It was 1.59 am and I sleepily popped up to the cockpit for my watch. I saw that Ross was steering and thought, “Oh, oh! Something happened to the autopilot.” He told me it had started acting up a couple of hours before. He told me what course to steer and off he went to bed.
I took the first hour of our four watch. It was still dark although the nearly full moon peeked out from under the clouds every now and again illuminating the control panel and the sails. I had already tried out the helm the second day so it wasn’t a stranger to me. I like to really feel a new boat and steering is the best way. The waves were coming at us from the port side and she was relatively easy to stay on course. I was still waking up, so after 10 minutes I sat down and when I was comfortable steering from seated, used my foot instead of my hand. Memories of Captain Cool and Trade Wins started flooding back….
Malika took the second hour. I got something to drink, had a stretch as my back has been a bit stiff lately, did my daily squats and arm exercises and had a break from the wind. Then I went back up to watch for ships and the night sky. Oh how the stars fall continuously in the open sea with no light pollution. I will never tire of the breathtaking beauty of the stars and planets. It really is stunning and I feel so privileged to experience it.
The third hour came and it was my turn again. The moon was still shining brightly behind us. In front of us the morning sky was turning a pale gentle blue mixed with light pink and bright orange. I could see the waves more clearly now and I had fully woken up so I stood at the helm. The hour seemed like five minutes and I told Malika I was having fun and unless she really wanted to steer, I would keep going for a while. The “a while” lasted until the end of our watch.
The boat stayed on her course so easily. As the moon shone brightly, a memory of my second trip with Captain Cool shone just as brightly. It was about 1 in the morning and we had just left the mouth of Cartagena bay. It was a windy night with big rolling waves (much like this morning’s) and the autopilot kept acting up. Eventually CC said that it was best if he steered us past la isla because there were a lot of reefs we could hit if we didn’t stay on course.
I remember sitting in the pilot seat watching CC in absolute awe. He was standing with his legs wide apart, gracefully bending each knee as the boat tipped from side to side with the waves. He would look up at the sails and to the side where the waves were coming from. Then he did a beautiful dance with the wheel to ride over the wave and keep close to the wind while keeping course. He looked so beautiful, so peaceful, so at one with the boat. I felt like I was interrupting an intimate moment between a couple deeply in love. I watched him thinking, “I want to do that one day.” I kept silent, just watching and taking in his movements and how he worked the boat as if it was one of his limbs. I wanted to memorise it so when he taught me how to steer, I could do the same.
We made it past la isla and he put the autopilot back on. I said to him, “That was one of the most beautiful dances I’ve ever seen. Please teach me how to do that.” He just put his hand on my knee and smiled. He later told me that it’s not about teaching, it’s about feeling. Not long after, he taught me how to steer and then I had lots of practice during those 15 months our autopilot was broken. I started to understand how to feel for the waves, how to work with the gusts of wind and how to dance with the sea.
This morning the image came back to me. Not because I was trying to remember how to do it, but because I realised I was doing the dance. Not as masterfully as CC, but I was doing it. My legs were wide apart to keep the balance and to feel her movement better. I was swaying from side to side with the boat never losing balance. As the sky lightened, I could see the waves more clearly. They were coming from port side and from the stern. It was so fun being lifted up from the stern by three and four meter waves and watching the bow becoming air borne before sinking down back into the sea. I watched the bows of the hulls and made small movements to keep within 5 degrees of my course. I was relaxed, I wasn’t even thinking that hard about what I was doing. I was watching the sea and the compass and after about 20 minutes, became an extension of the boat and it felt so beautiful. The waves, the wind, the gusts, the sails, the rudder, the wheel and I were all one, dancing a beautiful dance.
I’ve been doing yoga and/or meditation every morning from about 4 a.m. That’s the benefit of being on a big catamaran! This morning I was going to do some meditation from 5-6, but realised that steering was the best meditation for me this morning. When the sun squeezed through the clouds. I closed my eyes for a second, took in a deep breath of fresh salty sea air and smiled. I expressed my gratitude for having had such a great sailing instructor, to have the willpower to pursue my dreams and to the universe for putting these opportunities in my path so I can grasp them. Last, but not least, I was grateful for the skill and opportunity to dance with the sea, my favourite dance partner of all times. Luckily I have a lifetime ahead of me to perfect and master this dance just like Captain Cool.