Day 4: Birds and Long Moments

[This was originally published to our subscribers during our passage from San Diego to the Marquesas.]

My dear crew,

At the edge of the sky, there are small rabbit’s tail puffs of light grey and white clouds, but otherwise it’s clear and blue. Today is the first sunny day, and with the sun’s return, it’s warm enough to sit in the cockpit without a blanket. No longer chilled, and well-rested from my first good night of sleep, I feel strong and clear-minded again. I had my first dance party in the cockpit today, sun streaming down on me while I held on, shaking my hips and singing along loudly. I wasn’t wearing any pants. I love being at sea.

The first three days are the most challenging, in my experience, and the challenges are both mental and physical. Physically, one becomes exhausted, bruised, and sore in forgotten muscles. Mentally, one feels disoriented, struggling with a lack of mental acuity brought on by irregular and interrupted sleep. Simple problems take far longer to think through than seems right, and the solutions, once realized, are typically obvious. 

Yesterday, we were in consistent winds and one meter swells. The wind vane was driving the boat, so I had the wheel locked down hard. I nestled into a corner of the cockpit under the spray dodger by my instruments, and rearranged a cushion under my head to take a much-needed nap. Suddenly, I saw the wheel struggling to move, and the windvane fighting it. The noise was unpleasant. I unlocked the wheel and attempted to turn it myself, but I’d never felt it so stiff. I’d never had a steering failure or rudder issue before, but I know they can make it impossible to turn the rudder. I disengaged the windvane to eliminate additional forces on the boat, and eased both of the sails to slow the boat down. I looked over the side to see if I could spot any issues with the rudder. And I fought hard with the wheel. I remembered a friend of mine who’d lost steering on a trip off the coast here, and thought back to our brief conversations about it. How would I handle this?

That’s when I realized that my hair, piled high on my head as I nestled into the cushion to sleep, had pushed the button that engaged the under-deck autopilot, which uses the wheel to steer. I was fighting my own autopilot. A sharper, better-rested Elana probably would have guessed that first.

But today is the fourth day, and so, the beginning of a new phase in the passage. The routines of past bluewater voyages have become habitual again, the physical muscle memories, returned. It’s natural now to anticipate the next yaw of the boat, and rebalance my weight before it occurs. No matter what I’m doing, I can hear Windfola tell me when something’s changed and she needs me. My mind is willing to let me fall asleep at any time that I decide to nap. I’m able to engage in an activity and look up to scan the horizon, returning easily to whatever was at hand. My body is unlearning its land habits, and remembering its sea rhythms. For this, I am thankful. The more that sea life becomes second nature, the more mental capacity is available for solving problems that arise, thinking through what might occur, and preparing for the unknown.

Moreover, in this new phase of the passage, I can once again read, write, and look at screens to study weather, all of which I was too nauseous or tired to do much of during the first three days. 

I know many of you are following along with our tracking map online. I hope that you can take some time to close your eyes and hear the bubbles rushing by along the hull, the rush and swish of waves, and feel the breeze on your skin. Each sound stretches out over time, and inexplicably, time itself stretches, too. Your awareness becomes free from the confines of seconds, minutes, and hours. Moments become timeless.

Last night I watched a bird while the sun sank into the sea. The bird circled, tried to land on my mainsail, failed, and circled back in the draft of my sails to collect itself and try again. After many tries, it eventually landed on the masthead. It fell off, and then tried many times again to land, with eventual success. I don’t know how long I watched it, but the sunlight faded completely. The bird’s wings were lit, one red and one green, from the masthead navigation lights for port and starboard. The mast swayed, and the bird held fast. I thought, “Let me be like that bird.”

wishing you love and fair winds,

elana, zia, and SV Windfola

P.S. When I couldn’t read yet, I watched the ocean and sometimes listened to music. If you like any of these, take a listen and you’ll be out to sea with me.

  • TV on the Radio; Test Pilot, Chilly Gonzales Re-Make (peaceful ethereal piano with occasional beat)

  • Jamiroquai; Hot Property (electro-funk)

  • St. Lucia; Closer Than This, Live from the Spotify House (indie acoustic guitar/drums, vocals)

  • Vetiver; Sister (indie folk-rock)

  • Edgar Meyer & Christ Thile; G-22 (blues-y strings/bluegrass)

  • Calexico, Bend to the Road (foreboding indie border town folk rock)

  • Anoraak & Slow Shiver; We Lost (chill melodic electronic)

  • Kelly Rowland; Work - Freemason’s Radio Edit (world & funk-influenced modern pop)

  • The High Kings; Marie’s Wedding (Irish folk)

  • Caro Emerald; That Man (swing)

  • America; Horse With No Name (60s folk)

  • Electric Light Orchestra; Don’t Bring Me Down (rock)

  • Low Motion Disco; Things Are Gonna Get Easier (remade soul chill electronica)

  • Chesney Hawkes; The One and Only (90s anthem rock pop)

  • Röyksopp; Remind Me - Radio Edit (midtempo electronic)

  • Peter, Paul, and Mary; If I had a Hammer (folk)