Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Running Away To Sea

So we ran away to sea and lived aboard a Beneteau First 40.7 sloop and learnt to crew her.

Coconuts from Pulau Hantu in a Dinghy
Living on the water. Most days were blessed with clear blue skies and sunshine – friendly warmth in the salty strong sea-wind. Despite slip-slap-slopping on sunblock, nut-bronzed bodies in large sunnies were soon drapped about the fresh white deck and lounged against the pushpit as we cruised over sparkling emerald waters. Lazy hot afternoons, we anchored off a Southern Island, pumped up the dinghy and rowed ashore to pick coconuts while the others of us with the boat dived off from the bow and boom into the waters that were cool and calm and deep.

But this was no luxury pleasure cruise. In a good wind, we sped along at more than 8 knots, hiking our asses as the boat heeled at an angle so improbable, it defied this landlubber's logic that we'd yet to capsize altogether. Once, we spotted a slightly smaller keelboat practising some tacking off the coast of Changi and proceeded to race her to a designated finishing line. She beat us by 5 boat-lengths and as we drew alongside to applaud her crew, we saw they were well-equipped with water squirt guns which they proceeded to use to great effect on us!

No rest for the weary was to be had while the day was young: between figuring out points of sail, doing tacks ("Ready about?", "Helm to Leeeeee!", "Lee Hold!") and gybes and reefs and other sailing manoeuvres as the wind permitted, helming best course to windward while aiming for a fixed point in the distance and keeping an eye on the windex, learning ropework, keeping a good lookout in the heavy traffic in the Singapore sea (bumboats, tugboats, tankers, refuellers, cruise ships, naval vessels returning from friendly naval exercises, lasers, powerboats and deep-sea fishing boats encircled by hopeful seagulls on weekends, a hot pink and purple boat the skipper called his "gay boat" and even a motorised sampan containing a dodgy pirate-looking man dressed completely in black and wearing a full black balaclava on a hot day), interpreting buoys and offshore markers, remembering the rules of the road, practicing man-overboard runs and doing logs, there was hardly time for a sit-down and a cup of tea.

Then there was being on mother watch - cooking in the sweltering galley, making drinks, washing up. Fortuitously, no one was poisoned while I was on, though those on deck were treated to the sight (through the companionway hatch) of me being thrown from the gas stove on port to the navigation table on starboard while stubbornly holding a pan of half-cooked dinner in one hand and a frying slice in the other and then back again towards the gas fire, as the vessel rocked to and fro. The other Mother managed to slice off a bit of finger together with the green capsicums during a particularly strong wash.

SAF Yacht Club
Nightfall, nipping between anchored ships with their decks twinkling like Christmas lights, we were guided by red light to port and green light to starboard in the approach channels to berths at Raffles Marina near the Second Link to Johor Bahru, Marina at Keppel Bay and SAF Yacht Club where the skipper pointed out some salty old sea dogs who lived onboard their own vessels. Imagine the joy of spending their days with the sun always on their faces and salty sea breeze in their hair, roaming the open seas, the simplicity of being temporarily untethered to society. At one marina, a passing wine proprietor was invited to a dinner we'd russelled up on our mother watch, and not only did he not keel over and die, he pronounced it fantastic and sent along his boy with two boxes of Coke, 100 Plus and Fiji water which stood us in good stead for the hot days ahead. Berthing at marinas meant an abundance of water and therefore, the luxury of showers. Other nights, when we hooked up mooring balls and moored in the waters off Changi Beach Club, water conservation dictated only a powder or wet-wipe bath.

It being too hot and stuffy to sleep in the shared cabins below deck, I took to spending the night on the hard wooden benches in the cockpit under the stars, lulled into deep slumber by the bobbing of the boat in calm waters, the familiar chinking and flapping of ropes and the cool night breeze. At the mozzie and sandfly-infested SAF Yacht Club, had to rig a large scarf to act as a mosquito net to pass the night unscathed.

Well, even if a cloud of bloodsuckers had descended, might have been none the wiser. This was confirmed by my snoozing through storm winds while the boat rocked violently from side to side, apparently waking up only to hand a crewmate who'd come on deck to check on things some wet-weather gear, before absently sinking back to sleep again.

One of the best bits of sailing was when we were far from any other group of humans, and huge silver fish flew through the air beside our boat and a pair of dolphins nosed up for a look, and then, coming out of heavy rain into some sunshine, the sight of a beautiful double rainbow. (Was at the helm so no photographic evidence of any of this.) It was pretty difficult not to break out into song at this reminder of God's grace.

Sailing Into A Storm
In fact, it was really hard-going not being able to marvel expressly about the Creator of sea and the sky and the wind and the sun and all the creatures that live under it, or speak about how frightened the disciples must have been in the storm when we on our modern vessel could hardly see where we were going in heavy rain while being pounded on all sides by bone-achingly cold wind and wild waves, or discuss the Jewish fear of the sea and the characterisation of the Leviathan and Behemoth as creatures of the sea. On Sunday morning though, while anti-bac-ing the saloon with Class 95's Soft Rock weekend on loud, Jars of Clay's Love Song For A Saviour came on air unexpectedly. Lyrically shabby but cathartic.

Back on land, was asked to consider doing some offshore yacht racing around the world for a few months, full sponsorship thrown in. Really love the sea, the open water, and the sailing and the idea of going around the world, and the offer is very tempting. This morning, I woke in my own bed and didn't recognise it. But there is pause for thought - less than a week and already I missed spending a few lazy hours with God's word... :'-(

Anyway, enough already of yabber. Now to get cracking on the good shrewd stuff.

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation's revealing your majesty
From the colors of Fall to the fragrance of Spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing, God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing, God

Who has told ev'ry lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable
You placed the stars in the sky
And You know them by name
You are amazing, God
Incomparable, unchangeable
You see the depths of my heart
And you love me the same
You are amazing, God

Chris Tomlin

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