It seems that the boat ran out of coherence with her luck when she time traveled back and forth at the Date Line because ever since she has been dogged by minor issues. It included running into two windless patches and a brand new data card for the charts of South America that tended to send the navigation system into indecision. While the former had a telling effect on the boat’s average speed in our crawl across the Pacific the latter ended up as a minor irritant necessitating the opening of the folio of paper charts for South America. What caused the matter of much adventure though was a rogue line that parted.
On the 11th of January in my time zone, which was a day that India had already spent, I woke up to see the easy stow in an unusual position with one of its holding lines parted and trailing in water. Another look at the mast confirmed that I was about to live through one of the most demanding days of this voyage yet. The main line holding up the easy stow had been pulled right up to the second spreader requiring a mast climb in the middle of the South Pacific to hitch and get the rogue line down.
I have never been up the mast at sea save once during her voyage to Colombo almost four years ago when we realised that we did not have a halyard to hoist the national flag of Sri Lanka. With a crew it is a simple business- you get into a harness which is tied to a halyard and the crew winches you up and gets you down and all you need to do is shout commands in a loud and clear voice. Solo sailors, though, usually use a mountaineering equipment specially adapted for yachts. It doesn't make things easy- merely possible. And then sailors usually wait for the exact day when they would want to climb with just the right amount of swell and just the right amount of wind to hold the boat stable. When our climbing gear arrived from Europe I had silently hoped that I would not have to use that equipment ever.
But what will be will be. With just one solo climb in harbour which was more apology than practice, the 25 metre mast looked way taller than it was ever meant to be. Nothing helped- the winds were light and not enough to hold the boat steady even though a sail was hoisted and the swell at 3-4 meters was the usual leftovers of a South Pacific gale. It wasn’t the best day to go up but when you do not have a choice, procrastination is automatically ruled out as an option.
Going up all alone was a first for me. I prepared by brushing teeth (to enjoy my own conversations better), changing into some clean clothes (for you don’t want to be caught dead in some smelly ones), gulping a can of Red Bull and discarding all outer layers of clothing. Rigging the lines took only ten minutes but it was only when I had pulled myself up a metre or so that I realised that it wasn’t going to be as easy as depicted in the video advertising the climbing gear. The travel to top took the better part of an hour and despite my crashing into the mast often it suffered no harm. It in turn reciprocated with a coldness that burnt the extremities of my fingers.
It was exciting at the top. You could see a larger portion of the world although it amplified your solitude and you could finally ignore the flying of albatross that until now had been a distraction. It was colder and the mast tended to move at 30 kmph speeds because the boat’s rolling motion was exaggerated due to the height . An unexpected gift of the perch on top was that it put me in touch with my spiritual side because physical strength alone was not enough to keep me there and I invoked every god, deity and saint I remembered including, and chiefly, my own namesake. The only solace in the entire affair was a blue hole in an otherwise overcast sky that let some warmth through.
On my way up, the tail line that I carried got entangled in the radome and it was only after half an hour of struggle that I managed to free it, bend it to the rogue line and prepare for the descent which was a far greater struggle than the climb. Two days after the incident, as I write the blog, memory of the details is fading but what I do clearly remember is the message from the Chief of Naval Staff on the New Year’s eve that repeated in my mind through the adventure-
“Your mission continues to be perilous, requiring both physical vigour and resilience. There will be situations which will demand meeting challenges head on and calculated risks to an extant, beyond what one encounters in normal life. It is under these circumstances that your years of training and maturity will stand you in good stead and drive you forth to success.”
It scares me to watch the video at times but I can clearly see that I have come a long way from what I was when I had joined the Navy, hardly able to climb a stationary rope or swim across the width of a 25 metre swimming pool. I am sure we all have.