We are crossing the ocean in inches by Elisabeth
Photo by Pierre Fromentin
We are crossing the ocean in inches. It’s been over two weeks since we stumbled our way out of Boca Chica, doing a last-minute deal with the pilot boat captain from the deck of our drifting ship, and it feels like we’ve taken our haphazard beginning with us on this, nearly-last leg of the trip. We have been rolling through the heavy swell, light airs, and squalls, rarely topping a blistering 5 knots, all our sails flapping and smacking back with reports like whipcracks, forces that shake the ship to her keel. No one is sleeping all that well. Despite these two weeks behind us, we are not yet halfway to the Azores. We measure the distance on the chart with a practiced and weary eye—it does not seem to change from one day to the next. What seemed like a breeze on our crossing to the Caribbean, trade winds at our backs, is turning into a slog. I did not remember the ocean being so wide.
We make plans over breakfast, digging up names from the old books. We will set a raffee, a fisherman, a jimmy green. We will turn deck planks into oars and row across the Atlantic. But our motivation lags. Our first mate, Duarte, works diligently at a new stunsail boom, and as soon as it’s vaguely round-ish, we rush to set it in place and get the stunsails rigged. Our boat looks good wearing her extra wings, and I feel a breath of elation stir the sails. The water is wide, but not, in the end, endless.
On land, it’s something I cherish, this slow, walking pace. It’s a chance to look at the world around, to notice the small things, the little wildflowers, the rabbit hunching motionless in his warmth among the grasses, the breeze moving through the branches of oaks and elders. But here, in the middle of an unchanging plate of blue, I chafe. The sails slat against the masts, the ropes rub in the rigging, wearing themselves out, and I wish we were moving faster. There is nothing to look at here, I complain to myself, nothing to notice. This wave is much the same as the last one, as the next one after it will be, and the next. The clouds march in endless repetition across the sky, grey one, white one, grey one, white one. Even morning seagulls are the same. I suspect the ocean of harboring indeed only one bird on all its surface.
We have one morning where the wildlife belies my suspicions, and we have first dolphins at the bow, a whole troupe leaping and braiding together, then striped tunny in the aft, cleverly evading all our lines, more than that one bird, and in the distance the blows of whales, and, barely seen, a glimpse of dark and shining backs humping above the surface of the water. The ocean swallows up this unexpected sign of companionship in a few hours, however, and we are alone again, nothing to see, no specks on the horizon.
But...of course, there is a but...it is still good to be here. There is a lot of skies to look at, a lot of water. There is a lot to rest the eye on which it is restful to see. A big lot of nothing, perhaps, or, maybe, a very close-up view of a tiny piece of a huge beast. A microscope slide of the ocean’s enormous macrocosm, or of the night sky with all its stars, galaxies on galaxies, each tiny and particular. You want to talk about big—consider the universe. Out here, with nothing from a computer screen blocking our view, we encounter it in such infinitesimally tiny pieces, at such a slow pace, that we have time to notice things, the small things, little wildflowers or waves, the patterns of wind and weather, a single step in the light-years long dance of the planets.
Value it, I want to tell myself. Pay attention, enjoy the pace. All too soon, it will be over.
Go off the beaten track! There are only two spots availlable, for the quick decision makers, during the last leg of our cargo expedition, Azores to Amsterdam.
After seven months and several thousand miles we will eventually unload our precious cargo in Amsterdam, and you can join this special event!
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