Writer: Nikki Henderson
18th November 2019 was the fifth day of our 18-day transatlantic delivery on La Vagabonde, the Outremer 45. The unseasonable nature of the voyage did not disappoint; this was the fifth consecutive day of upwind sailing.
I wrote home:
“Last night the conditions were pretty rough. We had all been looking forward to a bit of relief, expecting fast reaching conditions, but the upwind sailing prevailed. It was like that moment you think you have gotten to the top of a hill, to find it was a false summit and there is still another ahead. We all know there is nothing to do in these conditions than to pull together, be safe and just get on with it – but it still tests on emotions.”
On reflection, it feels like that first week in the North Atlantic was preparation for: ‘2020: The year we sailed upwind on land.’
The introduction of new covid19 related regulations have felt like consecutive days crashing into the chop; uncomfortable, limiting, slow, relentless. With every two steps forward in mental health, plans, finances, freedom – the next news bulletin sends you one step back.
I have spent many a night watch reflecting on how blue water passages are like accelerated lessons in how to cope with the challenges of land life. From people management, to provisioning, to engineering, to self-help – sailing builds skills like resilience and adaptability in the most intense way.
This second blog was meant to be about what sailing upwind is like on an Outremer. Now, I think it might be more relevant to pull that back to earth. What lessons can sailing upwind teach us for today? How can we draw from our experiences of upwind sailing to help us find strength and positivity for the coming months?
As winter approaches in the northern hemisphere the second wave of Covid19 is building momentum and national lockdowns are looming all over the world. After a year spent running off adrenaline (storm-tactics?), I’m now tapping into my inner ‘strength for windward’ pot. This is my emergency reserve for when the weather is really, really bad.
On day five of that North Atlantic crossing we were weighed down by the responsibility and enormity of the challenge ahead of us.
Svante sat down beside me that night, “Nikki tell me honestly. Is this OK? Should we turn back?”
I steadied myself in the violent upwind chop, considered all the factors, looked him in the eye, and said “yes”.
The courage to dare to feel positivity, when the easier choice is negativity, is what protects me emotionally during the tough times at sea. The same goes for life on land…
… Each morning I take the treacherous route to my 2020 version of ‘on-deck’: ‘to the desk’. The land ‘office’ has remarkably similar qualities to the boat version; conveniently doubling up as the dining room, living room, home-gym, and in my case also renovation workshop equipped with all the staples: Leatherman, white spirit, wet vac, mallet, drill, socket set and spare Allan keys.
Before entering, I run through my all too familiar pre-on-watch routine: coffee in hand, big breath in, big sigh out, close eyes, pause, find inner strength, buckle up life jacket (dressing gown?), step out, frigid gale force wind on your face (still no double glazing), body tenses, the bow drops over the wave landing with a gut wrenching slam (that will be upstairs neighbours doing their home workout), knees bend, icy blast of salt water spray on one cheek, that devilish trickle of water down past your ear, (home schooling gone wrong?) open your eyes, yep still here – big smile “Another day in paradise then is it?”
Optimism, with a hearty dose of realism, was our superpower on-board La Vagabonde. It helped us leave the dock in the snow with a smile on our faces. It got us through five days of sailing upwind in the wrong direction. It helped Riley and I find hilarity in the fifth reef of the night on a 2-on-2-off double handed watch system. It focused my mind through the dark nights, remembering Elayna would make hot cocoa and porridge at dawn.
This superpower, should we choose to take it, will help fuel us through our own storms this winter.