To herald the publication of my next book, Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific, I am revisiting some of my blogs from the Pacific crossing, adding a postscript either with additional details or a kind of “if I’d known then what I know now….” comment.
Day 8: What Was I Thinking?
19 Aug 2007, The Brocade
Yes, it’s reached that stage of the expedition, when I’m wondering why on earth I’m here, bobbing around in a tippy little rowboat perilously close to the California coast, when I could be leading a nice, normal kind of a life somewhere in suburbia.
[Comment: I’m not sure there was ever a day when I didn’t wonder what I was doing out there! I was asked the other day, at the West Cork Literary Festival (of which more later) what was my relationship with the ocean, and I had to confess to a love/hate dynamic. I love the ocean for the many things it has taught me and the many amazing experiences it has given me – as well as the vital role it plays in our human world, regulating our climate, giving us seafood, etc – but it’s hard to unconditionally love something when it often seems determined to kick one’s backside!]
Today has not been a pleasant day. The winds started to pick up last night as a weather front came through, and by this morning were blowing 20-25 knots – in the wrong direction, of course. I don’t mind the rough conditions too much – I coped with much worse on the Atlantic – but a helpful shove in the right direction would have been very welcome. As it was, it was better to put out the sea anchor to try and reduce my backwards drift, rather than try to row into the teeth of the headwind and 12 foot swells.
[It’s a struggle to make headway into even 10 knots, so 20-25 knots was a no-no. During this time my experience on the Atlantic really paid off. Both technically and psychologically, I was much better able to cope with the challenges the ocean was throwing at me.]
So I have spent most of the day on my bunk, the least uncomfortable place to be, with only occasional forays outside to check on things. The boat has been pitching around and the deck was awash with seawater. It has rained most of the day and even now it is overcast and gloomy. Inside the cabin it is increasingly damp and I feel rather queasy from surviving on snack foods all day – it has been too rough to use the Seacook gas stove out on the deck to cook a proper meal.
[Cabin days could be strange. On the one hand, they were a good chance to let the poor old body recover and catch up on some sleep. But the cabin does get very stuffy. It is (almost) watertight, which of course makes it also airtight, so from time to time I had to open up the hatch and waft some stale air out and fresh air in. It was also rather unpleasant surviving on just snack bars and nuts. After a while you really feel like eating a proper square meal – not so much because you’ve been burning calories, because of course you haven’t – but for general morale it’s really best to eat properly rather than just snacking. But cooking inside the cabin would be much too dangerous. Likewise, going to the loo in the cabin would be likely to end in disaster, which was usually the main reason for those forays out to the deck!]
It has been frustrating to watch the hard-won miles ebb away as I drift back east, but my main concern has been whether I would run aground. This put all other concerns aside. It is still far from certain whether I will manage to get away from the coast again. And it was all looking so good a few days ago.
[This is the first real admission that I am getting worried, and a possible downturn in spirits.]
My weather guy tells me that the weather this year has been ‘goofy’ – usually we’d expect to see winds coming much more from the north. My sense of humour is wearing thin, so I wish the weather would stop goofing around and get back to normal. Now.
[Top tip: don’t row oceans in goofy years. Although having said that, the weather is never “average”, so will always spring surprises. It’s just a matter of how often and how big.]
Other Stuff (posted in 2013)
I was in Bantry, Ireland, last week for the West Cork Literary Festival. An amazing event, with wonderful people organising, speaking, and attending. We were given a warm Irish welcome and my talks seemed to go over very well. Thank you so much to Denyse, Elaine, and the rest of the fantastic team, and all those who attended.
We were also lucky enough to share a car back to Cork with Melvyn Bragg. My American readers probably won’t be familiar with his name, but Lord Bragg was the long-time presenter of the South Bank Show on TV, and is something of a national treasure. He was there in Bantry to talk about his new book, Grace and Mary, about his mother’s slow slide into dementia. Getting to spend over an hour in a car with him was quite a privilege!
The stars also aligned for us to meet with Milko Van Gool, who like me is a patron of the Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust. Milko is originally from the Netherlands, now lives in Malawi, and later this month is aiming to swim the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland to raise funds for the Trust. He was in Cork for a training camp and to get used to cold water. Unfortunately Ireland had been hit by a wave of unusually hot weather, so the water was too warm for that latter purpose, but at least he was getting some good miles with some top swimmers. Please support Milko in this bold venture for a fantastic cause!