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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short memory of our crossing of the Atlantic Ocean

Submitted: December 07, 2017

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Submitted: December 07, 2017





We were crossing the Atlantic. We had left behind us the coast of Maine, and were heading to Carmelo, a tiny town in the south of Uruguay.

I was barely 11, but knew exactly how it was going to feel to be sailing for over 50 days, with no land in sight, and having only for company the horizon, the deep blue ocean, the bright sky, the sun, the night, and us. Us - the five of us:  my parents, my brother, me, and our Siamese cat Poupounette, living off the grid on a 62 feet sailboat, free nomads of the sea, but trapped in the vast immensity of the ocean's blue shades surrounding us from every angle. It was probably my 5th time crossing the Atlantic, vertically, from North to South. After a few months taking our time visiting the American coast and exploring Canada's fishing villages, we had to go back "South", having to hurry up a bit as we had committed to reach Antarctica by January.

When we planned long ocean crossings, going from the Northern hemisphere to the Southern, we rarely stopped along the way, unless we ran out of water or unless my dad fancied eating some French cheese, in which case we would make an exceptional stop in Saint Barth for a day for cheese, or in Brazil for water supply.

As we left port, the boredom would start and besides cooking, studying, and staying still, using my imagination to make up stories and people would be a favorite pastime of mine. They often became reality and I could entertain conversations for days with my new friends. Even though it all brought up some fun, I would still every morning, after waking up, go to the pilot room and put our position on the chart. The day's new position on the map,  that tiny dot just next to the one from the day before was enough to confirm we were going south, but showed us we were slow. Very slow.

As the days went by, seeing the sun getting up every morning and seeing it go down every evening, it became impossible to differentiate between yesterday, today and tomorrow. Time felt as if it was put on hold by the hand of an invisible god that wanted to make sure we understood the reality of time and the importance of staying silent,  having no other choice than taking a big breath and plunging into one's deep mind until we were content with our own company. Like a slow heartbeat, every minute felt both unexplainably alive but repetitive.

I was impatient to arrive near the Brazilian coast.  That coast was always  an exciting part of the trip. Reaching it meant we were halfway there, and even though we couldn't see the land from our boat, we could smell the Amazon rainforest  with the warm wind caressing our faces.

After the sun went down, nature made us yawn and want to go lay down in our cabin,  trying  to find a comfortable position adapting our body to which side the boat  was leaning. But as life always requires work, we could not all go to sleep. One of  us had to stay awake to keep an eye on the boat's direction, the wind and make sure we would not impact a cargo or fishing boat. After three or four hours of night watch, it was someone else's turn to watch her. Usually my father would make the schedule and decide on everyone's turn. He thought that, since I was  the youngest, I should have the easiest one, which was the first. That rule wasn't always applied, I often found myself with a middle-of-the-night shift, but for this trip, yes, I was assigned the first shift. From eight to eleven at night, I was alone and in charge of Kotic.

Sometimes night watches were difficult and took me to the edge of my maturity and my age--but it still felt good to watch over the boat. She was dear to us, and the attention was gladly given, as she always took us safely everywhere.

One pastime that brought plenty of excitement to my brother and me,  was to see who would be the first to "catch" a message. We were far from any internet or phone service, but we were equipped with a small black box by the laptop that would lit up a small little green light when a satellite message was sent to us.

And there we were, I remember, sitting on the couches at rear of the boat, our bodies leaned towards the big wooden table, slowly - very slowly – doing our homework, writing our history essays on a clean sheet of paper, stopping and holding our pen still in the air, in between two waves to avoid  crooked handwriting. It had been days and days and the green light hadn't lit up. We had just reached the latitude of Brazil. It's my mother who noticed the green light, to our big disappointment. My dad was called, and so he came from his pilot room to turn on our precious electricity – supplied by wind and sun – a complicated manoeuvre that entailed many different switches depending on our supply of 12V and 24V batteries. The power would then go through an inverter that would either supply us with 110V or 220V.  Our computer, an old grey 486 IBM laptop was perfect for the job. My dad declared himself only allowed person to touch such a delicate piece of technology, but we quickly found out during my dad's daily 4pm naps, that it had an excellent chess game that was a lot of fun to play.

Getting a message from the “people from the land' turned out to be the event of the day, something even more exciting than fishing a tuna or a sailfish. I craved for communication, so as soon as a message was declared, I would immediately stand by my father and  read it over his shoulder, breathing quietly to not disturb him in his handling of the laptop.

Disappointment. It was a very short one. It was just a few lines, two, maybe three, sent by a Brazilian friend. Still, I read those lines as if they were our only hope to reach land one day. It was just a phrase, warning us to be to be careful with “os submarinos” - '”Submarines” in Portuguese.  Ah! Submarines! Instantly, I figured,  I had to be very careful about not having our boat crash against a submarine during my night watch - which meant I had to carefully scan the ocean and look for those strange black boats coming out from the deep sea. But..thought something more official should be announced by my dad or my mom, probably teaching us how to identify submarines in the night to prevent the crash.

I waited for the speech.

The night came and neither father or my mother had mentioned anything yet about submarines. I was too afraid to ask. Maybe it was obvious that the coast of Brazil was filled with submarines, like a war zones is with mines, and all experienced sailors knew this? Plus, I had overheard a quiet conversation between my father and my mother about the message received and the word "submarines" had been mentioned several times, so I took it as a confirmation that indeed, we needed to keep an eye out for them.

At eight o'clock my father said: "Olga it's your turn to watch the boat!" and went off to bed. I took the Stendhal book I was reading, went up to the pilot room, then, peeked my head outside to look at the stars and the sea. It all looked infinite. The stars were dazzling and illuminating the sails of the boat transforming them into mysterious creatures very much alive. They moved in an unpredictable way, dancing to each wave and playing hide and seek with their own reflection in the sea. The night was calm and we were sliding in a sea of zephyrs. The boat moved slowly from one side to the other dancing to some song that only her, her sails and her sailors could hear. I could hear it. The light and warm winds made sounds kissing the sails, like a siren singing. The bow of the boat looked like the queen of the ocean, cutting the sea in two and letting it flow by each side of her body. The water she was pushing away took the strongest fluorescent color, going from turquoise blues to greens, with the plankton lighting up and brightening our eyes with fairy magic. I closed my eyes to listen to  the siren's song and pulled my tongueout to taste the salty wind, smelling the land that wasn't far.

I opened my eyes but as I was slowly closing them again when something caught my attention. I saw something moving in the sea not far from the boat. A dark shadow, lurking. “The submarines!" I thought to myself. I started looking everywhere, eyes wide,  carefully scanning every inch of the sea, waiting for the submarine to show itself again. I was scared, suddenly the night wasn't as marvelous as before, my body was on high alert and I was very concerned with the boat's safety - meaning our safety. Then nothing. Nothing for about 10 minutes, when each second seemed infinite, when…

"Splash" I heard.

Yes! They were submarines.

My blood froze.  

The friend that sent us the satellite message was right! I looked again. Nothing again.

I waited, stiff as a stick in the silent night. In the matter of seconds, I could see on the horizon, making a shade against the stars, submarines taking half their body out of the water again, doing some sort of  jump and laying down into the water again. They were dark oval shaped and were enormous, much bigger than our boat. We were probably just crossing the spot where they all came out to sea level, some sort of meeting point, where they all gathered to get a bit of fresh air - I thought.

The entire ocean was  indeed filled with submarines. I had just never seen them before. They were jumping out of the ocean like in the movies, making an impressive splash around them.

I started to get more and more scared and began to panic. I was scared we would have an accident, if they were on the surface, their radar wouldn't notice us, and neither would ours.  That meant a crash!

Aren't submarines, in fact, the creepiest? They rank, in my mind, with the loch ness monster and giant squids. They are huge, dark, powerful, made to be unseen, and run by humans.  They see you, but you can't see them. They came that night out of the dark, out of nowhere, as thousands of meters of dark water lied beneath us.

I didn't know what to do. I wanted to call my father and tell him we had a problem, but what if the submarines stopped jumping out of the water when he came outside? He would never believe me and he would be mad at me for waking him. Eleven years at sea and it was my first time seeing this phenomenon, so I concluded it must be a very uncommon situation. A quick rethink, and I decided to wake my brother up instead.

I went inside the boat and I ran to Igor's room. I woke him.

"What?" he said.

"We are being attacked by submarines!" I said, hesitating a little as I said it.

"Hum?" He didn't believe me at first but when he saw my face he realized something was  wrong. He followed me outside, to the cockpit. We looked all around.

"I see nothing, the night is nice. Olga, you are imagining things."

“I am not stupid, I've seen submarines”

Then suddenly, I call it the miracle moment, three submarines jumped a few hundred yards in front of the bow. Those were enormous, giant ones, making a perfect scene for a WWII Hollywood movie. We stood there, in awe. I felt very relieved not to seen as crazy anymore, and to pass on the heavy responsibility of deciding  what to do, to my brother.“Ouf!” as we would say in French.

I heard an enormous acute laugh.

Igor was laughing so hard, tears had started to pour out of his eyes.. He went inside the boat, took a pair of binoculars and handed them to me. I stayed focused, took the binoculars, and waited for the next submarine to jump out.  

"Whoa" I thought.

They were some interesting submarines indeed.  They even looked like whales a little. I mean. Kinda.

Ah. They were whales.

Disappointed, but relieved and glad I hadn't woken my father for help. Igor went off back to bed. I stayed there, keeping my head out of the boat's door, and spent the rest of my watch looking at whales jumping out from the sea. It was like going to the movies.

The next morning, after everyone made a good fun of me, I was explained that what our friend said wasn't about submarines, but about submarines wires oil platforms tend install near the coast.

"Ah..!, I thought to myself, I need to look out for oil platforms tonight!"

The End

© Copyright 2018 Olga Bely. All rights reserved.

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