The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Edward Lear

We lie three in a row, an unoccupied Nauticat on our starboard and a newly arrived steel hulled ketch on our port. She looks well-travelled, lacy curtains drawn over her hatches and the ubiquitous towels pegged out on the guard rails.

“It ez over” sighs the small, bearded guy, tanned, wiry and despondent “She as ‘ad enough, we are going home and I must sell her”

I wasn’t sure if he meant sell his wife or the boat but his saddened mood told me it was the boat.

The small Polish gentleman and his wife had just sailed in from the Azores where they had been for months and then The Canaries for a few years before but she had had “enuf”. Well fair enough I thought, better to know when to call it quits than be forced into a situation that there is no decision making to be made.

I am beginning to settle into this watery world, its feels like a parallel universe. I had spoken to my Mum back in Argyll that morning , hear of how cold it was now, the fire was on and all the gossip about her neighbours and friends. Then there is here, foreign car registrations, strange accents, heat, showering in the yacht club, sewing new webbing on the pram hood. Different world.

There are only 2 eggs left for 6 of us so I decided on pancakes for brunch and the gang are very grateful as plates of sausages, bacon and a stack of warm Scotch pancakes appear from below, mushrooms for me, which I have discovered go well with a drizzle of honey!

I had hoped to lose more weight when away on this trip, I had managed to work off a fair bit of winter gathered layers and get pretty fit but I am sure in the last 3 weeks I have gained it all back! I am on the go the whole time and am told to eat to keep my energy up and sea sickness at bay but at this mid life time of my life it seems to convert to fat very efficiently and attach itself to my hips and tum like wadding. I glance over at the lean, toned and agile live-aboard ladies all around me and sigh. Hey ho, still a while to go so maybe I’ll transform into one of them – I can dream!

I am also finding out that keeping a routine is helping me adjust to this new way of life. Its strange, I am not finding it easy to relax and do nothing. I have lived my life so fully with deadlines, timetables, dates, diary events for so long , a rare day off feels great but with endless days off ahead of me I actually feel a bit lost.

Also I am not a quick reactor. I reflect on the traumas of the stormy, black night and try to rationalise my fears. I decide to write a list of pros and cons, as the spectre of the “crossing” raises his horned head every night as I go to sleep and pricks me every morning I awake and I need to quieten him. I am not really scared, I don’t think I am risking death but I have this unexplainable dread. I realise it is a fear of the unknown. I am not good in a situation I know nothing about, I like to know all the facts, taste the experience then make a decision but have a bail out option. This is different. I do not know how it will feel, I have never experienced a situation like this before, I cannot bail out once we head out. It will be 5-6 days on the open ocean and we will need to be self-sufficient.

I was mindful of feeling like this before, I recalled many years ago visiting Morocco, my first time in an exoctic location and after walking round the souks and visiting Dar El Fina square with all its new  smells, noises, strange foods, colours toothless men and snakes, I totally freaked out when back at our Riad. Ever patient and understanding John cuddled me and told me it was fine, we could fly home the very next day. Morning brought sun, creamy yogurt and pistachios, musical calls to prayer and I was on camel and loving every minute! I just need time to reflect, be in the present and live through things slowly.

I reminded myself of 7 years ago leading an expedition on Mongolia, I did not sleep the night before departure sick with doubt and almost phoned the company to say I’m out. However that month proved to be one of the most rewarding times of my life. I learned more about myself and what I was capable of, by myself than I knew possible. I recalled the dark night not far from the Russian border, days away from any help, deep in the Kentii Mountains, sitting by the campfire , my turn to keep watch over the horses, watching the strikingly beautiful but sinister yellow eyes of the wolves across the river from me as they paced slowly up and down the river bank, the scent of horse sweat drawing them closer. I was responsible for 11 vulnerable young people from Fife and I was damned sure I was going to bring these kids safe and well back to their families. And I did.

I reminded myself of the freezing night lying in my tent on the Himalayan ice, my head pounding, my face almost numb with cold and knowing I had to move down the mountain to recover from the altitude that was affecting my body. And I did.

So I do what I urge my students to do when faced with a dilemma, make a list of pros and cons. John sits with me supporting my thoughts, it is a good idea as I can air all my reservations and be honest with my fears and also my desires.

After a good exploration and chat, the “Ayes” have it! I can do this.

I feel relieved, now the decision is made I can stop worrying and it works.

I go for a run along the coast out to Charles Fort, interrupted by bramble eating – much sweeter than home, I guess it is the warmer temperatures and sunshine. I take off my trainers and feel the warm grass under my feet. Standing by the Fort looking back across the bay at the marina I feel far more at ease. Life is good and I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity so will make the very best of it.

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