I’ve just spent a week entirely on my own. As I say that, I realise that half of you sarcastically say something like ‘wow, you have finally tried proper retirement’. And the other half, equally sarcastically, say ‘thank God, you let the rest of us rest our ears for week’. But I’m going to ignore that and just say, I was COMPLETELY on my own. I saw two container ships in a week, at a distance. That’s it. This is my recollection of it. And spoiler alert, I enjoyed it. Even if conditions were challenging. To the extent that I spent another two days on my own at anchor at the end of it. Before I re-entered the real world.
I left Samaná in Dominican Republic just after Christmas. It was always a choice between Christmas or New Year alone. I chose New Year at sea as I got an invitation to spend Christmas with Carine and her mother on her beautiful motoryacht, Downshifting. As a solo sailor and an exceptionally bad cook, I was not going to turn down a proper roast. Particularly when Christmas Eve also turned out to be Carine’s birthday.
So I set off on a 1,100 Nm sail to Panamá, a week on my own across a notoriously tough stretch. Roughly a third of the distance we sailed across the Atlantic and twice as long as I have solo sailed before. A crossing that is known for producing high winds and waves. And conditions did not disappoint. I had 30 to 40 knots of wind most of the time and 3 to 6 metre waves. Often from different directions. Some produced by wind, some by currents. But that’s Ok. I’ve seen that many times before. What makes this stretch worse is the wave period, the distance between the waves. Across the Atlantic, we had something like a twelve second wave period. That means that every twelve seconds, a ‘hill’ of water approaches and you gently surf down it. A six second period, which I experienced this time, means that you are hit by a ‘mountain’ wall every six seconds. A wall that throws you off course and cascades over the boat. For the downhill skiers out there – it is essentially the difference between a blue run and a black mogul piste. What made things worse was that some of the water found itself into Saoirse. Either through an open hatch or though a small leak that I found at the back.
With all of that, I still really enjoyed the experience. I’m not sure I can explain why. I just went into my own cocoon, I just was. Totally focused on the getting there. I remember feeling the same when we arrived in Martinique after we had crossed the Atlantic. We were four then, but we all found it hard to remember what had happened. It didn’t become real until we looked at the pictures from the crossing. This time I didn’t have the assistance of a crew or pictures to help me remember. But I can’t recall ever feeling that that I wished it was all over. In fact, when I got to Panamá, I actually wished it was further. I solved this by going to a secluded anchorage where I stayed a couple of days to clean up both Saoirse and myself. On my own. My choice after a week of solitude.
In all honesty, I never really felt alone. And I’m not thinking about the birds that visited me and I occasionally talked to. I’m thinking of my satellite router that allowed me to communicate with anyone that cared to listen. It’s one way communication most of the time and people that know me too well would say something like ‘what’s the difference, you always do all the talking anyway’? But the fact of the matter is that it is so nice to get a message every now and then, so thank you all for what you sent me. When it comes to the GPS tracker though, I feel I have to say that whilst this is a great tool that allows you to see where I am and what I am potentially experiencing, it is not a perfect tool. I know that some of you were worried for my well-being when conditions were a little rough. I heard that someone noted a boat speed of 13.9 knots and someone else saw a 0.0 knot reading. The former may have been correct at some point when I was surfing down some big wave, the latter, a complete stand still, was clearly wrong. That would have been more concerning though. The point is, I don’t want you all to rely on this tool to the extent that you worry about me. And if you do, please send me a message and ask me how I’m doing. I love to get messages. Particularly when I’m all alone.
I realise that in my case a week of solitude was my own choice. And that a lot of people in this world suffer from involuntary loneliness. I can be as social as I want to be as soon as I get where I’m going and I’m beginning to realise that this mix works very well for me. Which is very good as in a couple of months I will cross one of the longest stretches of open water on the planet. Between Panamá and French Polynesia. A crossing that will take up to a month. A crossing that I can now confidently look forward to. As long as I know that I will meet similar minded people when I get there. I already feel a little sorry for the poor souls that will be exposed to a socially starved solo sailor in Marquesas.
I decided to add a picture that really belonged in my last blog post.