Ach. I could hardly stand it any more. Mabrouka continued to shift giddily about, …rolling port, jerking half-way starboard then back to port, pitching forward, rolling port again, then a full starboard in incessantly random jerks and bobs, sweeps and gyrations. None of these was actually a singular motion, of course, being conjoined in insidious pairs like epileptic siamese twins fighting to get away from each other while they morph from one topsy-turvy configuration to another.
I wasn’t the only one dreading the inevitability of the another day of this. My brother, Roger, and my daughter, Lisa, had joined me for the transit from Panama City to the Marquesas and, though a little less expressive than I was being with that particular lurch, I knew they were just as sick of it as I was. Mabrouka, a well founded CT41 and as seaworthy as any yacht her size in the middle of the great briny, was still just a toy to be played with by the bratty seas.
The week long transit between Panama City and the Galapagos had been whimsical by comparison as was the first couple of days of the transit to the Marquesas. After our first two windless days motoring out of Santa Cruz we were happy to be able to shut down the engine and sail, but the seas were coming out of two or three directions and rolled Mabrouka unpredictably, continuing with only moderate winds to steady us for over three and a half weeks.
As for whether this constituted the fulfillment of my brother’s and daughter’s lifetime adventure, it can only be said that such adventures come in different flavors. This one had gotten rather sour and, after a couple of weeks of it, was verging on rancid. If adventure is facing and overcoming adversity, this was our chance. Remaining upright while sautéing vegetables in a pitching galley, lurching from handhold to handhold just to get from head to companionway, keeping a grip on solid boat on a foray from cockpit to foredeck to tend sheets and halyards all required a level of concentration far above the relative carefree approach to similar tasks ashore. Three weeks of this was beyond fatiguing and it made me wonder, not for the first time out loud, whether cruising was really what I wanted to do with the remainder of my healthy adult life.
It was several days more before I was reminded by the shape of Hiva Oa rising out of the western horizon, darker still than the grey, squall-mottled skies ahead of us, why we sailors depart perfectly stable shores, leaving comfort behind us. Now, some months later, the jerking and tossing that we suffered so constantly remains only as a dark, amorphous trough in a sea of bright memories, …azure waters framing reefs that sparkle with colorful life, lush green mountain tops stacked upon ragged grey cliffs that leap from foaming shores, familiar creatures that have made their homes in unfamiliar places, a sun that douses itself in the sea wearing cloaks of gold and vermillion only to surge again up out of the eastern horizon at the end of a long night’s watch at Mabrouka’s helm.
What does this mean to me as a cruiser, having suffered doubt at the hands of such minor discomfort imposed upon me by the sea? Having completed what is almost surely to be the longest, most isolated crossing I will ever experience as a sailor, there are certainly challenges out there that are exponentially more dangerous and physically demanding than I have endured. Well, I doubt that any sane sailor looks forward to a battering by hurricane winds and skyscraper waves. I don’t. Thoughts of such tests form a pit in my stomach that, if contemplated too long, could swallow the rest of my being. No, I hope never to have to face a gale or a breaking wave in the middle of the ocean and will do my best to avoid them. It’s only reasonable.
I haven’t tallied all the sea miles that have passed under Mabrouka’s keel in the more than four years since I retired, but it’s certainly approaching ten thousand. From Seattle to Canada’s Desolation Sound and back, several forays around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, south to Mexico, across the Gulf of California between Mazatlan and La Paz five times, from Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta and back, then hopping down the coast of Central America to Panama City and leaping across the Pacific to the Galapagos, the Marquesas, the Tuamotos, and Tahiti, each trip has been embarked upon with different measures of sane trepidation. Once started, though, they have been challenges, small, and smaller in retrospect, overcome with preparation and presence of mind that anyone is capable of.
So, when friends and family gape at my life in amazement, counting me as a true world explorer, I accept their laudatory comments simply as a indication that this life of mine exists outside their experience, outside their comfort zone but not their ability. My proof surrounds me wherever I sail as I’m in the company of yacht upon yacht, bright as pearls and battered as well-traveled suitcases, tended by couples and well-oiled professional teams and solo sailors, children and old men. I am not unique. As with just about any change in life, whether going off to college, climbing a sheer face of granite, having a child, taking out a mortgage, setting off on a sea voyage is only a matter of taking a deep breath and putting that first foot forward. Forethought and preparation make the path easier, but life is made of challenges and to go cruising is only a less common choice among them.