‘Weathered but wiser’ — Around-the-world sailors learn hard lessons

Editor’s Note: Kellie Pollock worked for CNN International as a producer, before she left to sail round the world.

CNN  — 

“I just need to sit under a tree for a while.”

These were the words of my grab-life-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck husband after finishing our first six months bobbing about in the sea.

Our decision to sell up, buy a boat and sail around the world had been slightly more challenging than anticipated.

We had begun the journey with much bravado on our 46-foot yacht “Boomerang” in the UK and ended our first stint weathered and wiser in Sardinia.

During that time, we’d clocked up a rescue from the coast guard thanks to a huge rope we collected around our propeller, two haul outs to get the sail drive fixed, a couple of leaks and countless days in marinas trying to get various gauges and gadgets repaired.

There had been near misses with unidentified vessels on night sails, close calls with erratic powerboat owners in Ibiza and way too much rowing in a fuel-hungry dinghy.

The sun sets are stunning at sea because there is nothing to block the horizon. We were treated to this spectacle in the Atlantic.
Sailing the world: A bumpy ride on the seas
02:38 - Source: CNN

Needless to say, when faced with the choice of living aboard the boat in a marina for the winter or abandoning ship, we chose to hightail it back home to Australia.

Our official reason for that decision is that we didn’t want to derail our mission to live in eternal sunshine. The real reason is that we’re just not that hardcore yet.

Despite any trauma suffered during our initiation into sailing, it felt like we were abandoning a child as we climbed into the taxi and headed to the airport.

“Boomerang” had been our home for the past six months and the vessel of an incredible journey, both geographically and personally.

READ: ‘Planet doomed unless ocean health improves’ – around-the-world yachtswoman

We had come to understand that a new boat, like anything, comes with teething problems. You are essentially taking a new home and tossing it all over the place.

Screws will come loose. Any weaknesses will very quickly be exposed.

Every time something broke and Jonathan declared, “We’re taking it back,” I would recite the mantra of our engineer Toby Hague – “The biggest mistake new boat owners make is selling up in the first nine months.”

Why? Because that’s how long it takes to get through the teething problems. Only then do you have a boat that’s ready to sail around the world.

Kellie takes the helm during the crossing from the UK to Gibraltar.

Survival instincts

And it’s not just the boat that needs to be broken in. As novice sailors with the sum total of 28 days experience before we set off on our maiden voyage, we, too, needed to adapt to life at sea.

Physically, our cores strengthened because of the constant effort to keep ourselves upright. We are now “boat nimble” and move about with confidence and dexterity rather than like drunken sailors.

We are now becoming “nautical savvy” in that we know the NATO alphabet, can do a calculation known as dead reckoning, read a radar and know what a halyard, bimini, snubber line, windlass and luff is.

Our rope skills are vastly improved, although Jonathan would argue that I still slip in the odd “Kellie knot” – an alleged work of macrame that even Houdini would battle to undo.

GERMANY - OCTOBER 02:  WINDSURFEN: WC SYLT/2.10.97, Robby NAISH/USA  (Photo by Lutz Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The life of windsurfing legend Robby Naish
22:45 - Source: CNN

We, or at least I, sleep in fits because someone on board needs to be vigilant in checking that the anchor isn’t slipping and sending us crashing into other boats or cliffs. The depth of Jonathan’s ability to sleep is a new revelation for me.

You think you know someone until you spend six months together, 24/7 in a confined space, faced with all the risks that come with being in unfamiliar and ever-changing environments.

Our Neanderthal survival instincts have been peaked. Our true natures have emerged and with that, our strengths and weaknesses.

Jonathan is brilliant at the helm, particularly when it comes to maneuvering the boat in close quarters such as marinas. My husband is most confident when he’s in charge because he backs himself.

I’m better at dealing with matters beyond our control. I’m the troubleshooter, jumping into action while Jonathan is below deck in the fetal position furiously rubbing his lucky rabbit’s foot and incanting, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

READ: How to sail around the world in 42 days

AT SEA - JANUARY 7: In this handout image provided by the Volvo Ocean Race, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. A silhouetted Team Alvimedica behind an Indian Ocean Sunset as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing rolls underneath them into third place during Leg 3 Abu Dhabi, UAE and Sanya, China. The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 is the 12th running of this ocean marathon. Starting from Alicante in Spain on October 11, 2014, the route, spanning some 39,379 nautical miles, visits 11 ports in 11 countries (Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Sweden) over nine months. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world's premier ocean race for professional racing crews. (Photo by Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images)
The Volvo Ocean Race in Australia
22:32 - Source: CNN

Beautiful world

We are yet to adapt to night sailing. There is nothing instinctive about identifying the distance, direction and type of boats coming at you out there in the pitch black on a rolling sea. That kind of comfort can only come with experience.

As nerve-wracking as these night sails can be, they are also extraordinary experiences. The sky is simply immense and there aren’t enough words to describe the abundance and beauty of the stars. It is beyond belief.

And the sea itself is full of magical sights. As the boat moves through the water it churns up algae that leaves the most spectacular phosphorescent trail in your wake. It’s like a tail of fairy lights.

Dolphins create a similar glowing trail and look like torpedoes as they crisscross their way underneath the boat, surfing on the boat’s wake.

The world looks completely different from the sea.

There is nothing hindering the horizon so every day you are rewarded with the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

READ: Sailor’s mystery disappearance spawns two movies

Prologue start on-board AkzoNobel. Photo by James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race. 08 October, 2017
Drone photography at the Volvo Ocean Race
03:00 - Source: CNN

We have sailed into the most beautiful and welcoming villages and ports along the coasts of Spain, the Balearics, Sardinia and Corsica that we would never have experienced had we not sold up and bought a boat.

READ: Why the next America’s Cup is going back to basics

There were a great many challenges in our first six months on board “Boomerang,” but these were overwhelmed by the multitude of rewards. Now, having spent a few months back on terra firma, we are feeling the pull of the sea as strongly as a spring tide.

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We know that more difficulties await us in our second season, but so, too, do the Mediterranean’s most spectacular sights and a growing appreciation of just how beautiful the world really is.