Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Animal State

Pandion heading out the Southport Seaway

I knew I’d get seasick.  I’d been living on land for four months and had spent one measly night on the boat before we set sail, and that was in a very still marina.  The ocean when we exited the Southport Seaway wasn’t so much confused as psychotic.  Twenty knot winds and a three metre swell coming from at least four different directions made for a very squirrely start.

Here’s us; me and Sylve sharing the same vomit bucket, sometime on the second day deeply entrenched in the Animal State, as our hardened sailor friends from Galactic call the first few days of a passage.  I never really got what the Animal State was all about until I experienced it for myself.  For three days Miles essentially single-handed the boat accompanied by four lumps of fleshy ballast.  (We started calling him Jessica Watson.)  I’ve been badly seasick once or twice before, and I’ve been queasy plenty of times, but I’ve never been so incapacitated by nausea as I was on this passage.  My world shrank to the proximity of the white bucket, how long it was likely to be before I needed to use it again and whether or not the short humanoid person sharing the cockpit floor with me would be using it when I needed it.  Occasionally Sylvie would whimper and want comforting and if I was nearby I might stretch out a foot, which she would feebly grasp and cling to for a moment.  I sympathised with poor old Sylve, but I had no capacity for mothering.  Miles navigated, adjusted sails, kept watch, parented, kept the boat tidy, rinsed out the vomit bucket, phoned my brother and sister-in law (doctors) via sat phone when we started to get worried about Sylvie’s hydration levels, slept in fifteen minute grabs, boosted boat morale and basically got us through that first horrible part of the passage. 
At one point I said to him, “As soon as I can sit up without vomiting, I’m going to carve an effigy of you out of soap and mount it on the prow.”
He was characteristically low key.  “I’m in charge of crises and cocktails.” Just doing his job.
Some time on day three I decided to treat seasickness like morning sickness and tried to just eat constantly. “I need pad thai!” I would call out.  “I’ve figured out the easiest way to make it, with the least number of ingredients, but I really need you to drop everything else and make it now.”  Or, “If I don’t have a rice cracker in the next ten seconds, bad things are going to happen.”
“I liked it better when you were too sick to talk,” Miles said.
Vomiting so enthusiastically for so long had messed with my electrolytes and I was constantly craving salt.  At one point I was sitting in the cockpit and I traced my hand over the panelling of the aft companionway and my finger came away white with encrusted salt.  I put my finger in my mouth.  “Sylve,” I said to my daughter, who was lying on the cockpit floor.  “You have to try this.”
She ran her finger over a piece of the boat and put it in her mouth.  She nodded slowly.  “That’s really good.”
“Dad!” called Reminy in alarm. “Mum and Sylvie are licking the boat!”
My salt craving lasted for days and reached a heavenly pinnacle one night when I had just come on watch and Miles foolishly asked me if there was anything he could get me before he went to sleep.  “Corn thins with sliced tomato and lots of salt and pepper.  Don’t be stingy with the salt.”
“Butter? Avocado?”
“Hell no.  Just the good shit.”
If I’d been able to locate the jumbo-sized jar of vegemite hidden somewhere in The Shop, I would have polished off the whole damn lot.

Before we left Australia I’d wondered how I would feel about being so far from land, and it’s true that in the first few days, especially when we were so ill, I did occasionally experience a swoop of vertigo.  The Pacific Ocean is seriously deep, and the bit we saw was very empty.  We were travelling in the vicinity as two other boats and it was extraordinarily comforting to see their tiny white triangles against the horizon during the day and see their mast lights winking at night.  On the odd occasion that they outpaced us, I felt mild anguish.  We passed within ten miles or so of two freighters, but both of those were on Miles’ watches, so I didn’t see them.  And the scores of dolphins and whales we’d shared coastal Australia with were also absent.  We saw the odd bird and glimpsed a few flying fish.
When I fly I have to try not to think about the fact that I’m essentially rattling through the air in a thin metal tube, and I had that same lurching feeling once or twice on passage, looking around the salon at the contents of our little floating house and being aware that just outside was an ocean perfectly designed to eat through boats. The water was a blue unlike anything I’d seen before.  On our second last day of passage, when the wind had dropped to nothing and the ocean heaved with a slow swell, we stopped the boat and Miles and the kids jumped in, holding tightly to the swim ladder.  “Look down,” Miles told the kids, and one by one they put their heads in, and one by one they squealed.  “It’s so blue!” they said.  It was over three kilometres deep.
But I’d do another passage in a heartbeat.  I really would.  There’s a feeling of intense satisfaction that comes with moving yourself across a vast distance, leaving one country and some days later arriving at another one.  At night the stars were incredible, and with every wave that licked the side of the hull, a wash of phosphorescence twinkled beside the boat.   
A highlight of our trip was when Noddy showed up.  At dusk one day a noddy tern made a great effort to land somewhere on the highly polished stainless steel of our davits, was undeterred by a nasty knock to the head by the wind generator, and eventually skated to a stop on the anti-slip paint on the aft deck.  But it was too windy out there, so Noddy kept edging herself closer and closer to us in the cockpit, eventually hopping down onto the seat, strolling up Budi’s arm and hopping onto his head.  You have never seen a less afraid wild animal.  “So,” she said.  “Where am I sleeping?”  
Budi with Noddy the Noddy Tern

And here's where we are now.
 In the Land of Gluten.

1 comment:

  1. And somehow, doing this with the kids...seems like a fine idea!

    (No irony intended, as you well know!) ;)