August 3, 2001

At Sea, 0300
18°37'S, 159°21'W

Stories in this section... Aitutaki
Safe in the Bosom of Aitutaki
What am I doing here?

24 miles until we see the light at Aitutaki, Southern Cook Islands

What am I doing here?                   

By Lois Joy


Whenever we get into a predicament, I ask myself this question. It arises when the Captain is unhappy because Pacific Bliss needs more fixing, when I feel ill and just want to be at home, or when we have another rough passage. This time, it's the passage.

According to the logbook, we have been into "discomfort" now since 1645 on August 1, experiencing Force 6 to Force 7 SE winds at 24-30 knots, on a beam reach with triple-reefed main and jib (which has slowed us to 6-7 knots speed-over-ground), 80-100% cloud cover, occasional showers, and high southerly swells. That's the version I might give in a calm voice tomorrow morning on the SSB over the Coconut Net.

Here's what it's really like: "Discomfort?" In truth, we are three miserable, salt-covered, smelly crew, trying to keep a stiff upper lip, muttering to ourselves, "I hate passages!" Richard is seasick, wan and pale underneath his new tan, still stoically standing watches. Gunter glumly "catwalks" about the boat, methodically checking all the systems on Pacific Bliss, which-Thank God-seem to be working. Right now, at 3AM, the guys are collapsed in their bunks, resting up for landfall ahead, with yours truly on early-morning watch.

The timer goes off and I wearily slide open the salon door, bare feet trying for a foothold on the drenched, salt-covered cockpit floor. The half-moon hidden behind the clouds is straining to break through; it finds a crack and offers me a sinister glow on the dark, angry sea, still frothing from crest to crest. I grab salty handholds and stare through the mist toward the bow. There are no lights on the horizon. I listen briefly to the wind moaning through the rigging, an occasional higher whistle adding to the bedlam outside. Enough already! I close the door again, retreat to the warmth of the nav station, and make a slight adjustment to our autopilot "track" to agree with our bearing of 249°. I set the timer again so that I won't forget my watch duties while I write.

But don't picture me writing as the sun bronzes my skin, sipping on a pina colada!

And yes, just because Pacific Bliss doesn't heel like a monohull, doesn't mean that my body isn't being beaten up by crossing this raging ocean. Pacific Bliss sways and jerks from side to side, the waves crashing into her left, then following through under the right-the bombs exploding underneath the salon floor, which quivers with the force. She creaks and groans as the sea pounds her hulls and twists the places that she is joined. Lines flap, supplies roll back and forth in the pantry; it is not a blissful experience.

"Why do cruisers beat themselves up like this?" I ask. "Is it the living on the edge, the adventure, the adrenaline rush?" Somehow, I think not. That might be the reason that professional adventurers always need to climb the next mountain, or sail solo around the world, but I don't think that is the driving need of cruisers.

"Is it to know that we are still alive?" Some give this as the answer, rather flippantly. When you face fear and danger, all your senses come to bear, you cannot be weak. We joke that it is better than the alternative: retired, sitting in a rocking chair, complaining about our aches and pains. But I'm sure that we could find out that we are alive through other means! And I can't quite picture most of the cruisers we meet sitting there rocking; they'd be busy doing something else.

"Or are passages just something to endure to get us from one idyllic anchorage in one country to another idyllic anchorage in another country?" Perhaps we have just bought in to the philosophy that cruising is just a "convenient" way to travel, taking our home with us, like a motorhome? But traveling in a motorhome is no comparison to braving monstrous swells like this; in a storm one can just pull off the road and hunker down.

"Are we all just simply deluded and crazy?" So it seems tonight.

"Whew! That was a rough passage," we say, dismissing our experience as we enjoy our well-earned sundowner. And then we talk eagerly about exploring this island, this country. The guidebooks that swam in front of our eyes as we rocked and rolled are eagerly devoured now, yellow highlighters marking the "must-see" sections.

What passages? We forget about them. Until the next time


Port Hull Slashing Through theWaves.            Port Hull Slashing Through theWaves.                                                                                            (Quicktime movie )  
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