It's now reached the point that when I step onto solid ground I become unstable, my senses have reversed, as far as my body is concerned, the land has become a foreign place full of odd sensations; five months at sea is a long time. We are currently anchored inside one of the most beautiful bays in the world, a place called Hanavave, on the Polynesian island of Fatu Hiva, a place most people have never heard of. As is the case with many of the world's most beautiful locations, it's a difficult journey getting here, and those who do tend to be of the hardy adventurous variety. Looking around at the other sailing yachts anchored here, it's a safe guess that each one has a story to tell, each of these sailors could be the subject of a novel, and you realize that the world is full of great stories, most of them sadly unread. Unlike the Caribbean, so easy and accessible, where anyone with a credit card can rent a sailing boat, putter about the islands and consider themselves "sailors" after their week long charter has ended. Out here it's a different game altogether, out here you're in the major leagues.
The ensigns hanging off the sterns of these yachts tell their own tales, mostly that these boats are very far from home: France, Netherlands, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, United States, and then there is us, S/Y Feelin' Good, representing the tiny Caribbean nation of St Kitts & Nevis, my adopted country of the past six years. I get the distinct feeling our flag has probably never been seen here before. There is a natural level of mutual respect amongst us hardy sea travelers, as just by being here, we have all clearly defined ourselves as such. As a new sail appears on the horizon, we all take notice, ah another visitor, another hardy sailor approaches. The yacht draws near the harbor, and her weary crew emerge from below to take a gander at this new unknown place just as we all did upon our own arrival. They motor in silently, the look of extreme desolate distance etched into their faces. We all know what they've gone through to get here, some of us give a welcoming smile and a wave, but mostly we exchange a knowing gaze, ah yes, you too understand.
Flying solo, the single handed sailors, these lone wolves are on the bleeding edge of this game, riding high on extreme risk. Some consider them a nuisance, an unsafe obstacle floating about the seas ready to inflict disaster upon "responsible seaman", but they are indeed the hardiest of us all. The single-handed sailors seem to know each other on sight, even if they've never actually met before, there is a different look in their eye, an insatiable desire for solitude driven by a low simmering anger at the world. They often exhibit a marked destain for casual company so they tend to congregate in small groups, preferring to socialize amongst themselves. "My family thinks I'm crazy", a solo sailor from Norway told me, "but I know who I am, and what I can do with my tiny boat."
There is in reality no reliable back-up out here, yes in our case we have many thousands of euros worth of safety gear, radios, EPIRB, Sat-phone, and GPS communications but it's all still a crap shoot as to whether or not you'll actually be able to get in touch with anyone if you run into serious trouble, the rule of the open ocean is simple enough; don't come out here unless you know what you're doing. In the end, we are not much better off than our Norwegian nomad in his "tiny boat". We have each other though, and that is quite a lot. The Volvo racers are tough, sure, but they're the prima-donnas of the offshore sailing world with their massive teams of support crew watching their every move, ready at any moment day or night to call in the calvary should anything unpleasant befall them. The rest of us work without a net, anonymous, unsung and uncelebrated for the most part, seeking the ultimate gratification, the kind that comes from within.
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