Delight in Discomfort

“We’re not in any trouble. We’re just uncomfortable.”

Josh utters these words at 12am. We are anchored at Abreojos, a name meaning “Open Your Eyes!” and just now striking me as, perhaps, a warning unrelated to the underwater hazards. It’s a clear night, and the little bit of shelter that this low, dusty corner of land had provided from the northwest winds can’t do anything to protect us from the entirely unforecasted southeasterly breeze. And by breeze I mean stiff wind. This breeze has brought a short, choppy swell out of the west, and we have been spinning pirouettes around our (awesome) anchor as the boat pitches, heaves, dives, and rolls like it’s on acid and dancing to the Grateful Dead. Can you imagine being strapped to the back of that person all night?

It’s pretty uncomfortable.

It was a beautiful sunset at Abreojos. That low piece of land could almost protect us from the north winds, but nothing stopped the wind from the south and waves from the west.

It was a beautiful sunset at Abreojos. That low piece of land could almost protect us from the north winds, but nothing stopped the wind from the south and waves from the west.

 

I have never been able to sleep—on an airplane, in a boring class, or during any scheduled naptime—in my entire life. I like to think of it as evolutionary fitness: I’m ready for that lurking tiger at any moment in the night. But practically speaking, there are no tigers in Abreojos. I would love to sleep right now. The boat jerks at the anchor chain, hobby horsing until a 90-degree swivel puts us sideways to the little wind swell with waves every 1.5 seconds, and then we roll side to side. The dance continues in this fabulously unpredictable, violent way. My inner ear insists that we are in trouble—my body would not be moving around this much otherwise.

But Josh is right. Despite the fact that there are creaks and groans emerging from Far which I have never heard before, she’s a tough boat and this is nothing compared to the big blue. It’s just a little sloshing. I get up and search for a clicking noise. After smashing my pinky toe into the bulkhead (dividers that provide rigidity and structure inside the boat), I discover the clicking is two tiny fuses rolling around in their box at the navigation station.

But that doesn’t mean I get to sleep. Josh and I sleep (or, in this case, lie awake) in the forepeak (the bow) of the boat. Despite being a triangle with our feet wedged together at the very tip of the bow, we like this spot best on the boat. But it is the part of the boat that slams up and down the most in waves. The center and rear of the boat are much more stable. Josh is a champion sleeper. He can sleep through anything (although he will always bolt out the companionway if the motor noise changes—he’s a sailor before he’s a sleeper.) I feel deep envy as he catches some zzz’s in these swells. As I become more tired, it’s more like loathing.

I stomp out of bed and root (loudly) in the closet in search of my sleeping bag (a lovely green synthetic which the excellent sleeper bought for me.) I move to the center of the boat. I toss and turn in opposing rhythm to Far. I get up in search of a loud, annoyingly rhythmic creak that turns out to be the bulkhead connection to the companionway stairs. No solution for that one. Sigh. I lie back down. I feel helpless, hopeless, sleepless.

What do I usually do when I need to quiet the urge for control? I go outside. So big Greeny and I shuffle-stumble up and out into the cockpit and put down a blanket for a little cushioning on the port side lazarette. I lie on this narrow piece of fiberglass and watch the stars in the sky, sometimes close my tired eyes, and feel the cool night air on my cheeks and lips. I remember my mother’s very wise words: even if you can’t sleep, you’re resting. The boat bobs and weaves, preparing for some future boxing match with the sea. I may have fallen asleep for half an hour before dawn, but I’m very grateful for the light in the sky, since it justifies my awakeness.

He didn't sleep much, but he's skilled at catching a snooze. Underway the next morning in the cold wind.

He didn’t sleep much, but he’s skilled at catching a snooze. Underway the next morning in the cold wind.

We take off early, looking forward to a gentle ride on the dying breeze with coffee. Instead, the wind begins to howl out of the east, bringing with it steeper waves. There is enough lagoon behind Abreojos to host 1,000 migrating whales and build six foot waves within the space of a sunrise. With white knuckles I gripped the wheel as the waves and wind tossed us out into the open ocean. The ocean was that dark, ominous blue I like to look at from the warm safety of shore, and it battered the boat like a cat toy. But the sun kept shining and soon we were far enough south that we passed the lagoon and were buffered from the east by a solid chunk of land. The ocean was quiet as we bobbed along, stripping off layers and aiming for the remote and famed right-hand peeling waves of San Juanico.

A little breather with the sea dawg after the morning howler.

A little breather with the sea dawg after the morning howler.

And I haven’t even told you about the record speed I achieved howling down waves as we blasted into Abreojos, only to be intercepted by breaching Humpbacks and necessitating an emergency jibe with a bit too much sail up; or dropping Chris off in the dusty streets of Bahía Tortugas so he could find his way back to the US to sell his house; or accidentally attending a raucous baseball game of the tiny town of Asunción squaring off against equally tiny Hipólito; or the realization that we are running out of cash and there’s not an ATM or credit card machine for another 600 miles.

I suppose we just have to prepare for a little more discomfort—mixed with a massive amount of learning and delight.

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