It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Hilo for less than a week; it seems like we’ve been here for twice that. After the simple routine of days at sea, sleepy Hilo is a wonderland of diversion, conversation, and culinary delights!
On our long passage, one day ran into the next, and we were often unclear as to whether something had happened yesterday or the day before, or maybe even 3 days ago? Instead of “Monday” or “Thursday”, we’d say, “the day we showered” or “the day you made tuna salad”. And as our lives were dominated by the weather, we now think of the sequence of the passage in these terms:
– The first 3 days, after we cleared Cabo (the sea sick days)
– The remainder of the first week, when it was sunny (the blissful days)
– The first period of strong winds, big seas, and complete cloud cover (the hellish days)
– The few days when things calmed down, and we got sunshine (the respite)
– The second period of rough weather (no longer remarkable enough to be called anything)
– The last day at sea and the morning we tied up in Radio Bay
We lived in this strange zone of altered time. We ate when we were hungry (not often) and slept when we were tired (quite a bit). Indeed, the hour on the clock grew increasingly meaningless as we travelled west, with the sun setting after 10pm. We looked forward to making landfall (or rather, to a lack of motion!), but “arrival” was such an abstract concept. We didn’t know exactly when it would happen or what it would be like, so it seemed unreal. As the miles ticked down, we cognitively understood that there was an island 135, then 70, then 28 miles ahead, but we saw nothing but sea and clouds. Maybe there would be nothing there when the GPS read 0 miles to go?
In Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana wrote of homecoming after a long voyage at sea. He said that “home” was something sailors dreamed of and yearned for every day, but then as they neared their home port, they felt oddly unaffected. Though we were only out for a few weeks, we went through this as well. You’d think we’d be ecstatic as we came within a day of landfall, but we just felt numb. Capn Amnesia, who just a couple days before had been nauseous and swearing in frustration at the big seas, actually broke down and cried- real tears!- in sadness that the journey was ending! I think the strange emptiness we felt was the start of forgetting. Our “time without time” was ending, and we were going back to civilization and the complexities of life in port.
Even while we were making the passage, our recollections of it were hazy, and with each day back on land our memories grow foggier. A week from now, I expect we’ll be left with only a vague mood, just like you might pause for a moment in the afternoon and suddenly recall that, that very morning, you’d awoken from a strange, fantastic dream, the details of which have been lost to you. But the dream conjured an emotion that washes over you again, an unnameable mix of joy, melancholy, and nostalgia….
This could explain why sailors cannot be trusted to accurately recall the details of their journeys. Here at Radio Bay, we’re in the company of a handful of other boats that have just made the same crossing. Almost all have ripped sails (one boat shredded 5 sails on the way over!), some lost parts of their rigging, one blew out their engine, and all have a long list of things to fix before the next passage. Before we set out, we’d all been told that this was “the easiest passage in the world”, and then we got out there and were battered and baffled. At first we thought we’d been lied to, but as one man noted, “It’s like childbirth. If you remembered it accurately, you would never do it twice.” Crossing oceans, like bearing children, makes liars of us all.
It’s comforting to compare wounds and trade stories with the other crews. It was particularly rewarding to hear from Harry on Rhiannon, who just completed a circumnavigation, that indeed, it was quite rough out there. And it’s been great to spend time with Dennis and Grover of Shamaness, who were our main radio buddies on the way over. For the first few days, no one asked, “So what do you do for work?” or “Where are you from?”. We could talk of nothing but the passage, sharing our personal editions of the same story.
So what will we remember of the passage? The dolphins and the flying fish. The whales, and the albatross. The sapphire blue water. The freedom of being surrounded by nothing but ocean, suspended in time.