Everyone’s first time is different. Some are with a small, short dinghy. Others with a long, strong yacht. But me? My first time sailing was a 1200 nautical mile journey from Vavau’a, Tonga to Opua, New Zealand, out of sight from land for 10 sanguine days, on a posh 43 foot catamaran. No one told me not to put toilet paper in the head so how was I supposed to know (having never stepped foot on a sail boat before), that within hours of casting off from our mooring ball I’d be covering the toilet with saran wrap, hoping the excrements would stay put for the next 1200 miles? (Secret: we’d been at port living aboard on anchor for a little over two weeks waiting for a weather window to make our crossing. I’d been putting toilet paper in the head all along, so, knowing what I know now about marine toilets, I’m surprised it didn’t clog sooner).
It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Who I knew, not what I knew. The boys delivered the yachts to and fro twice each year and had room for me. So I paid my way from NZ to the islands and lived like a sailor for close to a month. I didn’t know cruising existed, and it wasn’t for many years later that I knew I could live on a boat, hell even own a boat of my own. Blissfully ignorant I had no idea the implications of sailing this somewhat treacherous area of the Tasman Sea at this time of year. I listened to but never felt concerned about the reports that came through the coconut telegraph on the VHF each morning. I trusted our captain, and we were at port a good while waiting for a clear window in between cyclones.
While in Tonga I walked a pig on a leash, rode in the back of a hay truck to a strange lagoon where the beach dropped suddenly off into the deep ocean, slept in a traditional Tongan hut with the branches of palm trees for bedding (when I told my Tongan friend I was freaked out by all the spiders in there he snapped his fingers and two little Tongan boys went and shook out all the leaves), ate a piglet roasted on a spit and root vegetables cooked in banana leaves, got the shits from drinking too much coconut water, got the shits from drinking too much kava, got the shits from eating too much papaya, got constipated from taking too much imodium.
While at sea…time blurred, or stopped all together. I felt truly free and alive for the first time. I cooked and made sure we didn’t run into any shipping containers. I kneaded and baked bread. I wrote sea shanty’s. I never got seasick. I picked up pumas from the water that had come from an underwater volcano eruption–it had tiny crabs living on it and I thought to myself, this baptism of fire is how it all began…