I thought it might be vaguely interesting to try and quantify how seasick I felt. Sitting in the cockpit and watching the waves roll out behind us I pondered perhaps a three out of ten? – Unpleasant but perfectly manageable. Half an hour later it was more like five or six. I looked around at my crew mates, peacefully sipping cups of tea, engrossed in books while the twin hulls of our catamaran careened sideways down the blue water face of a two and a half metre swell like an out of control shopping trolley. Was I missing something here? Within another half an hour my seasickness had risen up the ranks of my unofficial grading system to an alarming eight out of ten, gusting at nine and a half.
Hurling over the side of the boat is a no-no – too many people have fallen overboard in the process. I needed a bucket urgently but just the thought of saying the word bucket out loud triggered forboding sensations to flush through my mouth. Instead I crouched and crawled my way over to the back of the boat, all the while staring at the horizon with an intensity that could bend spoons. Suddenly a mug of steaming ginger infused water appeared in front of me and after sipping some down the urge to vomit slowly began to subside. I was spared another day.
The Good Times
I’ve been on this sailing journey for nearly six weeks now and while there have been moments of bliss, unfortunately, for me, most of them have occurred off the boat. Walking barefoot through the powdery soft and blinding white silica sand of Whitehaven Beach, hiking the many deserted jungle trails of the Whitsunday Islands, snorkelling over vast beds of coral and sea kayaking have all been glorious highlights.
I’ve always been a big fan of kayaking. The opportunity to slink quietly into the domain of other creatures without unduly disturbing them provides a secret insight into their world. The best time is low tide when you can glide with minimal effort over swathes of colourful coral just a foot or two beneath the boat. Sand flats are filled with dozens of turtles, stingrays and baby black tip reef sharks whose dorsal fins lazily pierce the surface of the water. A turtle and I surprised each other one afternoon. A massive body of water lifted and thrashed right on the back of my kayak, drenching me. I thought it was a crocodile (I may have screamed) until the oval shape of a huge shell appeared in the settling water. These times immersed in the world of other creatures are magical.
Mastering the art of sailing takes a lifetime and while I’m unlikely to persevere at the sport long enough to be remotely competent I have slowly but surely accumulated new skills. I can tie a bowline and a clove hitch knot, launch and drive the dinghy, and steer the catamaran on engines or wind.
On the complex art of sail management though I’m like a trained monkey, performing small sequences of actions that form part of a larger manoeuvre I do not yet fully understand. Wrap the rope around the winch three times, once around the tailer, release the cam and press the button to ease the rope until I am instructed to stop. My contribution to our forward progression feels like a token.
The Reality of Cruising
Sailing across the world sounded such an exotic and adventurous thing to do. I imagined myself sitting on the bow, perhaps in a white bikini, dazzling sun reflecting off the endless blue ocean ahead of me like a carpet of diamonds while dolphins frolicked in the bow waves. I would leap around the deck to hoist sails and wind winches, providing ample opportunity to flex my muscles and tire myself out.
From what I can gather though, sailing, at least of the cruising variety, appears to involve hoisting the sails with electric winches (on this boat), setting a course and then settling in for a solid day of reading books. And perhaps those frolicking dolphins are up front but unfortunately I don’t see them because I’m too busy sheltering from the wind and waves in the rear cockpit, bundled up in a windproof jacket and beanie.
There may be a jibe or two sprinkled throughout the day for a brief moment of excitement but other than that the day is largely spent seated or horizontal. The lack of movement is a challenge for a hiker.
Last week a friend prepared lunch for me while I was busy staring at the horizon. Noodles simmered on the stove and a can of tuna sat on the galley bench with its top peeled back, waiting to join them. It was the smell of hiking.
I confess to daydreaming about it. I’ve tried to steer my mind away from my churning stomach by imagining all the trails I would do if I weren’t now on a boat, and there are plenty out there calling me like a siren song. I’ve sailed over 700km (435 miles) of Australia’s Queensland coast but the thought of multiple weeks at a time sailing across oceans for the next ten months, reading books in a bucking and rolling vessel is not appealing. I need to move. I fear I’m not being me on board this boat and that, as I’ve learned, is not a healthy way to live.
So I’m disembarking in Cairns, in far north Queensland and will bid farewell to Chat Eau Bleu and her crew as they continue on their journey across the Indian Ocean, and I will dive into planning my next hike. I’m excited at the thought of it and that feeling is my compass, guiding me to where I should be.
Next week I fly home to swap diving gear for hiking gear and set off on the Larapinta Trail, a 223km (138 miles) hiking track in Australia’s Red Centre. It promises to be a walk unlike any other I’ve done before, with spectacular red desert, dry rocky ridges and cool damp chasms hiding pools of water and creeks.
I can’t wait.