Photographs by Claudia Couture & Tassio Azambuja
Illustrations by Wade Lewis
The challenges of living at sea may seem arduous at times, but the occasions when beauty resonates allows you to appreciate the hard work that has led to these moments of splendour. French Canadian Claudia Couture and her Brazilian partner, Tassio Azambuja, traded life on land for a life at sea, learning more about each other, their connection to nature and the value of simplicity, something they believe brings them the most satisfaction. The duo are currently documenting their nomadic voyages across the globe, through film, photography and detailed written accounts of the places they encounter as well as the people they have met throughout their travels. Claudia gives us an insight into the sort of nightlife that is typical of the transient nature of life at sea.
Drifting along the Sargasso Sea through an outlandish forest of seaweed floating in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, a sailboat that measures just under 12 meters long and 4 meters wide is making its way through the night. She is made of aluminium, has 6 hatches and 2 vent traps, but tonight they are all closed, as the breeze has strengthened with the sun’s descent. The sailboat, Netzah, is occupied by two 27 year olds, one in its sleeping bag in the bunk inside, that’s me, and the other out in the cockpit wearing a foul weather gear and rubber boots—it’s Tassio, the captain. It is not raining out there, but the air is humid, chilly, almost cold. The tropical weather is a week behind us now, lost in the wake. Tassio, a Brazilian with a taste for faraway places and high latitude voyage on the sea, is standing on the cockpit benches. One foot on each side to keep the dance in harmony with the movement of the boat, scanning the horizon. The night is pitch-black and spooky, but soft. There’s no moon in the sky and no other boats around. The sails are almost full and the bow of the boat is cutting each wave with confidence and good speed. Inside, the gimballed stove is bouncing from one side to the other, the fire is on, the coffee is brewing. Tucked in my bunk, I wake up slowly as the smell of coffee travels to the cabin. Sleeping in a boat sends the mind to a very strange place. The hypnotising movement of the boat makes me fall asleep in no time, but somewhere along the free fall, some images pop up and come in short flashes, punctuating my sleep and warning every cell of my body that anything can happen at any moment. It does end up sometimes in funny paranoiac apparitions in the cockpit, but not tonight…
It’s 3.00am, I take the aroma of fresh coffee as a cue for me to go on watch, which Tassio confirms by pulling his head in the cabin and giving me a sweet, gentle shake. I reach the galley, put my foul weather gear on, when a big wave comes hit the boat on the side—hold fast! The thermos is warm and full, I grab it and jump up the few stairs. The cold air brushes against my cheeks, I’m tired, but the night is damn beautiful. Tassio is out with me, we sit for a while, there’s not much worth being said at this time in this eccentric nature. A gust of wind envelopes us as we sit. We hear the wood inside cracking, this boat is alive in its very own way and it is so good to know that she knows. She knows the sea and teaches it bit by bit to me, forgiving my mistakes but makes me pay for my stupidities. Fair enough.
Netzah’s soft, rhythmic lurch through the chop tells me that I can relax, the night will be kind and we’ll make our way. Tassio goes to sleep and I, together with Netzah, get lost under a starless sky looking for an invisible horizon.
And my mind drifts…
Two years earlier, I was in South Korea, on a circus tour, walking in the streets of Seoul, with grey skyscrapers all around me. I remember asking myself how long had it been since I had seen the horizon. A big wide horizon, in a faraway distance. My answer to that was way too long. My life at this time could be confined to living in black boxes, between theatres and big tops, creating some kind of magic on stage where I was in search of duende. I would arrive there in the morning and come out late at night, working like there was no tomorrow to work towards. I loved to do it, as I’ve always loved to be told stories, but this particular day, blame the Seoulian landscape of skyscrapers, I knew I needed to let life take me to another challenge. A challenge that wouldn’t happen under a big top or any black box.
The noise of the sail flapping interrupts my wanderings and brings me back on the cockpit. The wind is dancing to the east. Time to trim that sail, pull on the sheet, release it and pull a tiny bit more. But my attempt to fix the situation is only making it worse, the sail flaps louder. These pieces of cloth don’t lie, they are spontaneous and some sort of bridge with the elements. It’s loud and it hurts to hear my boat enduring this treatment. I hold the salty line between my thumb and the end of my fingers, the unhappiness of that canvas is urging me to figure out where this wind is coming from and the right position of the cloth. I stop and put my head up to pay attention to the wind hitting my face. It touches my nose, no, the side of my nose, right there, now I feel it. I look again at my disaster sail flapping at the bow of my boat. Netzah has been bored for a long time and has slowed down, while my hands pull some more on the line. I look at the cloth that stretches until it finds a happy shape, and as a result, Netzah pulls forward, she bites as a way of telling me that it is alright, we are riding the sea again. I high-five her and celebrate my little victory. I grab the helm and switch the autopilot off, sitting there on the cockpit bench on wood well-worn by the sun and salt water. I make a promise to myself that I will take care of that wood on our next stopover. My kind ship, I’ll pamper you once this ocean will be crossed.
With the weight of the boat in my hands, I feel the movement of the sea more precisely. When I screw up, the sails flap. When I negotiate a wave correctly, Netzah responds and dances. There is so much to learn during these night watches and I’m still getting used to being out here at night, the rawness of the air makes me feel strange. Strange but not a stranger. It gives me the chill, but at the end I love what it brings to me. There is something about being left to myself for many hours in such an environment. It gives me a lot of time to think, to realise how little I am when put side-by-side with this immensity and with all that I don’t see and hear. With nature, the elements and their powers, that even in a rather quiet sea, is palpable. When there is no witness other than myself, it’s different. At night, at sea, things appear and resonate differently. I have never seen obscurity as dark as a covered night in the middle of the ocean, and this changes everything to me.
The lines creak as I stare at the numbers on the compass to stay on course. I look behind us and it seems like all the stars that are missing in the sky found refuge in the water, a sea of stars shining around me. Bioluminescence, thank you. I admire your brightness, I know you’re just passing and you are impermanent, but your visit is kind and is proof that my little ship is moving. You show a trajectory as you pierce through the darkness and I don’t feel alone when you appear, even though you vanish as quickly as you came. There are so many of you tonight that I can’t feel lost. You, millions of tiny living organisms that glow when moved, are the most poetic show and I am the only spectator. You make me feel braver than my worries have me believe. Worries that are simple and exist in the very present—the whistle of the wind, the shape of my sail, the waves that come at a different rhythm, the clouds that are thick. I worry about the darkness at the bow of my boat, so I thank the sea for this glow that trails behind us. Slightly worried, but trying to remain confident, I sit and look at the route that awaits us. There is no illusion here—it will be slow and long.
But it’s fine, I have time.