Our day to day life is dominated by weather systems more than any other expedition I have ever been on. Our liquid world changes so fast under the influence of wind far away over the horizon, we can feel the ominous threat of change continuously. As Kit said, “even when it’s peaceful, it’s like someone has left a loaded revolver on the table”, the threat of violence is in the very air around us. The continual greyness backs up this unsettling atmosphere, adding weight to the thought that things can change quickly for the worse. As the human eye thirsts for colour the southern ocean seldom rewards it, making dark thoughts more frequent than light happy ones, something we are all learning to control daily.
Having seen this ocean at its worst during our 2 day force 12 storm, we are all aware how nasty things can get out here. This encourages us to sail as hard as we can every day, to change sail immediately when the need arises, to push the Nanook towards the eastern horizon safely but with continual pressure. As skipper our navigation between storm cells falls to me, to try and position the Nanook so we are never in a wind against sea situation, that we are close to the edges of the tempests and avoiding the inevitable wind holes left in the energy of their wake. Day 33 and 34 at sea saw us diving deeper and deeper south from 49 degrees south to 52 degrees south to avoid a huge wind hole the size of New South Wales ahead of us. Each day as we headed south the air temperature dropped and it felt strange sailing towards Antarctica not Chile. Despite an aggressive dip southwards, the dreaded calm caught us on day 35. During the night the main sail had been “flogging” so badly (this is when it loses wind and wave action on the boat whipcracks the sails against the mast) that the entire rig shuddered as the big swells threw us sideways. Looking upwards we noticed a car, or attachment point to the mast had snapped, loading the cars above and below this midpoint. Crusty and I dropped the mainsail and The Nanook sailed slowly forwards at 2 knots boat speed with Genoa (head sail) alone. At dawn I crawled out of the cabin to a vessel becalmed on an oily sea. Three metres seas pushed us about as we sat stalled, flopping about as far from land as we could humanly sail.
Initial frustration verging on rage settled for me into an acceptance that we could not change our state by annoyance alone. To be in the southern ocean below the roaring 40’s and into the furious 50’s and yet becalmed somehow underlined our entire mission. The world is changing, the world is in flux and we need to get curious and see if we can change enough to restore some semblance of order. Once I realised this, I calmed and accepted that during the next few days it would be difficult to gain mileage. I accepted that this odd event backed up our story, supported our concerns and in fact was evidence of the need for change in how we do things globally.
The next 4 days were indeed difficult. Filled with sail changes, angle changes, trying to gain distance using the big red ErthPoints Spinakker, utilising the spinnaker pole to improve our sail angles, the continuous effort costing us in terms of fatigue and rewarding us with low daily mileages.
Just as storms have an end, so do calms. By day 39 we had another solid south westerly wind pushing us eastwards. Three days of high mileage have washed away our frustrations and memories of an odd calm in the southern ocean are fading. I clipped in and walked forwards to what I call “the slot”, the point on the boat near the bow where you can feel the wind funnelling between the Genoa, staysail and mainsail. You can literally feel the Venturi effect pulling us forwards to Chile and safer waters. There is an energy here, a sanctuary, a promise. The Nanook’s powerhouse doing her level best to get us across the southern ocean. I reflected that this voyage had so many mirrors within it, reflecting our day to day lives.
Storms come and go within our daily lives, when we are within them, just like at sea they seem to have no end. We desperately wish to be free of them, out of the tempest, on bended knee begging for their end. We wail and gnash our teeth, desperate for the hardships and trials to cease. Similarly though when life becomes mundane, plain and repetitive in the calms, it’s easy to call for more. So often as humans we demand a change in state, as much in the tempests as in the “Waiting rooms of God”. The quiet reflective times, the sometimes dull and mundane can be as important in shaping our futures as the character building storms we pass through.
As the wind passed through me and over me, I promised myself to try and live more in the moment. To try and sit in the calms and to learn from the storms, something I’ve never done well. If sailing across the southern ocean teaches me one thing, I hope it can teach me this.