It’s the morning of our departure. I wake, my body burning for movement as we excitedly prepare Delos to leave Bird Rock. Yes, that’s right-we did return to that amazing place. After spending another week on Ascension Island, we decided we had no choice but to escape back to its protective rocky embrace. It’s been an incredible couple of days diving, relaxing and sunbathing, but now it’s time.
It’s time to leave for Brazil.
Brian and Brady had spent the last two days teaching Lisa and I more about the world of diving. I was surprised that they thought we were ready for Bird Rock- I was still afraid. I sat on the aft deck as Brady talked us through our equipment again, panicking about doing a practise drill of cleaning my mask underwater and losing my mouth piece. I was scared about screwing up in this area. I was scared of choking. I was scared of a lot of things.
Lisa was cheery and excited, and for some reason, this made me feel worse. It made me feel ashamed that I was not the same way. I tried to breathe slowly, attempting to find a place where I could be calm and collected.
“If you don’t want to do it this time, don’t worry,” Brady offered.
He must have seen the fear on my face. But I knew it was too late. I was going to do it.
From the start it was a little bumpy. I wasn’t carrying enough weight so I kept floating back to the surface. In my panic I forgot to ease the pressure of my ears through my nose. As I started to descend, pain exploded in my left eardrum, a loud screeching piercing through my hearing as I shook my head to Brian.
Stop! Stop! Stop!
He waited and pulled me back up slightly, waiting with me for the pressure to be released. I was still in pain but knew I had to go with it. There was no way my pride could take giving up now.
As we went lower and lower into the blue, I became calmer. Brian held my hand as we swam around contentedly, confident in him completely that I was safe as he led me around the undergrowth of the ocean. I refused to let go, holding on tightly as we explored, Brian pointing out various fish to me and warning me of eels.
I think it was underwater when I saw my relationship with Brian. I saw there in that moment that he was looking out for me. No jokes, no taking the piss, no bickering, we were just family and he was looking out for me. I think he knew how afraid I was and how much I wanted to do it. I think he knew my embarrassment at not being able to do something. I think he knew how vulnerable I felt and that I just needed someone to hold my hand and take control.
I needed an anchor.
As I was at the bottom, I told myself not to cry. I feel like my heart is constantly overwhelmed with happiness on Delos. Everything seems like a sensory overload. Lisa was paired up with Brady as we continued to explore, even spotting a shark ahead. I grasped onto Lisa’s hand tightly, Brian momentarily not holding mine, and then scrambled for his grip again.
My second shark.
Our time underwater always felt like it was over too soon when Brian signalled it was time to rise.
As we got to the surface, I was very quiet. I needed some time to process what I had experienced and treasure it inside my chest for a while longer. The next day Brady was the one who took me down. My ear had still been hurting the previous night but I didn’t want to miss out on our last diving experience in Ascension. Below we went, Brady armed with a broom just in case, taking our time as I equalised the pressure of the ocean against my ears. It was a peaceful dive as Brady took me under the arch, sitting side by side as we gazed up at the breaking of waves above our heads. Rivets of silver ripped and rolled across the surface, the sound from the outside world so completely absent as I held onto the rocks with the coming and going of the swell.
The place felt holy somewhat.
Fish stared up at us in confusion as they either came closer to investigate or swam quickly away back to their houses within the cliff face. I stared at all of the bright colours, so happy when I realised I felt confident and capable.
I felt like a diver.
The sound rushed back to me as we came back to the surface, the world suddenly too loud and chaotic.
“How did you find that, mate?” Brady asked with a grin.
“Wow!” I spluttered in return.
What an incredible way to spend our last few days in this area. We spent that night flashing lights around Delos and watched the sharks come to the surface. It was fascinating seeing their shapes twist in and out of the water. Brady discovered that they didn’t like grapefruit, Brian saved a bird after it flew inside the boat and the rest of us prepared for the next day.
And so we are here now.
I spend some time helping Brady, Alex and Karin put away the diving equipment whilst Brian pours over the maps and charts. Lisa is inspecting Delos and is preparing to pull up the stern line.
I can’t wait to leave. All this time and it’s actually happening. All of this time and I’m here.
Finally going to Brazil.
I never thought I would ever get this far. When I moved to Australia in November, I told my sister I’d be back in England in March. In March when I was heading to Africa, I told my folks I’d be home in 3 weeks.
I never thought my life would turn out this way. Or that I would have to apologise to my family so much.
Sorry guys. I’ll be home as they say in South Africa, “Just now.”
But I’m so happy.
We’ve decided that we’re going to hand steer to Brazil. This feels like a good challenge for me. I want to feel more capable- more like a real sailor, so I’m excited for the opportunity to prove myself. Usually when we have auto-pilot on, we all just lie back and chill, checking the radar, horizon and course regularly.
But this is different.
Once we’re out of the area of Bird Rock, it’s my turn to take the wheel. I fix my eyes on the compass, keeping that little yellow line on 270 degrees. Delos moves gradually, favouring to move to portside with the wind on her beam. I try not to overcompensate with the steering, Brian occasionally shouting out: “Starboard, starboard, Lizbef!”
Soon there’s another shout. Lisa has spotted dolphins to our portside and everyone rushes over to watch. I sit trapped in my seat, mouth open as I watch their excitable faces stare at the dolphins jumping in and out around the water at our bow.
“I want to see the dolphins!” I whine. But no one takes any notice of me.
Brian struggles with getting his Go Pro on his extension stick to get a view underwater, but by the time he gets it on the dolphins have disappeared.
“Goddamit!” he mutters putting the stick back.
The birds from Bird Rock have left Delos in a sorry state. Covered in a Jackson Pollock imitation of modern art, bird shit covers her from stern to bow. Soon everyone is on their hands and knees with brushes and buckets of water, scrubbing away at the filth.
I sit contented behind the wheel, somewhat unable to keep the smugness at bay.
I eventually get the knack of it and everyone settles out into the cockpit and back of Delos to relax and enjoy watching Ascension Island pass us by.
But the peace doesn’t last for long. There’s a commotion.
“Man overboard drill!” Brian shouts. “Sails in! Everything off! Man overboard drill!”
I sit frozen in my seat before the wheel, not knowing what the hell to do as more voices shout.
Who’s fallen in?! My mind rages as I stagger away from the seat to allow Brady to take charge. I have no idea what to do. Or what has happened.
I look up to see everyone appears as panicked as me and I quickly count six people, including myself.
Wait… but that’s all of us… So what on earth is going on?
Brian is staring into the ocean. “Keep your eyes on it!” he shouts.
I peer over and see it at last.
A cushion has blown overboard.
The relief that everyone was ok was staggering. My heart pounded as I gripped onto the rigging and did as my Captain asked and kept my view on the floating grey cushion.
“My book is over there too!” Alex calls.
A gust of wind had taken her book and the pillow she had been lying against on the back of the boat. It was now the perfect opportunity to teach the crew the “Man Overboard Drill.”
Even if it had given me a heart attack.
“Make sure someone is pointing at the object at all times!” Brian commanded.
I raised my arm out into the air, pointing at the bobbing grey pillow floating off into the distance. But the book was behind us going in the other direction.
“I’ll just jump in and get it,” Brian said going to the back step.
“No you won’t!” protested Karin. “There’s sharks! Don’t be silly.”
Seeing her face, Brian didn’t jump in even though he wanted to. I was glad he didn’t. It was tempting, the book was fairly close, but the risk of the somewhat aggressive sharks in the area was too great.
Alex and I soon moved to the railings where Lisa was hanging over.
The pillow was getting closer!
“Grab my feet!” she cried, swinging over the edge.
“Wha?” I grabbed on tightly without thinking, Alex joining quickly and wrapping her legs around Lisa’s waist.
I had a moment of clarity then, that I was on a boat, holding a small Austrian by the ankles trying to rescue a pillow.
My life feels crazy at times.
“Ready?” Lisa called. “Now!”
I held on tightly as the waves lapped up towards her, the soaked pillow bobbing up and down.
One dunk and the Austrian had it in her hands.
We gave a cheer as we pulled her back up, seeing Brian standing there with his net in hand.
“Good job, Lisa!”
Full of adrenaline and feelings of good fortune, we turned our attention to the book. But it was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe Neptune wanted a read?” I offered, trying to keep everyone positive. “That can be our sacrifice to him!”
Brian shrugged. “Meh. It wasn’t a very good book anyway.”
Soon I was back before the wheel, taking us onwards towards our destination. Ascension panned to our left until she was nothing more but a mirage on the horizon. I watched her fade away with a strange sensation in my gut. I had taken so much from the island. I had experienced an incredible joy and even love there.
I wondered if I would ever return.
I kept my eyes forward then, an excitement building in my chest. We had waited so long for this journey. We had prepared for it for a long time. Had done nothing but talk about it for the past five months. Now it was actually happening.
The first day of passage usually exhausts us all. I have no idea why, but we all get incredibly tired and can’t wait to get into our beds. This time I wanted to remain a normal human being for as long as possible.
I had decided another thing for the passage. I had enjoyed myself thoroughly whilst travelling with the crew, with food, drink and cigarettes. It had taken a toll on my body, and I didn’t feel as fit as I once had.
I had a Fitbit and swore I would attempt 5000 steps on passage a day bare minimum. It may not sound like much, but when all of your steps are mostly done in the cockpit, it felt like a huge achievement. It was time to eat more healthy as well, cutting down portions and saying no to those nasty cigarettes.
I’m still of the opinion if you want something you should have it. But I wanted something else more. I had spent all of this time repairing my heart and mind, it felt only good to put the same sort of care into my body as well.
I managed to smash my step count goal and achieved over 10,000 steps by dancing around in the cockpit, keeping whoever was on watch some company. It also meant having a much smaller portion of the delicious curry Brady had made for everyone, but I managed to keep an iron will.
I was to appear on night watch at 10pm-12am. By hand steering, it meant that you couldn’t leave the wheel at any time, so we all had to make sure we were properly prepared in the cockpit for the night with flasks of coffees, snacks, music and of course making sure we all went to the toilet beforehand.
It was wonderful to be back on the ocean and to be surrounded by the stars at night. We were making good speed already, going at around 7/8 knots. Night watch is special for another reason. In a world where we’re constantly looking for distractions, you’re given two whole hours where you can’t do anything but think, reflect and daydream.
It just so happens that I’m a pro at daydreaming.
I wrapped myself up in my poncho, putting my feet up and playing some soft music as I settled in for my two hour shift, wondering which world I should go into. The night was serene and perfect, the sailing was smooth and the compass was bright as I kept Delos to a 260 degree angle, fantasising, smiling and looking forward to another day on passage.
Brian took over from me later on. We always pass the detail on about conditions, saying if any boats have been spotted, wind direction, speed and anything else we think is important.
“Ok, Lizbef- you are relieved! Get some rest,” he said, settling before the wheel.
Making sure I filled out our log book of our position, wind, key details and a little note about the night’s sail, I shuffled off to my bed.
Pulling back the curtain, I hopped inside and curled under the blankets, bracing my back against one side of the wooden bunk and wedging my knee in front of me to stop me from rolling with the waves. Sometimes if the roll of the waves get too much I’ll sleep on the sofa, ensuring I roll from head to toe rather than side to side, making it much easier to sleep.
Luckily the sea was gentle with us this night and I drifted off into a soft slumber.
My watch the next day was a 12-3pm slot. It seemed like a challenge without the distractions of being able to read a book. The sun was beaming and the sunroof was open above my head, enabling me to stand whilst steering. It gave it a whole new dimension just being able to do that. I felt I was one with Delos, able to guide her and move my body as she did, swapping the weight from my left leg to my right when the boat crashed through wave after wave.
It was absolutely liberating as I whooped, laughed and swayed to music, spray soaking my hair and drying on my lips as I gazed at the horizon.
This was living.
Unfortunately, I may have forgotten to put sunscreen on for the duration of my watch, meaning I got completely sunburnt.
“Lizbef!” Karin chided. “You need to get better with that!”
Mumbling that I would, I retired downstairs for a quick nap, feeling exhausted. I knew the passage was making me sleepy. It has a 3-day effect on everyone and I was trying my best to resist it.
I woke up quickly to the scent of Brian cooking split pea soup and ham. I’m not the biggest fan of peas. The crew always seem startled when I don’t love all foods. And it’s not that I hate certain items (except from peanut butter, but let’s not go there) I just have favourites. I think mushy peas put me off back in England, but it smelt incredible and I wanted to give it a go.
I was right. It was delicious. We all sat in the cockpit together in the dark and talked about our day, laughed and joked with one another and sat closer when the night air became chill.
It’s these moments that are my favourite on Delos, when we’re all talking like this and being one family. I hope it never ends.
When we all get sleepy on passage, everyone will retire to their own cabins. But as I live in the lounge, I am usually the one still up, wandering around and twiddling my thumbs. So in moments like this when we were all alive, taking the piss out of each other and talking about the future in Brazil, I cherish them.
I suppose I’m scared of this time ending, although I know that it will one day. We will always be a family and always be connected, but the fear is still there. Plus, what happens if I do go to Paris? What then?
I know that I won’t hesitate to see Edouard if given that chance.
If he still wants to, that is.
Before I left Ascension I got a message from him, saying that he had finally arrived in Cape Verde from his long sail on Malin. I sent him the blog I wrote about meeting him for the first time with bated breath. He replied with saying that he loved reading about our story and that he couldn’t wait to speak to me properly. That he still had my necklace. That he was getting on a plane home to Paris right that second. That he was going to tell our story to everyone back home. That he missed me.
After I replied saying, “Tell them to expect me!” we briefly mentioned September once again.
But still, I wasn’t sure whether he still wanted to or whether he was being polite. I was going to be at sea for a while and he was going home to Paris- not to mention he had said about going to Tanzania for a few weeks to work. Anything could happen. He could change his mind or decide he didn’t feel the same way.
These thoughts spiralled around my head like the waves in the ocean.
I’m caught between two worlds right now. Delos and Paris. But as a sailor does, I will have to wait and see what happens. When I arrive in Brazil, if Edouard does still want me to come to Paris then I will go. I know I’ll regret it if I don’t. I have to.
Besides, it’s like what I said from the beginning.
You should make the choice that scares you the most.
And leaving Delos terrifies me.
Read more about Lizbef here! www.earlewrites.com