Pacific Ocean challenge: 24 Hours of Personal Hell
The best cure for sea-sickness? Sit under a tree.
For the past day and a half we on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, the Scottish-sponsored boat in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, have been beating upwind along the east coast of Japan in Force 8 winds, gusting up to 40 knots. Downwind sailing is smooth, fast, exhilarating. Upwind is rough, everything is tipped on a sharp angle, and the hull of the boat rides up and over the waves like a rollercoaster, or smashes into them, causing the whole boat to shake and jump, before surging off again on another loop-de-loop. To the novice ear, every judder and groan sounds like the first warning of an adventure that will quickly turn into the movie A Perfect Storm.
I was struck by sea-sickness in the first 24 hours, and it hit me again yesterday. Harder than I had anticipated. It’s misfortune that meant that I was on the rota to perform ‘mother watch’, cooking for the 16 crew, making sure hot drinks are on hand for those on deck, cleaning and disinfecting. I got as far as making the 5am porridge, then the wind picked up, we started to heel over, my head started to swim, my vision got blurry and that, as they say, was the end of that. I spent the next 24 hours in what can only be described as a stupor, in my bunk, fully dressed with boots and waterproofs still on ( I didn’t consider myself capable of taking them off, or more importantly, putting them on if there was an emergency). If a magic genie had appeared at any point yesterday and offered me an easy escape to dry land, I would have taken it.
I consider myself to be strong, determined, not easily frightened, but yesterday was hell. I was surprised at how quickly I became incapable, how scared I felt. I was overwhelmed with an aching horror knowing that there are four more weeks of this. It made me weep. I got fitful sleep through the night as the rest of the crew battled to keep the boat safe and on course, and I resumed deck watch at 6am today. I think it would be very easy to get into that bunk and convince yourself never to get out until California is in sight.
But I cannot let myself do that. I can’t think too much about the fact that the weather we’re currently experiencing isn’t that bad. “Just wait til you’re trying to do this in 40 ft seas,” Keith, one of my watch mates gleefully exclaims. “This? This isn’t anything. I’m waiting for the 100-footer.” He’s referring to the legendary status of the waves sailors come across in the deep and wide Southern and Pacific oceans – the one that Sir Robin Knox-Johnston faced when he was the first person to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the earth; the one that Ernest Shackleton had nightmares about after his fateful South Pole expedition; the one that Dame Ellen MacArthur experienced in her ocean racing career, where she said it was like looking down a sheer wall beneath her.
Needless to say, my team mates have now sailed 25,000 miles together. They’ve seen worse than this. They don’t seem scared – they seem capable, calm, with nerves of steel. When their lifejackets auto-inflate because of the size of the waves that rip across the bow of the boat, they laugh. I am trying to harness that spirit of adventure, the spirit that made me sign up to the race in the first place.
The weather is likely going to get worse at some point, but I will be better then – more confident around the boat, more accustomed to the body-clock trauma of 24-hr shift patterns. I remind myself that I didn’t choose an easy leg of this race, I chose the one that was going to be hard, a challenge. I made my bunk, now I will lie in it. And I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy it. Some of it, at least.
Already I’m feeling remotivated – this morning on deck, as we struggled to lower one foresail and fly the smaller, stronger, storm jib sail, the sun was gilding the waves, the salt air was fresh, and the Purple Beastie, the pet name for our vessel, was surging along on a good north easterly course.
In the next couple of days we’ll drop off the continental shelf and into the deep water of the Pacific proper. San Francisco here we come.
1300 miles raced, 4,700 miles to go.
www.clipperroundtheworld.com are recruiting for crew for the 2013-2014 race.Tagged in: challenges, Pacific, sailing, sea-sickness
Recent Posts on Notebook
- Don't get mad about Amazon and make the right ethical choice
- Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters
- Justin Webb on the medical advances in tackling heart disease
- The Photography Blog: 'Control Order House' by Edmund Clark - Photographing our response to terrorism
- Dementia Awareness Week: Should we keep an open mind to spiritual solutions?
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter