Going to bed meant unpacking our sleeping bags that we had been asked to bring, thermal bags that could withstand temperatures of -20C. I rolled out my bag and studied my coffin-size bunk, figuring that if and when the seas did get rough, this was probably the last place I’d want to be. Everything about it looked so cramped and claustrophobic, but then again, even the boat’s most sizable living space, the galley, instantly felt limited when all seven of us were in it. The one bathroom aboard basically held just enough space for the toilet itself and the narrowest section of the whole boat was the hallway outside of our cabin that faced the shelves that held the massive stack of all of our bags and gear. I wondered how we would all handle living in such tight quarters for the next few weeks.
When morning came, I awoke to people stirring in the galley. I was tired from the day before and all the days of travel leading up to this point but I knew that sleeping in would not be the best way to make a good second impression on the captain or the rest of the crew, so I forced myself out of bed to join the early birds.
It was 5am and the early birds were Edmund and Caroline. Edmund was teaching her to make congee, a traditional Chinese porridge of boiled rice. This is what Edmund likes to eat for breakfast. He even travels with a variety of toppings to add to his congee, usually pickled vegetables, dried pork and fermented tofu. -and he always brings enough for everyone. Edmund is a wonderful cook but also has his own particular taste of what he likes to eat and loves nothing more than the traditional food that he grew up with in Beijing. We learned quickly on previous trips that if Edmund doesn’t enjoy the food that is served, he simply prefers to not eat. The rest of us will usually force-scarf undesired meals down just for the sake of easing our appetites when on the road but Edmund would rather go hungry than eat food that doesn’t please him. So our past travels are exactly what have led Edmund to hauling his own food along while en route and also led the rest of us to eating congee. It’s plain, easy to digest, simple to cook and with the right toppings can be a satisfying and delicious meal.
Dan rose from his bed on the galley couch and started to explain to the Captain and Caroline that congee for breakfast is always good with us and that Edmund will probably take over most of Caroline’s cooking duties and spoil us all with traditional meals from his hometown. “There is no cooking done during the crossing,” Captain Mark said blankly. This shocked me. The crossing was supposed to take us four days, there must be some cooking done during that time. Captain Mark explained that Caroline had already made some prepared meals of different pasta and rice dishes that just needed to be heated up on the stove. We also had the option of snacks such as fruit, yogurt, cereal, salami and cheese. Then he said since the congee is so easy to make, Edmund could attempt to boil his rice but there would be no chopping whatsoever, no sauce making and therefore no meals that needed any sort of actual preparation. That sounded a bit strict to me, as I’ve cooked on many boats while in transit, but I’m not picky so as long as we have food, I will be happy to eat it. Or so I thought.
I also decided that Captain Mark was an extremely hard nut that I was absolutely determined to crack. Realizing that I didn’t exactly win him over with my tardiness or honesty the night before, I felt impelled to work my hardest to do everything I could to make things right. So I approached him as he ate his breakfast and said “Captain Mark, do you know if Caroline has any extra seasickness pills? I’ve decided I’d like to try it if she possibly has one to spare.” He looked pleased. Yippee! I knew that even the hardest of shells could be cracked open with a little kindness and compromise. He spoke to Caroline and she immediately gave me a little white pill and said “Come get more from me later because you need to take one every eight hours!” Which was exactly what I wanted to hear. They only last eight hours. I had no plans of ever taking another one again.
Now it’s not that I was trying to be deceptive or manipulative. It’s just that I really meant what I said about my personal journey and it was important to me! I wanted to know whether I would get seasick or not. I’m a curious person! I’ve been on boats my whole life. My longest journey was a month-long voyage on a research vessel. I’ve always feel great on the ocean except for those couple of offbeat times I described earlier. But I knew this voyage was different and I really wanted to understand my limits and my capabilities. Edmund could have easily afforded to send us all to Antarctica on a big cruise ship or a private plane. In fact, he had indeed chartered a plane for us to return on. So this was truly my only chance to test out my sea legs at what it might feel like to be a real sailor! If we were indeed all ballsy enough to attempt to sail the Drake in the first place, well the whole point must’ve been to test ourselves somehow, to discover personally how we will endure such a crossing. If not, why bother doing it the hard way to begin with?
So my plan was to simply pacify the captain’s mood by showing him that I’d be willing to bend and take his advice and that I’m not just on some ego trip of claiming to be indestructible. But I was also well aware that it takes longer than eight hours to make it to the real Drake where you leave the protection of land and calmer seas behind. I figured that once Captain Mark is in a good mood, he’d see that I’m a hard worker no matter what and that I wouldn’t let anything forsake my responsibility to the crew. I planned on doing everything I could to help our team; I just wanted to conduct my own little personal experiment while doing so.
Captain Mark was already getting ready to push off, even though it was only 6am and so I scrambled to help Caroline do dishes and put everything away. Next we were told to sign up for our watches. The first watch would officially start at 8am. Each shift would be two hours long and rotate constantly around the clock until we reached Antarctica. It sounded very simple to me. Work for two hours, rest for six? No problem. With Jessea out, that would mean between Dan, Dixie, Edmund and me, we would be on watch for a total of 8 hours a day, which didn’t sound so bad at all considering how much time we had to rest in between. I offered to do the first shift, hoping to convince the Captain that I did not plan to be a slacker.
Caroline explained to me that anytime I do a watch, I should layer up with everything I have. Long underwear, fleece, beanie, gloves, boots and my outer shells because after two hours, I would be cold. So I headed to the narrow hallway where all of our gear was stacked and hung and did as she said though it felt like a bit of overkill at the time. After suiting up in all layers and complete uniform, I glanced at myself in the small mirror on the wall. Great. Well hello Timmy.
“Timmy” is a beloved nickname given to me by my boyfriend Justin that was immediately adopted by almost everyone close to me. Justin is a cinematographer and photographer and it started one night when he was sorting through freediving photos of me that he had taken earlier that day. He showed me a couple of the winners he had picked out from all the shots. He had captured beautiful light, striking composition, and me in crystal clear water with poise and grace. As he showed them to me, he said, “You’re so damn good at this Kimi.” I smiled fondly at the warmhearted compliment and was just about to compliment him back when he said, “But do you know who else I really love?”
“Who?” I asked, a bit perplexed. He then clicked on another set of photos that he selected and said, “Timmy!” I exploded in laughter. In all of these photos, I looked like a slightly deranged chubby bunny, somehow stuffed into a wetsuit with my arms usually flailing clumsily out to the side, eyes squinting, asymmetrically, yet managing to hold an oblivious look of joy with a big dopey smile to complete it all. Justin then proceeded to click back and forth from good photo to dorky photo saying, “Here’s Kimi! Here’s Timmy!” and we both cracked up the entire time because aside from looks alone, we knew that Timmy was indeed a very real part of me.
I later told another photographer friend of mine this story and he said “I know Timmy! I have Timmy photos too!” and in no time at all the nickname spread amongst my closest buddies and has stuck ever since. The name is used at such appropriate times like when I’ve tripped over my own feet and fallen flat on my face – “You OK Timmy?” Or the times when I’ve struggled to hoist myself from the ocean back into a boat with the grace of a physically challenged seal –“You can do it Timmy!” Even my landlord’s seven-year-old son can easily identify Timmy moments- when I’ve tried to say something silly to make him laugh, but only ended up laughing at my own joke, which he finds little humor in. He would just shake his head, put his little hand on my shoulder and with such a balance of sarcasm and compassion, gently say, “Oh Timmy.”
I try to escape Timmy and hide her as much as I possibly can but there are certain situations in which she will make herself present no matter what. And it became instantly clear to me that when in this outfit, Timmy would be out and shining in all of her glory. So with that, I waddled out of the hallway, grabbed my thermos of tea and headed up the stairs to start my watch.
Captain Mark was at the helm and said that we would have to motor out for a while until we got into the wind. I asked him if he had time to catch me up on the briefing that I missed. So as we motored on, he listed rule after rule of the boat. I had already broken one. “Do not climb up the stairs with anything in your hands. If you have tea, food or anything to carry, ask the person who is on watch with you to pass it to you once you are either up or down the stairs. I don’t know why people always try to climb the stairs with something in their hands!” He continued on, explaining everywhere on the boat where you are allowed to sometimes place a drink- mainly by the sink, though you should never leave it unattended for more than a moment. He explained every cupboard and how to properly unhinge and open it and that there’s no need to slam it because we might crack the wood. He said that though Caroline is on kitchen duty, she will need help because she will get tired from her shifts so we all need to cleanup after ourselves. He went into safety and fires and all the normal boat protocol but it was the general house rules that I admired most. It made me look around in the cabin of the boat and truly appreciate that he made this beautiful vessel with his own two hands. It truly was a piece of art. He sanded every knob and handle and designed it be just as we had wanted it. It was beautiful.
“How did you learn to build such a boat?” I asked, “Did you study woodwork as well as sailing?” He looked at me a little wearily and said, “My parents just said it was in my blood. When I was five years old, they found me with a saw in my hands cutting a piece of wood to make my own boat.”
“Did they teach you to sail?” I prodded on. “No but when I was fourteen, I think they needed a break from us kids so they sent my siblings and me to a sailing school for the summer and I loved it! I’ve never stopped since” he answered. I could see his eyes light up with passion and the corner of his mouth rise into almost a smile. Then it faded. “I think they’ve regretted that choice several times since though.”
He looked down and shifted a bit uncomfortably, perhaps looking for a subject change, then asked, “What about you? What do you do for a living in Hawaii?”
“I’m a freediver and a spearfisherwoman.”
“So just like the other girl Jessea?” he asked.
“Well no, I don’t compete for depths like Jessea. I mainly use freediving to hunt for fish. But I don’t sell fish or anything like that.”
He looked perplexed. I couldn’t blame him. I probably sounded like someone who was a playing make-believe or just being a bit fraudulent with my career truth. I get that look a lot. He leaned in a bit closer and the confusion and curiosity were apparent in him and he gently said, “But you do make a living somehow?”
As much as I get tired of telling my own story, I find that the more I try to speed through it, the more questions always come up and the more I just have to start over. And by now I know that the best place to start is indeed, always the beginning.
“My dad was a spearfisherman. We were poor when I was young. He used spearfishing to put food on the table and feed our family while he was trying to build his plastering business. When I was five years old, he started letting me tag along with him. I loved it. Everything about it resonated with me. I loved watching my dad bring up my favorite dinners- fish, lobster, or octopus- I’d always clap underwater for him. I didn’t even know that we were poor because my life felt so rich. Eventually his business took off and we didn’t live like that anymore. He didn’t need to dive to feed us because he could afford to buy us food and what we needed.”
He looked interested so I continued, “But when I grew up, I became a chef, or a cook rather. And I wasn’t happy in my career. I was bored and I felt disconnected to all the food I worked with. I didn’t know where all the ingredients came from or how long it was frozen or how it was killed or how long ago it died. And that made me feel disconnected to the whole process and I kept thinking about my past. I then became an artist for a living, but my past still haunted me and called at me.
So finally I realized that those days of diving and collecting food were the happiest of my life, so I returned to it. I learned to freedive and learned to hunt. I got really good at it. Phenomenal divers started training me. Then I tried my hand at competing and I started winning. I won local tournaments, became a National Champion, and won international tournaments. It looked like I had a chance of making a career out of it. But I got over it. I realized that my dad didn’t teach me to dive for trophies. My soul hadn’t been calling me back to past for trophies and competitions. I just wanted to dive for food and do it in a sustainable way.
So that’s what I did. I thought I’d have no chance at making a living out of it, so I kept doing my art. But soon companies that liked what I stood for started sponsoring me. You know that company Patagonia, the guys who bought all that wild land in Chile? Just to keep it wild? They’re my main sponsors. They believed in my path towards sustainable hunting and picked me up as a sponsored athlete and ambassador of their company and then other companies followed.
Soon people wanted to film me hunting or freediving and so filming and production took over my life and that became my main form of salary on top of the sponsors. Last year, I got hired by National Geographic and got my own traveling TV show so that’s been my main job recently. I also have some passion projects and lifestyle brands that I’ve created based on what I’ve learned through my journey and travels. But yeah, underneath it all, I’m mainly just a spearfisher and freediver and I like to harvest my own food.”
Captain Mark looked out at the sea and took a few moments to take that all in. He stared at the horizon and inhaled, like he was slowly digesting it all. Then he said confidently, “Your dad must have been so proud when you told him you were gong to take up spearfishing. Since he’s the one who taught you.”
“Ha! Nope!” I said and laughed. He looked stunned and didn’t say anything but his face was filled with shock.
“My dad was hoping I’d move back home and learn how to take over his plastering company! It was something that I had considered and was getting ready to do as a final surrender to my own efforts since my other careers weren’t quite fulfilling me. But then one day I called him to tell him that I had changed my plans because I finally found what I loved in life. -that I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life! I was certain he’d be so proud this time because it was something he had taught me, something he used to do! So I told him all about how I fell in love with diving and spearfishing and how it was coming so naturally to me because of him and that I thought I really had potential to do something special with it and that I’ve never been so certain of anything in my life!
I was so excited and so certain that I knew how he’d react that when he first spoke I just assumed he was congratulating me and I thought he said something about how I found the answers to life in the ocean or something. It sounded poetic but I wasn’t sure so I said, ‘what did you say Dad?’ and then I heard his real response and his tone.
He was disappointed again. He sounded exhausted from listening to me. –And it turned out that he really said ‘Well Kim, I don’t know what you are going to do with your life now but I don’t think you’ll find the answers on the bottom of the ocean.’ It hurt so much because all I wanted and needed to make my newfound happiness complete was his approval and his happiness and I definitely didn’t get it on that phone call.”
Captain Mark looked hurt. He didn’t know what to say. He looked at me with concerned sorrow in his eyes as if I was wounded. Or perhaps he was wounded. Whatever it was, it prompted me to quickly say, “Don’t worry, it’s okay. My dad is really really proud of me now.”
“Is he?” Captain Mark asked with an immediate sense of relief.
“Oh yes. He is so proud. He’s my biggest fan. He says everyone treats him so nice at the boat harbor when he goes fishing because they know he’s my dad. He’s always encouraging me to keep doing what I’m doing. Sometimes he tells me my own ideas that I used to tell him ages ago, the same ones he use to disapprove of, and now he says it like they are his ideas!! Haha!”
We laughed and the captain looked content. “I think my parents are proud now too,” he said.
“I think for me, spearfishing was just something that reminded my dad of the challenges he faced when he was poor trying so hard to support us. It reminded him of the poverty and struggle and how hard he worked to try and give us more. And I was the one in the family known for constantly changing my mind about everything. First I wanted to cook, then I wanted to paint. He just thought I was partying my life away, which in a way was also true. But when I said that I was then going to pursue spearfishing, it probably just felt like all hope was lost on me. But soon he saw not only that I could make something out of it but I think he also finally realized what he had really given me in those early days, what he had really given all of us all along- a happy life.”
“When do you think he saw that?” captain Mark asked.
I thought about it for a moment then replied, “I think it was when I made my first cover of a magazine.” The captain chuckled “Isn’t that funny? How it’s when you are on the cover of a magazine that they get it? Haha! I think that’s when my dad understood too! I had told him all about an expedition I was doing and he just kept writing it off as me wanting to live my gypsy life but then this magazine did an article explaining the true feat that it was and the importance of it and I think that’s when my dad became proud too.”
“That is funny and it’s not like it’s just about the publicity or anything like that. My dad is a down to earth guy.” I said.
“I think it’s because it’s something they can show their friends. It’s just something they can use to help explain or even defend to others what we do,” he said.
“Yeah I think you’re right.” I agreed.
The Captain’s gaze was now fixed on the sea. His spirit looked lighter. He looked down at me and shrugged before saying “When I am held up and stuck at dock I get, I get, ” he stuttered and searched for the right words then immediately dispatched them “Well I get agitated!”
No, not you! I thought sarcastically as I beamed a smirk up at him.
He grinned and looked out at the ocean and in his thick Dutch accent proclaimed, “But this is the part I love. This is when I start to feel good!”
Well thank God! I said nothing but was quite tickled by his mood.
“So do you know anything about sailing?” the Captain asked.
“Only that it looks so complicated and confuses me!” I piped up. “But I’d love to learn,” I added.
He laughed, shut down the engine and said, “Okay well that’s the main sail and that there is the boom and that there is the jib. Can you go on deck and untie the sail cover from the main sail for me? Then we will put it up together.”
I was ecstatic and jumped to my feet and headed out of the cockpit and got to work.
I spent the rest of my time pulling in ropes, cranking winches and yelling back and forth to the Captain, doing whatever he told me to do until all of our sails were up and taut and we were sailing!
Dixie shouted from the stairs that he was there to relieve me as he made his way to the cockpit. I glanced at the time. I had already gone an hour over my shift! I was enjoying it all so much that I forgot to keep track and wake up Dixie to take over. What a great start to the voyage!
Once I was back in the cabin, I hung up all of my outerwear and climbed into my little bunk and zipped up into my cocoon-like sleeping bag to warm up.
I loved the motion of the boat; the gentle rocking made me feel like I was in a cradle. I was so snug and bundled up as it swayed me back and forth, the sounds of the ocean were a soft lullaby and I was surprised at how fast I felt sleep coming over me.
“Kimi, it’s your shift,” I heard a voice say as I slowly opened my sleepy eyes. Dan was dressed head to toe in his watch uniform and looked wet. I sat up immediately before knocking my head and realizing there was no room to sit up in bed here. I couldn’t quite believe it was time for me to do a watch again. How could I have slept the day away? I looked at the clock and sure enough it was 4pm.
I quickly got dressed in the narrow hallway and headed to the galley to grab my tea and something to snack on for my watch. Captain Mark explained to me that we had South East headwinds and so we would have to tack our course accordingly. The winds would switch to a South West the next day and would entail more tacking in the other direction. And though the reports showed that we unfortunately would have no Northerly winds in our favor, that by the third day, we would have some winds from the West that we could use to hold a better and faster course. He predicted the crossing might now take us five days.
As my second shift went by, I once again loved taking his direction and orders whenever I was told tighten the sails or let out rope and feed him line. I enjoyed learning the details of how to coil up and store the remainder of the ropes and how to tie different knots, but sailing itself only started to bewilder and astonish me more as it became remarkably apparent how much there was to learn and more so, how heavily we all depended on Captain Mark solely to get us through this voyage and how vulnerable we truly were. Captain Mark took time to not only tell me what to do but to stop and say “Do you understand what you just did?” I was always honest, “no.” And he would slow down and explain things in detail. “That is the tiller it works like a pendulum and steers the rudder and the whole thing is powered by that wind vane, you see?” I really appreciated him taking the time. In fact everything about the captain and all of his rough edges were growing on me. I liked to believe I was growing on him too.
When my shift ended I joined everyone in the galley. It was the first time everyone was awake at the same time as we all slept the day away when we weren’t on shift. Jessea was now awake and she had slept all day and the night before, just as she told us that she would. Despite all her sleep though, she appeared tired and drained but she was eating and seemed to be doing all right. Caroline had heated up a dinner of couscous with mixed vegetables that had been cooked in a tomato base. Caroline’s cooking was good and she was an extremely hard worker. She very diligently served us all, cleaned the kitchen and then took her own bowl of dinner outside to the deck as she relieved Captain Mark from his watch.
The captain told me that he would fix my bed because he noticed when he walked passed my cabin that my canvas wasn’t out. I had no idea what that meant but when I went to my bunk after dinner, I understood. We have a canvas with ropes and metal clips that connect to the ceilings that create a fourth wall of our bunk. I didn’t really think it was necessary but clipped in and went to bed.
I woke up to a roar of thunder and felt the whole boat jolt to its side. I was thrown, fiercely into the makeshift canvas wall, which due the angle of the boat, had now become the floor of my bed, holding all of my weight entirely. Had it not been there, I would have flown out of my bed, crashed into the wall of my cabin and hit the floor. Another explosion fired! It wasn’t thunder at all. The noise and blasts were the sea itself. Waves! -crashing and slamming the side of our boat! The entire haul suddenly pitched the other way tilting on its opposite side completely, throwing me from the canvas, straight into the opposing wall. What had once been a gentle, maternal rocking was now violent turmoil. I was so grateful for these bunks being so tight and small. Though I thought they seemed stuffy and claustrophobic before, I could only imagine the impact and blows that would happen if there were more room to be thrown around. I felt so indebted to my secure canvas shield. It was unnerving to feel how crazy the outside world was just a wall away, but here in my tiny bunk, the last place I had once thought I’d want to be when the seas were rough, I actually felt safe. Rattled for sure, but safe. I curled my body up tighter and found a secure position in which I could sleep and then heard heavy footsteps and Dan’s voice, “Kimi, your shift.” Damn.
I had the midnight shift. I got up and unclipped my canvas right as the boat rolled. Flying out of my bunk I caught myself by crashing into the cabin wall. I looked up at Dan, “Yeah, it’s rough” he said. He looked beaten. I also realized that I hadn’t heard Dan talk much at all since dinner. In fact, prolonged silence and everyone tucked away in their bunks seemed to becoming a common theme. Dan undressed, slumped into his sleeping bag and strapped himself into the canvas that tied him to the couch in the galley. This was not the Dan I knew. He obviously wasn’t well.
I looked at the cluttered pile of gear as I pinned myself in the hallway by pushing my feet to the floor by the shelves and jamming my back into the wall. Maybe it’s narrow for a reason. I searched the bottom shelf for my boots. All of our boots were wedged in there. I kept pulling out the wrong ones and every time I had to use my free hand to do anything it became harder not to stagger with my feet. The swing and sway of the boat was getting to me. I had to make this quick. This dreaded narrow hallway, everything I’m looking for is so close to me, too close and too crowded. It’s like trying to read while in motion but this is a motion all of it’s own and it felt angry.
Once I had my boots and trousers in hand, I tried to be as efficient as possible at putting them on so that I could get out of there quickly. I was already queasy as I grab my beanie, facemask, gloves and heavy jacket and head into the galley. I felt a bit of relief as I made it into the bigger space. Captain Mark was sitting at his chart table reading weather patterns. He looked completely undisturbed by the motion but not exactly happy or pleasant either. Jessea was up and at the sink. She looked miserable. “How are you?” I asked. “I’m okay she said.” She didn’t look okay. Then she vomited right into the sink and added “but sick.”
I filled my insulated mug with water and put the cap on. I usually don’t drink tea and hot water around the clock but it was the only way to try to stay warm. I placed it on the counter in the corner, against the thick wooden rail, as we were told to and I started putting on my gloves. The next wave came. My mug went flying right off the counter towards Captain Mark and his chart table and landed just short of him, on the galley floor. The lid snapped off and hot water splashed everywhere.
The captain’s eyes fiercely darted up at me. “I put it here but I should have just put it in the sink!” I immediately confessed.
His face relaxed and his eyes went straight back down to his charts; he didn’t even glance at the puddle on the floor by his feet. “It doesn’t matter. It’s just rough. Was it coffee?”
“No it was water.” I said. “Good.” He replied numbly, as I felt relief wash over me.
“I will have to stay down here and sort out our course for a while” he said still staring at the weather patterns he was studying.
I wiped up the puddle, refilled my mug and asked Jessea to pass it to me as I scurried up the stairs.
As soon as I got outside, the turbulent motion made me feel instantly ill. It came on fast. My whole body flushed with heat. The heat came from within me and swept up through my body, straight to my face as I breathed heavily trying to stabilize. Oh no. My mouth salivated instantly. I was about to spew. I could not let this happen now.
Not knowing what else to do, I started stripping down. I took off my outer shell, peeled out of my thick down jacket and kept stripping off the layers one by one. The more the heat intensified, the closer I was to losing control. Soon I was in my flannel and overalls. The frigid air cut right through me and pierced my skin, the instant chill shocked my whole system but a sense of relief came with it. I regained control over having to vomit. I stood there in the cockpit holding on tight to the steel bar on the cab, planting my feet firmly below me and trying to become one with our boat as it bowed up and down going up and over massive waves, all while tipping from side to side as I was blasted by wind, hail and chop.
I was feeling quite frozen but at the same time, I was completely awestruck. I could not believe what I was seeing. This boat looked like a fake little toy in these huge seas. I watched, somewhat in horror and completely dumbfounded as The Jonathan tilted completely on its side all at once, while the entire deck was covered with a violent blanket of water and all the water streamed off as the boat then tilted dramatically and completely to it’s other side. I could only imagine what was happening to everyone being tossed around in their bunks and what a beating they must be taking. I had never really considered that a single haul sailboat was made to go so extremely sideways. But it always popped back up. Even more frightening was watching the bow of The Jonathan climb up and over the much bigger swells rolling in head on. It all seemed impossible. As horror-struck as I felt watching us scale wave after wave, the boat somehow kept prevailing. The Jonathan kept moving forward steadily, climbing these dark mountains and sliding down their backs -all powered by it’s own sails! This little trinket of a toy somehow was determined to keep its course. I had never in my life seen anything so seaworthy before.
I put my outer layers back on and finished the rest of my shift as I continued my attempt at becoming one with The Jonathan while watching and observing everything. By the time I was done, I had invested my full faith into this boat.
Undressing after my shift was just as daunting of a feat as gearing up. Just taking off my boots or pants would make me nauseous. The goal was to hurry and make it to bed as fast as possible. For any moment spent focusing on any detail – a zipper, a sock, a buckle, made me woozy all over again. As soon as I was changed and dry, I crawled into my cocoon and felt nothing but pure relief and gratitude. I loved my little coffin-size box. It was the only place I wanted to be.
In bed I tried everything I could not to think about the queasiness that was building in me. Jessea was in her bunk quietly throwing up into a container that she slept with at her side. I paid attention to the motion of the boat and tried to get used to it, embrace it even. It wasn’t possible. The side to side rocking was already enough to make the couscous I ate earlier start to rise in my throat but the worse part was the combination of the up and down motion from the boat going forward over the waves. There was no getting used to it. We were being constantly shaken from all angles. It’s funny how the boat became a living being in my mind. The Jonathan was out there taking a beating and weathering the storm for us, while we were mere contents in his belly being tossed and turned in every direction while he trooped on. I felt grateful for our boat but that type of thinking only made me visualize the contents in my own belly; I surrendered to the misery and somehow fell in and out of sleep.
Sleep would hit me hard and heavy. Vivid dreams, one after another would come and always be interrupted by the sound of explosion or whoever was on shift yelling back and forth to one another. I could hear people scrambling in the dreaded hallway to put on their gear as fast as they could while falling down. I woke up every time but the disturbance didn’t bother me; I only felt for them. There was no etiquette anymore, no time for it. Yell if you need to. Shine lights if you can’t see what you’re looking for. Lying in bed, it would have never crossed my mind to ever ask someone to keep it down. None of us cared about those kinds of things at this point. If you were in bed, you were just so grateful to not have to be out there.
“Your shift Kimi,” Dan said. He looked pale and sounded defeated and tired. There’s no way it could’ve been my shift. There’s no way I could’ve rested for over two hours, let alone six. “How is that possible?!” I questioned. “I know, I felt the same way when Edmund woke me up for mine. They’re just coming faster and faster.”
Dan looked broken. “I’ve been in really rough seas,” he said. “But never rough seas on a sailboat. This is really different. I worked my shift with Caroline; she was shivering and puking. No one is even talking. We’re all sick.”
Though my nausea had subsided, my fatigue had only grown worse. I was tired. I got out of bed, struggled to get dressed and met Captain Mark in the cockpit. I bypassed food of any kind. I wasn’t hungry at all. It was light out again. It turned out that my last 12am-2am shift was the last time I’d ever experience darkness on this trip. We had officially traveled far enough South to the where the sun would never set. From this point on, it was bright and sunny 24-7.
I liked to stand in the cockpit and peek my face over the shield, like a dog in a car with its head out the window. It was cold and stung my cheeks but it made me feel fresh and clear and oxygenated. Captain Mark would look up and raise an eyebrow at me and I ‘d just pretend to very diligently be looking for ice or debris. When I had my fix of salty air, I sat down next to the Captain. “Want a cookie?” he asked sternly in his accent.
He was casually munching on cookies that looked more like crackers. They looked plain enough to be appealing, “sure.” He took one out and placed it between us on the bench. I reached out and grabbed it and nibbled away. There were whitecaps all around us. The sea was rough but did seem a bit more favorable than the night before. The captain got up and clipped his life fest into a safety rope. “I need to change something with the sails. Bring in this rope when I tell you to but first check that bucket over there and if there’s anything in it, rinse it out.”
I made my way to the gray pail and looked in. Poor Caroline. The bucket had puke in it, green and filled with bile. I dumped it out and looked at the size of the waves.
“How do I rinse it?” I asked hoping there might be a saltwater hose somewhere. “Well you need to dip it in the ocean and fill it with water without dropping it”
The waves rolled in and the deck was engulfed in water and then it would steam off as the entire ocean would drop meters below reach. Don’t let go. I timed the next wave and got soaking wet but managed to fill my pail with water without dropping it, rinsed it and tied it off accordingly.
"Do you have a home on land?" I asked the captain as he returned to the cockpit.
"I own a small house that I've been renting out for years. One day I will sell it and it will be my pension. But this boat is my home. I will die on this boat." He answered.
I loved how he said that, so matter-of-factly, not even trying to sound dramatic! I had no doubt that he meant every word of it.
“Why’d you name the boat The Jonathan?” I asked, “I thought boats were supposed be girls.”
“I named it after a book.” Captain Mark told me.
“What book?” I asked.
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” he said. “Do you know it?”
“I’ve heard of it but no, I don’t know the story.”
“Well it was a very popular book written by Richard Bach who was a pilot. It later became a movie. But it was about a seagull who wasn’t happy living like the other seagulls. He wanted to fly far away where seagulls thought they couldn’t fly. He was banished from his flock for having such ideas and not being like the rest of them. -but he did his own thing anyway. Eventually he could fly with his mind! He could just imagine a place and instantly be there.”
I liked talking to Captain Mark; rather, I liked listening to him. Even though he was always grumpy and he usually had little to say. He was the onion of all onions. So many layers and so rough around the edges, but when he talked sometimes, his eyes would light up and his gaze would wander far over the horizon and he actually looked really happy. And then he’d always snap out of it and return to grumpy.
“Well anyway,” he said hastily “I just thought that would be a good name for a boat!” I nodded, it seemed like a fine name to me. “But now everyone just thinks my name is Jonathan! Now why would I ever do that? Who would name a boat after himself?” he scoffed. “I must go check the charts again,” and with that, he climbed down the stairs back to the cabin. And as soon as he did, I turned around and ran to the bucket and vomited.
Ugh the energy it takes to throw up. But as much as my body contracted and strained, as soon as I was done, I felt so much better. I rinsed the bucket and was tying it back up to the railing as soon as Captain Mark came up the stairs again. And then the impulse hit me again. I quickly flung myself back right over the bucket, waves crashing over my back and vomited a second time. I knew he’d be looking and I just made one rule for myself. Puke all you need to but when you’re done, look him in the eye and smile like a warrior. Show him you’re fine and happy. And that’s what I did. The wind was howling; the spray was blasting me in the face. I might have still had vomit dripping from my lips but I slowly tilted my head up from the bucket, held a deliberate stare and in the most deranged way, gave him the most satisfied primal smile.
He found it amusing. He actually chuckled and shrugged his shoulders and showed no anger or frustration whatsoever. I wiped my mouth, rinsed the bucket, tied up and sat down with next to him and smirked. “I guess you didn’t like the cookie” he said, “Want a mint instead?” He took out a small package of white little mints and placed one two feet next to me on the bench. I laughed inside. Why couldn’t he just hand it to me? What was I a stray animal of sorts? He feeds me treats with the same tactics I use to tame wild or stray animals. It is exactly how I built trust with my pet gecko at home. I’d leave a drop of honey between me and the gecko then quickly pull my hand back allowing it to meet me halfway. I took the mint. It was a nice treat.
I finished my shift and returned to the galley where Jessea was curled up in blankets but eating a salami sandwich. I couldn’t even bare to watch someone eating. How are you feeling? I asked her “I’m okay. You know, sick.” She said. And as if I had planned it on cue, I unexpectedly turned and vomited once again right into the sink and said “Yeah, we all are!” Captain Mark was coming down the stairs and caught the tail end of that and remarked, “You’re sick.”
“I know. That’s what I just said,” I replied. “No, no no,” he stuttered before finding his words, “You’re a masochist.” I couldn’t understand through the noise of rising the sink and his thick accent. “A what?” I asked. “A masochist, it’s French. Someone who likes to hurt themselves.” We laughed then I brushed my teeth and went to bed.
As I curled up in bed, I wondered if my reaction to Jessea was too insensitive or condescending. Though it felt completely natural and justified in the moment, I questioned myself on how deliberate I might’ve been in my words. I sensed that part of me wanted to put her in place and tell her she needs to step up and be stronger. I don’t like putting others down, or being that confronting. It bothered me a bit. But I think there was a part of me that was starting to resent having a person onboard not doing any shifts. What if I were to go down and stop working shifts? I can’t! Because that would cause everyone else to go down! If you can eat, you can work a shift. And seeing someone down and broken makes me want to break too. And then I got it. I observed my thoughts and realized the truth because if there’s one thing that I know about myself, it's that the moment I start to blame others or the world around me for how I feel, instead of simply looking at what I can do better, it means I’m misdirected. And it usually means that the underlying problem is simply that I’m scared, because I’m getting weak and about to crumble.
I’ve known that about myself since my days of competitive canoe paddling. When I was well trained and prepared for a long race, it didn’t matter if I saw someone else not pulling their weight, in fact it only encouraged me, gave me compassion and made me stronger. I’m going to pull twice as hard for her and she will come back! But when I myself was tired or ill-prepared and getting weak, if anyone around me slipped up or slacked off, my thoughts were quick to jump on the blame train and it never made anything better. The same has been true with all other circumstances of my life. When I blame others it's because I recognize qualities in them that I feel in myself and it's easier to try and change them than change myself. But it never works. I closed my eyes knowing that I needed to change my attitude.
A few hours later when I woke up to the tossing and turning seas completely nauseous in my bunk, I tried to ride it out. I tried to make myself go back to sleep. I heard Dan doing something by the shelves and I wanted so badly to ask him for a cup of warm water. But I also heard him talking to someone about how he just threw up and I realized that asking anyone to go get me water was asking too much. We all were sick and it was the little things like putting on our boots or changing our socks or opening a thermos of hot water –anything that required any type of focus was just too much. Those actions put us over the edge. If I can’t get myself water, I shouldn’t ask anyone else to do it for me because in conditions like this, it really was the difference between sickness and health.
I was getting hot and flushed and took off a few layers hoping that would work again it didn’t. I threw myself out of my bunk and ran to the galley, barely making it to the sink and I vomited hard. I was suffering. When I finished I washed the sink and looked up. Captain Mark was right there staring me in the face. I gave him a not-so-cocky, quite defeated half-smile this time. He held a tiny white pill between his two fingers and raised it up to me. “Would you like to take another sea sickness pill? I know you haven’t taken any more” he said. “Maybe” I said and slumped over.
He was pleased with my surrender. “Well I will leave it right here for you” he said sounding cheerfully cynical. He placed it on the counter a foot away from my hand. Great I’m the freaking pet gecko again. He started to walk away. I looked at the little pill rocking back and forth like a tiny white flag calling my name. I still didn’t want to take it.
“Maybe I’ll just put it in my pocket for now,” I said.
His cheery attitude went right out the window. “I don’t understand you! Why will you not take any medicine?! You make absolutely no sense!” he roared at me.
“Well I’m sorry if I’m being a little stubborn but,” I tried to explain but was cut off by his thunder.
“A little stubborn? A little?! You have been sick for two days straight and you refuse to take anything for it! I cannot understand you!” he yelled.
“Well I just want to make my mind stronger all on my own. I feel like it’s been getting weaker lately as I get older and I don’t like that. I also want to see if I can use my mind to get over being seasick. I want to see if I can do it on my own.” Oh dear. I heard my own voice break as I said this and it surprised me. I saw Jessea’s face shift with compassion. I really sounded pathetically sad and desperate.
But the captain’s temper weakened and in a much lighter voice he said, “Oh Kimi, I don’t think it works like that. I don’t think seasickness is something you can control with your mind. You can have a very strong mind and still not be able to control it,” and then another thought crossed his mind and he added, “Unless you’re in my shoes. You know why I don’t get seasick? I can’t get seasick. If I go down, no one will survive. Everything depends on me not going down. But other than that, you can’t control it. In fact this one time with my ex wife, we were sailing and I got hurt. She needed to takeover. My ex always got seasick but that day she had to step up and she did. And she sailed the journey and did everything on her own and did not get sick at all, which has never happened before or since. But once we made it safely to port, she was so happy and said ‘Now I will finally take a sandwich.’ She ate the sandwich and immediately threw up! So it can not be controlled.”
Now I know this little strange pep talk and story was supposed to make me believe that I had no control over my condition but it only proved to me that you can beat it when you really need to. It only intrigued me more to find out what my body is capable of and how to harness the connection between my body and mind. Plus, he’s the one that named his damn boat after a damn seagull who learned to fly with his mind or something! So it had to be true!
I decided not to call him out on that and rather said, “Well I also heard a rumor that no matter how sick you are or how long your voyage is, after three days you will get your sea legs! You will stabilize and not be seasick anymore! And I’m almost done with day two now, so I’m almost there! I can't stop now!”
He was not pleased with my newfound inspiration and enthusiasm. He wrinkled his weathered face and growled, “All I know is that if I were on someone’s boat and the captain told me to take the medicine, there would be no conversation! I would take the medicine, no questions asked!” Damn, he’s got me now. I’m a sucker for being respectful and he just about called me disrespectful.
I stood up straight, held my chin up ready to accept my punishment and looked straight at him and said, “Well then if you tell me to take the medicine, I will take it.”
He exploded, “I’m not going to tell you to take the medicine! You’re the one who is sick and puking not me! I’m not going to tell you what to do!”
Ha! And he thought I was stubborn.
“Well then if it’s my choice, I’m going to put it in my pocket!”
“Well we will see if it’s still there in a couple days!” he challenged. “And in the meantime just make sure you keep puking in the sink, because if you puke on my floors, then I will really be pissed off!” he snarled and stormed away. I'd hate to see him really pissed off.
I felt a little better, my stomach was a bit relieved. I did feel a little shamed from the scolding and disappointed that I had let Captain Mark down once again but at the same time a part of me felt inspired and strangely, a bit amused. I brushed my teeth, grabbed an apple and Jessea got up and made me some tea. Dan finished his shift and I went to work right on time.
I definitely still was always on verge of nausea and it started to dawn on me that the captain perhaps just didn’t like watching people suffer. I think by now he understood that no matter how miserable I got, I was going to do my work. I also wondered why it was so important to him that I take medicine when clearly, everyone else who had taken medicine was sick themselves. I think he just wanted to feel like he had some sense of control of easing the suffering and pain of others.
Perhaps that’s what I was feeling about Jessea earlier. In my mind I started blaming her for not doing shifts. But I think the deeper issue was that having a woman down on our boat made me reflect on my own vulnerabilities and feel like I was that much closer to joining her. Watching someone else suffer and fold makes us realize how human we all are. And as strong as Captain Mark was, I’m sure he’s not immune to watching a boatful of people suffer, knowing that the fate of us all were in his hands. So any action of possibly making that better would probably ever so slightly, help his overall stress and state of mind.
For me personally I didn’t like how the medicine clouded my mind and made me drowsy but more than anything, I just felt that I needed to know my limits, my body, my mind. I just really had hoped to do that without making the captain hate me.
The rest of my day consisted of eating whenever I felt stable, never because I was actually hungry. Hunger simply didn’t exist anymore but I knew I had to make sure I had some sort of nutrition in me, especially since I was losing so much of it to puking. I stayed as hydrated as I could. Again, this was extremely hard and I had to drink whenever my insides felt calm enough and when I knew that I could hold it down. It was so tempting to not eat or drink. Drinking meant that I’d have to use the bathroom more often. That alone felt like a torturous mission to make when I was all the way in my bunk. Whenever I did pee I had to check the color and see how I was doing on drinking water. All of these simple daily practices felt like huge chores but they were obligatory because the last thing I could let myself do, was truly collapse. I might have been miserable and sick but I couldn’t let it break me.
My dreams were vivid again. They were all about the people I loved back home. Their faces and presences all were so real and tangible. I could still feel my heart reaching for them as I opened my eyes in bed. I then remembered the very last part of the dream right before I woke. I was in conversation at a table with all of my beloved friends and family, when I heard from out the window, “Kimi” in a man’s voice followed immediately by “Shhh!”
That last part confused me and then I had the sudden and urgent knowing within me that it was midnight; it was time for my shift!!! Dan hadn’t come to get me but I knew it was time. I thought about the dream. That’s what woke me. Dan came to get me and someone shhh’d him away!
I felt frustrated and furious. Who was it? Edmund? The Captain? I didn’t want any of them deciding that I should step down from a shift! We couldn’t afford to not have me work. Just because I had been sick didn’t mean I couldn’t work. In fact because I was sick, I had to work! That was part of the deal. I don’t want any of them working doubles for me. That will quickly bring us all down. Is that really what happened?
I jumped out of my bunk still with groggy and vision blurry. I looked out of the rain-covered window to the cockpit and saw a figure out on the deck, completely geared thick and standing up in the rain. “What time it is it?” I demanded as I tried to make out the clock. “Is it midnight?!”
“Yes” Dan whispered from his bunk in the galley, “Jessea took your shift!”
Well I’ll be darned. Jessea Lu was in the game! I looked at the figure outside getting drenched with waves. Completely geared from head to toe. I thought of the “Shhh!” I had just heard in my dreams a mere moment ago. That means she had woken herself up before midnight, got all geared up ahead of time, and was ready and waiting to intercept my shift. Without asking without telling, she just did. What a freaking warrior! The respect I gained for this woman in that moment restored my faith in everything. It was revitalizing like a shot of strength strait to my bloodline. And it did in fact make the whole team instantly stronger and more supportive. What a trooper, I thought with a hopeful outlook for the rest of the journey as I gratefully crawled back into bed.
The next voice I heard was Mark. “Kimi since Jessea worked your shift you can either sleep or you can take over Dixie’s shift if you’d like.”
“I’d love to take a shift,” I said, still celebrating my two extra hours of slumber! This was perfect. Now the whole team would benefit from all of us functioning together. We’d now get eight hours of rest between shifts and everyone would get stronger.
Captain Mark no longer seemed upset with me, perhaps because he saw my energy looking good and healthy again. I saw him chuckle at how I pranced around the boat and it’s rocking motion. I had also come up with ways to bend but not break the rules. I’d carry lots of things in my mouth like a dog as I moved around from one area to another. It made it easier for me, everything from beanies and gloves to bread, if I held it in my mouth I didn’t have to bother anyone to pass it to me and I could use both hands to support me and get places faster.
But it was day three and though I was feeling so much mentally stronger, in all honestly the seasickness had not quite subsided. Jessea joining the team helped me and motivated everyone. Watching her resurrect herself from the bedridden state of being in order to join the working whole, even if she was still sick, made us all dig deeper and try harder.
By day four, I had stabilized. Now this doesn’t mean that I could read or untie knots without having to take long deep breaths and talk myself through it, but compared to how I had felt before, I was relatively solid. We were all getting better at doing our jobs and we were eating more and actually feeling a bit of hunger at times, enough to make congee even!
Still our time spent in our bunks was the most cherished. It’s crazy how cabin fever is not an issue when all you can think about is health and survival, everyone loved their little cocoons. I made a remark that I couldn’t’ understand how it was possible to sleep as much as we had been doing. Captain Mark explained to me that when the boat moves so vigorously and consistently, any time you are anywhere besides your bunk, you muscles are totally engaged; your whole body is under stress using energy just to hold itself up and your mind is constantly working using all of it's energy to try and stabilize the motion. So the time spent in bed is the only time and place where you can finally let go. So you let go hard.
By day 4.5, the head winds had gotten so strong, over 50 knots that we had to surrender our sails. There was no way to motor against winds like that either, so we did nothing but bob for 10 hours straight. I didn’t like that part. Not only was the motion different and I worried that I might get ill all over again but I just didn’t like not making any ground. I missed the sound of sailing. I missed the promise of progress. It was now clear that we would be set back yet another day.
But after those ten long hours, we were back in action and the watches had become much more serious. There was ice everywhere! We had to watch for ice big or small and change our course often to dodge it. But we also saw sea life everywhere that he we hadn’t seen before! Penguins would skip out of the water like fish right along side our boat. We saw dolphins and whales and so many different varieties of birds everywhere. It was getting quite exciting.
I was working the midnight shift on day six when we finally spotted land. There she was, the majestic island of ice. It was so far in the distance, I had to squint to see it. Yet the light shining on the faraway continent was radiant and apparent from miles. It felt like glory and comfort and safety wrapped up in one. I was smiling from ear to ear as we got closer and the seas around welcomed us and became calm and glassy. Everything seemed to slow down and it was beautiful.
After a while, Captain Mark came up from the cabin and as he climbed the stairs he said “Kimi you should be able to see land by now” and then he noticed my gaze and smile. He looked out on the ocean and his eyes lit up when he saw it. He smiled a grin I had never seen on his face before. He didn’t take his eyes off of it. “No matter how many times I see it. It’s just as spectacular every time.”
Finally, he sat down and collapsed into a comfortable position in the cockpit. Relief was beaming from him. He still didn’t look up but with a big sigh he said, “Was it a rough crossing of the Drake? Yes, yes. It was very rough.”
Then he looked up at me with a big tired smile and said “Was I stressed? Yes, yes I was very stressed.”
The alleviation that washed over him actually made him start to giggle and I finally knew for sure, that we had made it.