“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller.
That is what I realised after my maiden sailing trip. One evening I was talking to a group of strangers about their yacht, and the next morning, I was sailing with them from Singapore to Bali. Since December 2010, I have been very active on Couchsurfing, an international network that connects travellers with each other and with locals around the world. Thanks to this “explore the world” ticket, I have met several interesting people, including Armin. An Austrian, Armin was sailing with three other crewmembers from Phuket to Singapore.
They were stuck in Singapore for over three weeks, courtesy an engine breakdown. Their loss was my gain. One evening I met Armin and spent the evening with him and his crew at their yacht. After a delightful evening filled with sailing stories, I decided to join them.
The engine was fixed soon and they were ready to leave. However, when I told them that I wished to come along they were nice enough to wait for me till I finished all the formalities.
By 10 a.m the next day, a woman who was completely oblivious to the whole idea of sailing, was travelling to Bali on a yacht. The crew consisted of Armin, Piotr and Bart (Polish), Nicolas (French) and, of course, yours truly.
What followed was two weeks of sheer bliss: no phones or Internet; only a camera and the deep blue sea. Although by no means was this a luxury cruise-liner experience. It was a lot of hard work. Every day, each person had to keep a watch for fishing nets and other boats for a minimum of 6 hours.
There was also a chart mentioning whose turn it was to cook and what they were to cook. The entire crew sat together only during dinners. However, as time passed, everybody started to open up more, eat meals together more often and even stay up late talking. We swam fearlessly in the deep blue sea, watched dolphins chase the yacht, enjoyed numerous sunrises and sunsets and slept beneath the starry sky. Wine, beer, cognac, acoustic guitar and Bob Marley were regular companions. There were some crazy storms too. The crew-members told me that I was lucky to experience a storm on my first day.
The yacht had been sailing from Poland, and except for Bart, the other crew-members found the boat in Phuket through Find a Crew (visit the website for more information).
American writer George William Curtis once said: “It is not the ship so much as the skilled sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” His words remind me of Piotr. Extremely proficient at sailing, Piotr had great subterranean knowledge. The journey also had a cultural dimension. I had several conversations with Piotr and Bart about Polish and Indian culture. I even ended up learning some Polish words.
As far as my duties on the boat went, they were varied. I helped the crew-members untie the fenders and learnt to make the special knots used in tying and untying the fenders. Before this trip I was clueless about sailing and the techniques it involved but things are not the same anymore. Throughout the journey, I observed the crew while they were going about their tasks, learnt when to use the main sail, the functioning of the autopilot and other nautical details.
We crossed the equator on the second day. For the first three days, we had moved at an average of 100 miles, but for the next three days our speed dropped sharply as there was no wind. What’s more, we were running out of diesel so we could not run the engine for too long. We were stranded in the open sea for three days. To kill time and to survive the heat we jumped into the sea every now and then. No humans around, only snakes, flying fish, jellyfish and dolphins to look at.
The first time I saw the dolphins, my jaw dropped. It was like a movie frame—they were passing by in a group during the sunset, making small waves in the sea with a red, cloudy sky in the background. But because of our slow speed they soon got bored and disappeared. During strong winds, the boat would incline on one side. I admit I was scared but only for a while. The crew-members lessened my fears by telling me that the yacht moves faster in that position.
On the 12th day of our trip we were in Bali. By the time we got close to the harbour, it was past the check-in time. We waited until the next morning to check in and after almost two weeks of sailing, I finally stepped on land. I was still swaying from side to side and it took me some time to get over the “sea lag”.
After all the legal formalities were completed in Indonesia, we went to Kuta for lunch. Kuta attracts many tourists but it disappointed me. It is extremely commercial, filled with hordes of tourists, shopping areas and restaurants that serve Western food. The next day we visited other parts of Bali, which is when I discovered the beauty of this island. We saw traditional Balinese dances, volcanoes and had lunch at a restaurant, which had gorgeous views of the volcanoes. We also stumbled upon a village where women made batik prints, visited coffee estates and the most scenic paddy fields I’ve ever seen.
I also had the opportunity to witness some cockfights, which was quite a gory and a pitiful sight, and yet an insightful experience. I fell in love with this beautiful island and it’s a shame that I had such little time to spend there. I reminded myself that the purpose of my travel was the journey and not the destination. After the marvellous sailing experience the destination seemed unimportant and this time my journey was a beautiful one that involved a yacht, the deep blue sea and me.
Written and photographed by: Mithila Jariwala