I asked her to do this because I knew I wouldn’t have the words to describe, to explain, to illustrate what the expedition has meant to us, or to those who have joined along the way. Of course photos are only a slice of the picture, a fabulous collage pieced together somewhat magically and very haphazardly as we slowly worked our way around the world. There’s been a plentiful supply of blood, pain, laughter, disappointments, discoveries, and of course moments that are too special to ever try to represent with words.
A curse and blessing of our times is the speed at which we can move about the planet. I often think it must be terribly hard for our guests to negotiate the distances and logistics required to get to the boat, then get their mind in a place where they can actually really BE on the boat rather than thinking about work, children, pets, bills and all the distractions and nuances of daily life. Then suddenly just as they are getting into the groove, just as those layers of “home” are wearing off and the need to fire up the blackberry or Iphone are beginning to fade they find themselves at the airport and it all comes rushing back in, like a spinning tempest.
I met a number of people on the docks in Falmouth and Dublin who kept saying the same thing when I told them where we were heading. “You’re crazy! Well, it will be beautiful, but you’re crazy!” Stories of horrendous midges (sand flies), storms, freezing water, huge tides that created vicious whirlpools and radical overfalls. I have to admit I was feeling like maybe I’d made a big mistake taking us this far from our usual tropical environs. I’d learned to sail in the Pacific Northwest so I felt reasonably confident the skills required to keep people safe this far north would come back to me, but that was a long time ago…
Discovery does not hold a lot of fuel. Our range, which is greatly influenced by current, wind and seas, is about 900 miles in perfect conditions, well short of the distance on a standard ocean passage. Our forecast as we left Cape Verde for the 1200 mile trip north showed almost no wind at all. Simple math meant we’d either have to get some wind, or we’d be doing some sitting around in the middle of the ocean. But no wind does have its benefits. For one, Jody actually gets to enjoy being at sea. Usually the passages for her are synonymous with suffering and I too admit that as the years have gone by my indifference to seasickness seems to be wearing off.
I’ve been trying to write our final log of the Cape Verdes for over a month now. It’s not that I can’t remember what happened, and it’s not that I don’t have a story to tell. I experienced some of the most magical days of my life in those dry islands off the west coast of Africa and I’d like to describe how that feels.
A few days before the tsunami hit Japan and the horrors that followed life on board Discovery seemed to be almost on autopilot. Cape Verde had been serving up heaping platters of wind and waves and while my list of projects had grown beyond the boundaries of our “to do” whiteboard, none of them were all that critical. Well, other than replacing a prop, which had mysteriously fallen off. A three thousand dollar rather critical component vanished to the sea floor.
The Cape Verdes lie in the path of this hazy swath which resembles the locust swarms we’d seen in Madagascar- thick and inescapable. But as soon as we left port on that first trip before the fall of the New Year another place and country began to take shape. … On the way to the guests’ hotel I made one final effort to find a portable generator I could run on deck (previous attempts had come up empty), struggling to communicate my need to the taxi driver using a mix of Spanish, English and very poor Portuguese, which was all he spoke.
The paradox of being at sea for a long time is that you do not get more comfortable as time passes, but more scared. You get more competent, and that helps with controlling fear, but competence can only carry you so far. With each passing year out here I feel smaller and more at the whim of the ocean; more humbled, more afraid. People who come on board who have not spent time at sea often tell me they want to see a storm, they want to experience what it’s like. I know immediately that I am dealing with a novice if these words leave a person’s mouth. Storms at sea are not the same as on land. Land lubbers cannot possibly comprehend what it’s like to know the dread and physical stress that an approaching deep low pressure system causes; they cannot comprehend what it’s like to battle 70 mile an hour winds; to be in seas several times larger than your boat; to be completely at the mercy of the weather, your ability, and the frailty of your vessel.
I feel like I’ve been chewing on cotton. My lips are cracked and my hips are sore and I look again to the east, hoping again for the grayness of dawn to arrive. We have no food and our only jug of water has been contaminated with ocean and sand. I am huddled down with 7 other people in a bed made of two nylon paragliders. The fabric becomes an alarm clock every time we are blasted by wind or when one of us struggles to find a new spot on their body to relieve from the hard sand. If I had a watch I’d check it for the thousandth time. The blanket of night refuses to lift. I try not to think about water and cuss silently to myself for orchestrating this mess. My body begs for sleep but my mind stammers off again, reconstructing how ended up here.
In the 2 1/2 days between 14 day back to back trips I found myself deflated and exhausted. A common theme of these logs I know. Less than 60 hours to clean, provision, complete necessary maintenance, handle all the administrative tasks, take on fuel, propane- all the things that happen behind the scenes that are so necessary to keep Discovery on the move. Yet I hear again and again, from just about everyone who boards that I must have the best job in the world. Hmmm. My house has guests visiting 200+ days every year. It is small (as houses go), always on the move, in constant need of repair; and my office, bed, bathroom and only place to be “alone”, is the size of a large closet and shared with my partner Jody.