At around 3 p.m. on December 30, 2019, I set sail for Mexico aboard the schooner Seaward. It was just over 24 hours before the end of the decade and the arrival of the ’20s, and I had signed up for a three-month-long role as charter cook. Was this an auspicious coincidence or a foretelling of a new life?
Seasickness, no skill, zero confidence and a good dose of fear had been paramount in cultivating my negative views of sailing, and for the past three years I had avoided the salty encounters at almost every opportunity. Yet a series of recent events had sprouted a growing desire to confront myself and take another stab at the sailing life. Another selling point to my boss — joining the press-corps sail on Maiden during her San Francisco visit — gave me the most enjoyable sail I had ever experienced. I was completely in awe of Maiden’s crew and the vessel’s pedigree. While Tracy Edwards was sailing the world and challenging sailing’s old guard, I was at home starting a family. Did I miss something?
To an evening sky of burning orange we settled into the rolling rhythms of life at sea and I busied myself below preparing the first meal of our five-day voyage — a simple one-pot meal of chicken, vegetables and pasta, which actually required two pots and more stability than I possessed.
My one saving grace that first night was my relationship to the captain — he is also my husband. We’ve shared enough sea-miles for Jay to expect I would be feeling off and without further ado he took over to finish the cooking and serving. I felt a little guilty, as the Bonine I was addicted to was doing quite a good job; however I wasn’t about to refuse the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air. Tomorrow would be better, I assured myself.
The next day I was up at 6 a.m. and ready to take back the galley and entrench myself as champion cook. I was a little dismayed when I saw how little the Scouts ate. Was the food unpleasant? Should I be serving only sugared cereals from boxes? To my relief, the problem wasn’t me or my cooking. We had now been sailing continuously for around 17 hours and the sea had sorted the crew into hardy, and hardly. Hardly able to move, never mind eat, was to be the norm for an unfortunate few until the seas subsided and the Scouts’ stomachs stopped churning. I, however, with my trusty bottle of Bonine in my pocket, was deterring nausea and slowly becoming more stable.
In an attempt to help those still suffering, I offered a round of Vegemite toast — a sure-fire remedy for unsettled stomachs, I told them. “Ugh! Too strong.” “Too black.” “Didn’t really like it.” But had it been prepared the right way, and by a real Aussie? “No, it’s not meant to be slathered on like shaving cream on a grizzled face; even I wouldn’t eat that.” So I whipped up a couple of slices and redeemed the reputation of my home country’s famous food. Some were even open to seconds.
Hours ticked by and watches rotated, and before too long we saw signs of normality returning. The Scouts became chatty, active and even conversational. By midweek we were sharing stories and jokes, and afternoon story time with Celeste became a daily feature. Her book of romance stories, appropriately abridged for the younger Scouts, had me enthralled to the point that I pleaded for the readings to take place in the salon so I could listen in while preparing their dinner. This must be what Sunday evenings at home felt like when we only had ourselves and each other for entertainment, long before the invasion of television and today’s constant electronic companions.
The days flew by, and by the end of the week we had covered more than 100nm and experienced several overnight sails and a continual 24-hour watch rotation. Imagine my surprise when, at the start of the voyage, I learned I was exempt from watches. And from doing dishes? I couldn’t believe my luck. All I have to do is prepare three meals a day? And provision when we’re in port? And find a home for the tons of food I ordered, and remember what I bought and where I put it? And get up at 6 a.m. every day while most of the boat is still sleeping and get breakfast ready, and be belowdecks cooking while everyone else is outside laughing and enjoying the sunset? Hmmm . .
At the end of my first week I knew I had some changes to make. I couldn’t spend all my time below and miss the fun on deck. I envied the Scouts their night skies and stunning sunrises. I envied the crew’s ease and confidence as they went about sailing the boat. My seasickness was by now almost nonexistent and I was moving about the boat like an old sea dog — well, almost. I resolved to get faster at my job and spend more time on deck gaining sailing skills.
Again, how hard can it be?