I am on a 49 ft. sailboat hurtling through 3 meter waves about 100 nautical miles outside of Cartagena, Colombia. We left Panama City three days ago to board this vessel near the San Blas Islands.
The sailboat is named the Amande, and the Amande has a first mate named Sophie. She tells us that we are halfway there, and I hear the collective groan. She just planted seeds of emptiness. “I give up” has been said this morning, but what it means, I am unsure, because there is no getting off this boat right now. I haven’t yet decided whether this is the most uncomfortable day of my life. Yes, I decide. It is the most uncomfortable day of my life. I have concluded that allowing myself to move with the ship limits this nausea, so I toss aside my rigid resistance and am hurled against the wall. I embrace new forms of movement, most of them ugly. Each trip to the bathroom is fraught with injury, so I’d rather ignore the sensation because it scares me. The sea laughingly throws a wave that lands fruit salad across my front, and I consider not moving, continuing to lie there, in a symbiotic relationship with the papaya on my chest for the rest of the day. Standing takes a considerable force of will, and I make eye contact with the others on deck as I gather every fiber of my being to rise, welcoming their mustered encouragement. We are truly Goya’s black pilgrimage incarnate, a gruesome bunch waving each other forward, and I remember that I am not alone. A few minutes later, I am sitting on the floor in a puddle, and my back is a kaleidoscope of bruising. The captain moves towards me, his sea legs like beautiful wobbly jelly crutches and I cannot help but laugh. The sea is unforgiving. The steady waves of vomit that characterize this morning have left scars on us all and we are praying to gods imagined and new. Kellen popped a blood vessel in his eye. We all have improved nonverbal communication, and lie around meditating and sharing buckets, motioning with our hands to pass it over. Our majestic savior of a first mate flits around gracefully, emptying the vessels of our bile into the boat’s wake. With each angry wave, water spills over the side, and we let out a collective sigh of relief as it washes away the previous round of sweat. It’s odd, but even after spending most of today unable to fulfill my basic needs and slowed by too much Dramamine, I looked over the stern at the symphony of vomits of my friends and want to smile because we are all here together. I tie myself to the breeze. Water spills through the gaps of the cabins as each wave gives the stern a playful but firm slap. The sleeping spaces are humid like a canopy, with flickering lights and quickly acclimating mold blossoms. In a claustrophobic sense, I squeeze into a space the size of my body and then some, a coffin, if you will, and allow myself to be taken by it all. We are at an absurd angle, and I wonder at the physics of the operation. The boat is on autopilot and has no feelings on the matter, but I have now heard three people admit defeat.
In the late afternoon, a pod of dolphins swims close enough to reach out and stroke. They remind us that there is beauty and majesty somewhere on the outside. I am hopeful for morning. We continue, all bodies on deck, sprawled and counting down 28 hours to South America. I do know that, looking into the infinity of sea and stars around me, I feel for the first time in a long time, like a speck, with a certainty that there are other things happening on this Earth more important than what I think, and then immediately regret looking at the waves and reach for my bucket.