IIIOn the Open Ocean.
It’s 4am. I’m between shifts. Its stormy and dark.
The waves bang against the walls of Noalani, making her ferro-cement hull vibrate. Everything shakes. Right to left. Left to right. It’s a rhythm of sorts, after a while your body adjusts to it. Left. Right. Left. Oh, Up and Down. Left and Right.
I almost fall out of bed but manage to push myself against the column in the middle of the room, the extension of the mast. Safe. Someone moans. I can hear a wave break on top of Noalani, splashing over the Hatch in the front of the boat. I hear water dripping in. It’s not waterproof.
How did this all start?
On our first night of sailing I was assigned the first sailing shift. I took the stearing wheel for the first time and steered the boat through the sunset in direction of the open ocean. It was beautiful.
That night, after lying down in the bow, as things started to become a little rougher I could feel the seasickness creeping up. A slight feeling in your tummy that something is wrong. First I vomited in the toilet. Then over board. At this point I still had things in my tummy that I could throw up. This would change soon. The first few hours, being the only one seasick, I began to think I might be the only one. This soon turned out to be a little naive.
On the second day you could see one face after the other turn grey. Soon the puke bucket was well worth its money and only sleeping or steering the boat would give temporary relief. On this second day all I could do was lie around, focusing on trying to not feel so seasick.
Oh, seasickness! I felt like in a delirium. Metaphysical, taken from my physical body, barely existing as the watcher of what happens. Only able to lay down, to vomit, to listen, watch and smell. Every step is so much work its almost not worth going. With a piece of ginger in my pocket, constantly chewing on some, hoping it helps. Somehow. For days I tried to get my seasickness tablets from my bag in the bow. But every attempt trying to get them would end in me vomiting in the toilet.
Lying around like this I could watch things slowly go wrong over the course of the day. First our steering broke. The line connecting the steering wheel to the rudder tore apart. So we started to use the emergency tiller until it broke as well. Paul had fixed the steering wheel by this time just for it to break again.
Floating and bumping around high waves we needed to use our battery tools. To charge the battery I watched Paul get out his generator on the cockpit, fill it with fuel, trying not to spill too much onto the cockpit to charge our drill battery.
Apparently, and this happened when I was in one of my shallow sleeping phases, shortly afterwards the battery charger blew up in Axels face. Eventually we fixed the steering again and carefully sailed on in more and more northerly winds.
Things could only really get better after this I thought.
Today started nicely. Luna had switched her shift with mine so she could have a nice, long sleep. Paul had caught a nice tuna fish after having the line out for two days. He ripped the head off. Axel ate the liver and Paul ate the heart. We kept the headless torso for later and Paul cooked a beautiful fish curry out of it. After having suprisingly taste-intense dinner Luna takes my shift from 6 to 8 and I fall asleep. At midnight I get woken up and go on the deck to do Lunas watch. The weather has turned from a nice day to a stormy night. The sky is covered in clouds and the waves have grown to 3 metres.
I sing songs to the ocean the whole two hours. Everything is covered in a thick grey layer. No colors. Just shapes. The steady movement of the waves only gets disturbed by single big swells coming along, lifting the boat up just to let it drop into nothingness. Creating a moment of no gravity for everyone on board. We are on a spaceship. Yes.
I go back inside. 2am. My duty is over for now. After some writing and listening to music I fall into a deep, deep sleep. Occasionally I am woken up by the vibration of the boat in a big swell or the feeling of flying as the boat jumps up.
The mast rattles as Noalani slowly turns into the wind and the sails start to flap. Unspeakable forces of nature torturing our little Noalani. But she stays strong. There. Again. Up. Falling. Crash. And up again. A short break. And up again. Its night. Everything is black. You can only hear and feel. Tony comes through with a red head torch. Everything glims red. “It smells like puke.”
He looks around the floor and leaves again for the back of the boat. Rain starts to drizzle on the roof. The waves break. I hear water dripping though the hatch into the bow. Paul is up, steering.
At 6 he wakes me. I get up in the dark. Tony, lying next to me, gives me a little push and I put on my still wet rain gear. In my pocket I find sealable bags with malaria tablets, pain killers and toothbrushes. I finally take them out and put them in one of the nets for vegetables and fruits that has gotten some space from us eating all the kiwis which occupied the right side of it.
I go up and take over the steering wheel from an all wet Paul that smiles at me. The weather has changed a little. Now rain has joined the strong winds. Paul says it comes and goes, gets weaker and then pours down again. Sitting at the wheel I press one foot against the side of the cockpit to keep me stable. The rain drums against my face. Sometimes it gets harder and starts to hurt a little. I have to close my eyes and sail blindly. I smile. The sails are not supposed to flap.
It goes up and down. Up a big wave and down again. Up and down. Sometimes a wave splashes over the boat and covers me completely in cold water. I smile. It’s one of the greatest moments of the sail so far. Looking up at the sail, through the rain, I can see a little rip, almost at the top of our main.
When Tony eventually sticks his head out to check if everything is fine I tell him about the rip. He laughs and asks me if I’m smiling. Yes I say and he thinks I’m joking and and I think he already knows. Turns out the rip will get bigger over time. Always listen to the little voice in the back of your head. It’s one of the many things I have learned on this journey so far.
I notice the sun is rising because the gray layer that covered everything and stole all the color of this gorgeous night scene fades away and the vibrance of the shapes reappears on the surface of the water. Some birds visit us as usual and swing their rounds around the boat in majestic circles, playfully shooting to the water until one of their wings almost touches the waves. They are our brothers, living out here, playing with the wind and the waves every day. It looks like so much fun.
The moment Kat sticks her head out of the door for her shift I notice the clouds over us are slowly fading away and I can see patches of blue coming through. Oh what a relief. I yell it out to all the sleeping people inside the boat. Kat joins me and together we watch the patches of blue getting bigger. Somewhere I notice a pink tinted cloud, high above, shown on by the rising sun. Proof that this beauty is in fact happening, somewhere behind the big, grey rain clouds ahead of us.
The waves have grown. Some of them must now be about 4 metres high. Noalani rises, tips over the edge of a wave and falls. Falls down in what feels like a minute until the next wave builds up like a giant blue wall in front of us, decorated with many little white lines of foam,
After a fun hour of sailing and singing Kat notices the tear in the main that has since grown bigger.
We get Tony out. He looks at it for a long time. Ten minutes pass and Kat is steering us through the now huge waves. Eventually I go inside but not long after someone yells “a boat!”. I stick my head out into the cockpit and we look at a small white sailboat sailing past Noalani not more than 20 metres away. The letters NZL are printed on its reefed (which means lowered) main sail, the only one that’s up. We all stare at it in disbelief and wave but there is no one on deck. Just after it has passed us someone comes on deck and waves back.
I make my way back under deck as the sea sickness and exhaustion slowly grabs me. Lying somewhere on a bed I can hear Tony get in contact with the boat via Radio. The boats name is Pandora, Nick is the captains name. They left New Zealand 5 days earlier, same as us. What are the chances I wonder as I drift off into a very shallow sleep.