April 25, 2011

Sailing the South Pacific-Day 16: Feeling the Fear

Last night was the first time this trip that I've really felt fearful. It wasn't that anything was wrong. But on a dark overcast night it's almost impossible to know when a wave is going to slam into the boat, and with each rising gust I had the worry that a squall might be close behind.

So I sat huddled and on high alert--feeling the boat jar and shake, wondering just how much force each wave packed, and how much wind was in that last gust, which pushed our upwind speed to 10 knots, despite the double reefed main and handkerchief of a jib. These are the moments when I count down the seconds to the end of my watch--waiting to hand over the responsibility for the boat to Ev. But even off watch I don't really sleep.

Fear is one of the toughest things about cruising for me. I'm fearful of big seas, high winds and crowded seaways. I'm fearful of docking in adverse wind and anchoring in crowded bays. I'm afraid of stuff breaking and equipment failing, and of slipping on deck in rough conditions, or of one of us being hurt, or lost overboard.

Mostly I try not to put a lot of energy into catastrophising. But when the wind is gusting to 35 and the seas are too big, too many, and coming from everywhere; and breakdowns are becoming more frequent as we all push our boats onward (WGD had their main's headboard separate from the sail last night)--I do feel afraid.

We have less than 500 miles to go. But then we'll have another huge expanse of ocean ahead of us, and another. And sometimes on dark nights, in squally weather another life beckons: one where I live in a peaceful snowy cabin, and sit in front of a roaring fire, sipping a glass of wine, while listening to peaceful music that sounds nothing like the incessant howl of wind and the insane percussion of unpredictable seas.

Years ago I was talking about fear with another cruiser. She was amassing strategies for coping with this darkest part of our seemingly carefree life (because like sea sickness, fear does rise up for almost all of us, at some point and to some degree). Her favourite strategy was to deconstruct the fear. To break down the elements and see if there was any real risk in that moment. So last night when fear overwhelmed me I went through the steps: The night is dark, but I'm not in danger in this moment. The sounds are loud, but nothing is breaking in this moment. The wind is strong, but right now it's propelling us safely.

Releasing each fear let me take in other experiences--instead of imagining my doom I noticed the way the stars shone through the clouds, rather than thinking the boat was about to break with each shuddering crash I concentrated on the way we surged so effortlessly forward toward our destination, rather than being swallowed up by the darkness I focused on the way our wake was alive with bioluminescence. And slowly gratitude overcame fear: I'm sailing to the South Pacific; I'm in the Southern Ocean; I'm able to do this.

Our Easter was more boisterous than we hoped. But somehow I braced myself in the galley, which was bucking and heaving like a commuter bus, and wedging a foot and a hip I chopped and diced, simmered and roasted. It was definitely a day for a one pot meal but I had my heart set on a proper Easter dinner. I came close with baked ham, sesame roasted potatoes, warm beet salad and coleslaw--but we skipped the appies, wine and and pear ginger cake I was going to make for dessert (now I have three very overripe guilt-inducing pears to find a use for...).

We had a nice day though--celebrating the holiday which is usually the start to spring and which this year marks our transition to autumn. We had moments of giddy excitement-planning hikes and meals on shore and thinking we'll need to have an arrival party with our little passage making fleet (I think Michael will need to pull out the karaoke machine and don his 'naughty sailor' outfit for this one...) And we had moments of gratitude--simple appreciation for where we find ourselves this Easter.

Yesterdays run: 156 miles (upwind, in miserable seas...)

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1 comment:

boatbaby said...

you are SO close! whoooo