Indian Ocean: Not That Much Fun

June 21, 2016

Imagine you are sitting down, enjoying dinner. It’s Taco Tuesday® (but on Thursday, because you have no sense of time). Suddenly the salsa jar becomes a projectile, it jumps straight up, then banks hard to  the left and hurls itself at you, missing by inches. The jar (which you forgot to put the lid on between scoops) explodes, covering your last clean shirt in a delicious yet inevitably perishable blaze. You sigh.

Pan out… you look around you, trying to gain a morale-saving perspective. You notice that, while you’re still at the dinner table, the room around you is a tropical rain-forest. Hot and damp—the air is approaching 100% humidity—you actually feel the occasional drop of rain from your condensed breath. Everything is wet, whether from salt water or fresh. Someday, this distinction will matter (when you try to dry it all out) but for now, it doesn’t. There is no hope of being dry.

Now, it’s time to stand up to serve second helpings. It’s only two steps to the single pot that your food is sitting in, but it will take you five minutes to get there. First, you time the prevailing swell. Port, two, three, four, starboard, two, three, four.  You wait for the next favorable pitch to stand up. KAPOW, a non-periodic wave hits from a completely different direction, throwing you back into your seat, by way of a hard wooden protrusion (the bruise will be beautiful, in its own way). You reconsider. Three points of contact are for lubbers, four will be better. You crawl to that pot on your hands and knees. Standing slowly, and watching the stove (which is gimbaled, so it swings out when the boat yaws) so it doesn’t hit your chin again. Success (and only 3:30 this time, everyone cheers)!

10% or less, of that last paragraph was parody, the rest really happened.

Outside, you have a 75% chance of finding a squall. As a result, you don’t get out much, nor do you open the hatches to let in fresh air (and fire-hose quantities of salt water). This is a very different style of cruising to the good old days of the South Pacific. We were inside virtually all of the 310 hours that we were underway. At least 50 of those hours, the “yacht” is functionally a submarine (waves breaking over the boat with such consistency that the port-lights were constantly awash).

That’s a taste of it. The Indian Ocean is mean. It doesn’t want to be your friend. It doesn’t care to inspire a Crosby, Stills, and Nash song. It’s just mean, and it wants you to be unhappy with it.

Unfortunately for this miserable miserable ocean, we are a contrarian sort of crew. Despite the best efforts of the environment, we managed a few passage miracles. Food was our main salvation. Vick made a few days worth of hearty treats before we left, to buy her time to acclimate, and then got right into it with a series of condition-defying meals including flatbreads, birthday cake, chili con carne, chicken tacos, beef rendang, German potato salad, and breakfasts like huevos rancheros,  omelettes, arepas and fried eggs, and scones.

We played a lot of games, and read and listened to stories, we cuddled. Somehow, in the midst of being (and I’m really not exaggerating at all*) hurled bodily about the boat on a constant basis, we actually did laugh, and enjoy ourselves a bit.

When we finally arrived at Rodrigues, wet and exhausted, we were greeted by a large majority of the fleet. The first question everyone asked was “How was the passage.” I answered with a laugh, “Not my favorite.” They laughed with me. Nobody enjoyed this passage. It was one to suffer and survive. Having survived it together, we felt kinship. We compared notes of what broke (lots of rigging, and autopilots, and sails) and exchanged offers to help fix what we could. We were safe, and dry, and therefore happy, and we DID IT!

Stay tuned for the next chapter: Rodrigues, Worth All the Bruises

* One fellow cruiser broke a few ribs on this passage. I dislocated one rib, and Vick has a real champion bruise on her hip.

Below you can see a short clip of the sailing conditions on the one good day of the passage.


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