18.10.2012 - 26.10.2012
Next stop was a 6 day sailing course, based in Gibraltar. I have always, always wanted to be able to sail. In May 2011 I bit the bullet and signed up for a dinghy sailing course in the Wilds of County Mayo. I emerged from the experience a traumatized woman. I spent most of the time in the water (remember this is the Atlantic Ocean in May): my main activity was endlessly capsizing my boat and being unable to haul myself back in without assistance. Once I was helped back in the boat, the damn thing would take off again, like a horse bolting from the stable with me desperately trying to hold onto the reins. Two minutes later I would be back in the water. Although I knew Mayo in May was never going to be San Tropez, my experience on the 'base' was equally cold and joyless. When the day's sailing was over and I had been refreshed by a cold shower (the hot water had broken down) I would climb into my sleeping bag for the rest of the evening in an attempt to keep warm and avoid having to mix with the few oddballs who were doing other courses. I constantly felt full of anxiety and dread. I called my sister at the end of the fourth day and was surprised when I started to ball my eyes out. It was time to leave. And so I returned home a day early with badly swollen knees and ankles, a body purple with bruises, a chipped tooth and a terrible fear of the water, a fear I never had before. For 3 days afterwards I lay in bed with the curtains drawn. Looking back, it probably was the most challenging thing I have done in my adult life; raw fear, physical exhaustion and a sense of feeling totally incompetent is a potent mixture. The only way to cope with fear is to face it, so when I eventually opened my bedroom curtains I knew with certainty I had to get back in a boat as soon as possible. Which of course I didn't, I avoided it. And as we all know, avoidance is most powerful soil in which to grow further fear. It got to a point where I couldn't look at a boat on Carlingford Lough without feeling anxious. I was sure that if I stepped on board a boat again, the boat would surely sink. It was that bad. But now was the time to change that.
Within an hour of leaving Conil, the Rock of Gibraltar could be seen on the horizon and neck and back were tense with nerves. All I could think about was getting a stiff drink. I don´t think Ive taken a drink to calm my nerves since I was in my twenties. The beauty of the physicality of the Rock of Gibraltar surprised me, but within minutes of experiencing hoardes of young British blokes and pubs offering a staple diet of pie and chips I took a dislike to the place.
I made my way to the Marina and hooked up with my shipmates for the week. There was four others, three of whom, reassuringly, had never been on a boat before. The only one with sailing experience was Dutch; he was calm and reasoned but gave nothing away about himself. Then we had a couple, he originally from Belfast and she from the Philippines. She was a gag altogether. Whilst she didn´t know how to ride a bike or drive a car, she was expert in looking glamorous on board and smoking what she called cigarillos in a very elegant manner. I liked her a lot. Then the dark horse. On the surface Kamal looked every inch an extremely posh British public school boy. Underneath the surface he was a good guy who spent most of his life in Ghana, spoke Arabic and had an extensive prescription drug habit. Oh, as well as being an out and out chancer. Kamal was pretty clueless about sailing and like me, failed regularly to learn from his mistakes. Our instructor was a bit of an ass and while I was excused for being rubbish, Kamal was given a really hard time. Kamal managed this by taking a variety of chemical stimulants to help his focus, marijuana to keep his nerves steady and at times of high stress, a valium or two. He was a walking pharmacy. Together we were an odd bunch. I was going to say God only knows what they thought of me, although thinking back, one of the guys did share his thoughts. He said I was the female incarnation of the Murdock from the A team. For those of you who were never A team viewers, he was the crazy dude. I didn't know whether to be extremely flattered or insulted.
As expected, I was a nervous wreck, especially for the first few days. I really struggle with being incompetent and with constantly making the same mistakes. I should have taken one of Karim's valium. Stress levels weren't helped by the attitude of the instructor Mike. He regularly lost his cool and we were shouted out and made to feel foolish on a regular basis, an interesting approach to take on a course for beginners. Taken with his picking on Karim, the atmosphere on the boat was often very bad. Given that I absorb bad vibes like a sponge absorbs water, the only way to cope with this was to self medicate with alcohol every evening. This was problematic for me for two reasons. Reason number one is that I am just not that into alcohol anymore, 2 beers is more than enough. Reason number 2 is that booze makes me need to pee on a number of occasions through the night. That is fine when I am at home and near a loo. On this boat I needed to either clamber over the 2 boys sleeping in the cabin and use the pump toilet which would wake the living dead, Or, get off the boat and walk to the loo facilities. Neither of the two were options for me. And so I developed an unexpected skill. Namely the ability to wake at 2 a.m with a bladder full to bursting and ignore it. And to do the same at 4 and 6 am. Then at around 8.30, to delicately slip off the boat and run at top speed to powder my nose. And so each evening
For those of you not accustomed to sailing lingo I was learning on a cruiser or yacht. This was very different to my time in Mayo. There I was learning in a wee tiny boat called a dinghy which I had to sail myself, namely manage the steering and the sails all on my own (and at the same time!). Yacht are bigger and I had been told, rarely ever sank. Even better, I was learning to be a crew member; that is helping out with the boat, rather than being responsible for anything important like navigation, pointing it in the right direction and doing the sails proper. I was there to learn to take directions from the captain. Phew, that sounded so much better. Responsibility and me do not go together. So after a day on practicing in the bay we set off to Cueta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco. This surely was an interesting part of the world; we departed from a British enclave in Spain and arrived in a Spanish enclave in Morocco. The highlight of the journey (other than the boat not sinking) was being accompanied by dolphins for at least half an hour. The low point was being seasick and then vomiting up my lunch of meatballs and spaghetti all over the deck. I kissed the ground when I eventually clambered off the boat and then made the dash to the closest bar for the first of my medicinal drinks of the evening. The next day we sailed to Morocco proper and spend a very bizzare evening (as they often are in Morocco) in a posh looking Marina in which none of the fancy looking restaurants had any food. My attempts to escape from the Marina was unsuccessful as I was followed everywhere by a myriad of security guards. Karim of course had scored a bag of hash within 5 seconds of stepping off the boat. The evenings generally involved our little crew sitting in the cabin playing cards and drinking whatever we could get our hands on. It was nice. Like a week in a caravan with your mates when you are 22. I liked it. But when I crawled into my cabin to go to sleep, listening to the straining of the ropes, those old anxieties would re-emerge. I have a friend who is a sailor. Listening to the ropes straining at night is a sound of great reassurance to him, it tells him the boat is secure. For me the noise brings up something entirely different. It says, "Jane, that those knots you made when tying the boat up were really rubbish. They have loosened and the boat is about to drift off to sea. We are going to be in trouble and, it's all your fault". I tell you, dealing with those thoughts and a very full bladder was hard work. Given my absolute draw to being on boats and my raw anxiety when on them, I have come to the conclusion that in a previous life I was responsible for a maritime disaster.
Two more days and we were back in Gibraltar. I was hugely relieved and only had a 6 day hangover to content with. I am now the proud owner of a 'Competent Crew' certificate. Wheyheeeeyyyyyyyy.