But this time is nothing like the last time Neville Hockley left land behind and ventured into the open water to cross an ocean.
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Read the latest excerpts from the Hockleys' adventure below and visit the boat's Web site to learn more about their journey.
March 3, 2009. Day 642: Las Perlas, Panama
Neville Hockley writes: In the next week, Catherine and I will launch ourselves into the Pacific to begin a journey that will take us away from the Americas and across to the other side of the world -- a fact that I'm only now beginning to truly appreciate.
We're currently anchored in Las Perlas, a small cluster of about a hundred islands just 40 miles away from Panama City. It feels a little like we're cautiously inching our way closer to the edge of a great abyss and steeling ourselves to jump. While I'm confident that we've done absolutely everything we can to ensure our Pacific crossing will be a safe, enjoyable and hopefully rewarding experience, the sheer magnitude of what's ahead is sobering -- thousands upon thousands of miles of open ocean, passages that will require 15, 20, 30 days of sailing, no "safe harbors" to seek refuge in, no BoatUS or SeaTow to offer assistance and no turning back.
It's been 15 years since my last ocean crossing (the Indian Ocean). I was 24 and had none of the responsibility I have now. Confident, a little arrogant, but mostly blissfully ignorant of the realities of such a passage, I dove in headfirst with little to no regard for the potential dangers. Ultimately, I had the adventure of a lifetime at an age when consequence and risk didn't even factor in to the equation, only the raw thrill and excitement of a life-changing voyage that began in 1994 and in many ways I'm still navigating to this day.
There are few comparisons between my last adventure and this one. Age, experience and responsibility have perhaps softened a little of the reckless, free-spirited adventurism I felt before, but I know that sailing with Catherine on this voyage, sharing the experiences with the woman I love, will make for a far more fulfilling journey.
Safety is certainly top of mind. Before, the idea of a catastrophic accident, pirates, shipwreck or a great storm were irresponsibly welcomed -- all part of the adventure, a "that which does not kill us makes us stronger" attitude. So when we set off from Sydney to sail halfway around the world to Italy, I didn't even stop to consider why we didn't have a life raft or an EPIRB (emergency radio beacon) on board. We never wore life jackets, not even in the worst conditions, and rarely "clipped-on" safety harnesses. But with photocopied charts of the Red Sea, old car tires lashed to the deck for an emergency sea anchor and absolutely no ocean-crossing experience between us, we boldly sailed more than 13,000 miles and arrived in Rome almost six months later, miraculously with our health and the boat still intact.
I don't want to suggest we were completely irresponsible. We reefed the sails at night, avoided the typhoon seasons, kept a 24/7 watch, but, at least for me, I sailed with almost no regard for the dangers. It wasn't my boat, I had no valuable possessions at the time, only a sketchbook and a few coconut carvings, so at the invincible age of 24 I had nothing to lose. Now, because I'm sailing with Catherine on our own boat, aware of the potential dangers, ultimately responsible for our safety, and far more fallible at 39 than I was at 24, I've taken precautions that I would have scoffed at 15 years ago.
Some cruisers choose to involve themselves and listen in to the VHF radio network every morning -- local support groups organized by cruisers who provide and share tips, weather information, news etc. The cruisers net is extremely valuable and is maintained by sailors dedicated to helping each other. But for many, the net provides more than just local knowledge and a weather forecast. It provides security -- security in thinking that even thousands of miles from home, in a foreign country, they're not alone, that there are others out here, just like them, that they can rely on and talk to daily, if for no other reason than to hear a reassuringly familiar voice. Likewise, there are sailing regattas that are professionally organized, flotillas of boats crossing oceans together or even circumnavigating the world, comforted by the fact that they're not alone. While I certainly appreciate the benefits of these networks, the fact remains that the captain and crew are responsible for the boat, and when you're sailing thousands of miles from land, you are alone, regardless of who might be over the horizon or listening in on the radio.
I think my last ocean crossing had such a profound effect on my life because we accomplished the journey on our own. Even though it was wrought with potential disaster and we certainly had our fair share of setbacks, we figured them out and moved on, stronger and more competent after overcoming each challenge. If there was a cruisers net back then we weren't even aware of it, so we only had ourselves to rely on, much like how Catherine and I are choosing to experience this journey together now.
We've chosen to sail off around the world for many reasons -- the adventure, the lifestyle, the freedom, the serenity, the incredible experiences, but also for the challenges and the thrill of knowing that we are, for the most part, accomplishing this journey on our own.
So, in just a few days, with no announcement, no farewell party, no broadcast on the Net, Catherine and I will let go of the Americas, slip out of the Gulf of Panama and begin a new adventure together.
Feb. 24, 2009. Day 635: Panama City, Panama
Neville Hockley wrote:Dream Time's cabin floor is covered in confetti. Colorful little paper circles that we unintentionally brought back from Carnaval last night in our hair and pockets are sticking to everything. Within minutes of arriving at Carnaval in Panama City yesterday we were sprayed with water pistols, then had handfuls of confetti hurled at us. We instantly contracted Carnaval fever and with dots stuck to our faces armed ourselves with 25-cent bags of "annunciation" and went to seek retribution. It wasn't pretty. After clouds of paper filled the air around us amid squeals of delight from Panamanian children, and caught in the crossfire of water jets, we were quickly and soundly defeated. While Catherine, Nick and myself tried to hold our ground, we were, after all, amateurs, and the locals made great sport of us.
One of the most anticipated festivals in Panama, Carnaval lasts for four days and four nights. Streets are filled with music, vendors, dancers, performers, elaborate costumes, confetti and floats. We made our way into the heart of the action, getting ambushed regularly by children along the way who weren't satisfied unless they scored a direct facial hit with fistfuls of confetti. Unlike the parades we're used to -- the Macy's Day Parade for example, where spectators and crowds are kept at a safe, orderly and well-defined distance from the action -- at Carnaval everyone parties together. More than once, I was almost clipped on the side of the head by a protruding papier-mâché arm or giant piece of sparkling fruit as the floats trundled past just inches from the crowd. Perched on the top of each float, clinging to a rail with one hand and waving majestically with the other were the Carnaval queens -- beautiful goddesses dressed in intricate costumes with towering headdresses and, well, sometimes revealing just a little more than the performers back in New York would allow. Gyrating and wiggling to the music, they received a hearty welcome from the male spectators. After a dozen or so of these performances rolled past, Catherine, growing a little exasperated, demanded to know when the "sexy man floats" would be arriving.
The floats were fabulous, but the dancers, performers and musicians that followed were a highlight and filled the air with an infectious energy. Lines of dancers moved down the street in waves, followed by men hammering drums and shaking rattles. Each group chanted rhythmically in unison, moving, swelling and jumping as though a single force. It was impossible not to dance with them. It was intoxicating.
It was well after midnight by the time we motored back to Dream Time. Exhausted, but far too excited to sleep, we laid in the cabin and while picking stubborn pieces of sticky paper circles off our skin, relived the highlights of Carnaval I had recorded on my HD camcorder. What a night!