On Logbooks and Getting Rescued

on logbooks and getting rescued turf to surf tasha hacker

For all the times I have lazily and inconsistently jotted down coordinates and weather conditions in sailing logbooks, I have rarely (perhaps, never) revisited the pages I’ve written. And, frankly, I’ve not put much thought into the circumstances that might force me to reexamine those logs.

But as I sit here, looking over the logbook pages of SS2, the five-person rowboat I competed on for the Shoreseeker Challenge as my team attempted to row 300 miles from Barcelona to Sardinia, I am annoyed by the information that’s missing; particularly the information I didn’t write down when conditions deteriorated to the point where I feared for my life. And I regret now, looking over the logbook, that I didn’t take a few seconds out of every hour, especially in the hours I was most terrified, to scrawl a summary of events, along with a few thoughts, as my confidence deteriorated and the rational threads keeping my mind intact started to unravel.

The reason I find myself poring over the logbook now, months after the race has finished, is because the race insurer has rejected Shoreseeker’s claim for the €32,641.50 rescue of the SS2 crew, a rescue which the insurance company has not deemed to be a “necessary rescue” with regards to a medical emergency.

The last entry in the race logbook was written on October 1st (which I hastily recorded as September 31st, a small indicator of my state of mind) at 3:45 am. And it was written by me because I was one of two crew who ended up in the stern cabin with all the communications when conditions deteriorated to the point where no one could risk being up on deck, let alone moving between cabins to discuss an emergency plan. And, unfortunately, a roll of the storm dice meant the skipper ended up in the bow cabin, separated from the boat communications, when conditions got really bad.

I can see a certain desperation in my shaky handwriting at 3:45 am, which reads, briefly, “VERY BAD SQUALL –> GETTING WORSE. 40° 22.1 N 005° 14.0 E / Capsized. Aggy outside when it happened –> hit VHF distress.”

I wish I’d written something after that, but the entire book is blank following that last line, even though, looking back, that line represented only the beginning of what was to come.

My darkest moments came well after that entry at 3:45 am, which was already 24 hours after the sea state got so messy that we had to stop rowing, after the skies turned black and unleashed an apocalyptic thunderstorm, after we struggled in the pelting rain to deploy the parachute anchor and after we spent 24 hours dehydrating from lack of food and water because the fear of having to go to the toilet in a bucket on deck negated any desire to eat or drink.

tasha nick claire team ss2 shoreseeker challengeOne of my last blurry, smiling images before it all got very dark.

But there is no written account in the logbook of the truly dark moments, which came after sunrise on October 1st and during the 3 hours of radio silence when no one responded to our VHF distress calls, when our instruments shut down because our main battery had drained to 7 volts while our back-up battery was down to 11.86 volts, when we capsized a second time and when I started to question if we would, in fact, survive this storm.

I wish I’d written down what was going through my mind in those five hours between 3:45 am and our helicopter rescue because the circumstances we dealt with stretched my brain beyond it’s most elastic problem-solving capabilities in ways I’d never been forced to do before, and with an urgency that demanded the real consideration that the very worst was yet to come.

A twisted chess game of survival strategy was being played out in my mind, forcing me to imagine the next two stages of the worst events I could imagine in order to consider what our next move should be. It was like flipping through a series of choose-your-own adventure chapters in my mind, except I didn’t get to choose. I just had to wait and see what was chosen for me. And the possibilities included the following:

Adventure 1: We deploy sea anchor. Wait out storm. Row to Sardinia and win race. (Obviously, the preferred option).

Adventure 2: We deploy sea anchor. Sea anchor doesn’t work. Boat capsizes. Crew is unharmed. Wait out storm. Row to Sardinia and win race.

Adventure 3: Boat capsizes multiple times. Crew injured. Batteries die. Communications lost. Support boat, Sottlo, arrives to help, but it’s too dangerous to transfer crew. Wait out storm with support nearby. Transfer to support boat in calm conditions. Abandon race and get towed to Sardinia.

Adventure 4: Boat capsizes multiple times, injuring crew. Batteries die. Communications lost. Support boat never arrives. Rowboat taking on water. Set off EPIRB. Deploy life raft. Passing ship rescues us once storm subsides. (Obviously, the worst-case scenario).

After the first capsize, my mind followed these paths (and more) to their bitter end in an effort to figure out what we would need to do in the event the next worst thing we could imagine were to happen.

Much to my relief, at every stage of my imagination, I found there was a piece of safety equipment on board designed to be used during the next terrible phase. The life raft, of course, was the ultimate last resort, and there were many stages to go through before we got there. But it gave me some comfort to know that at least we had one on board our little rowing vessel. Even our old sailboat, Hideaway, never had a life raft on board.

This little mental game started for me as soon as we realized our boat wasn’t sitting securely on our sea anchor.

As the seas grew angrier, we noticed the force of the waves and their impact had intensified. And at some point, we could feel that the waves were no longer crashing over the bow and drenching the person perched on deck for anchor watch; they were now smashing over the port side of the boat, each rumbling crash tipping the deck a little more towards the surface of the sea, threatening to roll us.

When the motion of the boat first started to shift, I was sitting upright inside the bow cabin, counting down the minutes until I would have to pull on my foul-weather gear and go out on deck for my hour of anchor watch. And as another wave slammed into us, throwing me off balance and launching me a foot off the mattress, I looked up at the unforgiving fiberglass surface about 3 feet above my head. And for the first time since the storm started, I started to consider what would happen if we capsized. I thought about the position I was in, sitting with the most vulnerable part of my head pointed towards the highest point in the cabin ceiling and suddenly I wished the ceiling wasn’t so far away.

Staring at that cavernous ceiling, I decided to find some way of protecting my head in case we did capsize. But I couldn’t find any of my knitted hats, which had probably washed overboard at this point, so instead I grabbed a sweatshirt and a sleeping bag and I packed them around my skull, which I’d now shoved into the narrowest part of the cabin — the shallow bow point where normally my feet would rest when sleeping.

When my teammate Nick finished his anchor watch, he crawled into the bow cabin dripping wet, relieved to have survived another hour on deck without incident. As the wind speeds continued to build, tossing our little rowboat around like a dog’s chew toy, every hour on deck felt like we were staring down a gun barrel playing a game of Russian Roulette. Except the unlucky player would find themselves being yanked underwater by their tether as the boat rolled 360 degrees.

When Nick climbed inside the cabin, slamming the hatch behind him, he turned around to find me squeezed up in the bow, looking like a mummy with my arms crossed on my chest and my head covered in cloth.

“What the hell…?”

I laughed nervously. “It just occurred to me, if we do capsize, that ceiling is a long way away,” I said. “So I’m trying to position myself so it doesn’t hurt so bad.”

I was laughing because, deep down, I wanted to be joking. After all, we’d been joking all along about being lost at sea and how we should write good-bye messages and launch them overboard in empty bottles. And we joked because we were utterly convinced we would come out of this perfectly okay.

But things were starting to feel less like we might laugh about this later, and more like I might end up using my sea survival training, which I was sincerely hoping I would never need to use.

“Tasha, we are not going to capsize,” Nick said, laughing. “This is not the Atlantic. Stop talking like that.”

“Hey, I’m not being pessimistic. I just want to be prepared!”

By the time we did, in fact, capsize, I had already been preparing for that possibility for 6 long hours.

But the stuff that makes me wish I’d forced myself to keep an hourly account in the logbook is the stuff that happened between 3:45 am and 8:45 am on October 1st. And revisiting those hours in my mind, I think this is how that logbook might have read:

4:30 am – WORSE THAN VERY BAD –> NOT SURE HOW IT CAN GET WORSE BUT, HEY, WE’RE ALIVE. Skipper on deck, pumping water out of starboard food locker. Is that why we’re sitting perpendicular to sea anchor? Skipper removed EPIRB, told me to keep it in cabin, but NOT to activate it yet. His words: “We’re not there yet.” There is a gash on his head.

5:30 am – No word from support boat Sottlo since their message 10 hours ago saying they were 12 nm away. Said they would be within VHF range by dawn. Still no response to VHF distress. No boats on AIS. Low batteries. Shut down instruments and comms to conserve battery – turning on every 30 min. to check for boats. Nothing out there.

6:30 am – WHERE IS SOTTLO? WHY ARE THEY NOT ANSWERING VHF OR SATPHONE? Turning on VHF every 30 min to send out May Day. Concerned email from Ryan on Cheeky Monkey asking what we plan to do – forecast says 40 knot winds at 9 am. Previous forecasts said 25 knot winds and we got 50-60 knots. If forecast says 40 knots, that could mean anything. If Sottlo don’t get here by dawn, WE ARE SCREWED.

7:00 am – Capsized again. No contact with crew in bow cabin to know if they are okay. At least no one on deck this time. Hit SOS on Iridium SatPhone. Tried calling SOS contact but operator couldn’t hear us. Tried calling Tom and Ryan, but they couldn’t hear us. Tried calling Sottlo, but no answer. Sent three text messages via Iridium to Tom on Cheeky Monkey saying (1) just capsized (2) very scared (3) please advise. Iridium battery died – won’t recharge. Second boat battery dying.

7:30 am – SatPhone dead. Received VHF call from ship Boche Mumbai – HALLELUJAH! They say ETA is one hour, but we think it’s a cargo ship. WTF will we do when they get here? Their words: “We are coming to you. We don’t know what to do when we get there, but we’re coming.” BUT, HEY, SOMEBODY KNOWS WE’RE HERE!

8:30 am – WE’RE NOT GOING TO DIE! THERE’S A HELICOPTER OUTSIDE! SWEET JESUS! My mouth tastes like a cat shat in it, it’s been so long since I’ve had a drink of water, but WHO CARES? SOON WE WILL DRINK ALL THE WATER!

When Rob, our skipper, knocks on the hatch and tells me and Claire to come up on deck, that there’s a rescue helicopter outside, I am flooded with waves of joy that the hell of the last 30 hours is over. But I’m also disappointed that we have to abandon a dream we held on to even through the worst moments of the last few days.

Rob instructs us to leave all our belongings behind, but I quickly rummage through the cabin to grab my iPhone and my GoPro. And as I am searching our upturned cabin, I find the EPIRB Rob handed me several hours ago. And as I hand it to Rob, I see the lights are flashing.

“You set off the EPIRB?” Rob asks.

“No,” I say, confused. “It must have gone off accidentally. Maybe when we capsized?”

Rob shrugs and says, “That must be why the helicopter is here. Well, we would have set it off about now anyway. It’s just sped up the inevitable.”

As I climb out on deck, being careful to stay low as Nick and Aggie crawl out from the bow cabin, I see sentiments of relief and disappointment mixed together on both their faces as they stare up at the massive white and red angel in the sky, the Salvamento Maritimo chopper.

Nick shoots me a grimaced look of guilt and says, “This ain’t gonna be cheap.”

I nod my head. “But what choice do we have?”

We’re both gripping the lifelines tightly as the boat swings back and forth, the bow jerking sideways from the sea anchor line, a phenomenon we can’t figure out.

As I’m buckled into a harness and winched up into the helicopter, our little boat grows smaller below my feet and, suddenly, I can see why the last 30 hours has been so treacherous. Our boat and its sea anchor line is clearly and inexplicably sitting in an L-shape on the surface of the water.

tasha hacker mediterranean rescue turf to surfThis photo isn’t great quality, but you get the idea. CRAZY.

With the winds whipping up another frenzied storm that continued to build for the next 24 hours after we got off that boat, the reality of our situation was this: if we didn’t get rescued at 8:30 am on October 1st, we would have been trapped in those cabins on a faulty sea anchor for 72 hours minimum before someone, anyone, could get to us.

Our support boat, Sottlo, was unable to reach us because they themselves were desperately running from the storm and the cargo ship Boche Mumbai, or any other cargo ship, would have struggled to transfer us safely on board. Yes, we could have waited out that storm on board SS2. But we would have been even more dehydrated, battered and, possibly, worse if we stayed, if we didn’t set off our SOS, DSC and the EPIRB.

At the least severe, we would have been in no physical condition to row after 72 hours of repeatedly capsizing in those building seas.

Salvamento Maritimo’s rescue of SS2 saved the crew from suffering further trauma, injury and dehydration. The idea that this rescue was deemed “not necessary” because of a lack of a medical emergency is inconceivable. We were all in grave danger.

shoreseeker challenge crew ss2 helicopter rescue mediterraneanThe grateful crew of SS2 in Mahon Airport, Menorca. (Aggie, Nick, Tasha, Rob, Claire)

Don’t get me wrong: €32,641.50 is a lot of money.

But we were not in a position to turn down a rescue at any price, and Salvamento Maritimo and its employed rescuers did their job expertly and extracted five battered and terrified crew to safety (not to mention the crew of two other sailboats that same day), so they certainly deserve to be paid for the job they were called to do.

If we were a rogue rowing crew of five who decided on our own to take on this challenge without support and without insurance, there is no doubt in my mind that we should be responsible for paying the €32,641.50 out of our own pockets. Because there’s no doubt in my mind that the safety of five people is worth that price.

But to have purchased insurance that covers this kind of emergency scenario only to find later that coverage has been denied because it wasn’t enough of an emergency is more than disconcerting. It undermines my confidence in insurance coverage of any kind. What is the point of paying into a system that will look for a loop-hole in which they can deny your claim? You might as well just save up €32,641.50 over many years of sailing and rowing for that one time you may or may not find yourself in need of emergency or rescue services.

Or, as some people seem to think, there shouldn’t be people out there on the water in boats of any kind, and if they find themselves in an emergency situation, it’s their own damned fault – they should just deal with it on their own and/or die.

When a few vitriolic comments (among the many positive comments) came in on our YouTube Channel “Chase the Story”, where I posted this video about the race called The one where I get rescued by helicopter trying to row across the Mediterranean, I was reminded of the public hatred that was directed at s/v Rebel Heart nearly two years ago, when they found themselves in an impossible situation and required a rescue on the Pacific Ocean, where they watched as their boat and only home was deliberately sunk.

I was struck at that time by the hatred that spewed from a portion of the self-righteous, non-sailing public who stated that this family, which included two little girls, should die because of their stupidity and irresponsibility as parents. They spat at this family online, demanding that they pay back the American tax-payers for their rescue and for using the resources of a public Coast Guard service.

I found the skewed logic of the hateful public fascinating. Because, as we all know, the chances of dying in a car accident are much greater than any chance of dying in a boat or at sea. Yet we don’t attack parents for daring to take their kids out in a car, putting their families’ lives at risk while driving down roads crowded with unpredictable vehicles at speeds ten times faster than any sailboat goes.

And when a car ends up in a ditch in a snowstorm, and a driver has to call roadside services to pull them out, we don’t see the media pages filled with vitriol over those “irresponsible people” putting the lives of roadside service employees at risk because they decided to go driving in the snow. And we don’t read comments from the public about how these people should die for being so stupid and relying on their car instead of walking safely on their own two feet like other, more responsible citizens would do.

Yet those are like a few of the comments we got on our YouTube Channel. Even one which accused me of using the rescue services of Salvamento Maritimo like AAA. (For you non-Americans out there, AAA is a road-side service in the United States for which car-driving members pay an annual fee to insure they can receive help if they ever need any kind of roadside assistance.)

Specifically, one commenter wrote, “I don’t know what the point of these type of escapades are, but they sure do end up costing the taxpayers a lot of money in jet flybys and Coast Guard rescues. All for a pointless leisure activity.”

And the response by another commenter read, “Piss poor planning and then depending on the rescue services like the triple A.”

But I’m not here to entertain short-sighted comparisons of my so-called abuse of maritime rescue resources in Spain to my privileged use of AAA in the United States.

All I know is the five crew of SS2 needed assistance on October 1st, 2015. That is a fact. And we are grateful for the resources of Salvamento Maritimo for being able to provide that assistance, even with a hefty price tag of €32,641.50.

As for the flippant comments about lack of preparation, the race organizers of the Shoreseeker Challenge equipped our boats with every piece of emergency and safety equipment available on the market today to make sure that we had all the resources we needed to remain safe in the event of any worst-case scenario.

Like any emergency and safety equipment on board your boat, you always hope that you’ve spent the money in vain — that you will never have to use your life jacket, your personal AIS, the DSC on your VHF, the SOS on your SatPhone, your EPIRB or your life raft. But responsible and well-prepared boaters have some or all of these items on board and they have thought through the scenarios that might require their use.

It was the same on our little rowboat. It’s just that, unfortunately, we were forced to run through the chain of emergency equipment and use every safety item we had on board. Every item except for our life raft (thank goodness).

I am incredibly grateful for every single piece of equipment we used, which was thoughtfully provided by the Shoreseeker Challenge. Because it meant we were able to get ourselves to safety before any grave injury happened. We, the crew of SS2, were living our worst case scenario and that is a mental exercise I don’t often get to run through, even while living and cruising on a boat full-time.

But we did it and we survived, unharmed.

It is a fact of life that sometimes things go wrong, even when you’ve planned and prepared for everything to go right. And when that happens, you need to pull out all the emergency stops. That’s what the safety equipment and rescue resources are there for.

I don’t regret taking advantage of all the resources we had at our disposal when things went terribly and unexpectedly wrong on the Mediterranean.

The only thing I regret is that I didn’t write everything down in the logbook as it was happening. Because now, more than ever, I can see why that silly little logbook is so important: it’s a window into a moment that you can never truly revisit unless you’ve written it all down.

Shoreseeker Challenge crew of Cheeky MonkeyRyan and all the rowing crew that were transferred safely to Bosa, Sardinia on board Cheeky Monkey.

post-line-divide

An update from me, Tasha, the nutcase who writes on this blog…occasionally

Hey everyone!

I have an exciting announcement! This week I will be starting a regular newsletter of informal updates about what I’m up to, where I am in the world (even my mother can’t keep track of me, so that really is insider info), and anything exciting I might be busting to tell you about on a regular basis.

I want this newsletter to be something very different from my blog, which is my space to tell stories about my adventures sailing around the world. I see this newsletter as more of a direct letter to you, my readers and friends, telling you briefly and informally about the stuff that’s going on in the background. You know, any mad challenges I’ve taken on but haven’t told my readers (or mother) about yet, musings on plans we’re mulling over, pictures of my cats in costumes or anything, really, so long as I’m excited to share it with you.

So if that sounds like something you’re on board with, subscribe to my newsletter by clicking below:

Click HERE to subscribe to Turf to Surf email updates 🙂

I promise not to disappoint. Well, unless you’re not a fan of cats in funny costumes. Then I might totally disappoint you. But, hell, you never know until you try, right?

And if you haven’t subscribed to our brand-spanking-new YouTube Channel, Chase the Story, for regular updates on videos made on board s/v Cheeky Monkey, then you’ve got some extra clicking to do — right here, at this link below:

Chase the Story: click HERE to subscribe!

Thanks, everyone, for all your support. You’ll be hearing from me soon!*

Love,

Tasha

*That is, if you subscribe to my newsletter. If not, who knows when you’ll hear from me next because, lord knows, I’m behind on my blog updates. But I swear I have a good reason for it (you’ll just have to subscribe to the newsletter to find out why). See what I did there?

The Shoreseeker Challenge: Rowing Across the Mediterranean

the shoreseeker challenge barcelona sardinia mediterranean

The first time our rowboat capsizes, I am completely unprepared for such a violent experience.

Though, it’s true, I imagined this moment many times in flutters of pre-race panics, I also convinced myself that my fears were irrational, that the images in my head of being trapped underwater, held down by the weight of a rolled-over boat, were exaggerations; byproducts of my anxiety about the latest adventure I’d signed up for: to row 300 miles across the Mediterranean Sea.

The Shoreseeker Challenge is an inaugural race – the first of its kind — from Barcelona, Spain to Bosa, Sardinia, and the challenge I’ve accepted is to get from one side to the other with the sheer strength and determination of myself and four other rowers — three women and two men — racing three other boats to become the first rowboat to ever cross the Mediterranean unassisted.

The wave that rolls us upside down hits like a clap of thunder on the port side of the boat and before I can get my hands up to my face, my forehead smashes against the VHF radio unit, cracking open a reservoir of cold panic that dumps a stream of dark thoughts from my brain before my mouth has a chance to react.

My teammate Claire and I are coiled in a tangled, defensive ball as we smash into each other and slam into every wall of our rowboat cabin in breathless silence, my mind spinning like a cog trying desperately to dig its broken teeth into some shred of what’s happening. As I land on top of Claire, who is jammed against the ceiling, it starts to sink in that we are upside down. And the spinning reel of my mind rests on one thought. “Fuck. This is happening.”

Then, with a shuddering exhale, I think, “But we’re okay. We’re alive.”

As the boat rights itself, throwing me and Claire across the cabin before jerking us back into our starting position, I grab the left side of my head, the spot that’s now searing with pain. I pull my hand away to see if there’s blood, and there’s none. I look to Claire to see if she’s hurt. She is covered in the soggy, strewn contents of the cabin, and she looks scared, but unharmed.

My mind continues to spin. “If that was my worst nightmare, then what is the next worst thing that can happen?”

We’ve been watching the waves and the wind build for 24 hours since we put out our sea anchor, but we felt confident the storm would eventually pass. From the moment our parachute anchor was set, biting into the waves to keep our bow pointed into them, we were slammed with torrential rain, thunder, lightning and frightening winds which spiraled up to speeds of 50-60 mph. But, through it all, we believed our boat was secure, that our anchor would keep us safe.

Now, my mind is stretching beyond the capsize, wondering how the events of the next 24 hours will play out.

*********************

tom salt mike burton talisker whisky challengeMike Burton & Tom Salt, winners of the 2014 Talisker Whisky Challenge

When I first got in touch with Tom Salt, the co-founder and inspiring force behind Locura Adventures, I knew nothing about the plans he’d cooked up to launch the Shoreseeker Challenge in the Mediterranean in September 2015. I’d merely called him to talk about his experience winning the 2014 Talisker Whiskey Challenge, the 3,000-mile rowing race across the Atlantic, which he won with a former Clipper Race teammate, Mike Burton, in a two-man rowboat, beating their nearest competitor to the Caribbean by nearly a week.

And the reason I called Tom for a chat was because the Atlantic row was something I was considering doing myself.

At the time, I was in the UK taking part in a much tamer challenge to row 50 miles around the Isle of Wight with a team of 8 women, most of whom I knew through my participation in the 2013-14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. And since Tom also did the Clipper Race, we share some common friends and, as it turns out, a common love for seeking endurance challenges that test the human spirit.

About a month after that phone call, Tom sent me an email saying he had co-founded an adventure company and was in the process of building four ocean-going rowboats for the purpose of launching an inaugural race across the Mediterranean, and he needed willing participants.

I thought about it for a few seconds before shooting back my reply: “I’m in.”

If crossing the Atlantic was the ultra-marathon of rowing races, then rowing across the Mediterranean was a mere 10k uphill run, in my mind. It requires a certain level of fitness, but not the kind of training that could take over your entire life.

And as far as risk was concerned, it wasn’t the kind of adventure that was likely to end in a helicopter rescue. Or so I thought.

*********************

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5808.Nick, looking out at Aggie, sitting on deck for anchor watch.

“Holy shit, Aggie!” I scream, as Claire and I scramble to right ourselves and get our bearings. I’m reaching for the hatch when there’s a deafening crack as another wave smashes over the port side.

I quickly wipe away the condensation on the hatch with the back of my hand and press my face against the glass to see if I can spot Aggie outside in the pitch black of night.

I can see a body folded in half over the starboard lifeline and I’m wondering how many surfaces Aggie might have hit on her way around, how long she had to hold her breath underwater or if she’d broken any bones.

Just a few hours earlier, as lightning streaked the sky, I wondered as I sat on deck whether rotating crew outside for anchor watch was like playing Russian Roulette. And now it seems Aggie was the one to get the unlucky bullet.

I want to open the hatch and talk to Aggie, but I realize if a wave rolls us while the hatch is open, the boat will most definitely sink.

As I squint in the dark, I see Aggie move and climb onto deck from her folded position over the lifeline. But instead of heading towards the bow hatch, I see Aggie is now crawling on all fours towards the center of the boat.

“Is she coming this way?” I say to Claire.

I watch and anticipate Aggie’s arrival to the stern hatch, but she suddenly stops mid-deck and starts pushing the strewn oars to the side of the boat and placing the rowing seats back in their tracks.

“What is she doing?!” I shout.

“She looks like she’s…tidying up?” says Claire. “Maybe she’s in shock?”

My brain is exploding with terror, realizing we might roll again with Aggie hanging out mid-deck, doing the housekeeping. So I grab hold of the hatch and throw it open.

“Aggie, get inside the fucking cabin! NOW!” I scream. She looks up at me, startled, and mumbles something into the rain as I pull the hatch closed again. To my relief, she crawls back towards the bow cabin and, when the hatch opens, she is swallowed up and away from the angry sea.

*********************

ss2 shoreseeker challenge pizzaThe team of SS2 ate their body weight in pizza in the days before the race.

The night before the start of the Shoreseeker Challenge in Barcelona, I can barely sleep. My mind is racing back and forth between a catalog of items I’ve probably forgotten to pack and all the ways I could possibly get injured on this 300-mile row. If anyone is going to have a medical emergency in the middle of the sea, it’s going to be me, I think.

Ryan has seen me in a pre-race frenzy enough times now to know there isn’t much he can do to calm me down; this is just something I go through before any big challenge.

He calmly assures me, “It’s going to be okay. I’ll be out there and I’ll be sending you weather forecasts so you know what to expect.”

And though it doesn’t quell my usual pre-race jitters, it does comfort me to know he will be physically out there on the water, following my boat across the Mediterranean on our catamaran, Cheeky Monkey.

This was never the original plan, but like all our craziest ideas, the plan for Cheeky Monkey to volunteer at the last minute as the Shoreseeker Challenge’s second support boat was formed on a night out in Barcelona over several pints of beer and a few shots of tequila. I wasn’t there for the drunken conversation between Ryan, Tom Salt and his crew, but before I could tell Ryan I was fading and it was time to go home, the guys proudly announced, “Cheeky Monkey is sailing to Sardinia! Woo hoo!”

Most people wouldn’t bank on plans made over shots of tequila. But I know Ryan well enough to know he’s probably already assigned jobs to Tom’s crew and, by morning, the guys will be hungover, but they’ll be in full swing, prepping Cheeky Monkey for a last-minute Mediterranean crossing.

And this was a welcome reassurance because it meant, (1) I no longer had to book a hotel in Sardinia (something I’d forgotten to do in my pre-race frenzy), and (2) there would be one more boat on the water looking out for us in case things went wrong.

But what could possibly go wrong?

*********************

The morning of the race start, I am due to be at my boat at 8 am sharp, but I’m running ten minutes late, as usual.

I am an emotional wreck as I make my way through the marina, but I also know the sooner I start rowing, the sooner I can put all my nervous energy into pulling on the oars.

By the time I arrive, the rowboat dock in OneOcean Port Vell is buzzing with fifteen rowers rushing around, stowing away the last of their 200 liters of water and dehydrated food packets. Our skipper, Rob, is in the stern cabin of SS2, plotting our course to Sardinia and making sure the autopilot is working.

Claire, Nick, Aggie and I, the crew of SS2, are pacing up and down the docks nervously, sizing up our competition and waiting for our final race briefing. Though we seem to be one of the more organized boats on the dock, I can’t help but wonder if my team is at a disadvantage when it comes to size and brawn. After all, we are the only mixed-gender crew in the race and the women on board, including myself, look small and slight next to the men.

The only other five-man rowboat, SS1, is full of hardy-looking endurance athletes who have talked openly about their rock-climbing, marathon and Ironman experiences, and though there is very little boating experience amongst them, they seem like the type who can muscle their way through any challenge.

The other two boats in the race are three-man rowboats, one of which only has two rowers, which sounds like a severe disadvantage until I learn that the two guys, Nick and Ed, competed against Tom Salt in the Talisker Whisky Challenge across the Atlantic. Their Atlantic crossing was derailed 10 days in when they pitch-poled, surfing down a mammoth wave, and they had to be rescued by an oil tanker. But I figure these two guys have a leg up on the rest of us since they’re the only rowers in this race who actually know what this experience is going to be like.

The last three-man rowboat has three muscly endurance athletes on board and they are dressed neck-to-ankle in Lycra, which tells me they are possibly taking this challenge more seriously than my team is, if you go by appearances. Nick and I are sporting matching $5 golf visors we bought yesterday in a Decathlon sports shop and Aggie is sporting a floppy, brown sun hat, like the kind you’d wear gardening.

But I should know better than to think appearances mean anything when it comes to uncharted endurance tests of this kind. What the mind is capable of pushing the body through is not something that can be judged by a person’s clothing or physique.

When the gun fires at the start line, SS1, the five-man boat I am convinced are our toughest competition, struggle so badly to steer their boat in a straight line that they nearly run into us. We are able to pull away from them at the last minute and avoid a collision, but shortly after, we watch in confusion as SS1 veers off in the opposite direction, rowing back towards the start line they just crossed.

Our next competitor, the brawny boat of Spandex-clad endurance athletes, stays up alongside us for the first ten miles, pushing us to maintain a mean pace of 4.5 knots in smooth seas. We are working hard to keep our lead, fully aware that this is a marathon and not a sprint, but we are anxious to get moving, so it doesn’t feel foolish to set a tough pace from the beginning.

The seas are calm and the sun is beating down on our necks as we slowly pull away from Barcelona. And it occurs to me that I’ve never done a landfall in anything smaller than a sea-worthy sailboat; I have no idea what it is like to be in a tiny rowboat and not see land for six days.

As I start to row, I feel a calm start to wash over me. I’m glad to put my body to work and give my mind a rest after three days of carb-loading (i.e. stuffing my face with pizza) and incessant worrying. With nothing else to look at but the horizon, I glance over at the three-man boat keeping pace with us to see which one of us is gaining.

And as I watch the guys pulling their oars in sync alongside us, a dark gray fin pops up in the narrow gulf of water between the two boats.

“Dolphins!” I scream. I want to wave at the guys on the other boat to tell them to look, but I can’t take my hands off the oars without falling out of sync. So, instead, I just watch the dolphins swim alongside us, cutting through the smooth, glittery surface of the sea, and smile.

Already this is shaping up to be an adventure like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

*********************

DCIM100GOPROG0015243.

Twenty-four hours into the race, we have covered seventy miles and we are so far ahead that we’ve lost all the other rowboats on AIS. We have no idea what their positions are, but we keep rowing hard while the seas are relatively flat to make sure no one catches up. We can see from the weather forecast that the winds are going to kick up 15-20 knots on the nose, so within a few hours, rowing will get considerably tougher.

Our team policy is to put out the sea anchor only if we can’t maintain at least 1.0 knot of speed. So when the seas are calm and the rowing is easy, we pull hard on the oars to gain distance. When the seas are rough and choppy, we pull hard on the oars to keep from having to put out our sea anchor. It quickly becomes clear that there is no rest for the weary when the only way to move the boat is to row.

As the sun drops lower in the sky on the second day, the winds increase and the waves become harder to penetrate. But with three rowers on, we’re maintaining at least 2.5 knots, so we stick to the mantra of “Slow and steady wins the race.”

It’s not until the end of the day, when a VHF radio call comes through telling us that all the other boats have dropped out of the race and are now being towed either by Sottlo, the 41-foot Beneteau support boat, or Cheeky Monkey, that we start to analyze the conditions we’re rowing in.

It is hard work to keep moving and stay in sync when short, choppy waves are knocking us in the side. But giving up is simply not an option. We came here to row across the Mediterranean and unless our rudder falls off or the boat starts sinking, there is no reason to stop trying. So we digest the news that we are the only boat left in the race, and we keep pulling on the oars, rotating two hours on the rowing seat and two hours down below sleeping.

By the end of each two-hour rowing shift, my shoulders are on fire and I’m glistening with sweat. But I get through it by mentally breaking my watch up into sections.

The first ten minutes are the warm-up. My sore hands, back and shoulders are like rusty machine parts in need of lubrication. I get my body moving as quickly as possible to shake off the cobwebs and work out the kinks in my muscles. After ten minutes of rowing in time to the beat of Rihanna and Taylor Swift, the soreness in my hands starts to fade and my knees stop creaking like rusted hinges.

Thirty minutes into the row, I put my oars down to drink some water and spoon a few bites of rehydrated chili con carne or chicken tikka masala into my mouth. The taste of the food doesn’t matter as much as the fuel it provides to my tired muscles. I stick to the rule of eating little and often to keep my energy up without making myself sick on the dense, spicy high-calorie sludge I’m spooning into my guts.

The paramount rule the team abides by is to always keep the boat moving. This applies to bathroom breaks, watch change-overs, repairs, eating, drinking, bandaging up blisters and applying sunscreen. There is at least one person rowing at all times.

An hour into the watch, I start to feel the strain on my shoulders and back, so I shift my butt on the rowing seat and consciously arch my back to move the pressure down from my upper back to my lower back. I become more conscious about pushing off with my legs and keeping my arms straight to lessen the strain on my upper body. With just an hour left to go, I glance at my watch every five minutes, counting down the minutes until I can lay my head down, fall asleep and recover for another two hours.

The last half hour of my watch, I pick up the pace and start pulling harder since I only have a short time left to make a difference. If I’m rowing with Nick or Aggie, I can count on them to belt out Taylor Swift with me at the top of their lungs, which entertains and distracts me from the soreness in my shoulders as we start to pick up the pace.

The last ten minutes is when I pull on the oars with everything I have. My shoulders are full of pins and needles and my hamstrings feel like rubber bands stretched to the point of snapping, but I have two whole hours ahead to recover from the work I put in. The harder we work now, the faster we go, and the better I will sleep on the hot, sticky mattress that’s festering inside our steamy, airless cabin.

Morale on the boat is high because the pressure to win has been relieved: all we need to do now is simply make it to Sardinia and we win.

How hard can that be?

When the waves start hitting us in the side, we dig deeper and adjust our rowing technique to drive one oar in first, then the other. We pull the oars in short, sharp strokes to keep the boat moving at a steady pace.

This routine continues for 150 miles and five days, as the wind continues to hit us on the nose. But every day, we grow stronger and more capable, and every day we laugh, sing, complain and share stories to get each other through the long minutes of our endless two-hour watches.

We are like human pistons in a well-oiled engine. Each of us is learning what it is like to treat our bodies like a machine with one purpose: to row.

In my real life, I never have the luxury of focusing on just one job. My life consists of a million distractions from the many important jobs I’m always trying to complete. There’s emails to answer, bills to pay, social media to update, news to read, calls to answer and people to check up on; and all of this and more persists and vies for my attention while I try to focus on the actual work I have to do.

Here, on the rowboat, I have just one job, and everything I do applies to that job. If I go to the bathroom and my piss is orange, I need to drink more water. If I’m sluggish on the oars, I need to consume more food, more sugar. If I don’t sleep in my two hours off, my body hurts when I row. If I sleep a full hour and a half, I can row hard for another two hours. My body is a sensitive gauge of everything that is going right or wrong with my performance on the oars.

On our second night at sea, I am staring up at the night sky, wondering why it’s suddenly gone dark as I come up on deck. A shadow creeps slowly over the moon until it goes completely black, leaving a perfect circle of light burned into the black night.

All five crew are on deck for watch changeover, which takes longer than usual because we are all gazing up at the sky with our mouths open. It takes a few minutes to register, but before long we realize we are getting a breath-taking view of a lunar eclipse over the Mediterranean Sea.

As the on-watch crew gingerly stand up from their rowing seats, I can see they are exhausted and dripping with sweat. They look as if they couldn’t do another five minutes on the oars and yet there is a blanket of contentment draped over the entire team.

I am massaging the stinging blisters on the palms of my hands, anticipating the pain of the next two hours on the oars. And yet it occurs to me that there is no other place in the world I’d rather be in this very moment.

ss2 shoreseeker challenge mediterraneanSottlo checking up on us, towing a rowboat behind it.

*********************

Once Claire and I recover from our tumble inside the boat, we wedge our bodies as far down as possible into the shallow space that runs under the rowing deck, as it’s the narrowest space on the boat, whereas the rest of the cabin is a wide open cavern of danger just waiting for us to fly across it when it rolls over.
I keep staring at my watch because the last message I received from Sottlo, our support boat, said they would reach us by dawn. The sky is still dark, but if I remember correctly, the sun comes up around 7:30. It’s now 5:30.

When our boat got turned upside down, I was in the middle of writing an email to Ryan on my Iridium Mail & Web app, saying I was a little scared but we were looking forward to the storm passing so we could start rowing again. But that email never got sent because I, along with my phone, went flying through the air.

And now my hands are too cold and wet to work my iPhone. I try wiping my hands on my sports bra inside my shirt, as it’s the only thing in the cabin that’s remotely dry, but my fingers are like sponges, retaining water and interfering with my touch screen.

“Shit! We need to get in touch with Tom,” I say to Claire.

I desperately click on my Iridium Go! app to make a call, but the call fails. I can hear Tom but Tom can’t hear me. My only hope to communicate is to send a text message, but I have to pound my fingers on the screen ten times just to get the app to open.

“Should we hit the SOS on the Iridium?” Claire asks, holding up our skipper’s phone, which shows the battery is down to 20%.

I glance at the boat battery levels. One battery is down to 7 volts, and the other is at 11.86 volts, which means we have nothing to spare to charge the phones or the Iridium. We haven’t had any sun to power our batteries in over 24 hours and I don’t know how much longer they will hold out, or how much charge the Iridium battery has left. I nod to Claire to hit the SOS on her Iridium app and I open up the app on my dying phone, trying as fast as I can to send a text before all our batteries die.

“My hands are too wet!” I say, tapping furiously on my iPhone.

I keep wiping my hands inside my shirt and tapping one letter at a time, then wiping my hands again. It takes me over a minute just to type two words and hit send. I’m worried if I try to type a long message before hitting send and the Iridium dies, then we’re screwed. At least if I get a short message to Tom one at a time before the Iridium dies, then he’ll at least have part of the story of what’s happening to us.

The 3 messages I send are:

“Just capsized.”
“Very scared.”
“Please advise.”

As soon as the third message is sent, the battery dies on the Iridium and the device goes black.

“At least they know,” I say to Claire. “All we can do now is wait.”

Claire and I huddle together, bracing ourselves for the next wave and trying to protect our heads from the sharp corners inside the cabin. I am terrified that the worst is yet to come, but instead I tell Claire, “The first thing they teach you in sea survival is to stay with the boat. As long as we are on this boat, inside the cabin, we will be okay.”

I’m telling myself this as much as I’m trying to reassure Claire.

“Tell me how you met Tim,” I say to Claire in an effort to distract our worried minds by focusing on happier things than our current situation. Talking helped us pass the time when we were rowing. And now, more than ever, we need time to pass quickly so the sun will come up and we can formulate a plan in the light of day.

But as Claire is telling me the story of how she met her husband at university, my mind is running through a dozen scenarios of what could happen next.

What if Sottlo can’t get to us? What if something’s happened to them? And even if they do get here, what can they do? What if we start taking on water? When do we set off the EPIRB? Why is no one responding on the VHF? Did I break the radio when I hit it with my head? Who else can help us out here? A cargo ship? How would we even get onto a cargo ship?

I am acutely aware of the sound a wave makes when it has the power to knock us over. It starts with a low rumble from a distance and then hits with a sudden and loud explosion above our heads on the port side, lifting the boat in a way that causes me to throw my arms around Claire, half trying to protect her and half as an instinct to grab on to something before we go flying.

The inside of my mouth is covered with a thick, sticky film. I need water, but I’m unwilling to risk going out on deck to get water from the lockers, so all I can do is build up saliva in my mouth and swallow it to keep from feeling thirsty.

As the wave action slows down momentarily, rocking our hot airless cabin back and forth like a cradle, Claire and I are lulled to sleep in our huddled positions on the floor.
I don’t know how long we’ve been asleep for when suddenly I’m jolted awake by a wave smashing into us, throwing me into Claire.

“I was having a horrible dream,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “But then I woke up and I remembered where I was – on this fucking boat!” I start laughing and, soon, Claire is laughing, too, until we’re both wiping tears of hysteria from our eyes.

It seems ridiculous that we can laugh about anything at a time like this, but there is something funny about waking up from a nightmare and realizing that what you’re living is worse than anything that’s trying to kill you in your dreams. This nightmare is real and there is no way to wake up from it.

The next wave that smashes into us, hits with a force that we know is going to roll us. We’ve been huddled up in preparation for it, so we wrap our arms instinctively around our heads as we tumble like two rag dolls being thrown around inside a tumble drier.

It is 6:45 am and the sun is just starting to come up. My entire body is trembling as I fumble with the Iridium, swearing at it for going dead. Claire turns on the chart plotter to see if any boats have turned up on AIS, but when nothing appears, she turns off the instruments to conserve our batteries.

“Sottlo, Sottlo, Sottlo. This is SS2. We just capsized. Do you read me?”

No reply.

I stare at the VHF, willing it to make a sound. After ten minutes of silence, I turn off the chart plotter and the radio.

And, for the first time since we started rowing, I start to cry.

*********************

There is a rumbling sound above our heads, like that of an engine, which sends me and Claire into a frenzy of confused chatter.

“What is that noise? A ship?”

Claire opens up the hatch to get a closer look just as our skipper, Rob, emerges from the bow cabin and starts waving his hands frantically at the sky.

“Holy shit!” I scream. “A helicopter?!”

In all my calculations of what we might have to do next to get ourselves out of this predicament, I never factored in the possibility of a helicopter. And now my mind is racing through the chain of possible reactions that were set off by our VHF distress, the SOS on the Iridium and the text messages I sent to Tom.

Rob makes his way over to the stern cabin and says to us, calmly, “There’s a rescue helicopter here. Leave everything behind but bring your life jacket. I have your passports in the ditch bag.”

Claire and I climb onto deck and sit down next to Rob, Nick and Aggie, mesmerized by the giant white and red chopper hovering over us. This is the first time all five of us have been together for what feels like days and I’m almost giddy with joy that the torture we’ve endured for the last thirty hours is about to end.

I can see Rob’s head is bleeding from a cut on his forehead, but Nick and Aggie look physically unharmed, though their expressions reveal mixed feelings of relief and disappointment. We held on to the hope for so long that we could start rowing again. And this helicopter hovering overhead marks the definitive end of what we have worked so hard for over the last 5-6 days. This helicopter means we failed.

But we are also smiling and squeezing each others’ hands reassuringly because, though we failed in our rowing mission, this helicopter also means the end of our fears that something worse could happen.

*********************

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5826.Me and my teammate Nick, posing in front of our rescue helicopter.

When our helicopter touches down in Menorca, I give our rescuer, a jovial Spanish guy named Hugo, a big hug and thank him for his bravery. He asks all of us to smile for a photo and then takes out his iPhone so we can connect on Facebook and tag each other in our rescue selfies.

“Just don’t tag me until I get a chance to call my mom, okay?” I say to Hugo. “I’d hate for her to find out about this on Facebook.”

Now that I am safe with my feet on solid ground, the feeling of disappointment that the race didn’t go differently is overwhelming.

“Do you think we could have continued if we didn’t get rescued?” I say to Rob.

He shakes his head with a look of someone who is disappointed, but has accepted reality. “We were in bad shape,” says Rob. “And it was only going to get worse. There was another big storm on its way when we got pulled out of there.”

I nod my head, trying to picture what it would be like if we were still on that boat as another storm rolled over us; if we ended up having to wait another 24-48 hours in those conditions. Could we really have rowed after that?

Now that I’m dry and warm I feel like we could have done anything. I forget how scared I felt; it seems like a distant memory now, that feeling of fear that bit at my insides and made me regret that I ever stepped onto my boat in the first place. How could I so quickly forget the terror of being upside down in the middle of the sea, 150 miles from land?

As I stand in line at the Ryan Air counter at the airport, trying to book a flight back to Sardinia to meet Ryan and Cheeky Monkey, I connect to WiFi and watch as my phone lights up with one incoming message after another.

There are hundreds of emails and at least 10 Facebook messages to respond to, but one text in particular catches my eye.

It is a vague message fishing for information about my experience on the race from Barcelona to Sardinia; the message asks how I’m feeling about the whole experience. I snort involuntarily and shake my head as I read over the rest of the message.

“You’re never going to believe this,” I say to the guys on my team. “Someone’s just asked if I want to join their boat for the second race from Sardinia to Barcelona.”

“What, this race? The one we just got off?” Aggie says, laughing. “That’s crazy!”

There must have been a mischievous twinkle in my eye as I shook my head, reading over the message again, because Rob says, “You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?”

I’m shaking my head as if to convince myself that I’d never consider getting on another rowboat in the Mediterranean. But even as I’m shaking my head, a knowing smile spreads across my face. Because standing here, safe and secure on dry land, I remember only the adventure that was. I am reliving the experience of rowing under the stars and believing my team would become the first to row across the Mediterranean. I remember the feeling of pushing the boundaries of what I ever thought I was capable of.

It is the adventure I am revisiting, as I stand barefoot in the airport, reeking of body od0r, with torn-up hands, wearing a Salvamento Maritimo rescue T-shirt.

But it is the failure that leaves me wanting more.

And all I can say to Rob is, “Well, I still haven’t done it, have I?”

Shoreseeker 2We made the news in Spain. The day we got rescued, 2 sailboats were also evacuated and abandoned on the Mediterranean. Menorca saw record wind speeds of 75 mph.

post-line-divide

Shoreseeker Challege, Race 2

Probably still high on adrenaline, Tasha did, in fact, respond to that message she received in the airport and went to Sardinia to join the second Shoreseeker Challenge out of Bosa, again with Ryan and Cheeky Monkey following as race support.

Again, the Mediterranean got hit with a storm and, again, Tasha’s boat, SS2, waited out the storm on sea anchor for over 24 hours while Tasha seriously reconsidered her poor life choices.

Because of the pending weather for Race 2 on the Mediterranean, the race was shortened by 100 miles and re-routed to finish in Menorca instead of Barcelona. And because of a great deal of bad luck involving one lost rowboat and a series of unrelated medical injuries the morning of the race start, only two rowboats carrying five rowers each were able to start the race out of Sardinia.

Tasha’s team on Race 2 decided to abandon the race halfway through, after spending 24 hours on sea anchor, despite pleas not to give up. Tasha was out-numbered four to one in the vote to quit, so SS2 took a tow to Sardinia.

SS1, however, carried on and completed the 200-mile challenge, arriving to Mahon, Menorca after roughly six days at sea, proving that completing the challenge was, in fact, possible.

The challenge to row across the entire Mediterranean Sea is still out there for the taking and, as you’ve probably guessed, Tasha is still thinking about it.

Sailing to Spain: A Homecoming

When we pull into Cala Benirras in Ibiza, after 1400 nautical miles and eleven days at sea, it’s hard to fathom where exactly we are in the world and how far we’ve come. It feels warm and familiar, like we could be pulling up to any island in the Caribbean.

It’s the closely packed boats full of naked people that remind us we are, in fact, in Europe. Specifically, in an adorable hippie harbor off the northwest coast of Ibiza.

   sailing cruising spain turf to surf travelI doubt our friends in Spain expected us to sail over to visit them.

This is the first time we’ve dropped Cheeky Monkey‘s anchor by ourselves, so we’re a little nervous as we scramble into our usual places — me at the helm, Ryan at the bow.

As a naked German guy stands up on deck with his hands on his hips, shouting something in our direction, I immediately get nervous, assuming this is going to be like every anchoring experience I’ve had in North America and the Caribbean where an old guy glares at us from across the water, waits until after we’ve dropped anchor and reversed on her to tell us everything we’ve done wrong, insisting that we pull up our anchor and move elsewhere, as in nowhere near him.

It usually provokes an argument between me and Ryan, where I insist on leaving the anchor exactly where it is, mainly because we’re not too close, and I know how we swing, but more just to make a point and piss off the pompous guy with his hands on his hips. Meanwhile, Ryan cringes as his foundation in good British manners threatens to crumble if we ignore the yelling man and refuse to move. “Let’s just anchor somewhere else. It will be less trouble.”

“What do you mean? It’s lots of trouble to pull up this anchor without a windlass and move just because some asshole wants the harbor to himself!” I shout.

But we always end up moving. And I end up suspecting every old guy standing on deck with his hands on his hips is an unhelpful, pompous git.

I am forced to recalibrate my assumptions, however, when I pull into our tightly packed anchorage in Benirras, Ibiza, and I am trying to decipher what the German guy is saying while also trying not to stare at his balls swinging freely in the wind.

As I look closer, I see the naked guy has a smile on his face and he is waving his hands towards him, as if to say “come closer”. And then I make out the words carried on the wind, as he shouts, “There is a good sandy spot right here. Come closer and anchor here!”

And immediately my heart melts. I nod and wave as my shoulders relax and I return to concentrating on where to drop anchor so we fall back on the ideal spot where we have just enough room to swing among the monohulls without hitting anyone. Already I like cruising in these waters.

Returning to Spain feels kind of like a homecoming.

It is where Ryan and I lived before the madness of the last 8 years in New York City began, and it’s a place I remember when I try to revisit a time when I had more time, less money, and I liked the easygoing pace of my life.

It is where we got married on a windy day 10 years ago on top of a cliff in Ronda, just behind an old bull ring and overlooking the valleys of Andalucia.

tasha ryan wedding ronda spain 2005One of the many reasons Spain is special to me.

This exact bay was also where we fled to for a weekend of decompression two years ago, right after Ryan and I finished our final race training before the start of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

Spain has always offered the lifestyle that I have aspired to return to — a life full of friends and family and ample time to enjoy good food, beautiful wine and meandering conversations that never want to end.

Ryan gives a thumbs up to the anchor being set and starts walking back from the bow when I have to blink twice to get a better look at what is happening behind Ryan, as it doesn’t seem possible. The German guy, who I am sure was just on the blue-hulled boat off our starboard bow is now standing on the deck of another monohull, running back and forth frantically as the boat drifts towards the rocks.

“Hey, isn’t that the German guy from the other boat?” I say to Ryan, as he turns to look where I’m pointing.

The guy must have seen me pointing because he shouts in my direction, “This isn’t my boat! The anchor dragged and it was all the way over there, about to hit the rocks. I have no idea where the owner is. He hasn’t been here all day!”

“Holy crap!” I shout, giving the guy a thumbs up. “Good thing you saw it! I wasn’t even paying attention! Is there anything we can do?”

“Tasha! Fenders! Grab the roving fender!” Ryan shouts, as the boat is now within 2 feet of our bow. I shove our big orange ball fender onto the starboard bow point, just as the boat makes impact with us. The fender, thankfully, stays in place and pushes the boat off for long enough that the German guy can run to the throttle and motor the stranger’s boat to safety.

After fifteen minutes of frantic activity, our German neighbor drops the drifting boat’s anchor, waits for it to settle, then dives off the side of the boat. He swims back to his boat, where a smiling naked woman waits for him on deck, saying “Muy bien,” patting the guy on the back once he is safely back on deck.

There is a drum circle beating from the corner of the little beach in Benirras, where there are two wooden structures in the sand, selling cocktails and food. There are no hotels or resorts; just a narrow road cutting up into the tree-covered hills. Women are lying topless in the sand, with arms outstretched, baring their breasts to the sun. Naked babies are sat in shallow puddles, running their fingers through the water and kicking their feet. A bearded guy, wearing nothing but a tool belt, is teetering on the stern of his little wooden sailboat, pulling tools from his hip to fix something on his boom.

elements benirras ibiza spain turf to surfElements, in Benirras, caters to chilled-out hippies and cruisers.

I’m sitting on our beanbag chair on the trampoline, hugging my knees, looking towards the beach and taking in where we are and how we got here. It’s been exactly ten years since we lived in Spain and one month since we moved aboard Cheeky Monkey.

Leaning back in the beanbag, I breathe in the salt air, slide my top over my head and bare my breasts to the sun.

Finally, I feel at home.

sunset benirras ibiza spain turf to surfThe sunsets in Benirras alone are worth anchoring here for.

Dodging a waterspout in Almerimar

cheeky monkey almerimar spain turf to surf

When Ryan wakes me up at 6 am for my watch, he looks tired and defeated.

“I’ve been motoring at full speed for the last four hours and we’ve made barely any headway,” he says. “And now we’re almost out of fuel.”

He shows me on the charts where we are. We’d passed Malaga a few hours earlier and the next harbor with a marina is a tiny port called Adra. As I zoom in on our charts to get a better look at the coastline, I’m bracing myself as we bounce and slam between waves just 2-3 seconds apart, our speed fluctuating on the GPS from 2 knots to a pathetic 1.1 with both engines running. It’s clear we won’t get far in these conditions even if we had a full tank of diesel.

We are 250 nm from Ibiza, and 1100 nm from La Rochelle, France, where we started, when we finally give up on bashing through the waves and plowing through the rain as the wind instruments show 45-knot gusts. We decide to pull into the port of Almerimar, a tiny tourist spot in Spaghetti Western country, shortly after speaking to a Volvo mechanic in nearby Almerìa on our SatPhone.

almerimar spainThe blue ball is where we are when we finally give up on pushing further.

Our warranty states that we have to get our engines serviced by a certified Volvo mechanic between 50-100 hours, and as we’ve just hit 65 hours on both engines, we decide now is as good a time as any to pull into port and get that job out of the way.

When we made the bold plan to sail 1350 miles from La Rochelle, France to Ibiza, Spain as our shakedown cruise on Cheeky Monkey, I had every belief that we wouldn’t get all the way to Ibiza in one shot. After all, we were talking about a 10-day journey, at best, when we’d never sailed more than 3 days with just the two of us on board.

It’s hard to say why we decided to embark on such a ridiculously long test-sail on Cheeky Monkey. It could have been the weather in La Rochelle, which was chilly and overcast for 3 weeks straight. It could have been our frustration at being stuck in La Rochelle because of our faulty Garmin autopilot. It could have been the fact that the longer we stayed in La Rochelle, the more we trips we took to Carrefour and Leroy Merlin, loading down the boat with enough supplies to survive World War III. Perhaps we simply thought it would take at least 10 days at sea to deplete the ridiculous amount of food we had stashed on board.

But I wasn’t worried about the ridiculousness of this no-stop-till-Ibiza plan because I never believed we would actually stick to the plan. I figured a number of things would go wrong, or cause us to pull into port before we reached Ibiza: the autopilot would fail as we crossed the Bay of Biscay, we’d get bored, we’d damage something crucial, I’d get grumpy and need a run, we’d read up on some heavenly location in Galicia or Portugal in our cruising guide and decide to pull off to have a look, or Cape Finisterre would whip up its usual frenzy of 40 knot winds and chaotic seas, forcing us to pull into A Coruña early on in our trip.

Any number of things were likely to happen before we successfully sailed all the way from La Rochelle to Ibiza without stopping. So I took the initiative to borrow a cruising guide and photograph the charts and harbor entry information for at least 15 ports between A Coruña and Gibraltar, just in case we needed to pull off somewhere. Which is why it’s funny that nothing went wrong until just after Gibraltar. Of course. It’s only after Gibraltar that we were deluged by what turned out to be a mammoth waterspout.

We are about a mile or two behind the waterspout when it blows through Adra and Almerimar, unbeknownst to us, taking out cell phone towers, tossing beach chairs into the sea, washing cars down the streets and yanking boats so hard against their lines that the cleats pop off like bottle tops and rain down on the neighboring docks.

puerto almerimar spain sailingJust a few hours before we docked here, this marina was being turned upside down.

Meanwhile, we have our sails tied down and our canvas zipped up as we grip the helm on Cheeky Monkey with sweaty palms, wondering why the hell the sky looks like the apocalypse has just descended upon us.

It’s only after we tie up to the fuel dock in Almerimar, where a few other boats  have pulled in for refuge just before us, that I overhear the marina employees talking animatedly about the “tornado” on the water. One of them had snapped a photo with his phone of the waterspout as it approached, and the guys were all huddled around the phone, sharing stories about what they saw when it hit Almerimar just a few hours before we got there.

almerimar spain waterspout september 2015This is the mobile phone photo that had everyone’s mouths hanging open.

While I am processing our paperwork with the marina, Ryan mumbles something about ice cream and disappears out the door. When he comes back with a half-eaten ice-cream cone in hand, he has a look of slight amusement on his face. “This town is weird,” he says. “And it is completely flooded.”

“Yeah,” one of the guys in the office remarks. “You’re lucky you were out there when it hit, and not in here. The marina was a mess.”

I also felt lucky that we weren’t just a few miles ahead of where we were when the waterspout hit. I’m not sure what something like that could do if it ran over our boat, but I wouldn’t want to find out.

So, though our journey to Ibiza has been cut short temporarily, today is definitely being recorded in the logbook as our lucky day.

tasha hacker almerimar cheeky monkey turf to surfWe’ve been at sea for 9 days, and it’s been a little crazy. So this is a welcome stop.

As the sun rises over Gibraltar

the sun rises over gibraltar turf to surf sailing

As the morning light starts to crack open the cloud-covered sky over the Strait of Gibraltar, I make Ryan a strong cappuccino and give him his 15-minute warning to start his watch.

We dropped our mainsail during the night, expecting to hit strong gusts and messy waves near Tarifa with sea states predicted to get worse as the ocean funneled us through the strait. But the high winds and rough seas never arrived, despite my vigilant lookout for them through the night.

I climb back up to the helm and sit quietly, looking out on the glassy sea as we glide calmly over its surface, the Rock of Gibraltar looming large ahead of us with Morocco to my right and Spain to my left, both of them so close I could probably swim from one side to the other.

Ryan is rubbing his eyes as he steps into the cockpit. “Oh my, is that Gibraltar?” He looks around sleepily and repeats “Wow!” over and over again, reminding me of the time in 2012 when we sailed our old boat, Hideaway, to Annapolis from New York. Ryan was practically jumping up and down in the cockpit, so excited that we’d sailed all by ourselves to the sailing capital of the U.S. He has that same look on his face now, overwhelmed with the thrill of sailing our own boat from France to the north coast of Africa.

ryan on deck cheeky monkey strait of gibraltarRyan looks less giddy in this photo, but it’s probably because he’s just woken up.

I’m too tired to speak, but the morning air is infused with Ryan’s giddiness and I realize I haven’t thought much about our geographical location and what a milestone it is to be sailing past Gibraltar on our own. I’ve just been motoring along all night as though it were the most normal thing in the world to just sail past Africa. We are approaching 1000 nm in one journey, something we’ve never done before on our own, in a part of the world we’ve never sailed before.

I was up all night, navigating between Spain and Morocco, but I hadn’t yet felt the wonder of what we were doing. Perhaps it was because, during the night, I received the tragic news that 49-year-old Andrew Ashman, a crew member and experienced yachtsman on the Clipper Round the World Race, died from an accident on board the IchorCoal boat. @ClipperRace tweeted that IchorCoal pulled into Porto, Portugal just a few hundred miles behind us, to get the crew to shore and, I’m sure, manage the emotional consequences of this accident.

clipper race burgee cheeky monkey turf to surfWe are thinking of Andrew as we fly our Clipper Race burgee.

All night, as I sat at the helm alone in calm waters, I thought about adventure and risk and the fear that rises from stories like Andrew’s in the hearts of people who believe adventurers to be foolhardy and selfish, taking risks with their lives and worrying their loved ones unnecessarily. To the unadventurous, those who take on extreme challenges can seem ungrateful, as though they are willfully taunting fate by stretching themselves towards the ceiling of human limitation.

I thought about Andrew’s family and how they, like my family, probably questioned why he wanted to take on such a crazy challenge as to race across treacherous oceans. What drove him to pursue such an uncomfortable endeavor? I wondered if Andrew gave his family the same arguments I gave mine: “Life is too short not to take advantage of such an exciting, mind-expanding opportunity. Hundreds of people do the Clipper Race every year, training very seriously for it, and no one’s ever died.”

I thought about how I repeated that same argument to myself before I stepped on board Henri Lloyd to race across the Southern Ocean, a body of water that evokes fear and awe in the guts of even the most experienced sailor. But I didn’t die. I didn’t even get hurt. I sustained a few bruises and a nasty rope burn and, in turn, I gained the skills and confidence to do what I’m doing right now: sail my own boat across oceans around the world.

With that confidence, the desire for more adventure grows and pulses with the beat of every new thrill, every stretch beyond what I thought I was capable of before. Every new experience strengthens the desire to do more, see more and fill the vessel of life with the dense cream of memorable experiences, filtering out the watery moments of boredom.

Sometimes that pursuit comes with risk.

As Ryan and I are standing on the bow of Cheeky Monkey, looking at the Rock of Gibraltar, with hot coffees in hand, I shriek, “Look!”

A pod of dolphins is coming straight towards us, but not in a way I’ve ever seen dolphins swim before. They are are standing up in the water with their flippers in the air and their tails moving quickly enough to keep their bodies suspended above the water by their tails alone. I can’t help but laugh and squeal as we watch this incredible feat of synchronized swimming from what feels like our own personal welcoming committee.

As the dolphins drop into the water and swim under the bow, popping up to play in the wake, I am bathed in a love for life that is much more intense than anything I’ve ever felt with my feet planted safely on solid ground.

To some, it sounds crazy, even dangerous, when I tell them I live on a boat; that I have no mailing address, no permanent phone number, no place on land I call home; that my travels are dictated by the weather and my moods; that I can’t tell you exactly where I’ll be next week or how long I’ll be out of sight of land; or that I choose to live this way.

But as the sun rises over the Rock of Gibraltar, I am sitting at the bow, contemplating the fact that, for me, this is how life is experienced to the fullest, with waves of intense joy lifted in proportion to the difficulty of each physical and mental challenge.

And I feel I have chosen wisely.

tasha on bow cheeky monkey strait of gibraltarWhat an incredible life this is.

Holy shit, we’re sailing around the world? (Thoughts on adventure and anxiety)

tasha hacker turf to surf sailing around the world cheeky monkey

When our Coast Guard registration papers for Cheeky Monkey finally arrive by FedEx, Ryan and I pop open some beers and dance around the cockpit while flashing our blue lights on and off like we’re some kind of floating disco tied to the Fountaine-Pajot docks in La Rochelle.

Once that silliness is out of the way, we settle down to write a final list of everything we need to do to get off the docks. Which is when my gut starts to gurgle with a familiar feeling of acid anxiety, something that always hits me before a new challenge or a big journey.

And it starts to sink in: we’re really doing this. Holy shit, this is it. Our boat is registered and, officially, there is nothing keeping us here anymore. We can leave right now, right this minute.

fountaine pajot helia 44 sailing around the world cheeky monkeyThis is Cheeky Monkey, our Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44. She is rarin’ to go.

Yet I haven’t been thinking about this trip as a reality at all. It’s been a vague dream, a hazy concept, for so long that my brain seems to have accepted that this journey would always lie somewhere on the horizon just beyond our reach.

And yet, here we are. This is happening now. We’re going to sail around the world.

Every time I say these words out loud, I shake my head a little. Because when it’s said in response to a simple question like, “What are your plans?” it sounds ridiculous and dramatic and incomprehensible. And because the reaction I get from strangers is often a raised eyebrow followed by a long pause as they try to formulate the next question, which is often something like, “But…where do you go to the bathroom?”

tasha hacker cheeky monkey sailing around the world helia turf to surfMaybe once the side of the boat is branded, too, it will sink in?

It’s moments like these, when I’m on the cusp of an enormous experience, that I feel like I’ve been sucker-punched in the head. It’s like I never saw this coming, even though we have been dreaming about this day for years. We’ve read countless books and blogs about cruising around the world, we’ve taken charter vacations in the British Virgin Islands to see if we liked cruising, then we sailed our own boat to the BVIs from New York, and we talked endlessly about where we’d go if we had the chance to circumnavigate the world. And then we sold our companies so we could do exactly what we’d been dreaming of doing all these years. So, really, the fact that this day has arrived should be anything but a surprise.

But this is the pattern of my life, which is woven from the threads of both adventure and anxiety, resulting in five distinct stages in how I pursue and deal with adventure:

Stage 1: Inspiration – I hear or read about a crazy and exciting challenge, like sailing across the Southern Ocean, running from Miami to Key West, rowing around the Isle of Wight, or anything that sounds slightly mad and/or physically difficult, and my brain goes, “Whoa, that sounds amazing.”

Stage 2: Decision – My brain says, “Seriously. That sounds amazing. Don’t you want to do that? Go on, do it!” And before I know it, I’ve emailed someone, registered through a web site or made a plan with Ryan or an insane friend to do some crazy challenge in the far-off future.

Stage 3: Denial – I mark the event in my calendar and resume my normal, busy routine as my brain says, “So, you’re really doing this, huh? Well, let’s not panic already…just kick back and forget about it for a while. No sense getting worked up now.”

Stage 4: Panic – The big challenge is soon approaching and I suddenly remember I have to buy gear, pack bags and plan out how I’m actually going to get to the start of this thing, as well as how I’m going to tackle the challenge itself. And panic starts to set in. The last-minute realization of what I’m about to do causes my emotions to spike and my brain to scream, “What the hell were you thinking?! YOU HAVEN’T THOUGHT THIS THROUGH!”

Stage 5: Thrill – I am in the middle of doing whatever crazy thing I signed up for when I was possibly hungover and not at all in my right mind, and my brain is flooded with endorphins and screaming, “Holy shit, am I really doing this? THIS IS AWESOME! WHAT A GREAT IDEA!!!”

row around the isle of wight turf to surfRowing around the Isle of Wight for 12 hours with 7 women was, in fact, a great idea.

Though the result of these five stages is often positive (except when it ends with me in the hospital) and leaves me feeling inspired to pursue other challenges, there is a short, rather intense period surrounding Stage 3 and 4 (Denial and Panic) that typically turns me into an emotional lunatic.

I blame the defense mechanism in my brain that tries to decrease my anxiety about taking on scary challenges by putting those challenges out of my mind until the last possible minute, which has the unfortunate result of leaving me stranded in the eleventh hour with a severe lack of concrete plans. And that backfires on the whole let’s-not-get-too-stressed phase by sky-rocketing my anxiety when the big challenge arrives and I am nowhere near ready and I’m scrambling to research what the hell it is I’ve signed up for, what I need to buy and how the hell I’m going to get to where I’m going.

If you could have been in my London hotel room the night before the start of the Clipper Round the World Race in September 2013, you would have witnessed me in full-fledged Stage 4 panic. There were bags all over the floor and I was desperately weighing my gear and bursting into tears when I couldn’t figure out how to fit my computer and camera gear, as well as all my warm clothing, into the tight weight restrictions on board Henri Lloyd.

Meanwhile, Ryan was neatly packed, drinking a beer and saying things like, “What are you so worked up about? Everything’s going to be fine.” But his words had absolutely no effect on the tornado of thoughts spinning around in my head, accelerated by mental images of me falling overboard, the mast crashing down in a storm or me cracking my head open somewhere on the Southern Ocean. Nothing could stop my mind from escalating the danger of what I was about to do.

It wasn’t until my boat left St. Katharine’s Docks and I watched London fade into the distance that my stomach started to settle and I could breathe easier. After all, there was no going back, so there was no point in worrying now. I had no choice but to accept my fate, live in the moment and take this journey as it comes, day by day, hour by hour.

tasha hacker clipper round the world raceI have to survive the panic in order to get to this: the thrill.

This is the part of any adventure that I love the most; it is what happens when Stage 5 finally takes over. As soon as my body is busy and moving, I relax and settle into a place where anxiety falls away and I have only the tasks at hand to concentrate on. It is in these moments when I am fully present in my mind and body, and I am tingling with the thrill of being exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to do in this very moment. I sweat and I smile and I forget all about the stress of the manic stage that came before it.

So, as I am running around Cheeky Monkey like a lunatic, washing, tidying and stowing things away, while also mumbling to myself that this boat isn’t ready yet, I am aware that the next stage is the one I really want to get to. I want to feel the thrill of this journey, not dwell in the panic.

And this has me thinking about the familiar pattern of anxiety that comes with every adventure for me, as it’s not just the beginning of our round-the-world sailing journey that’s sneaking up on me in less than twenty-four hours. (I know. Twenty-four freaking hours! I’m telling you, PANIC.) But also, in less than a month, I will be taking part in a 300-mile rowing race from Barcelona, Spain to Bosa, Sardinia. And yet my brain is in complete denial saying, “Chill! Relax! It’s a month away!” Which I know is a recipe for emotional mania as the race start date grows nearer and I have hardly put any thought into what gear I need to live in a rowboat for a solid week because I’ve been so busy working out what gear I need to live on a catamaran for the next five years.

The race is a pilot, the first of its kind run by Locura Adventures, which starts in Barcelona on September 23rd and will take five to seven days of non-stop rowing to complete in a five-man/woman boat. And as if that doesn’t sound hard enough, I’ve now managed to add another level to the challenge by attempting to get to Barcelona by sail power before the race start.

locura adventures tom saltLocura Adventures was recently founded by Tom Salt (right),  former Clipper Racer and 2014 winner of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Rowing Race along with partner Mike Burton. Crazy, right?

But as Cheeky Monkey’s departure date has been pushed later and later, delayed by our faulty Garmin autopilot and a number of other electrical problems, it’s possible we won’t make it to Barcelona, or Ibiza, where Ryan would like to hang out while I scramble to get myself to Barcelona. Which means there will be panic and anxiety surrounding the last-minute logistics of getting to this rowing race start, not to mention all the things that could go wrong on the first leg of this journey sailing around the world.

I am also aware that preparation is the key to a safe and comfortable journey, so now that we have Cheeky Monkey’s registration papers in our hands, we are delving into the details of where we want to go, what the weather is doing and what our bail-out ports are in case we hit bad weather or we need to stop for repairs before we get to Ibiza.

I’m now fully immersed in Stage 4, where my mind is going, “Holy shit, this is happening?!”

It’s making my stomach flip-flop and it’s compelling me to frantically research spots on the coast of Spain and Portugal while trying to run through a list of people I need to call and inform that this is actually happening.

There’s no point in asking the question, “When will I learn and get all this done earlier?” because it’s very possible I’ll never learn. But I recognize that there is a balance to getting the most out of an adventure. It is the right combination of planning and spontaneity that makes for the best experiences, the former of which I am desperately lacking.

Ryan, however, is great at being grounded in plans and outlines, which helps to remove some of the stress of the unknown, both for him and for me. He is good at writing and implementing action plans so that large goals can be broken down into small, digestible stages and so the task of preparing isn’t one big anxiety-ridden shock to the system.

The truth is, we are as prepared as we ever will be to start this journey. We’ve been working on and prepping Cheeky Monkey nonstop for the last month. It’s just that somewhere in the process of running around, buying food, practicing docking and installing and re-installing all our electronics, I forgot that the goal was to actually leave. So now that we’re on the eve of leaving, it suddenly feels like a colossal surprise.

cheeky monkey food provisioning turf to surfWe’ve been stocking up and working hard on getting Cheeky Monkey ready for sea.

We have a vague idea of where we’d like to sail to next — generally, in the direction of Ibiza, Spain — but we also know that the destinations aren’t the most important part of this journey we’re about to embark on. We may never reach the destinations we set out to visit; we may end up changing course completely. And it wouldn’t be the first time to happen. But we know that whatever happens next, it will be an adventure.

As the wise Ernest Hemingway said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

ryan cheeky monkey sailing around the worldNo one is more excited to get off the docks and get moving than Ryan.

The 80 Percent Rule

cheeky monkey fountaine pajot helia 44

Having spent the last seven years on an older (1986) sailboat, which has required us to replace pretty much every moving part on board (some of them twice), I’ve been feeling pretty darned smug about our new boat, s/v Cheeky Monkey. I mean, she is three weeks old. Three weeks! I have underwear older than this boat. Wait, what am I saying? Everything I have is older than this boat.

Which means, surely, we get to start this round-the-world journey with a 100% fully working, totally functioning boat, right?

Wrong.

When we first started cruising south from New York to the Caribbean in 2012, someone wisely told me if we could get 80% of our boat in working order, then we were good to go; the stats didn’t get any better than that. This turned out to be true, as we often found ourselves leaving ports with just 60% of the boat working, granted that 60% included the engine and the bilge pumps. But if we were trying to get 100% of the boat working before we left the dock, then we could forget about ever leaving the dock.

Little did I know this rule applies to new boats, as well.

You’re probably thinking that’s crazy. Surely, Fountaine-Pajot would not hand over a brand new boat from the factory that wasn’t 100% perfect, right?

Wrong again.

Unfortunately, buying a new boat isn’t quite like buying a new car. It’s a lot more complicated. There is stuff the factory is responsible for and there’s stuff the sales agent is responsible for. And sometimes messages get lost in the quadrangle between the customer, the factory, the agent and the people who are hired to do the post-factory work.

If this were a new car then, yes, it would be absolutely insane to pick up your brand new Mercedes Benz and be told, as the dealer hands you the keys, “She’s all yours! Oh, but there’s a few things I should mention…the driver’s side door handle fell off when we installed the door. We don’t have any more in stock at the moment, but when the factory gets back from vacation in a month, we’ll ship a new one out to you, no problem. Also, the speedometer was working yesterday, but now it’s not. Not sure why. But hey, check out the custom lighting! Pretty snazzy, huh?”

Then you stick your head through the window of your brand new Mercedes to look around and, as you are breathing in the pungent new car smell, you see a big blank space on the dashboard where you know there should be buttons. “But where is the stereo?” You ask, confused.

“Stereo?” The dealer says, putting on his glasses and opening up a folder. He scans your order from top to bottom. “Are you sure you ordered a stereo? I don’t see anything in the paperwork about a stereo.”

“What do you mean?” You say in a high-pitched voice. “I didn’t just get the V8 engine, the expensive leather upholstery, the custom lighting package and NOT get the stereo! Who buys a car without a stereo?!”

“Sorry, but the factory didn’t get that information,” the dealer says. “But, don’t worry. It looks like we didn’t charge you for it, so you can get that installed yourself. No problem.”

You sigh heavily as you climb through the passenger-side door and into the driver’s seat of your brand new Mercedes, all the while admiring the blue lighting and soft leather as you start the engine to drive home in silence…because you have no stereo.

That would be crazy, yes.

But boats are a totally different beast. Your stereo order could get lost (or, in our case, the freezer order), some of the instruments might not work, and it wouldn’t diminish the ecstasy you experience when you step into the cockpit of your shiny new boat for the first time, knowing this is your home for an epic round-the-world adventure.

What I’m saying is, yes, the mistakes have been a little irritating, but so much of this Helia 44 has turned out so wonderfully (including Ryan’s crazy blue lighting), that it seems like a relatively small inconvenience to deal with the few repairs and installations we’ll have to do later on down the line.

blue underwater lighting on cheeky monkeyThe blue lighting is, quite possibly, Ryan’s favorite feature on Cheeky Monkey.

Also, we could hang around La Rochelle for another three weeks, waiting for the boatyard workers to return from their month-long vacation so we can get everything in working order before we head south. But we’re way too impatient for that. There is a weather window opening up in few days’ time that will allow us to get across the Bay of Biscay in one calm, downwind shot, and we’re planning to take it. After all, this boat is more than 80% ready.

Weather Grib Bay of BiscayWe’re looking at leaving either Wednesday or Thursday for a 300-mile sail.

So, let’s talk about what’s broken, what’s mysteriously not working and what’s not yet installed on s/v Cheeky Monkey and how these items stack up on our list of priorities for our journey south.

Freezer status: Missing

Priority rating: Low to medium
Annoyance rating: Medium

This is like the missing stereo in the fictitious Mercedes Benz. When we found out our order for a freezer was never placed with the factory, we were like, “But who buys a brand-new cruising boat and doesn’t get the freezer?!”

We’ve kitted out this boat for a round-the-world trip with 900 watts of solar panels, a watermaker, air conditioners, washer/drier, ice-maker, blue underwater lighting and a generator large enough to power all of the above, so it seems inconceivable that, when running through our list of orders, someone thought, “So they want underwater lighting and a washer/drier, but they don’t want the freezer. Sure, that makes sense.”

helia solar panelsThere’s a reason why we’ve powered this boat to the gills. For things like freezers and ice-makers.

The good news is we have an enormous fridge on board, so the lack of a freezer is not going to prevent us from leaving the docks of La Rochelle. It’s just that we would like to get our freezer installed some time before we cross the Atlantic, as we know what it’s like to sail through the Doldrums. It’s hot, it’s slow and the food gets worse the longer you’re out there. But having a freezer to store fresh meat and other goodies in it can change that considerably.

Now we just have to figure out where and when we’ll get it installed. Which is why the annoyance rating is “medium”.

Water speed / depth transducer status: Stopped working

Priority rating: Medium
Annoyance rating: Low

When we took Cheeky Monkey out for her sea trial, we noticed we were no longer getting a reading on the water speed. This didn’t seem like a big deal because the GPS was working and so we could go by our speed over ground.

But then we noticed the figures for true wind speed and apparent wind speed were exactly the same, which was definitely not right. Something was off, and we think the problem is our apparent wind speed is connected to our water speed, not our GPS speed, and this is what is throwing off the apparent wind figures, rendering them useless.

We don’t know why the water speed gauge stopped working suddenly — it could be algae growth on the hull, which we’ll have to get in the water to have a look at. But this is probably easy enough to fix before we leave France, and even if it doesn’t get fixed, it won’t keep us here.

port du plaisance la rochelle franceThe view from the marina in Les Minimes is lovely. But it’s time to go.
Ice maker: Broken

Priority status: Low (unless you’re Ryan, who puts this high on his list)
Annoyance rating: High

Once upon a time, there was an Englishman named Ryan who dreamed of making frozen cocktails at anchor with his very own supply of ice. And his face lit up like the underside of an Essex boy’s car when he found out that Fountaine-Pajot offered a post-factory option for an ice-maker in the cockpit.

Every morning, when the workmen appeared on Cheeky Monkey, Ryan would ask, “Has the ice-maker arrived?” And every day, the workmen would say, “Not yet.”

Until, finally, one day, the ice-maker arrived. And the workmen smiled broadly as they told Ryan, “It’s here!”

Ryan clapped and laughed and spent the whole day hanging around the cockpit so that when the ice-maker was finally installed, he could be the first person to turn it on and try it out.

Except when Ryan turned on the ice-maker for the first time, nothing happened. So he sat and stared at it for hours, hoping maybe it just needed some time to warm up (or cool down). But no matter how many times Ryan turned the ice-maker off and on again, it never produced any ice. So, after the workmen finally gave up and left for the day, Ryan just stared at his ice-maker like a little boy who had been given a toy car with no wheels.

ryan ice maker fountaine pajot helia 44A picture of heart-break as the sun is starting to go down.

When the workmen arrived the next morning, the glum look on Ryan’s face told them the ice-maker still wasn’t working. So they took the ice-maker apart and examined all the inner components carefully. Which is how they discovered the factory had delivered a broken machine — it had a small, but crucial plastic part inside that someone had snapped off and tried to glue back on. But, worse, there was no spare ice-maker to replace the broken ice-maker with.

Try being the guy who tells the little boy his favorite toy car will never work. That’s what it was like for the guy who had to tell Ryan his machine would never make ice. Instead, they’d have to order us a new ice-maker in a month or two when the manufacturer opened for business again.

The End. For now. (Ryan does not give up so easily.)

Garmin Autopilot: Not working

Priority rating: Extremely high
Annoyance rating: Extremely high

Talk about saving the worst for last: If there’s anything I’ve learned from our consistently broken nemesis of a Raymarine autopilot on Hideaway, it’s that sailing long distances with only two crew and no autopilot is about as fun as watching Ryan stare down a broken ice-maker for four hours.

I can deal with a broken autopilot when it happens in the moment and when I have no choice but to keep hand-steering towards the next port. But I’m not leaving port knowing our autopilot isn’t working.

So this problem? It needs to get fixed. And we’ve got two, maybe three days to make that happen if we want to catch this weather window out of here.

We’ve got favorable winds coming up this week, which should last for 5-6 days, giving us enough time to comfortably cover the 300 nm or so we’d like to cover before we reach Cape Finisterre.

Sure, the last time I sailed off the coast of Finisterre, I didn’t have an autopilot and I was surfing downwind with the spinnaker up at speeds of 25 to 30 knots on Henri Lloyd during the Clipper Race, in some of the wildest weather I’d ever seen in my life.

henri lloyd clipper race cape finisterreNot the kind of conditions I want to see from s/v Cheeky Monkey.

But that was on a 70-foot racing yacht with 22 crew on board.

Ryan and I are a crew of two in the kind of boat I’m not looking to push the limits on. I will not be surfing down waves at 30 knots and I sure as hell will not be sailing for three days with no autopilot, if it can be helped.

Tomorrow we will find out the verdict: will our autopilot get us to Spain? Or will we continue to stare at our broken ice-maker for another week in La Rochelle? Stay tuned.

diy cheeky monkey boat decalI’m not counting our boat decals in the missing 20%. Electrical tape will have to do for now.

Testing the Parasailor

parasailor cheeky monkey turf to surf

Ryan and I are both visibly stressed when we arrive to Pierre’s office at Uchimata Sailing Services. We’ve been running through everything that needs to get done on Cheeky Monkey before Pierre’s team of workers finish at noon tomorrow to go on vacation for a month, along with the rest of France. I am holding a scrawled list of outstanding work items and Ryan is glancing at his watch every few minutes because we also have to get to the chandlery before it closes.

“Don’t worry,” says Pierre. “We are on schedule. We have the sea trials in the morning and that’s it. Everything else is done.”

Ryan is shaking his head. “But when are we getting our training with the Parasailor?”

Pierre shrugs. “We can do it during the sea trial tomorrow.”

Ryan rolls his eyes and sighs. “Pierre, your guys are finishing for the day at twelve o’clock tomorrow. When we talked about buying the Parasailor from you I was promised a day of training. Not half an hour.”

Pierre looks surprised. “But this is not a problem. This is easy. A 70-year-old woman hoisted her Parasailor for the first time last week all by herself. There is nothing to learn.”

I can see the look of irritation on Ryan’s face and I know he’s thinking we should have bought our Istec Parasailor directly from the vendor, as they guaranteed a full day of training with the sail purchase. Neither Ryan nor I have ever used a symmetrical spinnaker before and the spinnakers we used on the Clipper Race were asymmetrical, not to mention they required much more than two sets of hands to hoist and drop. I knew it wouldn’t be as complicated as wooling (tying little strings every foot or so for the length of the rolled-up sail) and packing this spinnaker like we did on the race, but I still had no idea how to use this thing.

Parasailor in the bag turf to surfOur Parasailor isn’t much good in this bag; we need to learn to use it.

The last thing we want, after spending thousands of dollars on this amazing new piece of sail technology, is to find we lack the confidence we need to use it. Hence why we are keen to get proper training with the sail and not just be told, “It’s easy, no problem.”

We did a lot of research on the German-made Parasailor before we bought it and talked to cruisers who used them. One guy told us he crossed the Atlantic single-handed on his catamaran and the Parasailor was the best thing he’d bought other than his extra large freezer (understandable, as he was a chef). Apparently, he hoisted the sail a few days into his trip and didn’t touch the sheets again for two solid weeks.

Unlike other symmetrical spinnakers, which are temperamental and tricky to use short-handed, the set-up of the Parasailor and the “snuffer,” the sock-like tube used to bring the sail down, makes it really easy to operate. Also, it can be used as a symmetrical or an asymmetrical spinnaker, giving it a huge range; it can sail between 70 and 180 degrees to the wind and in wind speeds of up to 25-30 knots.

The design of the “wing” in the middle of the Parasailor is the thing that really sets this downwind sail apart from other spinnakers. The shape of the wing, which is the flap-like opening in the sail, and the angle at which the air flows through it means, just like an airplane wing, the air on the surface of the wing accelerates faster than the air beneath it. The pressure created by these aerodynamics literally sucks the wing upwards and stabilizes the whole sail, making it difficult to collapse by mistake.

There are also a few other effects of the genius engineering behind the Parasailor wing, which apparently increase propulsion and efficiency, despite the fact that there is a big hole in the sail, letting airflow escape. But I would be lying if I claimed to understand aerodynamics enough to explain it. Let’s just say this thing makes us go faster in a tailwind than with a normal spinnaker, and leave it at that.

Basically, everything we’ve read about this sail tells us it has the potential to be our favorite piece of kit for a round-the-world journey with the tradewinds. But that still doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know how to use the thing.

“We’ll put the Parasailor up tomorrow and you will see,” says Pierre. “It’s really easy even with just one person.”

Ryan looks doubtful but he shrugs. We don’t have a choice at this stage. France is literally shutting down for a month and whatever doesn’t get done before tomorrow will have to be taken care of later on down the line. This is it. Cheeky Monkey is as ready as she’ll ever be to leave France.

In the morning Pierre shows up with four guys to take Cheeky Monkey off the dock and out to sea to test the instruments, calibrate the autopilot and try the new spinnaker rigging, which was installed yesterday.

uchimata team preparing spinnakerPierre and his team, running the lines for our Parasailor.

For the last few days, Ryan and I have been walking around the boat, testing every switch, plug, and piece of equipment to see if they work the way they should. And we approach this day out on the water with the same test review mentality — we rig the sheets to make sure we understand the spinnaker block set-up, particularly since this sail has two sheets on either side, one active and one lazy sheet. And we watch carefully as Uchimata’s guys pull the lines on the snuffer to uncover the sail. The snuffer gets raised smoothly, with only a momentary snag, and within minutes of tying the sheets on, our beautiful yellow sail is flying.

parasailor sheets cheeky monkey turf to surfThere are active and lazy sheets on both the port and starboard sides.

I chose the colors for the Parasailor and the genniker, so the first thing I notice when the sail is hoisted is that there are gray stripes on the Parasailor, though it is meant to be 100% yellow. I mention it to Ryan and we both shrug — we’re so excited to see the spinnaker flying, we don’t actually care what color it is. We’re not sending this thing back.

“She’s beautiful!” I say, smiling.

cheeky monkey parasailor fountaine pajot helia 44You’ll see us coming for miles with this thing flying.

Pierre’s team drop the snuffer and are about to bag up the sail when Ryan steps in and tells them we need to have a little practice hoisting and dropping the sail with just two of us.

Ryan and I follow the sheets back through the blocks to understand how to set the spinnaker up and, by hand, Ryan tugs the halyard attached to the long gray snuffer sock and raises the sail easily to the top of the mast. Once the halyard is raised, I tug on the snuffer lines to raise the sock, allowing the Parasailor to billow out of the bottom of the snuffer and catch the wind. There is a slight snag when the snuffer reaches the extra folds of the wing, the small piece of sail that flies above the opening, but we get around it by dropping the snuffer a little and then pulling the lines again until the brim of the snuffer reaches the very top.

The whole process takes less than five minutes and requires no sweating, grunting, shouting or panicking. As Pierre said, it’s easy. And there really isn’t much to practice.

It’s so simple, the 10 steps go just like this:

Parasailor sail bag cheeky monkeyStep #1: Hoist sail bag out of locker and onto foredeck. Step #2: Tie sail bag down to trampoline.
parasailor halyard cheeky monkeyStep #3: Attach halyard to head of Parasailor.
run sheets parasailor cheeky monkeyStep #4: Run sheets through blocks back to cockpit. Step #5: Attach guys and sheets to Parasailor.
ryan parasailor cheeky monkeyStep #6: Raise halyard. Step #7: Raise snuffer. Step #8: Stand back and admire.
taking photos of parasailorStep #9: Take pictures for Facebook.
tasha cheeky monkey turf to surfStep #10: Stress-free sailing all the way.

And then dropping the sail is as simple as this:

easy snuffer parasailor cheeky monkey fountaine pajot heliaStep #1: Ease the sheets. Step #2: Drop the snuffer.
drop halyard parasailor cheeky monkeyStep #3: Drop and remove halyard.
bag up parasailor cheeky monkey turf to surfStep #4: Remove sheets. Step #5: Feed Parasailor into bag, leaving head on top.
bagging up parasailor on cheeky monkeyStep #6: Close up the bag and drop in sail locker.

It would have been nice to have a full day out on the water, playing with the Parasailor at all wind angles. But Pierre was right in that there was not much to teach in the way of hoisting and dropping the sail. The rest we can learn by just playing around with the Parasailor ourselves.

So now that we’ve seen the sail in action, we have the confidence to hoist the Parasailor as soon as we get any kind of tailwind, and that’s the important thing. The next most important thing will be keeping an eye on the weather, so we know when to drop her before we can cause any damage.

At the price point of these Parasailors, we hope we never have to do any repairs on her. Which means the key to maintaining her is knowledge and awareness. We got the knowledge from our training. Now we need to work on a better awareness of the weather. But as far as Team Cheeky Monkey goes, we’re ready!

ryan tasha cheeky monkey fountaine pajot helia 44

post-line-divide

Update: The 30-Day Challenge

So, it’s day 10 of the 30-Day Creative Challenge I set for myself, and I have failed in my mission to publish a new post every day. BUT not all is lost, as I have been successful in writing every single day for the last 10 days.

It turns out it is pretty near impossible for me to publish a new post every day while also trying to get Cheeky Monkey built. Well, not impossible, but it would mean I could never sleep. Or eat. Or leave the boat.

But we are in our last few days of finishing up construction on Cheeky Monkey here, so I am hoping I can free up some time very soon to charge forward with this challenge at full speed.

In any case, I knew it was going to be a challenge to keep up with my own demands, but I also figured you never reach your goals by aiming too low. So, no regrets about declaring this challenge. Just a few more days of no sleep and I’ll be back on track…

Thanks for all your support! And feel free to share your challenge in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it.

Love,

Tasha

Way out of my league

By the time I arrive from Greece, Ryan has already been in La Rochelle, France for a week, living near the marina where Cheeky Monkey is getting all her post-factory work done. By now, Ryan knows most of the boats on our pontoon, as well as the guys from Uchimata Sailing Services, who are doing all our installations.

Uchimata Sailing ServicesThe guys of Uchimata are super professional and their work is top-notch.

I arrive on a Friday, which means the docks are busier than usual as owners arrive to their boats to go sailing for the weekend and crew appear with buckets and cloths to shine the brightwork on their employers’ glistening yachts.

It is my first time on board our Fountaine-Pajot Helia, though I have been on boats like it at the Annapolis and Miami boat shows, and I’m blown away by the sleek, modern look and, oh, the space! It’s hard for me to comprehend that this is “my” boat, so I keep slipping up and referring to it as “the” boat or “this” boat. I say things like, “So, how does the stereo work on this boat?”  And Ryan corrects me by saying, “You mean ‘our’ boat?”

And then I giggle. Because, surely, no one in their right mind would trust me and Ryan with a boat like this. It’s too fancy! Have they seen what we used to sail on?

Despite my doubts about this being “my” boat, I manage to go out and buy supplies for the fridge. And by “supplies,” I mean “wine”. And as we walk along the dock with our booze and groceries in hand, I notice a particularly pretty blue-hulled 65-foot monohull with impeccable chrome and wood detailing. And on deck are two 20-something lads and a young girl in matching shirts, standing in the cockpit chatting.

“Crew, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah, I’ve never seen the owners, but I’m guessing these guys are getting ready to deliver the boat to them.” Ryan says.

I smile at the threesome chatting excitedly on the stern and think to myself what a fun job that must be, sailing a swanky yacht for pay. It’s so unlike anything I did for work when I was in my twenties.

wap-below-deck-season-2-bios.jpgEver seen the show Below Deck about life on a megayacht? This is the cast.

“You know the guys working on our boat thought we were crew,” Ryan says, laughing. “One of the guys said to me ‘Where are you delivering this boat to?’ and I chuckled because he must’ve assumed I knew what I was doing. So I told him he was giving me too much credit. I have no idea what I’m doing; it’s my first catamaran!”

I laugh and look at the twenty-somethings smoking cigarettes off the stern of a fancy boat they have free reign of until the owners show up. And then I look down at my clothes, and I realize I probably wouldn’t look at a shiny, brand-new Fountaine-Pajot Helia and think I came with that boat either. See, there I go again. “That boat.”

tasha cheeky monkey turf to surfMaybe I need to upgrade my wardrobe?

The truth is, I keep waiting for someone to come on board and tell me to get my feet off the coffee table.

A week after Ryan tells me that story about being mistaken for crew, it happens again. As we are tugging a dock cart full of 220-volt electrical appliances to our boat, we meet an English woman on the dock, who introduces herself as the owner of the monohull opposite our pontoon. She tells us her story of sailing with her husband around England for many years until they sailed down to France a few years ago, and how they keep their boat docked in La Rochelle so they can go sailing off the coast of France whenever they like.

“Which boat is yours?” the woman asks.

Ryan points to our gleaming Helia across the way.

“Oh, so do you sell these?” she asks.

“No,” Ryan says, smiling. “She’s ours. We just picked her up a week ago. We’re planning to sail her around the world.”

“Oh! Just the two of you?” The woman asks with a hint of surprise.

And again, I look down at myself, and I look at Ryan with his scruffy beard and hoodie, and I realize that this is one of those situations where the world I think I live in doesn’t match up to the world I actually live in. I feel like a vagabonding backpacker who’s just been handed the keys to a Hollywood mansion.

ryan cheeky monkey turf to surf“Excuse me, sir, but are you sure you’re on the right boat?”

People look at the boat we’re about to sail away on and they look at me and Ryan in the clothes we’ve collected from beach towns we’ve backpacked through around the world, and there is a complete disconnect.

“I take it as a compliment,” Ryan says. “It means people are surprised by us. We don’t look like we belong on this crazy boat.”

“Mmm. But will sailing around on such a swanky boat make it hard to meet people?” I ask.

beyonce-and-jay-z-visit-st-barts-1024x738I feel like our boat was designed for people like Jay-Z and Beyonce.

“Nah,” says Ryan. “We’ll load this boat down with toys, go out and have a blast, and we’ll invite people over for cocktails.” Ryan says. “We’ll be the nice people on the swanky yacht giving away ice and water in the anchorage.”

I nod my head and smile because I remember how excited and grateful I was when Brittany and Scott of Windtraveler let me fill up my leaky five-gallon jugs from their watermaker in Maho Bay, St. John, so I wouldn’t have to go all the way to town for our water. And nothing makes me happier than the thought of sharing water and this plush boat space with friends. Now is our time to give back some of what we’ve gained and bring people along for the ride.

So though she may be way out of our league, Cheeky Monkey is most definitely our boat. And, boy, are we going to have some fun with her!

fountaine pajot helia 44 cheeky monkey turf to surfYes, that is our boat. Nope, we’re not delivering her. Or stealing her 🙂

In the driver’s seat

tasha hacker turf to surf cheeky monkey

As the date of completion of our new Fountaine-Pajot Helia grows near, I am increasingly aware that Ryan and I are going to have to get this boat off the dock in La Rochelle and take it out to sea.

Which means I’m spending a lot of time staring at the dock, at the sharp edges on the end of the pontoon, at the obstacles in and around the marina and at the current that rips along the stern of Cheeky Monkey in the early afternoon, which I know requires bold motoring skills to penetrate.

Ryan and I share jobs on board, but there are certain jobs that we tend to leave mostly to one or the other because of our individual skills, knowledge, or strength. Ryan is usually the one at the bow when it’s time to drop or weigh anchor, which was not an easy job on our old boat Hideaway, as it didn’t have a windlass for its 44-lb. Rocna and 100 feet of chain. I, on the other hand, am usually at the helm for all docking, mooring, anchoring or any tricky maneuvering. Driving the boat has become my area of expertise.

So whereas Ryan has just gained an electric windlass for his anchor, which he can activate with the press of a button, I feel like my reasonably sized car has been replaced with a tractor trailer, which I have no idea how to drive. I understand how a monohull moves in forward and reverse, but I’m not sure I understand how an extremely large catamaran moves with two engines.

cockpit fountaine pajot helia 44 turf to surfMy view from the helm station, where I’m biting my nails.

Two weeks ago, when I stepped onto the 44-foot floating penthouse we now call home for the first time, I clapped my hands a little because the living space was overwhelmingly beautiful. And then Ryan mentioned taking the boat out for a test drive, and the smile immediately faded from my face. Because I knew getting the boat off the dock was my job.

“Someone is going to teach me how to drive this thing, right?” I asked Ryan three times in one day. And then three times the next day. And a few times every day following.

“Don’t worry,” Ryan said. “Catamarans are so much easier to drive than monohulls. Everyone says so. It’s like driving a tank.”

“That means nothing to me. I’ve never driven a tank. Or a catamaran.”

caribbean multihulls fountaine pajot helia 44Ryan and our broker NOT fretting about driving this boat.

Luckily, we were able to track down a coach to help us out. Fountaine-Pajot recommended a guy named Alain, who does boat deliveries for them. “He’s a very good teacher. Very patient. You’ll like him,” they said.

So we give Alain a call and ask if he can spare a Sunday on the water to coach me in driving and docking our new boat. “We’d be happy to pay cash for a few lessons,” we tell him.

“Don’t worry,” says Alain, seeing the nervousness carved into my brow when he steps on board our boat. “I will have you do crab exercises so you learn how to maneuver. No problem.”

“Um. Crab exercises?”

“Yeah, you know,” says Alain in his thick French accent. He is holding his hand flat and moving it around to demonstrate the boat moving forward and backwards while also sliding sideways. “We will move ze boat like zis, and like zis, and zen up to the dock. Like a crab. It’s easy. You will see.” He pats me on the back and smiles.

I nod my head and hope for the best as we prepare to start the engines. Plural. We have two engines now, so we need to start both of them. Already this is a foreign experience.

But just like a good teacher should, before Alain takes the helm, he makes Ryan and I step onto the dock with him and look carefully at the boat.

ryan alain la rocheille franceAlain makes everything sound so easy. And then he makes you take the helm.

“Before you go away from the dock, every time, you must first take care to look at the water and the wind to understand your situation,” says Alain. “You can see the current is coming very fast here,” he says pointing to the frothy water at the stern of Cheeky Monkey. “It’s going to be a problem to get off the dock. We need a lot of power in reverse to push the bow away from the dock and then we go.” He demonstrates the motion of the boat with his hand again.

I am concentrating on the water rushing past the hull of Cheeky Monkey as I follow Alain up to the helm station so I can watch him in action.

Ryan is standing on the stern with a fender in hand, ready to fend the boat off the dock as the far corner of the stern gets pressed into the pontoon. The wind is pushing us onto the dock, along with the current, so we release the bow and stern lines and watch Alain as he puts the throttle into reverse, pushing the bow away from the dock. Then he shoves the throttle forward, revving the engines and steaming quickly away from the dock without incident. I’m watching Alain’s face and his hands as he works and I notice he is calm and relaxed the entire time.

Alain’s confidence in his maneuvers are an inspiration. “I just need to practice and I’ll be fine,” I say to myself, while exhaling a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me who had to get the boat off the dock in that current.

“Don’t worry,” Alain says, seeing the concerned look on my face. “When we come back there will be no current. It will be easy.”

The next three hours are spent doing “crab exercises” in the marina, maneuvering forwards and backwards and sideways with me at the helm, and with Alain there ready to grab the throttle at any moment in case I do something stupid, which only seems to happen when I’m going in reverse.

Alain gives me the most useful tip of the day when he says, “Think of the throttles like your shoulders.” Alain puts his hands on his shoulders and moves his right shoulder forward, then his left shoulder. “If you want to turn left, you move your right side forward. It is the same with the throttle. If you want to go right, you move like zis,” and he moves his left shoulder forward and his right shoulder back. “So when you want to turn, think about your shoulders. It is the same as the throttle.”

Going forward and pulling up to the dock, I am fine. It feels doable and even somewhat comfortable, so long as the dock is always on the starboard side, where the helm station is. I have no idea what to do if I have to dock on the port side, where I have absolutely no visibility from the helm, but I’m hoping we’ll leave that maneuver for another day.

Alain is encouraging, saying often, “Very good, very good, Tisha.” I don’t bother to correct him because I’m amused every time Alain speaks, especially when he yells, “Brian, you must to communicate with Tisha and say things like ‘you are three meters away, one meter away, a little more reverse’, that kind of thing! Communication is very important!”

I start to giggle, but then Alain scolds me for not communicating enough with Ryan from the helm. And I realize I’m terrible at this, too — I have said nothing the whole time I’ve been working on these maneuvers. I’m so fraught with concentration, moving the throttles back and forth, that I forget there is anyone else involved in the process of docking but me.

Ryan is standing dutifully by with a fender at the stern, but I find it hard to tell him out loud what I’m doing while simultaneously working out what the hell it is I’m doing. It requires more multi-tasking than my brain can handle in this moment.

“You must to communicate!” shouts Alain again. “You cannot work together if you do not communicate!”

It feels like we’re in marital counseling all of a sudden, as Alain’s observations probably apply to more than just docking and anchoring. It is a problem that applies to all aspects of living on board as a couple.

Not to mention Ryan and I already know we are terrible at communicating on board, particularly while anchoring, though we have made some progress by talking through what went wrong after each fiasco. When we first started cruising, it seemed like four out of five anchoring maneuvers ended in us not speaking to each other for most of the evening.

This is a habit I would very much like to break.

So, I am keen to follow Alain’s advice to communicate more, but I actually don’t know what to say when my mind is focused on the angle we’re approaching the dock and the nervousness I feel at the speed we’re coming in at. If I were to say out loud the string of words running through my brain at the moment I am pulling up to the dock, it would sound like this:

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Is this too fast? Fuck. Fuck. Oh no. Okay, take it slow. That’s it. A little more to port. Fuck. Fuck. Not that much to port! Reverse? Shit! Too much throttle. Arg. Those fenders are down right? Fuck…”

So I’m just not sure how useful that internal monologue would be if said out loud. But it appears that most of my anxiety in approaching the dock comes from my experience with Hideaway, a typical monohull in that she needs lots of slow coaxing and oodles of room to maneuver up to a pontoon, not to mention the fact that she is completely useless in reverse. So the boat only really has good control when going forward. The motion of Hideaway under motor is what informs all of my fears about docking all 44 feet of Cheeky Monkey.

But Alain assures me that with just a little thrust in the right direction I can bring the boat to a halting stop. So I should stop worrying so much. “But you must speak to Brian about what is happening!” Alain shouts again.

I know this. And I promise to work on it. Once my mind stops running through a string of swear words when docking, perhaps I can regain control of my mouth and actually communicate some useful information. That is what I’m working towards. Baby steps. Driving, docking, then better communication. We’ll get there. We’re making progress.

The first step is growing the balls to leave the dock. The rest will follow.

la rochelle france marina sunsetSoon, we leave La Rochelle and head out into the unknown. I’m not nervous. Nope.