September 30, 2014

The sea is so wide, my ship is so small

It's funny how the same words can mean so many different things during a passage. The old Irish fisherman's prayer 'the sea is so wide, my ship is so small' is one that comes to mind every time we head to sea.

At first, on this passage, it was a lament about distance: A complaint that even after traveling, seemingly nonstop, for two months the distance from Cape York to Darwin was still almost 1000 nautical miles. That's like sailing from Tonga to Vanuatu without the benefit of Fiji in the middle. And when we reach Darwin in a couple of days, we'll still be in the same country.

Each time we request a weather report, the words become like a plea to the weather gods. We were crossing the Gulf of Carpenteria: a shallow body of water known for high winds, steep seas and inaccurate weather reports. Every day the prediction was for 10-15 knots with 1-2 meter seas. Not one day yet have we gotten that weather. We've had other weather-some was too calm, some offered up sickeningly steep seas that made my stomach roil as our boat plunged straight down off a wave, some was too windy. But the weather reports in this part of the wide, wide sea seem meaningless. Still we plead for fair winds for our small ship.

When we were escorted into the Arafura Sea by a large pod of dolphins the words were closest to a prayer of awe. Dolphins are a good omen to sailors. And as we watched the creatures dance in our bow wave while we crossed the imaginary line from one sea to the next, they seemed like a symbol of all the wonders the oceans have to offer. A reminder that the sea contains so much beauty and sometimes the only way to encounter it is to venture out in our very small boat.

The prayer of awe became words of acceptance when the sea became too big and we decided to stop for a rest. We can reef our sails, try to believe the weather reports, sail as safely as we may but the sea can make you tired sometimes.

Land has its own hazards though and when a fault in our starter battery meant our engine didn't start when we needed it most the prayer/lament/plea/words of awe became simple truth. Our small boat is our shelter on a big ocean; a fragile shell that's only as safe as we are skillful.

By sail alone we skirted the reefs and made our way up a blustery channel to safety.

And now we sit in our small boat. The engine is fixed, the weather report says it looks fine to carry-on. We'll sleep soundly tonight and tomorrow we'll venture back out into the wide sea.

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