In The Belly of The Whale

South Atlantic Ocean

Olá!! We’re back on terra firma!

It took us forty days to cross the Southern Atlantic, from Saldanha in South Africa to Paraiba, Brazil.

The first three days at sea were spent cutting across the Benguela Current…a hundred-mile wide strip of Cold & Nasty that runs along the West Coast of South Africa, starting at the Cape of Good Hope. I was oblivious of this part of the trip, alienated from the land of the living and set adrift in my own little personal hell of mal de mer. Once past that rough patch the worst of the seasickness subsided, though it was another week before I felt well enough to eat a small cooked meal, or drink a whole glass of water in one go. Some things I never did feel strong enough to go back to, like coffee, oatmeal, or anything made with onions, chillies. A typical day’s intake would be: one apple for breakfast, a cup of rice with one sardine (in tomato sauce) for lunch, two small chapattis with a tablespoon of peanut butter and drizzle of honey for dinner, and about three cups of water spread through the day. No appetite for anything.

Life in a boat on the open ocean is very physically demanding, too. I had forgotten about the way our sailboat, running dead before a trade wind, hurls itself from side to side without a moment’s peace. There is no standing still, no time at which your body can go slack and just relax. One moment you are pushing against the kitchen bench, trying not to tumble forward into the pot of boiling pasta; the very next instant you are clinging for dear life to the same kitchen bench, as the boat tries to slam you, hard, against the opposite wall. Every activity, every minute, every step in the boat, is accompanied by a slight clenching of muscles and a persistent struggle to remain upright and uninjured. Even sleeping is like being strapped into an amusement park ride: legs locked and holding the body when it swings into an almost-upright position against the hull; the next roll has you lying with your feet higher than your head, and it feels like all your bodily organs have slid into your throat. In the other sleeping position you roll like a log from one side of the bed to the other every 3 seconds, unless your bunk is very, very narrow (a coffin would make a perfect bunk) or you sleep with your legs and arms spread far apart, like a starfish.  I lost 7 kilos (15 lbs.)

South Atlantic Ocean

South Atlantic Ocean

I didn’t manage to do anything “creative”. Concentrating on fine work immediately brought on feelings of nausea, and if I so much as set anything down on my desk for one second, I lost it the next. A Go Pro mount, a couple of pens, an ink bottle, an iPod shuffle…all were hurled across the room and vanished in the bilges of the boat. I gave up after that, and did nothing better than read during the entire trip…not a bad thing, I didn’t read enough in 2014, so it was good to catch up a little.

1. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
2. The Search for The Rarest Bird in The World, Vernon R.L. Head
3. The Name of The Rose, Umberto Eco
4. The Scar, China Miéville
5. Birds Without Wings, Michael de Bernieres
6. Inside The Whale, essays by George Orwell
7. Congo Journey, Redmond O’Hanlon
8. The Odyssey, Homer (E.V. Rieu, transl.)
9. Chronicle of A Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
10. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
11. The Best of Saki
12. The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot
13. The Iron Council, China Miéville
14. The Outsider, Albert Camus


11 thoughts on “In The Belly of The Whale

  1. Bill Bryson’s “A Brief History of Almost Everything” was one audio book I downloaded, thanks to you! Did you read a hard copy? I enjoy just listening to Bill’s narration of his books. The best one? “The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid”!


  2. oh my… can’t imagine how that must’ve been like. i only went sailing overnight and it was not in the middle of the sea – though it rained and leaked straight over our heads. can’t imagine how 40 days must’ve been. sounds intense. cool you managed to read and enjoy somehow?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds way too familiar. I sailed from San Diego CA to Hilo, HA which took 21 days. I didn’t eat for three days as nothing would’ve stayed for long anyway. When I finally came up for air, I ate a can of green beans!

    Liked by 1 person

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