Sitting here looking out on gleaming water that supports Kuhela and I, in so very many ways, a moment to reflect on how and why I am here, the multitude of events, people, struggles, growth, friendships, joys and tears that have brought us both here. I share the things that have made me who I am, as she reveals herself to me, slowly, over time. She is beautiful, and up until a short while ago, existed only in dream, an image captured in my mind’s eye, some deep urge that drew me forward and guided and beckoned onward when things were dark.
She is older than I, has traveled the world, with so many stories of places and people that I will never know. We have both had our own journeys but fate, destiny, karma, whatever name you choose to use, has brought us both here and now we sit, slowly revealing ourselves to each other. We speak in different ways, but we understand and look after each other all the same.
I have always been drawn to the water, to the open ocean and the infinite possibility it holds, exotic far-off places, terrifying storms, unfathomable depth and bizarre creatures that inhabit that deep, dark, beautiful world. I have a vivid memory of the pages of a book, open to an illustration of a ship caught in the massive weeds of the Sargasso Sea, gripped by long tendrils of weed that hold her fast. On another page a ship is tossed by a storm that seems to be driven by the devil himself, as the crew hold on, with only the faith in their vessel keeping them clinging to the thin strands of life. This scared me, sent my imagination running wild, and yet, strangely, I wanted to be there. To feel the weeds pulling at the keel, visualising my knuckles, white, as they held fast the wheel, as an angry sea threatened to pull me down to meet those dark creatures below. It’s hard to describe, but it was as if I’d been there before and they were more memories than the overactive imagination of a young boy. Strangely though, no one else in my immediate family seems to have this connection, it was something that they did not understand, and my need for salt water medicine to keep me sane simply did not register with them. The only ancestral link to this watery mistress was my great grandfather who spent his years at sea in the navy and exploring and who my grandmother says she sees a connection to. This led me to seek out the sea alone, and by my own means, and that’s just how things were, and continue to be.
To be where I am today, to be so blessed, to be sitting on Kuhela’s bow as we make our way across the ocean to another port that neither of us have been to previously has taken a lot of belief, faith, work and sacrifice, but here we are as land climbs slowly over the horizon. I am living my dream. I am sailing across the pages of that book. For years it was something that I knew I had to do, a deep-seated desire that would not leave me alone and whispered daily to me of what I was to do. Four years ago, the whisper became a stern voice that told me that now is the time, time to bring this dream to life, time to put all those lessons to use and to test myself and to GO. I found my relationship to someone I loved very dearly in turmoil. Frustrated beyond belief by seemingly being unable to be happy wherever I was. Lost and drifting and unsure of who I was or where I was headed. Still the voice was there, unbroken and steady. Letting go was something that was no easy feat, but to the sea I turned and took the blind steps, which would lead me to the place I knew I needed to go to.
I read all I could, worked and saved, went sailing as much as possible and tried to learn all I could, though you are never fully ready, but must simply someday cast off the lines and leave. I kept my dream in sight with sometimes nothing more than faith to combat those voices in my head that challenged that voice in my heart. They shouted, or even worse, sometimes whispered, things that could cut me down for days, I sometimes stumbled, but always continued on. And so it was that one day those small steps lead me to sell the little I owned and board a plane and set out alone across the world to breathe life into a dream.
“SITTING ON THE BOW AND LISTENING TO THE SECRETS THAT FLOAT PAST ON THE WIND IS SOMETHING THAT HAS TAUGHT ME SO MUCH AND IS PART OF WHO I AM TODAY.”
It took time, but I found her, and knew it as soon as I laid eyes on her. She is a cutter rigged Downeast 38, who for twenty-five years carried her previous owners around the globe—the Pacific islands, Asia, Russia, The U.S., the Mediterranean—seventy thousand nautical miles and looked after by someone who truly cared for her. What followed were months of work and some of the biggest challenges of my life as I tackled the few big jobs that needed doing, and got her ready to go to sea again. I was working solo most of the time, and there were some hard and lonely times but I could not claim to have done it by myself, the help and support of those around me was amazing and would always pull me through. One day the previous owners, who were helping me, told me that they had spoken to Kuhela, and she had said that she was excited to go travelling again. This was before Kuhela and I got to know one another, in that new time in a relationship where sometimes it is easier to pass notes or send messages than to speak directly to the object of your affection.
Those times will stay with me forever and I hold them very close, but I also know now that this is not what I want for the long term. Time alone to reconnect with the water, for it to be just the two of us is something I need, but sailing alone around the world in the style of Joshua Slocum or Bernard Moitessier is not for me. The times we share with those that we are fortunate enough to connect with in this lifetime are a treasure in themselves, and bring an essence to a shared sight or experience that makes that experience something magical. More and more what I learn is of balance, in nature and in ourselves.
Eventually the time came to drop the lines and land disappeared off the stern as we left to cruise the countries of Central America, and eventually back to Australia sometime in the far off future. I have had other crew join on some passages and sailed solo others, and have loved both. Alone at sea though, with no land or other humans for miles, stopping for a swim, floating alongside Kuhela or sitting on the bow and listening to the secrets that float past on the wind is something that has taught me so much and is part of who I am today. It’s hard to describe, that feeling of knowing that you are being taught something, though your not sure exactly what, only that it is important and all you must do is sit and listen in silence.
Illustration by Emily Sams
“THE OCEAN IS MORE THAN JUST A PLACE, OR AN ENTITY, IT IS MY PLAYGROUND, MY OFFICE, MY REFUGE AND MY HOME.”
So here, now sailing with my best mate Joe, exploring outer atolls off Belize, I am again reminded of how truly blessed I am. For two weeks now we have been out here. Anchored off small islands that rise from the inky blue depths to reefs just below the surface, supporting the amazing array of life that exists in its many cracks and crevices. Spending our days filming, spearfishing, writing and freedive training, while keeping Kuhela’s stores stocked by trading fish we shoot with other boats or with the small resort on shore. Joe and I have dived together for years and he runs courses in surf survival and freediving and has his own special relationship with the ocean. To be able to experience things like this with your best mate is almost too good to be true. Relaxing, as I glide down through the water, feeling the pressure build as the ocean holds me tight, slowing my heart and mind, drifting on down to the seabed thirty metres below, looking up at the distant surface, before having to return to that terrestrial world that I am still bound to.
The more we train is the more we can, even just for a few minutes, break that link to the world above. The ocean has also kindly consented to us being here and she is as flat as a sheet of glass making it hard to differentiate between sea and sky, leaving us balanced securely somewhere between the two. So for myself, as for so may others, the ocean is more than just a place, or an entity, it is my playground, my office, my refuge and my home. Through her I have met so many amazing people and have had so many amazing experiences and learnt so much. Sometimes it’s easy to forget though, to get caught up and forgot ourselves, forget the delicate balance, of which we are all a part. This is when we have to tune into that little voice inside, the inspiration, and guidance which is alive in there, somewhere, urging us on to do what we know we must. To not fool ourselves into thinking that it’s ok turn our back on dreams. To take the risk, to not settle but to find the balance between being content with what we have and bringing our dreams to life.
So here we are, Kuhela, Joe and I, with a long way still to go on the journey, wind in the sails, salt in the air and the sun high overhead as we explore the world above and below the waves. So many great people have come before us and have left their legacy of inspiration, adventure, courage and daring. Captured in pages of books that have, over the ages, planted seeds in the minds of young adventurous boys and girls. I still count myself among those enthused youngsters (regardless of age), and look forward to the day I can in turn pass on a story or two on to young of my own. Until then we continue sailing on though, looking forward to the next dose of salt water medicine.