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Paradise

Above the anchorage a massive tooth of granite thrust up into the sky, dripping in verdant jungle growth like algae on a crocodile's eyes. A turban of clouds perpetually swathed the peak as the trade winds were parted. The clouds, which had traveled across the vast and featureless Pacific Ocean, shed their load and the jungle rose skyward in prayer for the bountiful rain.

The moss-covered stones gathered the mist, forming tumbling rivers and spontaneous waterfalls that crashed and rushed through the huge lush leaves of taro, papaya, mango, lime, hibiscus and the earthy smell of rotting vegetation. At the base of the pinnacle small areas were cleared, making way for a newly paved road, a soccer field and modest homes. Around the corner, the coconut palms swayed above sand beaches in a small bay.

The anchorage was filled with yachts anchored bow and stern because of the limited room. They ranged from small tired craft to gleaming half-a-million-dollar yachts. Common to every boat was a slightly weathered look that only comes from long-distance sailing. They had accomplished what most only dream. They had crossed 3,000 ocean miles to reach the Marquesas Islands, the start of Polynesia, the start of the South Pacific islands that had lured sailors, writers, painters, opportunists, missionaries and dreamers for hundreds of years and continued to do so.

Although just a snapshot of the cruising sailors that would arrive this season, this group of boats was forming a new floating community. They were sharing stories of the last passage, comparing boats and making plans to meet at the next anchorages.

Everyone was bonded by the sail they had just made, but also because they were romantics. They had left their homes to pursue a dream, ignored what friends and family said, weighed the risks, took the precautions, cut the dock lines and had succeeded.

I was aboard our small 33-foot catamaran. My husband, Alec, and I had sailed from the east coast of the United States, through the Panama Canal and had arrived a few days earlier to become a part of this captivating scene. It was the end of May 1993. We now had six months to sail through the South Pacific until hurricane season began, during which we would cover the same distance as we had in the last month. This was our reward.

On the outside, life was going according to plan. On the inside, our dream was in danger of dying. During the passage I had been overwhelmed by fear. We'd had our fights and our discussions. We both thought that once the passage to the Marquesas, 23 days at sea, was over, my anxieties would fade. But now I seemed afraid of everything. In every situation I saw black; I saw disaster.

I hadn't had this problem before we left, but when I looked back on the year, I could see that I was not emotionally prepared. I had never properly psyched myself up, not just for the last passage, but for the entire trip.

A common question before we left was, "Aren't you scared?" I would rather calmly reply that if I was going to die, I would rather be out at sea than in a car on my way to work. But the truth was, at that time, I didn't know exactly what to be afraid of. I knew some of the fears, and I had pat answers for them. If we were holed, our catamaran was unsinkable. If the catamaran flipped, we could live in it upside down with all our supplies.

I had married a risk taker; something I admired in Alec. I was attracted to risk too, but that was in safe, comfortable Southern Ontario where life was governed by the certainties and security of family, friends, university and a career; all of which allowed me to be confident, spontaneous and outgoing.

Now I dreaded the thought of misfortune, of one or both of us being seriously injured or dying.

Alec wanted me to enjoy the thrill of the risks we were taking. But I couldn't. He was disappointed in me and I felt alone, singled out as the bad guy.

Why couldn't he love me as I loved him? I wanted to be loved for who I was now, but Alec loved the old Alayne. He wanted her back. He wanted this new dark side of me to go away.

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1999 Alayne Main