Like a glimpse of blue sky, the sight of seabirds always reassures me. The boat can be barrelling down a wall of water and the wind whipping up the seas, but the birds swooping and diving over the waves add a sense of normalcy to the scene and help keep the panic at bay.
As on the crossing from Australia, the reassuring Boobies were a common sight all the way to Palau. One in particular followed us for hours making several aborted landings, before crashing into the cockpit with zero points for style.
He sprawled inelegantly, huge wings awkwardly draped over the winch and railing and looked at me with little interest. He took up residence among the Genoa sheets unperturbed by my presence, aside from the odd peck when I tried to offer him water or pull any ropes in his vicinity. And there he stayed, head tucked into his wing wobbling back and forth to the movement of the boat.
At that stage we were almost a 1000 miles from land, and had crossed the equator just the day before. Poor thing was half dead from exhaustion, perhaps he hadn’t managed to catch any fish, or maybe he was just getting old, but after 24 hours and barely a peak from under his wing, we administered emergency mackerel (de-tinned and washed clean of white wine sauce) and water rations. Sadly to no avail, and a few hours later our first onboard pet had a burial at sea.
I had been quite excited about this crossing, my longest so far. After the first few days, when the constant tiredness and nausea passes, you settle into a rhythm. The days and nights are served in 3 hour doses, a little social time when we’re both awake in the middle of the day, but otherwise quite solitary and surprisingly busy. Checking the weather, rigging up the salt water shower, fishing (unsuccessfully), baking bread, learning french (promise!), fixing sails, the days become quite full, padded out with long bouts of lying back in the cockpit reading or simply contemplating the starry sky.
This trip was a little different though, dogged by unsettled weather almost the entire way. Of the 1900 miles, a large proportion were spent going very slowly in the wrong direction, or suffering cloud after cloud of torrential downpours. Take the sails in, put them back out again, screech along with winds of 35 knots, then 10 minutes later put the engine on. The boat rolled around like a pig, difficult to stand, hard to do anything really, covered in bruises and a touch tetchy from loss of sleep, everything sodden, soggy bottoms and sick of goddamn beans; it was not the most pleasant of experiences. The casualties of the journey have been; one bird (R.I.P. Boobie), one main sail – ripped from end to end in a particulary nasty squall, one favourite hat and one favourite cap lost overboard to the wind, so many cushions sodden and mouldy beyond reprieve and a sense of wonder over long ocean crossings.
Thankfully, when the wind and current finally turned in our favour we bombed along for the last 3 days and made it into Palau just in time for Christmas. We hadn’t been alone in our miserable passage, almost every other boat arriving had a similarly bumpy ride, and I’ve been assured it’s unusual. Lucky as Palau is in the middle of nowhere, if I had to go through that again, we might just end up living here.
And woo hoo, a wahoo. Finally a tasty fish.
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Location:Somewhere in the Pacific