My maritime adventure is once again alive and kicking as I write from my funny squidged up bunk on a lovely old schooner, Soteria. I am jammed in with suitcases, sails and the horror that is ‘the locker under bunk one’ right in the bow of the boat (pointy end). If anyone needs anything that’s likely to be in there, they generally only find the courage to tackle the piled up layers of sails and other paraphernalia, with a strong cuppa and lots of gentle encouragement, followed by a counselling session on their emergence. One of the delights of life on board a working boat.
My crew mates are around the boat, washing up, sorting out bilge pump problems (I’ve cannily stayed away from that one, knowing that boys like to meet the challenge of this sort of thing and I shouldn’t dilute their fun), humming while sorting and tidying gear. Outside, St. Peter Port in Guernsey, where we are docked, is shaded in a deep, damp sea mist punctured only by the soul cry of a foghorn.
This voyage has been an adventurous sailing experience, from La Coruña in North West Spain, across the Bay of Biscay and over to the Channel Islands en route to Weymouth. We have been carried here on this wonderful, old, wooden two-master whose name means ‘salvation’, or, in its shortened form of Soté, ‘to be made free’. We are embracing traditional sailing in honour of the age and nature of the boat, and a slight lack of engine power due to a gear box failure. It has given the journey an elemental simplicity – if it doesn’t work with the wind and tide, we can’t do it. It has also given me the odd moment of idly wondering whether we might end up needing more salvation than is entirely healthy.
Zooming towards the coast on our way (theoretically) in to port at Roscoff I uttered the fatal words “I think we’re all going to get a full night’s sleep in the marina,” which was of course the cue for the wind to relax to a whisper. My watch started at 6am, with us in almost exactly the same spot as when I had gone to sleep. And then, bless it, the wind woke up again all rested and feisty and ready to give its all to blowing in completely the wrong direction for us. Suddenly it was all hands on deck and all macs on backs, to tack and tack into wind and rain to try and make the entrance while avoiding the dark, pointy rocks lining our route in.
Three hours later we were finally almost within touching distance of the marina only to be met by a puzzled Harbour Master asking if we were lost. It turns out we were. The actual harbour entrance he pointed out (built after the charts were created) was absolutely inaccessible to a boat without engine power with the wind we had. Our only option was to turn around and whoosh out of the bay that had held us captive over long hours, and follow the wind to the Channel Islands. You’ve got to laugh innit?
It had been a hard, but exhilarating morning and very, very good for toning my incipient (or possibly actual) bingo wings. It also resulted in one of the most glorious afternoons of sailing that I have ever experienced; bright sun on a white-capped, surging and profoundly deep blue sea. The waves rolled through from behind us, as did the wind, urging us speedily on to Guernsey, a very interesting, slightly lucky, engineless docking experience and a few gratefully received days of still land, pubs and watch-free nights.
It seemed to take forever for this voyage to come into being for me. I had spent such a long time feeling landlocked and blocked in following my desire to live life on the water. I am experimenting in following the energy of what pulls me towards my end results, rather than pushing and forcing things. The way this comes up for me is to really listen for warm and resonant invitations and see where they take me. This one took a while to come and it was so hard not to push, to strive and force something to happen. It was worth waiting for.
Having done some crewing with just myself and the owner/skipper, I really felt I wanted the broader support of being part of a bigger crew. Suddenly there was a wonderfully warm email from Vicky (Soteria’s owner), desperate for crew to get her back to the UK for engine repairs. Before I knew it, with some fantastic support from friends and family, I was suddenly in Spain – a country I love and have missed – and joining a new crew for an exciting experience on a classic and classy boat.
Four solid days of sailing put me right into the heart of what I love doing. It can be tough, getting up for night watch, dealing with the weather and getting to know people under demanding circumstances. But after a while the watches flow, the days and the nights segue into each other, strangers become crew mates who know how you like your tea, sleep comes easily and food tastes wondrous. Always and endlessly there is the sea and the sky, joined by a delightful vessel that responds to your needs and to your attention, and surges through the waves with elegance and determination.
A friend recently reminded me of Joseph Campbell who said that if the path ahead of you is clear, it probably isn’t your path. I don’t know where my journey with the sea will take me, and the level of my cluelessness in this indicates that this is definitely my very own obscure and adventurous pathway. I continue on it in the confidence that so far it has only taken me to wonderful places where I wanted to be, and the freedom of Soteria certainly counts as one of them.