Life isn’t really so hard

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The photos in this blog are of a beautiful sunset in El Toro, Mallorca which is where the boat (my office) will be for the winter. I’m facing various events that are challenging me to the max and testing my strength. As I’m constantly working towards a peaceful life, I’m working hard to find and focus on the beauty of life.  There is so much beauty that’s easy to ignore when I’m caught up in my own stuff. Amidst a heated discussion, I noticed a seagull standing on a sheep which made me laugh and gave me a minute to pause and calm down. Most of the crew are complaining that we’re so far out of town and I’ve chosen to focus on the benefits of being so far from town because I have no control over it. My post work sunset walk with these views is the beauty of my days. 

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Yesterday when I took these photos I had a particularly difficult day and when I saw the magic in this place I thought to myself, “Life can be so hard but so beautiful.” Then I had a revelation that actually, life isn’t hard. Life is how we perceive it. The not so easy times teach us important lessons about life and who we are and introduce us to people and new ideas of how to live life. What is difficult about that?? It’s beautiful.

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I went up to the ridge to watch the sunset and empty out my tear ducts in peace. When I bumped into one of my fellow crew members, instead of being upset that he crashed my pity party, I put a big smile on my face and walked along with him. We ended up exploring a maze of old underground military tunnels which I never would’ve done alone cause who would do that alone at dusk?!?! It was so fun and we giggled with scared excitement as we got deeper within the tunnels. We squeezed our way out through a narrow little window, both grateful we hadn’t yet changed out of our work uniforms, and went our separate ways. The sun was a huge half ball of orange at this point so I was still able to watch part of the sunset. I reflected on my day and remembered what I read in my yoga scriptures, that we should be grateful not only for the good times but the bad times too. So I gave thanks for the difficult day I had, the lessons it taught me and the beautiful things that it put in front of me.  Yes, my pity party was ruined and I was so happy it was. I was able to receive the message that life is beautiful and rewarding whether there’s a smile on my face or tears rolling down my cheeks. 

 

 

 

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That scary C word…Commitment

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“Go check out the sky now,” Captain Suave calmly said as I walked past him. We had watched the sun sink into the sea with a green halo about 50 minutes earlier. I went up to the cockpit and the horizon just above the sea was a deep red topped with various shades of purple and orange. It was like a seven layered desert for the eyes. I was alone and just smiled as I admired the beautifully painted sky. The nearly half moon was chasing the sun and there was a foggy halo making it look bigger than it was. I closed my eyes and breathed the beauty throughout my whole body.

 

The sailing lifestyle provides the privilege of watching all types of beautiful sunsets. Some last for minutes and others last for over an hour, like the one that night. There was a wispy cloud over the sun as it was swallowed by the sea that changed from orange to yellow to pink. When the sun disappeared, I turned to the East and the sky was even more gorgeous than the setting of the sun in the West. The cotton candy clouds were scattered all over the sky, each of them with a different shade of pink. They reflected on the deep blue sea and turned it into a purpley pink colour. I love when the sea does that. On a good sunrise and sunset it always dyes the sea this beautiful shade. During long passages, like the one we just completed from Cyprus to Mallorca, I have the privilege of seeing that twice a day.

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I was so grateful for this sunset. Mother Nature knows exactly what I need to help me get things in perspective.

 

There was a reason for my long break in writing. My head was very busy sorting things out and figuring out what the best path was. I decided that Captain Dink’s energy was too damaging for my soul and I couldn’t take it. I left there and went sailing with a friend from Corsica to France to clear my head and be ready for a new plan. It was so refreshing being a guest on a sailboat instead of having to serve them….Then I made a quick decision to go back to England where I spent a week getting love, comfort and support from my family of friends and to take some sailing courses which challenged me to the max.

 

I was feeling exhausted, drained and hopeless. I of course knew everything would work out because it always does, but I was ready for that to happen sooner than later. I had stayed in contact with Captain Suave, the Captain of the boat I crossed the Atlantic with, and I asked him if he knew of anyone looking for crew.  The timing was perfect as one of his crew sadly had to take emergency leave to deal with a family matter and there was still a boat full of guests.  Turns out they needed a temporary replacement. I finished my sailing course on Saturday evening and flew out to Kalamata, Greece at 7 am on Sunday morning.

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It was a great homecoming. The crew were excited to see me again, as I was them. There were screams of excitement, hugs, champagne and fine bottles of wine. We danced and drunk the night away. It felt like I had come home and it was incredible.

 

The novelty wore off, challenging crew dynamics started as they usually do when you live and work with people 24-7 with little sleep. Some of the crew were giving off negative energy and in a crew of five to six, it only takes a tiny bit of toxin to poison the environment. In the beginning, we had guests on board so getting off to land wasn’t an option.  The owner told us he had bought too much wine and we could help ourselves. At a 100 Euros a pop, the hangovers don’t appear. I started getting lost in the bottles and moved away from yoga and from my connection with the universe. I wasn’t happy about it, but the bottle had been my go to for a long time and sometimes it’s hard to stay away. I spoke to one of my best friends who told me not to worry, we’re always on a path for a reason.  I’ll snap out of it when I’m ready. She was right.

 

Then Captain Suave gave me the opportunity to work on the boat over the winter in Palma. That’s like five months of commitment… Excuse me while I get my running shoes. I started looking at job posts and seeing if there were better options. Of course they aren’t. CS is a brilliant Captain. He’s been sailing for years and not only understands everything about the wind, but knows how to explain it to me in a way that I understand. He periodically tests me on it so I remember or he can find a new way of explaining it if I don’t get it. He loves to teach people who are eager to learn and I’m eager to learn all there is. The boat will be on the dock all winter, which of course doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ll be learning new things every day and if one of the crew leave, I have a good chance for a permanent job (I’ve just tied those running shoes tight!).

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As much as it scares me, I’m welcoming a bit of stability. I unpacked my stuff into the cabin which will be my home until April/May. I smiled as I did it thinking how good it felt to be at home. I’m in the same cabin I slept in during the Atlantic crossing. There is so much storage space and I have such little belongings that I’m having fun moving things around until I find the perfect place for everything. Or maybe that will just be my constant moving until we start sailing again!

 

I don’t like Palma for many reasons and the last lag of our Mediterranean crossing went way too fast for my liking because I really didn’t ever want to arrive (unless it was to dump the negative energy and carry on…), but I’m going to embrace the stability. I’m going to sober up and get back into a yoga and healthy eating routine and maybe even teach some yoga.  I’m going to connect with friends I made when I was here before and make some new ones.  Many times the places we don’t want to be are the places that teach us the most. I am open to receive whatever the universe has in store for me in this new chapter. Now excuse me while I take off my running shoes and put on my flip flops. I can still run, just not as fast or comfortably….   

No need to panic, the sea is here..

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I quickly stripped down to my bikini and ran towards the sea. Despite living and working on boats, it’s actually quite rare I’ve had the chance to go swimming. The last time was weeks ago when we were anchored in Sardinia and we had a couple of days to prepare the boat before the owners came. I welcomed the cool touch of the sea on my legs as it refreshed me of the intense heat of the day. I walked until it was deep enough for me to dive into a wave and wash away all the stress, all the negativity and all of the things that were no longer serving me. As the wave washed over me, I smiled under the water and started feeling free. I dumped the negative energy into the sea knowing that it would be swept away into the endless cleansing motion of the sea and after that, it was my choice if I wanted to pick it up again.

 

It didn’t work out with my ‘dream job’ and so I quit, quite abruptly but with a huge sense of relief that I didn’t have to spend my summer as a slave. When I told friends, they asked with worry if I was ok and I would always smile. Yes! I mean, don’t get me wrong when your job is also your home and you have three hours to sort out a new place to live, it can be quite intense, but I am a survivor and I have been in this situation before so I am well rehearsed.  

 

I spent a good half hour swimming and floating on my back looking at the rough and ragged rocky edge of the cove. I was by myself in the water and enjoyed the time I had with my true love.  I took in deep breaths filled with love, peace and hope knowing that all will be ok as long as I keep breathing and trusting.

 

I reluctantly walked back to my towel where my hours old friends were sitting. I sat down with a smile and told them how refreshing it was. I leaned back and as they chatted away in Spanish, I stared out towards the sea. There was good wind so there was a plethora of sailboats with their sails full of air sailing away in the distance. I suddenly felt a deep wave of sadness, panic and disappointment that I was on the ‘other side’ looking in. The crazy monkey in my brain was telling me I was missing out, that I will never find a job and that I should just give up this stupid dream of mine to live on the sea. As quickly as those thoughts and feelings popped up, I quickly calmed the monkey. For as I said above, it is my choice to pick up the negativity. I didn’t want to for there is no need.

 

I reminded myself to enjoy the moment. I have an unknown number of days off in a row, something I haven’t had in four months. In fact, I hadn’t had two consecutive days off in the last four months and when I get a new job, it will be the same. So why stress about the future when there is a now to enjoy? I laid back, closed my eyes and took a deep breath in as I smiled and vowed to allow myself these moments of panic, but to always come back to the present. I started to tune into the Spanish conversation and took advantage of the present moment by engaging in the conversation so I could practice my Spanish. From time to time, my gaze would wander to those beautiful sailboats moving with nature.  I smiled knowing that I will get back on one, when the time is right and when I have experienced exactly what I’m supposed to experience right now.

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The future is unknown, but I will be exactly where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there. That’s all that matters. 

A smashing final

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“Trim stay sail!!!” “Upwind. Keep it upwind. Shit ok, ease the main!! Ease the main!! Quick! Ease the main!I was in awe at how many orders the tactician was calling out in seconds.  The boat was heeled so much that I was standing on the vertical part which the guard rails go into. As the main sheet was trimmed too tightly, the boat was heeling more and more until the cooling sea water gently kissed my bare feet and I was desperately looking for something to hold onto. I looked at the crew member next to me,smiled and said, “Oh my god this is soooo coool!!!!” As they eased the sheets, the boat came up above the water line. 

 

My adrenaline was pumping. We crossed the start line too early so we had to do a penalty 360 and fell boat lengths behind the others. However we steered such a good course that we caught up with everyone and were nearly bow to bow with the boat in 1st place. “What the fuck is that guy doing??,” shouted what I like to call, the conductor (tactician). I looked around and saw a boat from a different class barrelling towards our port side. Our crew started shouting at him, “Starboard!! Starboard!!” 

 

He’s not moving and we can’t move because we are in between the winning boat and the committee boat that is marking the finish line. We are so close to the winning boat already that we could jump on to it. The conductor is still shouting instructions at the helmsmen as he can see better what’s going on. 

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As the bow of the other boat gets closer to our stern, the crew in the cockpit start jumping over things and towards the middle of the boat. The helmsmen keeps his cool and manages to keep a straight course as he casually walks around to the other side of the wheel to avoid being speared by the oncoming anchor. His 12 year old son is screaming and shaking. As I’m closest to him, I put my hand on him in a feeble attempt to calm his fear that his father is going to be killed. He looks at me with a deep look of helplessness as the anchor crashes into our port side stern. We are able to bear away a tiny bit, but the boat is still too close and hits us again scraping away the stern lifelines and leaving behind a scar of his blue paint. 

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That was the final knock and we cross the finish line second, in total shock as to what happened. “Why did Anna Bollina not bear away sooner???,” we all wondered. My captain asks if everyone is ok and then says, “They’ve crashed into another boat I was on, they should be banned from all races.” The owners’ son is left shaking and crying just wanting to get to land. 

 

We quickly gather our composure to bring down the sails and motor in to the bay. We are all in shock, the excitement of a close finish after being last by boat lengths tumbled into the sea. 

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However, this was my first time in a regatta and I refused to let their stupidity ruin one of the most exciting sailing experiences I’ve ever had! 

 

We completed three races and came second overall. A great result with a crew where only two people had ever raced before. There is so much excitement, adrenaline and manoeuvring going on it’s incredible. Each of us had a specific job and as we were all inexperienced, we listened to the conductor waiting to be told our instruction. Everything needs to be done quickly and the boats are so close to each other at the start and finish that a crash seems imminent! Sadly we know it can happen… 

 

The boat is heeled the entire time and those who aren’t involved in trimming the sails sit on the rails to get the boat down so that the keel is in the water to move faster. I watched the speedometer and at some points we were going 12.5 knots. The boat loves to sail and allowed us to get back in the race after we thought we lost it. She is a beauty and I have the utmost respect for her. The race appears to finish as soon as we begin, yet 1-2 hours have passed. 

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The noise of the sails going up, down and tacking seems as though she is going to break, but I know it’s just sheer power and she will hold. We had great wind for the last two races and I enjoyed the wind whipping through my hair and my feet being plunged into the sea as I pressed the electric winch and worked the code zero and gennaker halyards

 

The job hasn’t turned out to be how it was described to me (or the Captain), but then again, nothing is perfect. Captain T (for talent) is a skilled and experienced Captain who understands my learning style and has already taught me so much. We’ve learned quickly how to work and live together so I’m going to stick it out. It’s only for the summer and the experience and knowledge I’m gaining will last a lifetime. 

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The sailing world is still male dominated and sadly the racing world even more so. However I understand. A lot of strength is necessary. We have electric winches making jobs for women possible so instead of being disappointed that my chances of being on deck are slim in a more professional race, I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to participate in this race. Whether we won or lost was never important to me. What I wanted to experience was the teamwork involved and the excitement of being in a race.  That is exactly what I got!

 

The Magic of the Spanish Coast

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Last night around 8 pm, we could see the continents of both Africa and Europe. To me, it was completely surreal. Two totally different continents that are so close yet have such different cultures, landscapes, economic statuses, races and religious practices. There was something very humbling about that view. They were both mountainous yet one side was full of lights and the other almost nothing.

 

Unfortunately we went through the narrowest part of the strait and past the Rock of Gibraltar when it was night time so I wasn’t able to see that beauty this time. This will not be the last time I do a crossing so it’s better that I don’t see all of the magic the first time.

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I had been doing yoga on the sofas upstairs in the cockpit, but this morning I pulled out my yoga mat and did yoga on the deck as the sea was calm and there was hardly any breeze. I could feel the energy and power of the sea and the mountainous Spanish coast seep into my lungs as I inhaled deeply. I exhaled out all of the negative energy I was holding and let it go into the sea. Spain and the Spanish people have always taken care of me, they will do it again. There is no reason to worry or stress, I am in a beautiful place with beautiful people. I will be taken care of and there is something great waiting for me here, I know it. I don’t know what it is, I will be patient and just breath until it comes my way.

 

When I was on my 2-6 a.m. night watch, I suddenly realised that we would be passing the coast of Nerja. Nerja is a place where I holidayed for four years when I was with one of my ex-boyfriend’s. It’s a very very special place to me and my stomach got butterflies thinking that I would see it again after an eight year break. However I would be seeing it from a different view, with a different perspective on life and with different company. I estimated about when we would arrive and I set my alarm perfectly.

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I woke up at 9.10 and I jumped up to look out my cabin window. I could feel it, Nerja was right there. I got dressed and popped upstairs to look at the GPS chart. Sure enough, we were just coming to the edge of it. I ran up to the cockpit with excitement and shared why I was so excited with the crew members that were up there. As we slowly passed it, all of the memories came back. The days lying on the same beach chair owned by the same guy who always remembered our names. The yummy paella and pasta that we had at the beach restaurant served by a waiter who never forgot my ex-boyfriend because he had been going there for 10 years. The run to the shops to buy vodka and orange Fanta for the beach. The romantic walks in the city along the cobblestone streets. The tapas and beer we had after a day on the beach and a nap.  I remembered his friend’s villa where we always stayed. Perhaps the fondest memory I have of Nerja is when my parents came with us. I had never seen them so happy and carefree, so in love and enjoying all of the new experiences we were showing them. It was the first time I had the opportunity to show them a new place, to take care of them (I speak Spanish, they don’t) and to show them a part of my world. They looked so beautiful and alive and I was so happy to be able to bring them this joy.

 

I sat in the cockpit by myself away from the others just reminiscing about those times, how good they were, how good all of my life has been. As we passed Nerja, I continued to think about life and how good Spain has been to me. It’s not just Nerja that has a piece of my heart, it’s also Toledo where I spent three weeks on a University course studying archaeology. In those three short weeks, I made friends with some of the locals and felt like I was a part of their community. Then there was Madrid and Barcelona, where I had to smoothly talk a Police Officer out of arresting my boyfriend (same one as discussed above) for mooning cars while we were going across a crosswalk. I had forgotten how many special memories Spain holds for me.

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I couldn’t stop admiring the view, I was totally mesmerised by the breathtaking view in front of me. Sailing along the Spanish coast was the absolute perfect way to end the sail of a lifetime. The sunshine was shining brightly, the water was calm with sparkles of sunlight dancing on the surface. I was sitting up top with the sun warmly kissing my windburned smiling face. I was in pure meditation mode, I didn’t notice who was around me, I was so involved in the scenery. The Spanish coast is gorgeous. The Sierra Nevada is similar to the Colombian Sierra Nevada. It’s peaks jagged and rough reaching up to gather the energy of the sun and towering over the sea. Some of the peaks look like crinkled suede or  intricate woodwork carvings. There are hills upon hills within each peak creating tiny valleys for rivers to flow. They are full of different shades of brown and green.

 

A bit further down are many towns and farms. The farms are polytunnel farms so they can grow food throughout the year and faster. This requires a canvas, quite often white or light green which is spread out in sections over the sides of the mountains, close to the coast. One of the crew said it was an eyesore and maybe it is, but I could feel the energy of the nutrient earth. All of those vegetables that are (controversially) grown to give nourishment for bodies to function in this chaotic world.

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Those nourished bodies were in the cars I could see driving along the highway snaking around the mountainside. In between the hills there are bridges for them to pass over quickly. I saw lorries, cars, buses and trucks speeding along carrying people to work, a holiday destination or vehicles bringing goods and products to another part of the country or continent. It was so much life to see after so much endlessness of the sea. It didn’t feel overwhelming this time, it felt like I was an observer to a beautiful system of living. A system I wouldn’t mind being in for a short time before setting sail again.

 

Further down the mountains were the beautiful coastal towns. Some authentic and original, others built up with hotels. There were lighthouses on the scattered capes that reach out into the ocean as though they are drinking in the purity and vitality of the ocean water. These points are the connection between sea and land. I always find these capes so beautiful in their raw ruggedness. Their ability to be connected to both land and sea at the same time. What a powerful energy to hold. From time to time a brown sandy beach would pop up, sometimes with visitors sunning themselves and others only with the crashing of the ocean waves.

 

I am looking forward to the new story that awaits me in Palma. I will accept whatever opportunities may arise, however positive or challenging they will be. For there is always beauty, there is always the memory of a beautiful life I have had to date. In fact, it’s been so incredible that it’s hard to remember all of the beautiful times until I am placed back there. Life has such an amazing way of bringing us to where we need to be at exactly the right moment.

 

Making dreams come true

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My heart goes out to people who look at me and tell me that I’m lucky to have my life. They must truly believe that they don’t have the same choices I have or that they don’t have control over their life. They are really missing out on their full potential.

 

I do have a good life. It’s not necessarily the life everyone wants, but some people envy the freedom and lack of responsibility I have. Guess what? I’m not lucky, I made choices to be in my position. They weren’t always easy choices, I didn’t always have the agreement of my family, but I made them and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Since accepting the job on a motor yacht back in February, I have received a few messages from friends saying they admire my ability to take risks. I love taking risks because every time I have, something incredible has come out of it. Whether it’s meeting an incredible new person or going on some cool adventure, something positive is always the result.

 

On the surface I appear to be excited and ready to jump with both feet forward, but to tell you the truth, the inside isn’t like that. My close friends will tell you. They will ask me how I am or if I’m ready and most of the time the response is, “I’m scared shitless and I don’t know how to be ready, so I’m just going to go for it because it always works out.” I normally have one or two days of sheer panic that someone close to me will hear about and have to comfort me and remind me of all the risks I took before and how they worked out. I will have personal moments of wondering if this is really a stupid thing to do and if I’m mentally stable.

 

Then I just close my eyes and jump. Sometimes I land on my bum first and have to wait for the bruise to go away, sometimes I have to turn around and go back but most of the time a beautiful story develops. The end result is that I always end up on my feet, exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’ve been all over the world, I’ve met incredible people, locals and other travellers that have touched my heart forever. I have experienced living in other cultures, I have seen the night sky in the middle of the Atlantic. I have known what it’s like to love numerous people. I have learned how to deal with heart break, ending relationships and moving on. I have found my place in the world. To wander free and endlessly like the beautiful waves that are crashing over the side of the boat and threatening to soak my computer!

 

The point is, we all have choices. Maybe we don’t like some of those choices and it prevents us from doing what we want to do now. That’s ok, just modify the plan to suit your current lifestyle. Dreams can always come true if you truly want them to become reality.

A naughty mast

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My alarm went off at 0140 and I sleepily turned it off. Instead of spending those extra two minutes in warmth as I had done the last few nights, I jumped out having faith that the beautiful sunset meant there would be some stars in the sky. Since leaving the Azores, we had nothing but clouds and an icy cold North wind. I don’t mind bad weather, but taking away my stars is like putting me in prison.

 

It was still a cold icy North wind. I had put my own foul weather jacket underneath the large one that was issued to me by the boat. Before I went up to the cockpit, I was given a fender cover to use as a blanket for my legs because it really was that cold. It reminded me of the best sleep that I had in the cockpit when we were on charter in Trade Wins. We had taken the dinghy cover off for some reason and we wrapped ourselves in that so we weren’t touched by the wind. Us sailors are creative! Anyway, I trooped up the stairs, happy to see that the Universe gave us her stars that evening.

 

After handover, I went to sit on the comfy sofas to do my stargazing, but they were soaking wet and the wind wasn’t really protecting me. I managed to find a corner that was ok. Then the bilge alarms kept going off, so I eventually sat by the helm where my watch partner was in order to turn them off quicker and give everyone the rest they so badly deserved. The wind was bitter cold, so I slouched down and put the humongous fender cover on the side of me and over half my head to protect me. I was feeling all nice and cosy and ready to watch for falling stars.  I looked up and saw a piece of the masterpiece that is the sky and was so happy. That was…until I noticed the spreader was swinging dangerously. I quickly popped up and got my headlamp out. I looked up and holy shit it was broken!! I showed my partner who’s response was to give me the radio to call the Captain.

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The engineer came up first. He had turned the lights on before he came up and before he was all the way up, he swore and ran down for a torch. He came back up followed by the Captain. We turned on more lights, which are as bright as a football field lit up at night and we could see the spreaders were ok. The rotating mast was just rotating MUCH more than it should. We prepared to drop the sail, put her into the wind and I pulled down on her with all my might, swinging in the air to put as much weight on it as I could. I just wanted it down because these masts weigh tons and could do some serious damage to the boat and cause death or life changing injury if they crash down on anyone.  We spent a tense 45 minutes securing the boom to take the swing out, which could cause further damage. It is hard to de-mast a boat with healthy rigging, but it’s possible.

 

During those 45 minutes, the GPS alarm kept going off saying there was no signal. Yep, we lost the GPS. Luckily there was a back up one and with those good old smart phones, they give GPS coordinates so we could plot them on a chart in the worst case scenario. There is a metal tube that holds the wires of the electronics as well as preventing the mast from rotating too much and that welding had snapped off breaking the cables and allowing the mast to swing freely.

 

Of course this happened at 2.23 am, as all bad things happen on a boat between 2 and 3 am, so we didn’t know this until the morning. My watch partner and I spent a stressful two hours steering and praying that the boom didn’t fall on our heads. The boom is directly above the wheel. I talked out an escape strategy if it all went bad.

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I woke up after my shift and was happy to see that the mast was still there as well as the stay sail, so it couldn’t have been all bad. Then I went outside and saw the beautiful sunshine shining down on a gorgeous deep blue sea. There was a big gentle swell with white caps accentuated by the sea blue. I thanked the Universe for keeping us safe the night before and for giving me this beautiful scenery to celebrate living another day. I was so energised and invigorated that during my watch I steered for three hours. The waves were so beautiful and I was loving perfecting my technique of sailing over the waves while keeping within five degrees of the course.

 

There are many reasons why I love sailing. It’s nights like the one we had last night that remind me to appreciate every single second of my life because we never know when it’s going to end. It makes the colours of the world so much brighter because without being morbid, I appreciate how close we are to death and that I have the choice to live life to the fullest. I reflected on my life today and realised that I am living life to the fullest and what an amazing adventure I’ve had so far!