It’s cold, it’s dark and the blanket I’ve wrapped around my legs keeps slipping off in some way or other. I’m trying to keep my eyes open whilst making sure I’m checking radar and making sure we stay on course.
I clench my jaw as I stand, the blanket falling to my feet, heat lost and toes freezing as I check the horizon. There’s always that chance that there could be an obstacle out there that won’t show up on radar. The wind whips the hood back from my face and I hurriedly wrap my scarf tighter around my neck. I see nothing but the Milky Way stretching across the black depths of the sky.
I retreat back to my chair before the wheel, my eyes glued on the wind gauge, trying to take it all in, absorb it- process it.
I find myself suddenly responsible for the lives of five people- and their home.
Four days earlier…
We’re up early. It’s a hot day in South Africa and there’s an excitement brimming in me as soon as I wake.
We’re leaving Cape Town.
Alex and I rush off to enjoy a nice long hot shower early in the morning- we don’t know when we’re going to have another one again and want to take advantage. Thoroughly scrubbed, Brady, Alex and I rush off into the Waterfront to exchange our rand into Namibian Dollars. I don’t know why but we have no luck and spend a fruitless hour being refused from banks and currency exchange booths.
“I feel like I’ve wasted an hour,” I mumbled as we head back.
“We had a killer breakfast though,” Alex says and I nod, happy to go a morning without porridge for once. I’m trying my best to stop myself from saying anything negative. It’s so easy to complain about the little things and although I was annoyed that it couldn’t just be a simple procedure, I knew that being pissed off with the situation wasn’t going to change anything. Alex and Brady are good with pulling me up on this. I’m often negative about myself and that’s a habit I’m definitely learning to snap out of.
“Every time you say something mean about yourself, you have to do ten press ups!” Alex announced one evening.
The threat of that was enough to keep my mouth shut.
We returned to the boat to find Lisa Blair there herself with friends, ready to see us off. I was astounded and so happy to see her there by the gates, her curly hair bobbing around her face as she grinned and chatted to our new buddies.
“There you are!” she exclaimed in her Aussie accent, her smile widening even more. “Where the bloody hell have you been?”
Don’t know who Lisa Blair is? Let me explain. She’s a lass who decided to make a stand against climate change, bought a boat, named it Climate Action Now and decided to sail around the world in a mission to raise awareness. She sailed for 81 days before her mast broke in a storm and was forced to come to Cape Town to hole up and repair her beloved boat.
That’s where we came in, keen for her arrival and went speeding off in Maggie, armed with beers and cameras, keen to meet the infamous Lisa Blair.
Fast becoming friends after a few parties, meals and some drunken ramblings, I know we were all so pleased to see her and our new friends to see us off.
Then, everything just happened so fast.
We were casting off, pulling up the fenders and waving from the bow.
This is happening, I thought as my hand tightly gripped the rigging. This is actually happening. I had waited for this so long, had thought about it for so long. Had never thought this was ever possible. This time last year I had just moved into my old housemate’s place, sitting down and watching my first SV Delos episode. If you were to tell me that I would be here, sitting and staring up at the sails, about to head on my very own adventure with the SV Delos Crew- that I would be part of the SV Delos Crew, I would have rolled my eyes, laughed and made you a cup of tea.
But here I was, sailing off into the distance towards Luderitz with Table Mountain becoming smaller and smaller behind me. I felt as though I had been in Cape Town so long that it had become part of me. There was a routine. There was a familiarity. It had become a home.
But I had become restless for the adventure again and I knew that my home wasn’t about where I was- it was who I was with. I was home with these people. My crew.
The crew, (knowing how to sail already) communicated with each other about sails, motoring, wind direction and other words I didn’t really understand. I knew we were going forwards, and that was about it. Every time we have gone out for a practice sail, I have made sure I’ve watched what everyone is doing and ask questions on anything I don’t understand.
I was to learn very quickly.
My biggest fear was that I was going to become seasick. But none of it came. I’d like to think I have a strong stomach- I’m British after all, and I was pleased when no shameful episodes of throwing up over the side came into play. There’s only so much I can live down. But I found my body anticipating the movement of Delos, waiting for the rise and the fall of the boat, my body leaning back and forth to the motion. It’s actually kind of fun.
Except when you’re in bed.
I would wake up in the morning and sleepily ask, “How did you all sleep?” to hear a chorus of “great, thanks!” But I have had to stuff pillows around my body to stop myself from rolling left to right. I’ve found that’s the worst motion. If it’s a roll from bow to stern, then I’m rocked to sleep like a baby. Left to right, my body is rolling around like a sausage. Trapping myself with pillows help- and I’m ready to fall into a world of sweet dreams.
But then there’s Mr Brady.
Mr Brady and I share his cabin, a bunk on either side, separated by “privacy curtains” if we so choose. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. It usually depends how exhausted and how much rum we’ve drank.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of sharing a cabin with Mr Brady and fantasise of doing so- I assure you- it’s not the pleasure palace you think it’s going to be.
And although we have a peaceful co-existence, there are times when the moon is high and the stars are shining when the peacefulness is disrupted.
Lying in bed, swamped in pillows and blankets, I stare at the ceiling, blinking. Again. And again.
I cannot sleep. Exhaustion is clawing in my bones and I know I have my watch coming on in a few hours.
I roll to my side and stare at Brady’s face. His mouth is half open, his head tilted upwards as a pug like growl comes from his throat, mixed with unexpected bursts of laughter and talking in his sleep.
I stare at him as he says loudly in his sleep, “Do I look good?” before falling back into snoring. Resigned, I grab my earplugs and try and block it all out.
As the nights passed on, his snoring became one of the other noises of Delos that became ingrained into the Girl Crew’s core. Trapped in the center of Delos between the sound of Brady and Brian, their nasal roars eventually melded into the sounds of the crashing of waves. Our eardrums evolved to block it out to survive.
But now it’s my watch. My alarm goes off and I scramble to switch it off before it wakes Mr Brady. Which is nigh on impossible. It’s quite good sharing a room with someone who’s had experience sleeping through the worst and is genuinely not bothered.
A note about Mr Brady for you all- I have never met someone who is grossed out so little by anything. He doesn’t care about nudity, body hair, smells, poop, noises or people being all round disgusting. It’s made me and the girls feel very much as home because we feel as though we can completely be ourselves. It doesn’t matter who last pooped, who accidentally just farted or in Alex’s case- belched loud enough to make mountains crumble. It doesn’t matter if the girls haven’t been able to shave their legs or wash for a week. No one on the boat cares- least of all him.
So I gather my things, still trying to be quiet out of politeness and shuffle on deck. Karin’s waiting for me and Lisa comes down so she can sleep.
Brady, Brian and Karin are sharing three hour watches with us throughout the night until we get more confident with the workings of Delos. I’m looking forward to being capable of doing night watches alone so they can get some sleep, but I know I’ve still got much to learn.
I feel as the days have passed, I’m learning more and more about the workings of a boat. Brady gives me a sailing question of the day, whether it’s about tacking, jibing, or what the difference between true and apparent wind is. I try my best to answer as well as I can- sometimes I’m afraid of getting the answer wrong and hesitate to speak my mind, needing to retreat back to the books and read the page over and over until it’s sank in. And sometimes it doesn’t. I tend to need to experience an action to truly understand it, have someone to explain it to me and for me to explain it back. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself, but I have a constant fear of being the weak link on the boat.
I must keep up.
So here I am, sitting wrapped in blankets, surrounded by the stars. I think back to the night where we had our first anchorage from Cape Town in Saldana Bay. Maggie had taken us to shore for us to enjoy a beer in yacht club. We went from not being allowed a drink because we weren’t members to several rounds of double rums, talking to the locals and singing songs on the guitar.
I smile in my seat, thinking about how each day I have spent on Delos, I have had another amazing experience to be grateful for.
Another gust of wind comes and I wrap my head with my scarf, my hand reaching forward to check the radar again.
This is why night watch is so important. This is why it has to be taken seriously.
It’s my responsibility to learn as much as I can in order not to just become a sailor- it’s not about that. It’s about being able to look after the people on this boat. My family.
I lean back before the wheel, waves lapping against the ribs of Delos as I breathe in deeply, thinking once again how grateful I am to be here.
I am here.
Read more from Elizabeth here! www.earlewrites.com