Long periods of tedium interspersed with frenzied bursts of activity - Jason's opinion of sailing hasn't changed...
Timing is everything on board a yacht. Races can be won and lost by good and bad estimations of when to change a sail or when to tack. It’s the same below deck. Take the judgement call of when to take a shower. (That should read ‘the’ shower: we’re lucky to get one in the entire trip.) Much to my distress – a sentiment shared, I’m sure, by the rest of the crew – I fatally postponed my ablutions yesterday.
So I’m still relying on the cleansing properties of wet wipes (non-scented, fortunately) and I’m still in the same clothes I’ve been wearing for days. There is an upside, however. My socks can already stand by themselves. In another day or so, I hope to have them trained to do the worst watches.
Yesterday, the boat’s collective timing was off. At four in the morning, we rediscovered the doldrums. We were in the Long Forties of the North Sea, somewhere north of Aberdeen. You’d have expected the sea to be fearsome. Instead, it could not have been more placid. There was no air and we were going nowhere. Our boat speed registered 0. A fishing buoy tethered to the seabed appeared to be travelling faster than we were. In one hour we managed to cover 0.7 of a nautical mile.
In these circumstances, it was hardly surprising that lethargy should overcome the crew. We moved on deck in slow motion and every action took an age. “Come on, you guys, it’s like we’re walking on the moon here,” yelled the usually genial Matt in exasperation.
A few hours later, however, conditions could not have been more different. The wind picked up and up and up. Before we knew it, we were in a Force 5. The rain lashed down, the sea churned and the boat bucked and reared like a bronco.
As the waves came crashing over the sides of the yacht, I came to the gloomy realisation that this was the closest I’d get all day to a shower.
Tactically, we suffered yesterday too. While the rest of the fleet (with the exception of leaders BP) elected to take an easterly course, we chose to head westwards through the North Sea oilfields. It was a gamble – and it didn’t pay off. From a good position, we slipped right down the pack.
“I wish we could go round again, just to catch them up,” said the ever-game Roddy today as our plight became clear.
I’m not nearly so gung ho. I can’t pretend I’m not looking forward to the finishing line. On a personal level, my tactics for dealing with this trip have been to keep my emotions on an even keel. I haven’t, perhaps, experienced the moments of euphoria a seasoned sailor might enjoy, but nor have I encountered the abject misery I feared I’d suffer.
This voyage hasn’t turned me into a sea dog, contrary to the predictions of some of my friends. And it hasn’t really altered my opinion of sailing: I find it to be long stretches of tedium interspersed with frenzied bursts of activity, the occasional throb of fear and rare moments of elation.
But then I’ve never subscribed to the Romantic notion that hardship and deprivation is somehow good for the soul, that there is a special kind of authenticity in extreme discomfort. I can experience life just as intensely listening to the gentle breezes evoked by Mozart’s ‘Soave sia il vento’, thank you, as I can battling with a sail change in the middle of a gale.