Waterlines: A Day on Passage

Why is my family instantly starving the moment we head out to sea? Erik claims it is brought on by boredom, but honestly! We left the anchorage just six minutes ago.
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The author’s family, sailing through the lagoon into New Caledonia

The author’s family, sailing through the lagoon into New Caledonia

“Sails prepped?”

“Mizzen, main and jib are ready to go.”

“Ready on the windlass?” “Ready.”

“Have you taken your meclozine hydrochloride?”

“Seasickness pills taken, captain.”

“Then let’s sail.”

As we turn away from land, I secure the anchor for passage. I have hardly put a toe in the cockpit when the first request comes.

“Mom, I’m hungry.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Why is my family instantly starving the moment we head out to sea? Erik claims it is brought on by boredom, but honestly! We left the anchorage just six minutes ago.

I grab a bag of cookies and dole them out to the ravenous hordes. I have learned the hard way to prep four days of meals and treats before we go on passage. Until my seasickness fades on Day 5, I don’t dare spend time below cooking.

By now everyone has settled into their favorite spot. I sit in the cockpit and watch a flock of birds fishing to starboard. Martha makes a nest of blankets and settles in to read. Audrey plays with Legos in the saloon.

Erik, who pretends to relax on passage with a book, adjusts lines. He eases the jib an inch. Then he brings it in an inch. Then eases it out again, maybe 7/8in. “I think that gained us a quarter knot,” he reports with satisfaction. Three minutes later, he is back to his fiddling.

Soon we have lost sight of land, and the water is a deep indigo. The salty breeze blows through the cockpit. Before long, Martha cries, “Dolphins!” and everyone scrambles into their offshore life jackets, clips into the jacklines and hurries on deck. A pod of 30 dolphins settles around the bow, easily matching our 7 knots. As we watch them dive and play, I remember to scan the horizon now and then. It would be poor form to get run over by a container ship while goggling a bunch of marine mammals.

After that, everyone needs another snack before we start school. Martha tackles some long division, while Audrey practices writing her lower-case k.

A bowl of chili, a slice of cake and endless crackers-with-butter later, everyone settles into the cockpit to listen to a book as the sun goes down in the west. Sometimes we turn on an audiobook. Sometimes Erik and I read. It occurs to me the girls could now share the reading duties, too. It is hard to believe Audrey was barely a toddler when we started out.

Later I tuck Audrey into bed, leaving Martha to help her dad begin the first night watch. I close my eyes, and before I know it Erik is gently shaking my shoulder. “Amy. Time to get up. Your turn.”

Already? Erik is halfway into his pajamas, though, so I guess it’s true. “Nothing to report,” he says. “We passed a cargo ship earlier, but no issues. Sky looks clear. We have 17 knots on the port quarter, so we’re in good shape.”

I climb into the cockpit and do a scan. Erik wasn’t kidding about the clear sky: the Milky Way is putting on a good show tonight. I find the Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri as I start working my way around the constellations I know. Before I get too absorbed, I set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes to make sure I remember to watch the horizon, too.

Four hours later, it is my turn to wake Erik. I fill in my log entry and work my way to our cabin. “Erik, you’re up. The wind dropped a little and shifted south, but we’re still on a good course.”

When the sun rises, a small hand pats my face. “Mom. Wake up, Mom. It’s time to make me breakfast.” Audrey disappears again as I open an eye.

I start a pot of tea and give Erik a wave. “Did she wake you?” he asks. “I’ve fed her once already.”

“You know Audrey. The sun is up, so everyone should be up,” I say, as I set up the SSB to receive a weatherfax and then escape to the comfort of the cockpit.

Her hunger forgotten, Audrey is back at her early morning station: the bow. She clears the flying fish from the scuppers, grasps a stanchion and revels in every dip of the bow, every bit of sea spray in her face.

A short while later, Martha emerges from below and pushes between Erik and me.

“Morning, honey.”

“Morning. Mom, I’m—”

“Hungry, I know.”

By the time I’ve prepared breakfast, everyone is seated at the cockpit table, ready to dig in. Audrey gives her report on current sea conditions, Martha tells us about the book she is reading, and Erik abandons his breakfast for a moment to—you guessed it—adjust a line.

As for me, I think about how much I like being on passage with my family. A little seasickness is a small price to pay.

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