I step up into the cockpit, trying not to lose my balance as the boat heels over. It's very dark, but as I turn towards starboard, gripping the rail in an attempt to not go flying, I feel my eyes widen at the sight in front of me. A mountain of water is moving away from the boat and has left a trough behind it, the boat leaning into it. The side rails go under as the boat sways sideways, pushed by the full sails, white moonlit foam flying by. My face breaks out into a grin! The wind rushes past my head creating a roar in my ears. I catch my breath as the boat rights itself smoothly, only to heal over again after the next giant wave rolls under us. We are speeding along at 9.3 knots, the moon is almost full and this is my fourth solo night watch.
It has been two weeks since I landed in Cairns, met Joe and Greg on CocoKai, and went sailing up the coast of Australia. The weather's been a bit dodgy, the Australians very nice, the stops brief, and the sailing intense for a novice like me. Our one Island stop was at Lizzard Island for a day and a half. Beautiful beach, no town, and stories of monster tiger and bull sharks in abundance (we jumped in anyway. Greg feigned shark attack as me and Joe laughed). Below: Lizard Island
The men had given me, what I considered, the easy shift: 9pm-midnight. I was nervous at first, on watch by myself. What if I steer us into a freighter? What if the wind changes suddenly and I don't know what to do? What if an unidentified submerged monster pops up on the radar?? But Greg is sleeping just a few feet away, and says I can wake him anytime.
If a ship is getting close shine your headlight into the mainsail so they know we're here, he says. That's it?!
The equipment is new to me: Autopilot (named Rocco), radar, chart plotter, GPS. Speed, depth, wind.. I cursed myself for not memorizing the meaning of navigation lights that I could see on other boats in the distance. The Great Barrier Reef in a shipping lane. On my first watch ever. Alone.
But I grew to love it. The Milky Way so bright it lit up the sails. Shooting stars and constellations that were new to me. The solitude and sounds of wind and waves. The smooth movement of the boat, slicing through the sea and healing with the wind.
And wind there was. We made quick work of the Coral Sea, racing up the coast of Queensland. Many days we sailed right on through the night, but one evening we wanted to stop and anchor. There wasn't a good choice for anchorage along the sparsely populated, and rather straight coastline, so we found a little sand bar and anchored on it. Seems kind of crazy now.
Along the way we got to know each other.
Joe was 62, a real estate professional from the bay area, prone to seasickness, into bodybuilding, and a very nice guy. He had a bit of fear of the sea and said he wasn't a very good swimmer. I was surprised that he wanted to crew on a sailboat knowing this, but admired his determination to learn. In the months that we sailed together Joe never lost his cheerful enthusiasm. He could, and would, eat anything I put in front of him and would bring me a blanket if I was cold. He had just gone through a divorce and seemed to very much enjoy being away from his regular life.
Greg had been sailing on Cocokai since 2006, when he and Jennifer had participated in the Baja Haha down the coast of Baja Mexico and kept going to circumnavigate. I saw pictures of their adventures in the South Pacific, and many other places, and knew that in the years since he had had the trip of a lifetime.
He seemed to know everything there was to know about boats including sailing, engineering, plumbing, electrical, and everything else.
And did I mention fishing? He could hook a fish easily, with just a line and a gaff. Along the coast of eastern Australia he caught many mackerel, wahoo and tuna. We grilled it, sautéed it, and ate it raw. Greg was also skilled with a knife, and could fillet like crazy.