The open ocean

Photo provided.

By Kirsten Williams, Forum Contributor

The following is a blog post I wrote this past summer while crossing the Pacific Ocean aboard the legendary ocean racing yacht, Maiden, as a guest crew member. Maiden carried the first all-female crew across the finish line in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1990. Now, she’s sailing once again, with an all-female crew: this time on a two-year world tour raising funds and awareness for girls’ education.

I don’t know why I decided to write my blog post today: over the past 12 hours, the sea state has been averaging 10 feet. AND its pouring rain. I’m using all four limbs to brace myself because we’re heeling at a solid 25 degrees. It’s been eleven days since we left tropical paradise and I’ve had time to reflect on this new and seemingly endless landscape. I’ve come to a couple of realizations. What I had always imagined being an immense and unoccupied body of water looks like just that… but only at first glance.

Our little boat isn’t as lonely as she seems. We are constantly surrounded by life: whales, turtles, birds, flying fish, and dolphins. Even stowaway bugs found on deck! And then there’s the bioluminescent plankton that dances next to us on night watch. Of course, there are the other eight humans I share 58 linear feet of aluminum with. They’re lovely.

Besides them, it’s been nice to be away from other humans for a while. It’s given me space to contemplate our role on the planet. In stark contrast to our remoteness, literally thousands of miles offshore, we see the presence of people probably once every two minutes. In the form of trash. So much trash. I was expecting to see debris and rubbish, sure. It would be unrealistic for me not to. But the amount of trash we’ve seen drift past us is unreal. I was keeping track and I’ve given up. Fishing nets, beer cans, cigarettes, fishing floats, plastic shovels, newspaper, Styrofoam takeout containers… the list goes on.

When put in the grand scheme of things, I’m overwhelmed. Here we are: a tiny speck in the middle of the open ocean. Surrounded by trash. And think about how much is beneath us, that we can’t see?! Forced under by the wind and current, only to pop up somewhere else…

The horizon is an intersection of millions of shades of blue. The days roll by and we have our routine. Our watch schedules rotate between cooking (vegetarian for lunch, meat for dinner), cleaning (a dirty boat is a slow boat), and being on deck. Six on, six off. Eight on, eight off. Repeat. Routine. The wind, waves, and weather take no notice of the routine of humans. We are completely at the mercy of Mother Nature and her plans. It’s beyond humbling. Standing at the helm under a full moon at 3:00 am, cruising along at 12 knots, I almost forget about the problems we’re barreling towards on land. Until I see another piece of trash.

Thoughtful ramblings from an eternally grateful sailor on a life-giving and astonishingly polluted open ocean.

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