Atlantic Island Voyage: January 1999

Captain's Log
0200 hours, 9 January 1999

 Mike, navigating

Mike, navigating

Position is 11d34m north, 59d31m west by a very satisfactory fix using the moon, Capella and Canopus. Conditions are the best they have been for celestial navigation, with seas running not more than 10 feet, perfectly clear skies, and a half moon giving enough light for a clear horizon, but not so much as to blank out the stars. The stars are a bit different down at this latitude: Polaris is very low on the horizon, and we can see both the Southern Cross and Canopus, neither of which is ever visible in Maine. This fix is consistent with yesterdays sun fix, and within 2 miles of our GPS, and puts us 57 miles west of Tobago, in good position for a mid-day landfall today, which is ideal. And a very welcome landfall it will be, although it is almost sad to watch the glass run out on this best of all possible passages, 2200 miles in 14 days, with a steady wind all the way and the proverbial flowing sheet, no significant gear failures and no injuries. Almost too good to be true; no doubt something nasty is waiting for us in Scarborough, which is where we will go to clear customs.

This run has been an interesting laboratory for observing our adaptation to motion. There was no gentle transition this time: we went immediately into steep 15-20 foot seas and 30 knot winds, which moderated only in the second week. We experienced the usual spectrum of nausea and more or less difficulty spending time below at first, which is always the case. But I was particularly struck by the more subtle effects of motion this time, not very original observations I am sure, but fascinating to contemplate nonetheless. There are other physical effects besides nausea; headache is common, as is lassitude, both in the sense of sleepiness and in the sense of great mental effort being required for tasks which are normally easy. Sleep is more fragmented and less restorative, with all of us needing more daytime sleep in the first few days. One is more susceptible to fear, and to a sense of feeling overwhelmed by it all and unable to cope with new challenges. These are particularly poignant impairments in weather conditions where frightening things occur, and crises requiring masterful coping and quick action are likely to arise. Other fairly subtle psychological effects occur, including a sort of deadening of the higher human traits: sense of humor is strikingly diminished, as is the capacity for pleasure and delight, and for creative or imaginative thought. The parallel with clinical depression is irresistible. The best description I can come up with to describe the entire constellation of changes would be "dogged coping". To be sure, some of this is purely physical challenge. For example, to heat up and then eat a can of soup in a seaway, without flinging it all over the boat or yourself, and without grievous bodily injury, is a kind of epic gymnastic feat, not unlike what the ancient Irish warriors had to pass through to join Cuchulain's band (minus the requirement to memorize poetry).

The motion-induced changes come into sharper relief as we begin to emerge into our normal states of function. The nausea improves, to be sure, but far more than that. One begins to hear spontaneous laughter again, flashes of wit. The log entries become funnier and more articulate. Appetite improves, and the food both gets and seems much better, not just fuel, as if a Norwegian palate had become French overnight. Undone tasks start to be tended to in an increasingly brisk fashion. And one begins to hear phrases like "Hey, we should try ..... sometime"; imagination returning, like spring. It is so much like what people describe as they emerge from depression or chronic illness, there must be some neurochemistry in common, although the time frame is far more compressed. Perhaps it is just that motion, like any other stress, has an depressive effect on mental function, but one that most people can adapt to and overcome in a matter of days.

And more than overcome. Perversely, motion itself can become a source of pleasure. Take the case of Bernard Moitessier, the famous French singlehander. After sailing once around the world in the Globe race, well ahead of the other competitors, he amazed the world by forgoing the prize and continuing on for another 10,000 miles to Tahiti, most of it in the rough seas of the high southern latitudes. In part, he did this because he loved the sensation of constant motion; he described a kind of hypnotic joy, and dreaded ending it by going ashore. Any lessons here? Probably not, just some random reflections from a mind reawakening to what passes for normality aboard this here barky. I hope you all have a week that is moving, but not too moving. 

MR