I once sailed my yacht ‘Kareelah’, solo down the east coast of Australia during the wrong time of year and with little regard for the weather. I made sure I didn’t leave port on a Friday and kept no bananas on board after reading that this was bad luck, you know all the important stuff. My ignorance of the ocean was astounding.
After days of easy sailing my good fortune was about to change. The wind and waves were now pushing against me, by sunset, the wind was screaming through the steel cables holding up the mast. ‘Kareelah’ was pointing away from the coast and crashing into ever-increasing three-metre seas. Waves were washing over the deck and soaking me. ‘Kareelah’s’ mood was changing from a polite and peaceful friend into an angry unknown stranger. Little did I know that the ocean and I were about to do battle and I would learn a life lesson.
Around midnight, the seas were around five meters tall and relentlessly smashing me. The ocean was confused, comparable only to being inside a large washing machine. Any distances gained in the troughs of the waves were lost with the collisions of the peaks. I wondered how long ‘Kareelah’ and me could withstand this beating. According to my handheld global positioning system, I had made no progress since the weather changed. I attempted to start the engine to increase my propulsion forward but nothing happened. Although I wore a harness, I now had to lash myself to the helm with rope to stop from being washed away and possibly overboard. Being dragged along to my death was not how I wanted to go.
The ocean was so violent that I couldn’t access food or fresh water from the galley. Seasickness was fierce, like ten hangovers in one, my stomach contents temporarily sloshing around in the cockpit before being flushed out by another dousing from the ocean.
Just before sunrise and with no change in the sea state I began to hallucinate and was greeted by a smiling sail board rider only to have him vanish seconds later. My energy level was bordering on zero and hypothermia was now chasing me down with the unyielding drenching by the smashing waves.
However, things were about to get worse.
By first light, I noticed an increasing amount of sand mixed in with the waves pouring over me. There wasn’t much water left under ‘Kareelah’. I looked towards Australia and realised with absolute horror that I was sailing sideways towards the shore. Eventually ‘Kareelah’ would fall off a wave and have her back broken on the shallow sandy bottom.
Seventeen hours since the battle started the weather relaxed its grip as fast as it had taken hold. The waves flattened out and the wind reduced and shifted in my favour. The washing machine had changed cycles.
I steered ‘Kareelah’ slowly and steadily out to sea away from the shore. As soon as I had sailed a few miles I released my sodden body from the harness and found some fresh water and food. I headed towards a safe anchorage, dropped anchor, found a dry spot among the chaos in my cabin, and slept. The battle was over.
I stayed in this isolated bay for five days. Two of the days were for cleaning, maintenance, sleeping and eating. Three were for trying to get the courage to set sail again.
The difference between the reality and the fantasy of sailing the ocean revealed its ugly face to me in one extended night. I realised that for me sailing isn’t about superstition, myths or magic. Like life, it’s about surviving the best way you know how.
The earth and the ocean just do what they do regardless of the people on top. Helping each other to survive life’s voyage benefits everyone.
We are all in the same boat.