31 May 2008, The Brocade
I have a confession to make. I do not love the sea. Admire and respect it - yes, as you might admire a strict and unforgiving teacher - but love it, no.
Before I rowed the Atlantic I had romantic notions of the ocean as the last great wilderness, where sea creatures played and humans enacted heroic tales of courage and derring-do. And no doubt, for some people, the ocean is indeed like that.
But my experiences have been rather different. Today, as so often on the Atlantic, the sea has soaked me, chilled me, pushed me around and generally behaved rather badly.
So why are you rowing across oceans to help save them, then? you might be wondering. Surely you must care?
Yes, I absolutely DO care - passionately. Although I do not love the oceans, I emphatically believe that we have to look after them. On this planet of ours, big though it may seem, everything is connected. We cannot have dead or dying oceans and hope to have healthy life on land.
So maybe there is something selfish in my mission to help preserve the oceans - I see marine conservation as essential for the future of the planet, and for the continued existence of the human race. It is a logical and pragmatic reason rather than a sentimental one - and if that offends anybody, then I make no apologies, because I think my reasons are just as valid, and the end result is the same - doing what I can to help preserve the oceans, and every other part of the planet that may be affected by my actions too.
But it does make me smile wryly, on a day like today when the waves have knocked me off my seat more than once and almost swept me out of the boat and into the sea (yes, Mum, I WAS wearing my safety harness) - when it comes to preservation of the Sea versus preservation of the Me, I need to make sure I do both!
30 May 2008, The Brocade
Sisyphus might sound like an unpleasant disease, but in fact he was the guy in Greek mythology who was condemned to push a boulder up a mountain for all eternity. As soon as he stopped pushing the rock would roll backwards, so he just had to keep pushing away. I know how he felt.
I continue to row hard just to stand still. The wind has continued to strengthen, so despite rowing all day I have slipped back slightly towards the California coast. The seas have been rough, and once in a while a wave slaps into the side of the Brocade sending a torrent of cold salty water over me. The skies are leaden, with no sunshine to help dry me out. Everything on the boat is damp and dank.
The one bright point in the day was provided this morning by a seal who kept me company for about half an hour. Sometimes he seemed to be chasing the end of my oar as it dipped in and out of the water, and at other times he just seemed to be trying to entertain me - diving down under the boat and popping up on the other side, or rolling onto his back and waving his flippers at me. He really did seem to be doing his best to cheer me up - and it worked!
But only temporarily. The weather forecast is for the winds to get stronger and the waves to get bigger - and all coming out of the northwest. It seems that my Sisyphean task is going to be a tough one, and it's hard to put that out of my mind for long.
30 May 2008, The Brocade
The last few days I have been spoiled. I have been in calm waters, enjoying the company of dolphins, whales, seals, and even the occasional human (the marine biologists at the Farralon Islands). The rowing has been easy, rhythmic and regular, like flat-water rowing. At night I have been gently rocked to sleep by the ocean, so although I've only been sleeping about 4 hours a night - while I try to put as many miles as possible between me and the coast - I have woken up feeling relatively refreshed.
But yesterday I rowed out of sight of land, and today the weather has changed. The headwinds have risen, making the rowing much harder. I have been bludgeoning my way through choppy waters, rarely getting both blades in the water at once. This evening I had rudder full on, and rowed with one arm only, trying to stay on course, but despite my best efforts I covered less than half a mile in two hours.
So now I have put out the sea anchor (a large parachute on a long rope attached to my boat, put out into the water, which stops me being blown too far off course) and have retired for the night. The Brocade is pitching around, so it's not going to be the most comfortable of nights, but at least the sea anchor holds the bow into the waves, so they run down the sides of the boat rather than hitting her sideways-on. Last year when I lost my sea anchor the 20-foot waves were barreling straight into the side of Brocade - which was what led to me capsizing 3 times in 24 hours and the ultimate abandonment of that attempt. This year I have an extra sea anchor on board - just in case.
So today has not been so much fun. No wildlife sightings to cause excitement, and no satisfaction to be gained from watching the land receding into the distance - just miles and miles of grey, choppy seas.
But I've been through worse, and if my resolve starts to falter, I just picture Hawaii, or the absolute euphoria of arriving in Antigua after the Atlantic row. As Captain Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel had for his epitaph: Nothing great is ever easy.
I'm not sure that what I am doing is "great", but I do know that the bigger the challenge, the greater will be my sense of achievement when the goal is accomplished.
[photo: It already seems so long ago. The Brocade at the Golden Gate Bridge on Saturday night. Photo by Aleksey Bochkovsky]
29 May 2008, The Brocade
It is always useful to have multi-purpose items on board - drinks bottles that double up as waterproof containers for electronics, a diving knife/bread knife, and so on. Yesterday I found a new use for Bag Balm.
You might remember that I was advised to bring several tins of Bag Balm with me, usually used for to ease chapped cow's udders, but in this case to help protect my feet from water damage. I've been duly rubbing it into my feet every day (although conditions so far have been unusually calm, so my feet have stayed relatively dry).
Yesterday I was getting annoyed by the creaking of my oarlocks, as the metal pin swiveled in the metal cylinder of the outrigger. So I took out the oarlock and generously daubed its pin with Bag Balm. Problem solved - not so much as a squeak since then.
The creaking had been getting loud enough to drown out the audiobook I was listening to - Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. I'd studied this epic tome (over 1000 pages) when I was 16, and in my view it's one of his best books, with an entertainingly scathing commentary on the legal profession. (I did a law degree, so my cynicism about the profession is not totally uninformed.).
I was also pleased to discover the origin of a phrase that had kept coming back to me when I was on the Atlantic: "Discipline must be maintained". I'd had no idea where I'd got it from - but there it is in the pages of Bleak House, repeated frequently by a former soldier, Mr Bagnet. It's a mantra that I've been thinking of again over the last few days. With any major undertaking, I find it so much easier to make progress when I get into a regular routine of work. Rowing is no different.
So I've fallen naturally back into the routine I used on the Atlantic, of 3 hours on, 1 hour off for logbook update and a meal. Repeat 5 times a day.
In fact, I'd better get back to it now. It's 10pm but still one more shift to do. Discipline must be maintained!