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Atlantic Crossing: Beautiful Boredom

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Sunrise over a glassy sea in the middle of the Atlantic
Sunrise over a glassy sea in the middle of the Atlantic

I don't remember exactly where my dream of doing an Atlantic Crossing by sail boat originated. It most likely has more than one origin and developed over time. I do remember spending a week with an old sailor couple from Germany who had spent ten years sailing around the world together before ending up in New Zealand and building a house there. They talked vividly about their crossings, seeing whales and dolphins, catching fish with ease, the peaceful solitude of the ocean at night. Their stories stuck with me. And I've met other sailors since and heard their stories, watched documentaries and generally been well exposed to many romantic regalings of life on the Atlantic waves.

But I want to put the beauty and the romance to one side for a moment. Not because it's not there. It is. But because it's not the whole story. I want to start by talking about one of the biggest parts of the crossing. The boredom. Jesus fry me alive, there is boredom. Boredom in the morning. A little more in the afternoon. Another dollop in the evening. And in case all that boredom wasn't enough you have a four hour night shift to gorge on it as completely as is humanly possible when you should be asleep and not capable of being bored. Time passes differently on the boat to what I've become used to and not in a way I think we're programmed for anymore. I had to adjust to the unplugged and confined space nature of the trip. Which isn't a bad thing. Although it's not something you could easily describe as being fun. It does, however, get tallied up in the romantic mystical side of things later on.

Sunset in North Atlantic
Sunset as we head west

So what to do with all this boredom? Well, sleeping is a go to. Staring at waves is bread and butter. As is lying down with your eyes closed. Putting a fishing line out to not catch anything was a bit of a treat. And after reading became possible there was a lot of reading. Other than that it's all those things that are so effortless at home that become your primary preoccupation. Cooking and cleaning are a true adventure. Going to the toilet can take up a good chunk of time just in mustering up the courage to go at all. That pants-at-ankles rodeo (point your arse in the general direction of the toilet, cling to the walls and sink while the boat flings you every which way) has to be one of the most stressful parts of this adventure. It's also probably the best exercise you're going to get for two weeks. Shame about the smell! Which brings me to another not exactly magical part of this endeavour. The laissez-faire relationship to hygiene you have to adopt on the boat. Showers come in buckets of salt water – although this definitely grew on me. A limited wardrobe means you're soon cycling through increasingly sullied sets of shorts and t-shirts. And then there's that toilet smell you can't get rid of. Not helped by your captain's poorly timed bout of the shits. Sharing a toilet with a man with explosive diarrhea and having your bed right next to it really makes you question your life choices.

Personal hygiene: Washing with salt water on deck
Personal hygiene: Washing with salt water on deck

And at this point you might be wondering whether I enjoyed this trip at all. Did the dream really turn this sour (and smelly)?. But fret not, the blog post is not over. I did overwhelmingly enjoy the crossing and took a lot from it. The first days were not the easiest, with the uncertainty surrounding skipper's health, my stomach's 36-hour period of adjusting to the waves and the sudden absence of digital distraction. But they did the job. And once I'd adjusted to the new parameters of this way of living I found it to be hugely nourishing. I enjoyed the sailing and learning the basics of operating the boat. It felt great to fly through a book again. The easy relaxation of a slow life. And there are so many unique elements to the experience that are a constant source of joy; the blaze of stars in the night sky, the sound of the sea in the darkness, the serene solitude you feel surrounded by nothing but water and horizon, the near never-ending sunshine and blue sky, the occasional rare visit of some form of marine life that becomes the highlight of your day.

Finally, I would like to return to the business of the timey wimey stuff and it's peculiar way of passing. I want to tally it up in the romantic mystical side of things, as promised. In “everyday” life there is no time to lose. Too much to do and not enough time to do it in. No matter what we do there's always the more we could have done. But on the boat there is nothing but time to waste. Long days and long nights with only a modest platter of possibilities for distraction. Little connection to the outside world. No digital output to plug yourself into and disengage cerebrally. There is just the passing of time and the daunting prospect of a lot more of it to come. The end has a rough date but just like seeing land on the horizon it's so far away it's barely imaginable. And so the passing of time slows and takes on new shapes. Shapes that aren't immediately comfortable. It takes time before they soften and form to fit you, like a memory foam mattress or the sand underneath a beach towel you stretch out on on a summer holiday. And then you too begin to slow. Time becomes impossible to waste because there is just too much of it. And every pointless endeavour or inefficient practice is a joy because it has been something to do which you'd otherwise not have. Losing our bucket was a blessing. Collecting sea water took four times as long as it otherwise would have. Not to mention the time spent crafting slightly varying contraptions out of water bottles and thin rope. I also spent a lot of time putting different lures out to catch a fish, trying various configurations, even trying a throw and reel in method when we had tuna hunting the flying fish alongside our boat. None of it with much promise of success – as proved by the resulting lack of success – but all of it wonderful ways to waste time. And still there was so much left over. And so I think that will be the most valuable takeaway from having completed this Atlantic crossing dream. A reconnection to a slower way of life. Maybe a warning to be more aware of the impact of my digital consumption. And a reminder of how much I enjoy reading.

Crew passing time, reading a book
Crew passing time, reading a book

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