Monday, 23 April 2012

Innocent Afloat iii


3. Seasick

This is (iii) in a series on the voyage that could only have been my first. Part i is here


It was July when we left Opua, winter in New Zealand, with a storm forecast for the day after we left. But, according to Les, we were too late to wait any longer, and it'd only be a little one, the first of the winter season. He decided anything else that needed doing could be sorted en route. He'd seen everything. We had nothing to worry about.

We motored out of the Bay of Islands, between the moorings, towards a wide watery light, all of us clustered in the cockpit, clinking plastic tumblers raised to our great skipper-and-provider Les, at the wheel. Chikako rushed to the pullpit at the bow, leant over it as a precursor to Kate Winslet a la Titanic. Les did not take the role of Leonardo.

Open water was choppy enough before the storm arrived the following day. Strong and stronger winds sentt huge green waves breaking on the deck, tipping our heavy hull in forty, fifty degree angles, one way, then another. We lost a stanchion within hours, so the starboard guardrail was redundant, flapping like a screwed-up cat's cradle. Nothing was secure, except the non-gimballed stone, from which pans flew.

We took it in turns to be sea sick. Chikako first, curled up in her forepeak bunk below, head towards the bow, coping with what I later learnt is the most volatile part of a yacht - even in a relatively quiet sea the bow bounces.

Hours later, I succumbed, heaving and retching into the bucket Sylvia held, as I clung onto the wheel, trying to counteract the swell of the sea and my stomach, to steer. I have no idea how long I was on the helm. All I know is it went dark. Les took a shift for a few hours, while me and Sylvia rolled about in our respective bunks. Daybreak and Chikako was able to clamber back on deck, keeping to the cockpit, but too miserable to helm. I took the wheel while Les monkeyed up the deck, lashing the number two jib to the portside guardrail, swapping it with the genoa, fiddling with the electrics to get the deck light working. Sylvia, having shut the doors to her cabin, vowing not to resurface until we reached the other side, was still below.

Then it was Les's turn. White-faced, he took to his bunk declaring the number one rule was never to turn back. Number two? Get someone else to navigate. He unearthed the sat nav operating manual and another on how to use a sextant, and waved them at me.

Once Chikako agreed to take the wheel, I made us both banana sandwiches. Then wedged myself in the cockpit, feet braced against the wheel column and opened the book.

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