Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Innocent Afloat v

5. Routine, the Goddess of Sanity

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

A week into uninterrupted curvature, air and light (even night glows at sea), our group and individual survival (mentally and phyiscally speaking) of boat life depended on the three hour shifts Les, Chicako and myself operated. Sylvia emerged once or twice a day to check on progress and feed.

Day and night were irrelevant markers to sleep, providing only a different view and colour palette.

While I could have relinquished external waymarks to get me through a day, relying on the state of my stomach and mind to decide on meal- and bunk-times, this would not have been helpful for crew cohesion. Already a nasty, unspoken crack existed between us three and Sylvia. We needed an agreed normality within which we could co-operate; enabling irritation, doubt, insecurity and resentment to bubble passively beneath. Routine, structure, call it ‘civilisation’, encouraged repression of these more corrosive motivations.

By week two our common goal of ‘land’ was only commonality we had. And routine was the way we were most likely to reach this.

The three hour shifts of watch then rest were punctuated by lesser rotations of cooking, drying gear, repairing sails, Dead Reckoning our position, watching out for drifting containers. Breaking up the day this way prevented my focus from seeing beyond the next nine hours. The jigsaw of A4 charts disabled any vision of the passage in its entirety. The mundanity of practical jobs derailed any critical analysis, demanding concentration on the most basic activity: cutting bread without shedding blood, washing sufficiently using only minimal water, helming so the boat progresses whatever the wind strength, tying a reef rather than a granny knot, fixing coordinates from the Sat Nav to the relevant A4 chart section…

My navigation skills never really consolidated. It took us another 17 days, 24 in total, to cover the 1600 miles to Rarotonga in the Cook Island archipelago. Our first sight of the island was at daybreak, a jagged lump of grey barely distinguishable from the heaving sea surface, except for being slightly darker. And it didn’t move.

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