7 days at sea or "How to have sex with life"by Jakob Horvat, December 15th 2016, Puerto de la Cruz / Tenerife
When you think it can’t get any worse, try seasickness. For three days that underlying feeling of dizziness tortured my body with every wave that shaked the boat. It made me feel hopeless. Although the Atlantic Ocean came not even close to showing its real power I’ve gained a fair amount of respect regarding what is yet to come. And eventually felt a deep satisfaction once I’ve mastered the challenge.
Monday, December 5th. It is midnight and the moon shines at its peak from the black sky in the port of Portimao, Portugal. The diesel engine of our 40 feet sailing vessel crackles like an old tractor as we loose the leashes and slowly move out into the big dark ocean. What lies ahead of us is a seven day sea voyage of 700 nautical miles to the Canary Islands. A trip that I’ve considered to be a short intermezzo and nothing more than a cosy way to get in touch with the ocean.
Truth be told, this was naive!
A both scary and encouraging atmosphere of pure adventure surrounded me when I got involved in my first night watch from midnight until 4 am. My job was basically to hold the boat on the course of 220 degrees south-west and keeping an eye out on other ships. If signal lights appear on the horizon there’s an automatic identification system (AIS) that needs to be checked for course and speed in order to avoid collisions. This task I had soon mastered. There were hardly any ships. The lights of Portimao in my back turned smaller and I smelled the diesel of the engine that slowly but persistently pushed the aluminium boat further out into the Atlantic Ocean. I was alone on deck. The three girls, Martin and Jonny, the captain, went to bed. I was tied to the boat to prevent the worst case. Going over bord by night is pretty much equal with a death sentence. Chances of finding the one who’s drifting away in the dark waves are close to zero. Especially when everybody else is asleep. By times I was so tired that I passed out leaning on the big mast next to the steering rudder. Time for switching shifts.
“Sailing the farm”, our home for seven days at sea. A homemade 40 feet sailing vessel built by 300 volunteers in Norway to sail around the world.
What the hell am I doing here?
When I awoke under deck the next day I felt dizzy. The small bunk was wiggling with every wave that rolled under the boat. And the waves had become bigger. I got on deck as soon as I could. Seeing the horizon makes things better, I was told. What I saw was the ocean breathing in long and slow moving hills of water. Nothing but water. It took my body three days to adjust to the permanent motion. Three days that I felt like shit. Although I was throwing up only once, that underlying feeling of dizziness put me in a state of constant uncomfortableness. And more than that, I felt hopeless. I got demotivated. Going to the bathroom turned out to be hard work. Cooking under deck was nothing to think about. Big thanks to the girls who supported and took care of us with delicious meals. I started to question the whole project. What the hell am I doing here? I saw airplanes high up in the sky wondering why I’m not sitting in one of them. What I supposed to be a warmup for the big voyage across the Atlantic turned out to be a huge challenge itself.
The weather forecast telling about storms was not too much of a motivation either.
Our relationship with Jonny, the captain, is a pragmatic one. „The only reason you are here is because it’s easier for us with the watches.“ No worries, Jonny, we won’t try to become your best friends. At least things are clear and this collaboration is a win-win-situation for both sides. Jonny and the girls are giving us a lift to the Canaries and we are taking over watches so that they can get more rest. It’s a weird feeling though handing over all control over life or death to a captain you don’t feel any connection to. Well, it’s no different than traveling in an airplane, I thought. Flying is just way more comfortable.
So much beauty that is so hard to enjoy
Shortly before I got stuck in a downward spiral of negative emotions I had my first morning watch from 4 am to 8 am when something amazing happened. The break of dawn radiated more and more light into the dark sky above the ocean. When the sun finally emerged right out of the orange dyed water it left me standing there with the rudder between my legs and an open mouth smiling brightly. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of nature thinking that if no human had ever lived on earth this would look exactly the same.
When homesickness adds to seasickness
On day three I had all the energy of a boa constrictor that has just swallowed a goat. Cruising with four knots of average speed added a new meaning to „traveling slowly“ for me. Four knots, that is four nautical miles or 7.4 kilometers per hour. If I was jogging all the 700 nautical miles I’d be on the Canaries sooner. I got annoyed. By the smell of the boat, by the waves of the ocean. That is pretty much like walking barefoot in the snow and complaining about having cold feet. Happy to feel moderately stable now I still can’t think about reading a book or doing much else than listening to music and watching the tremendous amounts of water surrounding me. I’m sleeping a lot. I’m creeping in the little bunk hole in the wall even during the day when I am not tired, just for the sake of having some privacy. I hear the ocean splashing against the portholes, the diesel engine crackling and classical music in my headphones. Somewhere out on the Atlantic Ocean around 250 kilometers off the morrocan shore I have never felt further away from home than now. Neither in Mexico nor in Indonesia. Four weeks after I have started my journey I am seriously missing home for the first time.
A hole in the wall is all the privacy we’ve got.
Martin and I don’t talk much these days
Usually we work perfectly together as a team being able to cheer each other up in difficult situations. This time we realize that we feel pretty much the same and that there is not much energy left for helping each other out. We have to confess that we underestimated the challenge. And we started to question if crossing the Atlantic as planned would be a good idea after all.
There is a time for every emotion
On day four I managed to regain some energy. I started listening to an audiobook by Wayne Dyer called „Change your thoughts, change your life“. I gave it a try, when one statement turned things around significantly:
„There is a time for everything. A time for comfort and a time for discomfort. A time for happiness and a time for sadness. A time for being vigorous and a time for being exhausted. A time for being safe and a time for being in danger. All of these emotions life has to offer are a constant movement towards perfection. Be grateful for experiencing both sides of the spectrum and there will soon be a time for peace and comfort again.“
Now you might say: „Please get lost with that spiritual stuff!“ But that afternoon I felt as I have understood a key essence of mastering challenges. That accepting negative emotions as part of the game helps getting rid of them. And furthermore, it prepares the way for even greater feelings to come.
“The pain, it will leave once it has finished teaching you.” Sunset on day 4 was pretty much the turning point.
And then the magic happened
Saturday, December 10th, day five. Everything is much better today. I cook for the first time, which is a challenge when the whole kitchen is moving. Martin and I start joking around again, slowly finding back to our old form. I feel great. As if I have gained a tremendous amount of strength after overcoming an emotional valley that felt deeper than the Atlantic Ocean beneath us. I sleep less and read more. My body has adjusted to the boat’s constant movement and when the sun set a magic night was just about to start.
My night watch from midnight to 4 am was nothing less than some of the most inspiring hours I have ever had. Now that this particular challenge is soon coming to an end I can already feel that I have mastered it. I feel a new kind of energy arising. I can’t help drawing my phone every ten minutes to note new ideas that are constantly emerging apparently out of nowhere. I feel clear minded and focused. As if mastering one challenge and completing one step gives me new and even greater energy for the next one. The phrase „step by step“ got a new meaning. The moon dived into the black ocean around 2 am when I looked up in a sky full of stars. The constellation of Orion was following us – clear and bright as my thoughts.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Indeed.
This is when life becomes sexy
Sunday, December 11th. Martin and I have decided to keep following our dream of crossing the Atlantic Ocean by boat come hell or high water. We are just too curious to see what is on the other side. Not just geographically, because there are more convenient ways to find out. But physically, emotionally, mentally. Being aware much more than before that it’s going to be tough we want to know what it feels like to accomplish such a huge mission and which strength we can gain by mastering such an intense challenge. We will face even stronger feelings having one emotional climax after another. We will have sex with life, to speak in stronger pictures. And it’s hard to believe that what felt like a weird sado-maso-practice during the past week has just been the foreplay.
And then, after a sea voyage of seven days, there was land in sight. Tenerife, you stunning island!
Money spent in seven days at sea
Boat expenses (marina, maintenance, diesel): 100 Euro
Food and supplies: 40 Euro