The diary of a day at sea
Somehow, at sea, the passing of time seems to be experienced differently to that in other episodes of life to date… Possibly due to the random hours of wakefulness dictated by the watch rota and the practicalities that preoccupy you – the wind, the sails, the omnipresent yet unpredictable roll, water consumption and bananas, to name a few – so it seems somewhat of a challenge to clarify exactly what distinguishes one day from the next. And yet, each day does have a distinct flavour. Bon appetit.
“Arrrrp!” A short, sharp sudden intake of breath as the flash of a red headtorch light hits my retinas.
“Shhhhhhh, shhhhhhh, it’s ok. It’s your watch. The kettles on. Take your time.”
The grogginess of sleep slowly ebbs as I reach for the clothes I stashed a few hours ago in order to be ready and I stumble into the legs of my salopettes praying not to: a) bang my head; b) land accidentally in someone else’s bunk or; c) dislodge any of the multitude of banana hands from their strung stash in the aft cabin. I’d say we’re on an 80% success rate…
We’ve generally been surrounded by clouds reminiscent of what you’d envisage listening to the Orb’s Fluffy Little Clouds track (this cloud formation is quite typical throughout trade wind zones) but the moment when you first glimpse the vast expanse of the starry night sky, or, as on this night, a resplendent full moon is also always a magnificent treat and I need to catch my breath. It’s all the more appreciated after the drizzly squalls of yesterday. It’s funny to think of us being top to toe in wet weather gear after crossing the Tropic of Cancer.
In hushed tones, huddled around the bright orb of the compass, information is relaid to me about how the wind and course have been over the last three hours of watch (we have been exploring whether three or four hours of rolling watch are preferable and trying to ensure we do actually get to spend time with everyone on board) and if any changes in sail are needed while there are more people on deck. Fortunately, things are pretty steady (the trusty self-steering system, fondly known as Henrietta as she is an invaluable crew member, is still at the helm) and there’s not much to report aside from the best place to cast my gaze for shooting stars as I scan the horizon for boats. We’ve seen a grand total of two boats in as many weeks.
“Did you see more phosphorescent dolphins last night? Sounded like a there was quite a lot of excitement from my bunk?!”
“Huh?”… “Ahhhhh, no, I was sat right here against the lifelines and BOOM, it really sounded and felt like something had snapped right next to me.”
“No, silly that it took me a moment to figure out but it was the stench made me realise as I was looking around: a flying fish had bounced off the canvas right here, less than twenty centimetres from my head. Bam. A perfect circle! Poor fish. And then, when Nono came up on watch and I was relaying this to her, another landed on deck right at the exact moment in the story the fish hit! So we scrabbled round on deck to rescue it and got it back into the sea!” (The girls have taken to playing ‘find the flying fish’ on deck every so often now).
After this chat and the rest of the last watch’s philosophical discussions have come to a gentle close, a flurry of “Bon Nuit” and “Nos Da” follow a descent down the companionway.
Dawn gently creeps across the sky and I notice that it’s time to twiddle – somewhat desperately – with the knobs on the SSB radio in the eternal hope of receiving a crisp signal and clear faxed forecast. There seems to be an addictive quality to searching for the buzzes and beeps that denote potential success. A sleepy yet wide-eyed Morla stumbles blearily over with outstretched arms to help listen in on the vintage black telephone receiver so we don’t wake the other sleeping crew.
Nada. Just hazy fuzz. At least I enjoyed some fabulous cuddly company in the process. We try to creep up the hatch quietly. “Maybe, can I have a cracker with butter and jam?” Morla inquires innocently as she snuggles into a bean bag on the deck. With her hunger satiated temporarily and after another cup of tea is savoured, it is time to swap myself out of watch. Kieran, Seren and Morla then go for their VERY gripping daily swim from the bowsprit net.
This didn’t turn out to be the day we caught a Mahi Mahi (Dolphinfish) longer than Ren is tall, or the day when we were less than 20 feet from gliding over a pilot whale, nor was it Nono’s birthday; nor was it a day when the girls received a story written especially for them from a crew member (the number of talented authors on board make it fully intimidating to write); or when Kieran gave us a recital of Under Milk Wood; nor was it one on which we were becalmed and swam in the great blue ocean, counting the pilot fish accompanying us. Neither was it the day we needed to swap jib sails and discovered a rip that needed quick repair, nor was it the day Ama shaved her head, nor did we catch sight of phosphorescent bullets of dolphins at night.
However, I roused myself from daytime slumber to pop my head out of the hatch and – having somehow dislocated myself from the environment in the increasing heat haze of each day – was once again stunned by just how much blue we’re surrounded by above, below (can it really be 4000m deep?!) and on a complete 360o circumference. I’ve woken up in time to place my guess for the midday distance game. A genuine ripple of excitement can be felt in anticipation of who will be closest given our estimates and comparisons to the preceding days. Nick calculates and Ama gets it bang on with 121 nautical miles. Nice one!
Everyone continues with their chats and projects – Amber can be heard playing the penny whistle up on the foredeck and I read a little more of Jack London’s Le Loup Des Mers in French with Jean-Marc.
It doesn’t feel like long until Nono announces lunch. She has whipped up a delicious lunch of fried rice and veggie wraps, completely ensuring our dominance in the race against ripening vegetables. Funny how delectable it is to normalise daily compulsory guacamole – surely these days won’t last forever?!i We’re definitely more in danger of gout than scurvy on Lilly.
“Watch out! The mayo!”
The beauty of wraps seems partially to be the reduction in washing up requirements and that not everything will be spread across the deck if a wave arrives unannounced, however, there is always a slight tension to meal times as we don’t know what may be sacrificed in the juggle and dive to protect a bowl or jar as irregular swell hits and we always sit half ready for this. We hope Poseidon and Neptune enjoy the pasta and coleslaw we have unexpectedly donated to them. At times it seems they demand more as a wave sweeps away an offering from an unintentionally upturned plate on deck.
“Pencil Bum!” (Lilly’s common name for the Tropic Bird due to their easily distinguishable tail) and our attention is quickly taken aloft. I need to be reminded that if I squeal excitedly about how close she seems to landing on Lilly, it’s never going to happen…ii
And so we transition into late afternoon. Although travelling through time zones, I’m not totally sure whether we taken to eating lunch at half four because of the challenge of cooking when nothing (including you) is at a reliable angle except the gimbled stove top or because our stomachs align better with daylight hours than the watches and clocks we’ve decided not to change.
A full belly and the soporific effect of waves gently sloshing the side of Lilly and that hiss of bubbles or Sargasso seaweed make summoning energy for any great project an insurmountable task. We do manage to have a quick round of “Go Fish!” (Nick remodelled the traditional Battleships game to be more fitting for our existence). Every so often I lean over the life lines to remind myself JUST HOW BLUE the sea is (the nightly equivalent is that there really is mind boggling phosphorescence right there next to us…).
Then it is time to do my bit for the Banana Conservation Society. We set sail from El Hierro with at least 650 free bananas stashed as mobiles, in calabashes, in nets or on shelves. We have created quite an imaginative repertoire so far – although it has been quite intense and with a little fibre and potassium overload perhaps:
Banana on muesli; dried bananas; banana beer; banana smoothie; banana porridge; banana cake, banana bread; banana curry; curry with banana; banana chocolate spread; banana jam; good old plain banana; banana flapjack; banana bannocks; banana pancakes; banana tart and not forgetting the Magic Banana of course.iii So, my contribution today: banana brownies with left over porridge.
Before embarking on a cooking project aboard I have discovered it essential to: 1) assess my current Zen level and 2) drastically scale down whichever grand plans of achievement I have. I will be following more of an idea of a recipe and memory of a texture than anything as there are no scales that function on this kind of loll and we’ve got approximately half the required ingredients. I make my plan and adopt the baking position – a wide stance, slightly braced but as relaxed as possible. I need to be ready to lurch for bowls and ingredients scooting unannounced across the galley top as if I’m in some kind of haunted western. As the chocolate melts on the stove, I mull over with Kieran and Amber how a cooking show at sea would work and that it would probably be quite an entertaining winner (no chance for retakes really though). Fortunately for me, the only calamity was wrestling the cupboard door shut when retrieving the baking tray and not quite timing the snatch and grab correctly. All the ingredients made it into the tray. Phew.
Half an hour later I discover, however, that despite the brownies swinging in the self-balancing oven, the brownies managed to end up lop-sided. Not to worry. It feels really good to have prepared a freshly baked midnight treat for everyone on their night watches.
The sun begins to hang low and heads towards the horizon, completing its Lilly leap frog for the day as we tuck into Amber’s adventurous banana curry and Nick’s latest sour dough loaf. Scrumptious. We top this off with a few folk song renditions in the twilight and then decide to drop the fisherman’s sail (the only sail change of the day which gently reminds us that we are indeed sailing this magnificent magic carpet) as the following wind has increased. After tugging the sail onto the deck and stowing it in Pink Turtle, people start drifting off to brush their teeth and head off to rest.
“Faites des beau reves”
And the day ends but the cycles and rhythms of life in perpetual floating motion continue.iv
iThey don’t. The last was eaten over two weeks in to the crossing however and two tomatoes lasted a complete month! So impressed by the local producers on El Heirro. Hope they’d be happy to hear how well stocked they made us. Additionally, as an update from a previous post – we were still also enjoying our Galician pumpkins on the trip!
iiA bird did actually land on Lilly on our last evening on the ocean. So lovely to give a little respite to the little fellow. I managed to stay quiet.
iiiLilly recipe book to follow…
ivIf you think this took a long time to read, try crossing an ocean.