“There’s no easy way to tell you this…”
It’s 1215 and we’re all gathered in the cockpit. Lunch has just been served and eaten and our Skipper Imogen has the floor for our daily briefing. As the words reverberate around the group I feel my stomach do a tiny flip, this is the briefing we all knew would have to come at some point but hoped, somehow, could have been good news. Until now there had been a tiny slither of hope, and we’d all been holding on tight to it.
It’s day 10 and the girls and I have steered 1017 nautical miles between Dakar and Sea Dragon’s current location; the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It still feels surreal to say that. I’m present but I’m not. It’s very real and yet so very abstract. I’m definitely onboard this boat, the weight of my life jacket around my neck and the exerted effort of trying to remain vertical reminds me of that fact almost constantly, but at the same time it feels like I’m living a speeded up alternate reality of watch clocks on and off, food, sleep, and repeat.
The last week has been tough on us all. We’ve all faced our own challenges, adjustments, frustrations and even a few demons being dredged up by the stir of the ocean. I’m not sure we’re ready to face this new reality now too. I quickly glance around hoping not to make eye contact with anyone, I wonder what they’re all thinking? I pull my sunglasses down to hide the tear that managed to escape despite holding my breath since Imogen said those words…
“There’s no easy way to tell you this”
I don’t remember exactly what came after. I was running a hundred different scenarios over in my head. Maybe the wind would pick up even more, maybe the maths was wrong, maybe there was a secret portal that could get us to Ascension. That was our only hope of getting there now. The maths was right. No amount of extra wind would make a difference. We had a very definitive window of opportunity to make it and our first 10 days at sea had now dictated that that window was closed. eXXpedition Ascension was no longer going to Ascension Island.
Our crew Imogen, Em, and Holly have been running the stats for days. Was it possible to make up for the wind that never fully materialised since we left Africa? The answer was a definitive no. I don’t envy them for having to break this to the group and it explains why they’ve all been a little quiet over the last few days. Whatever disappointment we’re all feeling I imagine the professional disappointment they must feel in not meeting our objective is weighing on all their minds.
We reached immediately for a silver lining: we would now be completing an uninterrupted Atlantic crossing, and that is a really big deal for any sailor, and for this one, even more so, given this is the first time I’ve stepped on a boat in my life. I pushed Ascension from my mind and tried our new plan on for size. I liked how it felt, and I liked how the other girls were feeling too.
Jess and I had been working on a new coping mechanism over the last few days. We surmised that when we finally got to turn West towards Recife, that we’d be turning a corner psychologically too… the home straight so to speak, even though that straight was still over a 1,000 miles long. Well this felt like that tipping point. I don’t know why or how? Surely the worst possibly news you could deliver to an expedition to Ascension Island is that we aren’t going to Ascension Island, yet here we are pulling together, creating a space to grieve that news and yet immediately rising to an even bigger challenge now being laid down by Neptune… 3 weeks of uninterrupted sailing.
Nobody has been very vocal about their disappointment. I guess we’re all dealing with it in our own way. The trajectory of the girls mood definitely feels like it’s been fired out of a rocket though as we now gear up for crossing the Equator. Spirits are high, jokes are being cracked and banter is at an all time high. It’s comforting to see our bond deepen even further and to know that as a group we can bounce back even when the wind is taken out of our sails. I’ve been harbouring a deep frustration for the past 10 days as I’ve struggled to write a single word. Each day I’ve watched, a little envious, as the girls hunker down in the galley or up on deck to regale their stories, wishing I could find my voice too but it’s totally escaped me.
The last thing I expected at sea was writer’s block. Inspiration was the one thing I’d have bet my life on being present in bucket loads, but I guess I had no way of accounting for how life in a 72ft steel box, heated up and filled with strangers would actually make you feel, and that’s before you shake it up and turn it on a 45 degree angle!
Napping before my evening watch, I was just woken to the sound of Brazil. Are we there? Turns out not, it’s the sound of Zumba floating through the cabin from Manda’s ipod. If you could bottle the very essence of life, it would probably sound something like this. Cheesier than Sair’s cheesy mash but God, I needed to wake up to this high energy fruitiness! The last 24 hours have been a rollercoaster of emotion for us all. We’ve each had to come to terms with the fact that on this occasion there will be no stepping off the boat until we reach the finish line in Brazil.
But for me at least, that’s OK. If there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that this group can not only survive 3 weeks at sea but we can thrive! This is good for us. This is clearly what we needed. Our “Ascension” won’t take place on a remote island, it’s taking place every single day on this boat, as we crack wide open and embrace each strength and flaw, our fears and our dreams… until we can find our voice again.
– Katie Johnson