I JOINED A sailing cooperative started by my high school friend Sabrina and her fiancé Kristian, quit my desk job and hopped onboard their 42 foot trimaran for what would be our first open ocean crossing. After a month at sea, sailing from Panama to the Galapagos archipelago, I had learned more than I could have imagined.
1. Less is more.
When I got to the boat it was hot and humid. Kristian and I started unloading a truck full of provisions, including a gallon of diesel that inadvertently spilled all over my Patagonia duffle. My belongings reeked, no matter how many times I washed or soaked them in Coca Cola and baking soda. We had a good laugh that evening and hid my bag deep within a lazarette. Kristian made me something with rum in it to lift my spirits. I glanced at my current outfit and realized that everything I truly needed, I was wearing.
2. Fear only exists in your mind.
Waking up in the morning to witness a 360-degree horizon line all around you is enough to evoke a little anxiety in even the most seasoned sailor. I typically thrive off that sort of thing, after all it’s usually when I learn the most, but this was different. I was all kinds of intimidated – everything from the cockroach I nearly stepped on stumbling to the head in the middle of the night; to surfing in tow behind our boat at sunset; to being on watch during a late-night squall, using only GPS and radar to avoid colliding with passing containerships and fishing vessels.
The ocean continued to test my limits, and I let it. The moment I dipped into that space — with caution of course — was the moment I became reacquainted with my fearless self.
I’ve been fly fishing back home for trout, but it’s a walk in the park when compared to reeling in a swordfish over the course of two hours. I had to work for my next meal, and much of the time it wasn’t easy. The tenacity of a wild swordfish is unlike anything I’ve ever felt on the other end of a line. It eventually broke free, but today I still think of it and am thankful for every ounce of seafood we caught on the crossing. Besides, nothing tastes quite the same as boat-made sushi.
4. You’ll always underprepare.
You can plan months ahead to go cruising and still not have that part you need from West Marine to fix the water maker; just the right bathing suit for surfing; or that ingredient to make your favorite cabbage soup. One day we traded coffee for crab & dorado at Isla LaDrones off the coast of Panama, another time we ran out of diesel and had to pirate more from a neighboring yacht at Isla Cocos in exchange for US pocket change. I was getting used to these seafaring transactions, but in turn realized we weren’t the only ones forgetting this and that. Being ready meant accepting that you never quite are.
5. Everyone makes mistakes.
While diving off the coast of Costa Rica I had a run in with a dinghy motor. Anticipation got the best of me and in seconds we found ourselves in what could have been a serious accident. I wasn’t confident driving the dingy; people jumped in the water too soon; there was miscommunication and a strong current, but we made it through.
Humility and gratitude brought us closer in realizing how any of us could mess up at any time. We shared our intentions, our emotions, and thanked our lucky stars under the night sky. From then on, we made sure our excitement never got the best of us. Instinct and good fortune saved lives that day, but it was our collective mistake that led to a closer-knit friendship between all of us.
6. Saying no can be saying yes.
During the previous season, Sabrina had ruptured her ear drum and had it repaired. It re-injured, so she could no longer dive or do much of anything that might submerge her ear underwater. As a dive-master and joyful person who never wants to miss a beat, she was understandably frustrated and sad. When it came time to suit up at Isla Cocos, I decided to hang back on one dive so she and I could have some girl time in the dinghy with a bladder of red wine. Much to our surprise, a large shark brushed along the side of our dinghy. My heart jumped out of my chest as its fin splashed the surface next to us. In retrospect, I couldn’t be more grateful having said no to diving with the boys and yes to Sabrina’s and my up close and personal tiger shark happy hour.
7. The importance of morning hugs.
There’s nothing quite like waking up to the smell of banana pancakes, your crewmember leaning in holding a mug of powered chai, and saying, “Morning hug!” I might be the worst ‘morning person’ on the planet, so this took some getting used. I’d roll out of my berth, cover my sunburnt shoulders with the nearest lightweight sarong and wish my fellow cockpit loungers a foggy-eyed good morning. This tradition eventually made it impossible to arise in any sort of bad mood. It also made me consider how vital human connection is, and how often I’ve underestimated it – be it a spontaneous dance party on a windless afternoon, yoga before daybreak with the rest of the crew, or a high five on deck as dolphins compete for bow waves below the amas. Now I don’t start my day without affirmations and a healthy routine, especially not without hugs.