see and you have time to prepare well in advance. At night it’s a different story. I stupidly kept the full main and A-Sail up while I was watching Anchorman and I was so engrossed that I didn’t notice the wind slowly building. I was too busy laughing, but by the time it got to 17knts I was shaken from the humour and I knew something was up. I was immediately alert and knew what was happening, but it was too late. Seeing the storm cells off in the distance at sunset I should have known better, but there would be time for self-recrimination later. For now, I needed to move fast to avert what could be a real issue given the kite was up. I threw on my PFD, clipped on to a jackline and headed for the bow. By this stage the wind was well over 20knts and we had way too much sail up. Just as I got to the mast we broached. The boat was pushed over to 50+ degrees on its side. Its only then that enough pressure is taken out of the sails to allow the keel to self-right the boat. I heard things flying across the cabin downstairs. There wasn’t a moment to waste. This sail had to come down immediately. I tried to pull the sock down, but I hadn’t let enough of the port sheet off to allow the sock to cover the main body of the sail, meaning I couldn’t depower it sufficiently. Another gust and it ripped the line out of my hands and the only thing left I could do was blow the halyard. Thankfully I’d cleated this off at the mast, so I released the halyard and let it fly. As the head billowed out into the night, I grabbed the foot of the sail and pulled as hard as my arms could manage. I didn’t have long before the sail would be in the water and due to the boat’s forward momentum, it would become one large sea anchor and render it impossible to pull in. Slowly but surely, I got more and more sail over the railing and after 5 rather strenuous minutes, it was on board. A mess but not in the water so a definite win. Now for the main. By this stage the wind was above 25knts, so I went straight to my old pal the third reef. I’ve had a fair bit of practice getting in reefs by now, so it didn’t take too long. I then unfurled the jib to give the boat some power to move through the waves, after which I sat down, took a few breaths and reflected on what just happened. Thankfully there were no major issues, but it was a dumb mistake and I shouldn’t have made it. What happened to my mantra of reefing early and reefing often? I won’t make this same mistake tomorrow night.
The squall also brought a 70-degree wind shift, which meant I was now sailing far too south. Ahyoka and I gybed over, but the angles were taking us too far north, so I decided to gybe back, set the boat and get an hour sleep and see what things looked like then. It was 12am by this stage so I was tired. An hour later the wind indeed shifted back to its previous direction of 210degrees, so I set the sails and went back to bed and was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
The ocean is a place for poetry. At the height of the storm on day two a dear and thoughtful friend sent me two poems, both of which came exactly when they were needed. The first was Invictus which defines bravery and inner strength and has a remarkable ability to inspire when you’re about to confront your demons. The second was Kipling’s If. My beloved grandmother gave me this poem when I was young, and I’ve gone back to it many times over the years. The values Kipling writes of are values all men aspire to, but most never attain, at least not consistently. We are only human after all. Its aspirational, yet also grounding and I’ve always taken great comfort in reading Kipling’s wisdom. I share them both with you below in the hope you too can draw resilience from these powerful messages.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.