My son wrote me an email yesterday, on my birthday, which I received via satellite. It read, in part, “I am imagining you reading on the deck / snoozing / relaxing today, as I assume you do most days. I hope you are doing something special for your bday on the boat.” I read the email to the crew as we were just finishing up dinner, and we all laughed, because this is so not what my day was like yesterday. In fact, it does not resemble any day for any crew on any ocean passage. So for my son, or any reader who is imagining what life at sea is like, let me give you a mental image. Now that I am on my 9th day at sea and we have travelled over 1262 nautical miles, I am getting a pretty good sense. By the time this article is published on Tuesday, I should be drinking rum drinks and jumping off the boat for a swim to cool off from the heat and hopefully these will all be memories that I will look back on fondly. But for now, this is more what it is like.
Just about every major system on the boat will break and someone will need to fix it or somehow you will need to work round it. So far, we have the following problems, and these are just the big ones: the primary alternator is not always charging the house batteries due to a faulty voltage regulator (I can’t believe I actually understand what that means…) For that one, we simply pray (or charge the batteries with the engine). The freezer died. The ice maker is leaking so we cannot make ice. The mainsail has a tear. The engine got doused with salt water because of a faulty hose, which caused (we think) a faulty electrical connection in the auto pilot yesterday (my birthday present) which means hours at the helm for each of us steering the boat on our watch, which sounds easy but is not, especially when the wind is up (it is) and the there are 4-6 foot waves and it is inky blackness now at night. Oh yeah, this morning, the crew’s head (toilet) broke and I can’t find the words to describe how unpleasant that is. Mike, who is in charge of repairs, and feels ultimately responsible for making sure we arrive in one piece, is cranky and overtired.
I spend a lot of my time when I am not on watch making sure everyone is staying hydrated and making sure the crew is eating. I am also my husband’s chief moral officer (as he is mine) trying to making sure that he doesn’t loose his mind from all the things that are going wrong, assuring him that all boats break, that we will get there, that this is an adventure and will not cost us a million dollars to get the boat back in shape when (not if) we get to Antigua. This is not always an easy job. At times, I am so lonely, though on 49 feet, I am really never alone. I miss my children, my relatives, my friends. I miss being able to text them, pick up the phone, and chat, run into them at the gym, make a plan for lunch, sit with them and do work.
And yet…it is not always difficult. In fact, there are parts of this journey that are wonderful. We celebrated 1000 nautical miles on a calm night, with a shot of rum. There is much to laugh about despite the tension, and there is great satisfaction in seeing the mileage to Antigua tick down (now under 400 NM to go!) Every day has been warm and sunny (though we do not sit on deck and get a tan, we do sit safely in the cockpit and listen to some great tunes) and the winds have turned in our favor, allowing us to turn off the engine a few days ago (I am praying that it will start when we need it to…) The stars are magnificent, the clarity out here in the middle of the ocean breathtaking. We catch Mahi Mahi now pretty much every day, and that is exciting (and delicious) and we’ve had a flying fish or two fly right onto our deck. Our crew could not be more knowledgeable or helpful. When I am not on watch, I nap, or read, or write, or just think. I am learning so much about sailing, and boat systems, though I have sat through enough dinner conversations about fuel rate consumption and anti-syphon valves to last a lifetime.
So if you are going to picture anything, picture Mike and I with our high tech PFDs on. If we go on deck, which is rare (but things break top sides also) we are tethered so we do not get swept in the ocean. At night, I sit in the cockpit, alone, tethered in, and in Ben’s words, in the inky darkness it’s like I am on a roller coaster ride in space. Anyone want to volunteer as crew on our next one?