Sailing into Oblivion
I can’t remember what solid ground feels like. I’ve been moving constantly for the last forty weeks, since the boat rocks back and forth endlessly. Today marks my 25th day since leaving Tahiti. I’m sailing to Fiji, then New Zealand, where the race ends. There is very little out here. I can see my yacht, obviously, a 40 foot white Clipper. I live there. It’s nice. Besides the boat, there are rolling waves, giant in some places, small at others. They stretch out to the horizon. There’s a lot of sky here too. I try to race the clouds. Nobody is with me, except for the occasional seagull. I’m not sure what they’re doing this far from land. They’re annoying. Three days ago I shot at one, just for the hell of it. It gets pretty boring out here. Right now I’m doing about 14.9 knots, so things are slow. Not bad, but slow.
The air is nice out here. It’s warm and has a distinct taste. The wind runs through my hair all day, until I forget what if feels like. The ocean roars, constantly. I don’t know how else to describe it. The water and sky are two different colors. Neither are “blue”, but both are beautiful. The sunset’s always good, even though I’ve seen it a hundred times. Right now there are clouds, but it will be clear for at least a few days. I can’t fully describe what it’s like out here, at least not very well. I guess it’s more or less empty. Maybe open is a better word. I don’t know.
I’m in a sailing race, one that goes all the way around the world. I’m not really sure what made me do all this, but here I am. When I’m not shooting at birds or sleeping, I sail. I adjust the sails to account for the tiny changes in the wind every two or three minutes. My average speed is 15.2 knots. I check the speed every two or three minutes. I get anxious when my average speed is below 15.2 knots, and I feel a mile high when I get above it. I guess my spirits are as reliant on the wind as my boat is.
I am pretty much alone out here. Sure, it’s a race, but there is a lot of ocean. I might see the triangle of a sail on the horizon once every day or two. Judging by the current pace I’m laying down, I’d say I’m in third place. I’ve been closely watching first place for months, but no matter how hard I go, I can’t manage to catch up to him. First place is this Dutch guy, Henk de Veldte. I’m closer to him than I’ve ever been, and I think I may be able to pass him before the end of the race. Next week is when we’re supposed to finish. I haven’t thought about it much. Right now, I’m just trying to catch up.
I sail all day, and all night too. I don’t have much time for anything else. When sailing on a clear night, I get up every hour or two to check that my sails are adjusted and that the wind hasn’t changed. The night shift is okay, and I’ve pretty much adjusted to the sleep. I usually get up, adjust my sails, then go back to sleep for a bit. On a rough night, I’m up, trying not to capsize. There’s no rest for the weary, I guess. I’ve stayed up for 50 hours at a time, surfing over giant swells. I’ve got to keep the angle of the sails just right and carefully plan my way up and down every rolling wave. Any of them could flip the boat over and kill me. In fact, if I slip overboard for a moment it might as well be over for me. Life jackets are worthless out here. If you go in, your boat won’t stop sailing in a straight line for a few hundred miles and you’ll be floating in the water watching it trot off into the sunset, like a goddamn idiot. Frankly, I’d rather drown in an hour with no life vest than float around for a day like a kid at a public pool. And if your boat flips at night, at least it's quick. You’d never get out of the cabin in time. So that’s why I usually stay up during storms. I’d rather not drown.
I’m not going to win. I mean I’ve known for weeks, but now I can literally see second place, unless it’s first. Either way, de Veldte’s in front of me. I’m close enough to see the stupid Dutch flag he hung on the back railing. We’re close to shore too. I spent the whole day scouring the horizon for land that should be there, and finally, there it is. I don’t have much time left to beat this guy. De Veldte’s okay. He’s a great sailor, which is bad news for me, but he’s not awful to talk to. He’s one of the most normal out of any of these guys. I saw him with his wife at the Gibraltar checkpoint. They looked nice. I was just standing there like an idiot and they called me over. His wife was asking about the sail.
“Oh yeah, it's great weather for sailing. Some of my favorite ocean around here,” I mumbled. They laughed and smiled. They kept asking me questions. They were really nice. They even asked me to get dinner with them, but I turned it down. I still enjoyed our short conversation. Most of the other rich bums in this race can’t talk about anything but themselves, so I don’t mind de Veldt, even though I want to beat him.
We’re supposed to finish in about a half hour. De Veldte is probably less than a half a kilometer away, and the finish line is a little more than three away. I’m almost positive that he is in first, and I in second. I can race around the whole world, more that 42,000 kilometers, and I’m going to lose by less than 1000 meters. Second is better than I’d hoped though, so I’m not disappointed too much. I mean I’m not happy that I lost, but I won’t have a breakdown or something. As I race towards shore, I can hear people cheering. A few jetskiis zip in between me and de Veldte. I’ve forgotten how loud land is. It smells too. I can smell fried food and diesel exhaust, which isn’t the best mix. There’s a helicopter, just buzzing above us. I want to slap it out of the air like a mosquito. I can already see that the port is crowded. It looks claustrophobic. I stop staring at the land for a moment and notice something strange about de Veldte’s boat. It suddenly turns hard to the right starboard. In a few moments I pass him. He hasn’t crossed the line yet. I have no idea what he’s doing. As I fly past him, I watch as he calmly adjusts his sails, then begins moving out to sea. I yell at him to ask what he’s doing, but he doesn’t seem to hear. My heart is pounding. Could I have made a navigation mistake? He must be insane. Why didn’t he finish?
I jet across the finish line a minutes later, leaving de Veldte far in my wake. I slow down, and steer into port. People are shouting like mad. I’ve won the race. I am shocked at what just happened. The cheering people seem to forget de Veldte and are cheering for me. They’re so loud, I wish they’d shut up. I steer the yacht into a spot, and begin to tie up. I step off the boat and onto the pier. It doesn’t move. Solid ground feels alien, and it takes me a minute to regain my balance. Suddenly, I am tackled by some sunburnt, sweaty man. He hits me on the back, after yelling something. There are so many people. People are asking me a hundred questions a minute. It's so loud, I want to cover my ears and cry like a child. This isn’t what I imagined when I pictured finishing. There are giant TV cameras and small camera flashes going off like a firefight. Someone is spraying me and I recoil, then someones says it’s champaign. I just nod and try to smile. I am in shell shock. I can’t breath. Land is the last place I thought I would drown. I dart away from the crowd yelling at me. Out of the corner of my eye I see a triangle on the horizon. De Veldte’s yacht keeps going into the ocean, farther out into the sea. There aren’t any jetskiis crowding him anymore. As I gaze out at his boat, I suddenly understand why he didn’t finish, why he chose to keep sailing into oblivion. I wish I had done the same.