Monday, 26 January 2015

The Light

You can tell where in the world you are by the light on the horizon.

The further from the equator you are, the longer the light lingers before and after breaking the surface of the horizon. When you are around the equator (plus or minus 10 degrees) you know the sun has risen because it is bearing down on you furiously and there is no safe haven except under cover. The sun is up or it is down. There are no pinkish hues or tell-tale glimmers in the clouds, it is up at 6am and is relentless until 6pm when it promptly drops, to be replaced by a pitch black and it's memory ablaze on your retinas. The age-old conundrum baffles the double handed sailing team, do you have dinner with some natural light under which to eat it (and eat ridiculously early) or eat at a reasonable time in the dark? Much time during those long ocean passages is filled with the healthy debate about what time the dinner meal should be consumed, because it inevitably leads to the first watch/sleeping shift.

View from amidship looking aft while the sky is on fire with the
sunset - The Coral Sea, PNG

As you draw away from the equator maximising your summer months, you are given some warning of the sun’s movements because of the different angle of the globe to the sun at that location. It starts with a dull grey creeping across the sky from the east at 5am until it gives way to some yellows, then light blues, pinks and the start of some golden beams as it slowly stretches its arms and lightly taps you on the shoulder to let you know that it is time to get moving. Then at night you get the reverse, the sun leaves you with a relaxing twilight in which to ponder the idea of making dinner or at least finishing up your sundowner drink before the light completely departs at about 9pm.

Sundowners and nibbles, boat life can be quite
spoilt - Pittwater NSW

You have lots of time to ponder the intricacies of the earth while you are at sea, and the role of the sun is central to every single one of those intricacies. The comfort of the sun and its light can not be underestimated, a night filled with storms or squalls can trigger the fear emotions, but a day with storms is not as frightening because you can see them coming. 

I could never get tired of watching the sun set on the ocean. It glows across the surface with waves nipping at it's circumference, then slowly dips below, distorting slightly as you bathe in it's penumbral light. There are no buildings or mountains or other obstacles to block any portion of the view as the sun does the same thing that it has done for 4.54 billion years, watch us circle around it. There is some isolating emotion that comes with the vast distance you are from any other human life and the sun is the only one to bear witness to any mysteries surrounding your whereabouts.

The sun is glimmering over the horizon behind me, reflecting pinks across the
clouds - South China Sea, Borneo

The light marks the end of the night shift and a new day, you are one more day closer to land and the routines of the sun change minutely as you travel further north or south.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Scourge of Sailors - Seasickness

What is the cure for seasickness? In my opinion, there isn't one. The answer, is management. Everyone has an abstract cure for seasickness, believe me, I have tried every single one... to no avail. While I am slightly better now after being at sea for 20 months, I still get seasick and it is still horrible. It is just that I have medicine at the ready if things look grim and there is no end in sight for my green gills.

'A long sit under a shady tree' is an extremely effective cure, though not exactly practical for crossing an ocean. Neither is staying in the cockpit the whole time when you are one of two people on board making a passage. So my tips and tricks in order of effectiveness (in my opinion...everyone has a differing level of tolerance for seasickness):
  1. No drinking the night before or during a passage. If you are prone to seasickness, this will only enhance your feelings of sea hatred once you are underway.
  2. Try to have a good sleep the night before, being well rested is an amazingly powerful antidote on that first day.
  3. Don't go trying to dig in the bottom of a food drawer or pack a spinnaker in the bowels of the boat while you are underway. Those tasks can wait, or your sea adept partner can look after that job this time.
  4. Watching television or reading a book can be detrimental, as your eyes are fixed on one spot while your body is moving with the boat motion.
  5. Avoid spending too much time down below while underway in beamy sea conditions. The lack of awareness of where and when the knocks will come disorientates the inner ear and gets that nauseous feeling pumping.
  6. Try lying down in the cockpit, maximising your accessibility to fresh air, awareness of the moving of the boat (and your movement compared to the horizon) and drinking plenty of fresh water.
  7. When things get dire and you have already tried eating some food with ginger in it, eating ginger tablets and generally trying to access your inner zen... and not succeeding, try some travel sickness medication. I recommend travel sickness medication with the active antihistamine ingredient of meclazine (used in the US drug bonine, travel eeze and also some generic brands) it is fast acting and very effective.
Modern medicine to the rescue - ginger tablets and fully-fledged sea sickness meds

Un-useful suggestions (in my opinion):
  1. Wrist bands with pressure buttons to push on the inside of your wrists. They don't do much more than create a sore spot on the inside of your wrist due to the pressure they exude (if you want try to some I have heaps, I can send them on).
  2. Anti-nausea medication. It may stop the nausea, but it wont stop the being sick action.
  3. Mindful distraction. There are only so many times you can 'go to your happy place' when you are at sea for 12 days in a row.
Useful suggestions:
  1. Take travel sickness medication if you feel anxious about sailing the next day (as a prophylactic). When you don't have to prepare for being seasick, the whole experience is much more pleasant.
  2. I usually wait to see what the conditions will be like before taking tablets as the side effects of tiredness knock me around. If the nasty seas are only hanging around for a couple of hours, I can soldier through it.
  3. Cook food ahead of your passage so it is a quick job to heat and eat and you are not spending long periods down below.
  4. Certain types of sea conditions trigger seasickness for me - beamy swells, passages where we are beating and the boat is bouncing through the swell on the forequarter and confused seas where waves and wind come from all directions. Be aware of the conditions ahead of time and mentally prepare yourself.
  5. Get an ipod with music or podcasts to entertain you through those rough moments. Even better, get addicted to some audio books that can fill your ears with imaginative descriptions for 300 hours!
  6. On multi-day passages, you may only need medication for the first or second day, then your body is used to the motion and you don't need the tablets anymore.
  7. Have lollies, crackers and small treats around. Making sure you don't get too hungry helps if your nausea is related to gaps between meal times as well.
The amount of circumnavigating sailors that we met on our trip where one or both partners sailing the boat suffered from seasickness was astounding. Despite it making us miserable, the allure of the sea is enough to keep us coming back for more punishment! If you get seasick and love the sea, don't let it stop you from seeing the amazing world beyond our shores (modern medicine is there to give you a helping hand).