Sometimes all you need to do to realize a dream is simply work up the courage to ask
It all started with an email. A blind stab in the dark describing my newfound love of sailing and my desire to experience the world from the perspective of the sea. My selling point was that even though I wasn’t an experienced sailor, I’m a quick learner and can peel potatoes as well. I wasn’t expecting a response. Two days later when the response came, I had two very profound realizations. First, sometimes all you need to do to realize a dream is simply work up the courage to ask. Second, what the hell did I just get myself into? 1,850 nautical miles on board a 56 foot sailing yacht. Across the South Pacific. Sometimes a little bit of ignorance is required to overcome the logical risk aversion that has been ingrained in me both professionally and personally all my life. I had no time to talk myself out of it. I had three days at home to pack and work out all the logistics to get to the Bora Bora Yacht Club.
What do I bring? What do I need to buy? Do I need to bring long pants? Would my snorkel gear all fit in my duffel bag? Are there life jackets on the boat? What do I do once I land? One pair of sunglasses or two? Eventually I just threw some gear in my duffel bag, dusted off my passport and headed for the airport.
The trip out was long and tedious. It involved an unexpected stop at In-N-Out Burger and some unpleasantries involving Air Tahiti Nui, but after 24 hours of traveling I finally stepped foot on Bora Bora, a place I’ve only read about in National Geographic magazines.
My stay in Bora Bora was short. Two nights of expensive dinners at the Bora Bora Yacht Club, a day spent provisioning the boat for 12 days at sea and a day spent sitting in the Gendarmerie office, watching the locals curiously inspect posters illustrating the benefits of seatbelt usage while I learned valuable lessons in patience courtesy of the French bureaucratic machine (they seemed to drag it out even more once they realized I had an American passport).
After a few days in French Polynesia, the weather started chasing us and Tonga was still 1,500nm away. So we drank a toast to Poseidon and set sail with the prevailing winds.
About an hour after leaving Bora Bora it was pretty obvious that the open Pacific Ocean was a lot different than the reservoirs I was used to sailing in Colorado. The waves got bigger and bigger, longer and longer. The prevailing winds got stronger. The first thing I noticed once we lost sight of land was the color of the seemingly endless ocean. It was the most beautiful deep blue I have ever seen.
Once the initial excitement of setting sail wore off, the routine reality of passage making set in. Three hours on watch, six hours off. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Twenty four seven, three hours on watch at the helm followed six hours spent cooking, cleaning and sleeping. I pretty quickly came to the realization that passage making sucks.
Day one, excitement. You’re new to the boat, you’re new to the crew. You’re learning how the captain likes the guy lines rigged and how the rest of the crew like their baguettes sliced. Being tossed around as the boat succumbs to the waves is part of the adventure.
Day two, annoyance. You didn’t sleep well last night. It’s hot because all the portholes are closed while underway. Due to the heat, you didn’t put your lee cloth up when you went to bed and, therefore, you spent the night experiencing a falling sensation every five seconds. Some stray frying pan was flying back and forth in a cupboard somewhere making noise all night. Simple tasks like putting jam on a piece of bread can take minutes instead of seconds. You start wondering what you got yourself into.
Day three, you want to quit. Except you can’t quit because by now you are 300 miles from the nearest shore. You are committed whether you like it or not. There is no pause button. In your mind, you say “fuck this” about eight times a minute. You have seen nothing but water and waves for three days now. Fuck this. You realize you haven’t even completed a quarter of your passage yet. Fuck this. It’s hot. Fuck this. You are hanging on for dear life trying not to fall off the toilet. Fuck this. You’ve had scrambled eggs for breakfast for three days straight now. Fuck this.
Day four, five and six, routine sets in. You solved the rattling frying pan from day two. You’ve learned to sleep in the heat and the motion. You have a system for getting ready for your next watch. Without needing to discuss, the crew knows who gets the next round of dishes. You’ve figured out you actually like scrambled eggs if you season them with a little bit of Tabasco. You still would like to reach land soon, but you once again start to find beauty in being completely surrounded by water. At night, you notice the bioluminescent plankton glowing when the water hits the boat. You’re enchanted by the clear views of Jupiter and the Milky Way. For the first time in your life you see the magnificent and mythical Southern Cross which has guided mariners in the southern hemisphere for centuries. You’re in the zone and you can keep this going for days. Life is good once again.