Exactly this time last year Romain and I waved farewell to the dockmaster at Oyster Bay, casting off our lines towards an unclear journey and starting what would be a rollercoaster year of extreme highs and rock bottom lows. Looking back, I’m stunned at how little we knew. Yet somehow we managed to pull it off and make the incredible journey from New York to St. Martin on our little 34-foot sailboat. When I look on the map and zoom out to see our voyage so far, I’m always cheerfully surprised. “We did that! We travelled all those miles on our boat!” With almost zero experience, we slowly and cautiously made our way south and then east.
Sometimes it was pleasant, and then many, many times it was painful. I truly believe when it comes to sailing, these two basic human experiences – pain and pleasure – cannot exist without each other. The emotional pendulum is constantly in swing between the two, never pausing in the middle to break from the exhaustive ups and downs of accomplishment and failure. In one moment you are god-like, wise and capable, commanding your boat through the waves and wearing the biggest, all teeth showing, goofy smile you’ve ever felt. Then in a split second mother nature reminds you of your vulnerability, and you quickly realize it is in fact you that is the weakest link. The boat will always be able to tolerate more than you. Your bleeding fingers and broken toes reveal only the surface of your crushed spirit and failed attempts.
It has been a humbling year.
The nomadic nature of our lives has meant moving on average every five to six days. All things considered, we adapted quite well to the constant change. The always present element of uncertainty that comes with a life dependent on weather forces you to become a lot more flexible. Living with and accepting this daily level of uncertainty was an adjustment at first, but eventually we learned to go with the flow. A mindset of strict schedules is the biggest enemy to enjoying all that boat life has to offer. When I think back to those first few days on Talaria versus now, it’s incredible to realize the enormous differences in our understanding of what it’s like to live and travel on a sailboat.
There are the many technical lessons that come only with time spent on the boat, and I’m happy to say we now know our boat inside out. We’ve followed every hose, every wire, inspected every goddamn gasket and pump, and of course replaced many of them along the way. We’ve crawled and twisted our sweat drenched bodies into the smallest of compartments, cursing and bleeding along the way, until our patience is tested beyond our limits. We’ve paid our dues, but somehow the problem solving never seems to end, and I know for certain there will always be something more to fix and new to learn.
Then there are the personal revelations. You learn more about yourself, your partner, and how you work together when everything falls apart. I never thought it was going to be an easy ride, but I never imagined the hardships Romain and I would have to endure as a couple. Thankfully we’ve gotten through those dark storms together and we now know more about what pushes us over the edge, what brings us down, and what lifts our spirit. It is amazing just how delicate a relationship can be when put under repeated stress. I would not recommend this kind of journey to any new couple, unless they are really, really, really committed to testing their strengths and weaknesses.
The personal growth and sense of achievement has made all those rock bottom moments worthwhile, but we’ve also realized just how insignificant we are in the larger scheme of things. Out there, when there is nothing within sight except your boat and the ocean, you begin to understand the vastness of nature. Her fragility and immense power strip everything down to its simplest form. It’s in these spiritual-like moments that you suddenly realize all those worries you had back home don’t mean anything out here. And that has been the most liberating experience. Being at the mercy of nature you focus on what matters most. To live and to love, and most of all, to be fully present in the moment.
This past year has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it has also been the most rewarding, and we’re both looking forward to continuing the journey. However, the recent devastation caused by hurricane Irma has put ourselves once again in a state of huge uncertainty. As far as we know our Talaria is still standing upright in the boatyard in St. Martin, but given the current situation on the island we’re not certain when we can get back. For now, we’re taking it one step at a time, thanking our lucky stars that we’re safe, and hoping for good news to come.
Onwards we go.