Facing Your Fears: One Woman Sails Around the World for Love

Swept-Cover-Med.jpg "Bloody hell, Ivan," I say, "Why can't we just agree on this?"

"Look," he says. "You're being unreasonable. I don't want to fight, but we're not going to sink in the middle of nowhere and end up in the life raft so let's just drop it."

I close the slats on the boat's companionway -- our version of a front door -- so we don't scare residents of Marina del Rey (seals and seagulls) with our domestic dispute.

The vinyl sofa squeaks as I sit down and it sticks uncomfortably to my sweaty skin. Ivan sits across from me, arms folded over his chest. I stare at him and begin to rip my nails off with my teeth. I can't believe that I'm discovering now, just a month before leaving, that Ivan's idea of 'safety insurance' for a year on the Pacific Ocean is food, water, a bilge full of beer, and 365 condoms.

"Ivan, I don't understand why you're not factoring in the possibility that we might sink. Why not get a ditch kit just in case we do sink?"

"We won't sink," he repeats.

"Argh! Ivan, please stop making that claim."

I give my fingernails a break while I shuffle through a pile of research scattered over the foldout table. I retrieve a book -- a guide to sailboat cruising -- and start flicking pages, looking for information to validate my argument.

Before we began getting Amazing Grace ready for her big trip, I didn't know there were reference guides to crossing oceans. I thought preparing the boat was a matter of stocking supplies and breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow. That was before -- much to Ivan's disgust -- I began to gather every piece of ocean safety information I could get my clammy hands on.

I hold the open book in front of him and stab the page with my index finger. "Look. It says here if the boat sinks, we'll need a kit for the life raft with water, food, an extra EPIRB, a watermaker, a handheld SSB radio with batteries, dry clothes, fishing gear, flares, and medical supplies. You know, stuff to help us survive if something happens and we end up in the life raft."

I want him to make this easy and say: Oh, I see, that sounds reasonable. Instead, he glances down at the book for a microsecond and gives me a look as though I've just asked if I can take a pet elephant along for the ride.

Maybe I am being unreasonable? I've been researching a lot since we moved onto the boat. Advice comes in many forms and there is no shortage of it going around. Finding a voice of reason between the kamikaze-brave and those who are too afraid to leave the dock is the challenge. Conflicting opinions have me agonizing around the clock, trying to decipher which items are imperative and what's a superfluous safety measure, equivalent to, say, wearing kneepads and a helmet while riding public transport.

"We have a life raft, right?" I say. "So what good is a life raft if we don't have basic survival gear while we wait for rescue? Have a look at this book." I fumble through my pile. "This guy sank his boat and spent seventy-six days in his life raft before he was rescued. He had a full ditch kit with--"

"Think about the tiny odds, though," Ivan interrupts. "We're not going to end up in the life raft and, if we do, we have an EPIRB. We'll just push the button on the EPIRB, which will send a signal to the coastguard with our GPS position."

"But what if they can't rescue us straight away? Look at this book, Rescue in the Pacific: A True Story of Disaster and Survival in a Force 12 Storm. A convoy of boats got stuck in a huge weather bomb between New Zealand and Fiji and the rescuers couldn't get to everyone because limited resources meant--"

"I know the story. I've read the book. You found it on my bookshelf, remember? Do you think maybe you're reading too many ocean tragedy books?"

Probably, I think to myself. But I'm feeling far too defensive to agree. "No," I say. "I find reading about tragedies is really helpful. I'm learning what to do if things go wrong."

"But things won't go wrong."

I slide up into third gear, irritated by his lack of acknowledgment that bad things happen sometimes, like it or not. "Ivan. There are a number of things that could go wrong. We could run into something. We could take on water from a broken seacock. Orcas could attack the boat and--"

"Orcas!" He throws his arms up and shakes his head at the ceiling.

"What? It happened to that family who were attacked in the Pacific. Whales sank their boat and they spent thirty-eight days in their life raft. I read it in this book." I start turning pages rapidly, trying to find the evidence to show that I'm not being irrational.

"That was a freak occurrence," he says. "That won't happen to us."

I slide into fourth gear and address him with slits for eyes. "Ivan. People who end up in life rafts do not, in fact, set that as a goal for themselves. They do not decide: 'Oh, hey, I have an idea: let's sink our boat. It will give us a chance to test the new life raft.' They sink by mistake. They survive because -- and only because -- they're prepared for the worst. Nobody plans to sink their boat. But guess what? Some do." I fold my arms and rest my case, gloating at my flawless logic. That will convince the jury.

"Yeah, but we won't sink."

"Bah! Ivan! That's your only argument? You have no more points to make? Only a psychic premonition?"

"We won't sink. I guarantee you."

"Guarantee? Oh no you did not. You can't guarantee that."

"We won't sink -- guaranteed."

I'm in top gear now, pedal to metal. "Well, what if we do, huh? Then you'll be like, 'Oh, gee, you were right, baby, we should have packed warm clothes and a radio and survival food, but guess what? It will be too late because we'll be stranded and freezing and starving and then we'll be bloody dead."

"Stop freaking out. Calm down, okay? All these people you're reading about -- they didn't have the modern gear we have. The guy in Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Sea, for example, his EPIRB was far inferior to ours. Our EPIRB signals to the coast guard, but the old EPIRBs would only send a signal to planes that happened to be flying overhead or ships in the area. That's why a ditch kit was necessary back then."

"I know, it's just..." I take a breath and calm myself. "I want to prepare for the worst, you know? Insurance."

"But the thing about insurance is, where does it stop? We could get a second life raft, immersion suits in case the life rafts fail. We could paint the decks fluorescent orange to aid air rescue, spend $1000 on another EPIRB, $20,000 on a brand new engine, hell ... while we're at it, $500,000 on a steel boat. But we'll never leave."

"So how do we know what we should get then?"

"Probability management. Weighing up odds and making decisions based on that. We can take fifteen years to get the boat ready, spending more and more money. But I don't want to wait until retirement age. The odds of getting injured or dying before sixty -- car crash, cancer, Armageddon, whatever -- and never going: those odds scare me. That's why few people do this trip. They put off going to make their boat safer, better, newer, and time gets the best of them. You're right--bad things can happen out there, but chances are that nothing will, and no matter what we do, we can't make a trip like this danger-free."

"I know," I say, "I'm just..."

"I get it, you're scared. You don't need to be, though. If we keep waiting until we feel safe, we'll never leave. We have to just go."

"I know, but this book suggests that a ditch kit is 'essential', which makes me think that--"

"You shouldn't worry. We're not going to sink. It's not going to happen."

"Why do you keep saying that? You don't know that for sure."

"We just won't."

"But how do you know that?"

"We just won't!"

"You don't know that!"

After a long Mexican standoff, Ivan releases a tired breath. "Okay. We'll get a ditch kit if it makes you feel comfortable."

He comes and sits beside me and pulls me into a make-up hug. I smile weakly and hug back, while my nervous eyes fix on the long checklist of tasks sitting before me on the table. Suddenly the month we have left before departure -- to learn to sail, prepare for a major ocean voyage, and iron-out relationship differences -- seems set to be insanely hectic.

TEMPLATEReadMoreBookExcerpts.jpg Excerpted from Torre DeRoche's Swept: Love With a Chance of Drowning (Gauguin Media)