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When the sea is rough...

Twenty five years ago, I crewed a yacht on delivery from Port Glasgow to Villamoura in southern Portugal;  heading through the western approaches, we hit a Force 8 gale, which buffetted our 39' boat for 24 hours. Trying to sleep in preparation for my coming watch, I was thrown around the cabin, and dozed fitfully and fearfully, lying with my feet on the ceiling to jam myself into the bunk as I listened to the crash and vibrations as the boat fell off the back of deep ocean waves. They said that a trip like this can take a year of a yacht's life: it felt like it was doing the same to mine.

After a couple of hours below decks, I dressed in oilskins and headed out the cockpit to take my three hour stint on the wheel. The sea was towering, with wind-whiped whitecapped throwing spray into the air around us. With the boat heeled hard over, whoever was at the helm had one food on the seat and one on the floor, at all times clipped into the safety cable. As daylight broke, it became possible to see the true scale of the sea and take stock; providing your line was chosen carefully, it was possible to avoid the worst (as my fellow crew had been doing), and make progress, edging forwards towards La Coruna, our next port of call. Being able to get a sense of the issue, and know that we had a reasonable control over our actions and course made a huge difference and the fear that had been present below decks disappeared in minutes.

It occurs that there was more learning in the salty wind at that time that I realised, and how much of our fear comes from not knowing what is really happening. With the compunded challenges of economy, ecology, environment and ethics pushing hard into our awareness, it seems more important than ever to show anyone scared about the future how the sea is running for real outside, rather than inside their heads, or ours.

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