It’s funny how, being at sea, you can spend so much time in nature, relying on the winds and waves, fully at the mercy of the weather the ocean presents to your little boat, but have so few chances to touch the teeming life beyond what we can see.
I’m one of those people that can’t walk fast or in a straight line because there’s always something interesting to see. A crab nestled under a rock. A mushroom hiding in a thicket. A pretty leaf on the path. Being at sea can sometimes feel like being in a desert. Or a sensory deprivation tank. The first time you step on land, you smell the harbour. The seaweed on the shoreline, fishing bait, briney air. There are colours on land that you haven’t seen for weeks. The first birdsong sounds so musical, so loud. Being at sea feels like a long meditation. There’s always work to do, but it’s work with your hands, and it leaves your mind free to roam. And your mind never runs out of paths or rabbit holes. The ocean can help you focus in on things, gives the mind peace from the overstimulation of sights, sounds, information on land.
I look to the birds for my nature-fix. Their wings are each built like sails, some for soaring, some for acrobatics. They play on the waves, follow the ship, dancing as close to us as they dare. We are an anomaly to their curious minds.
Each has their own personality: the yellow-nosed albatrosses will circle the ship, sticking around for days at a time. They’re bigger than the shearwaters and petrels, but will slink back into the horizon when a larger albatross species glides in. The spectacled- and white-chinned petrels are bolder. They loyally follow the ship’s aft- eyeing the fishing lures. These birds often fly in small groups and mirror each other’s movements in an elegant performance of synchrony. Soft plumaged petrels dance in arching flight, soaring up and dipping down. They’re usually only around when there’s a few other birds already tailing us.
One bird has been evading me so far. A slight, dark bird- wings rounder than the others and with a white rump. A storm petrel. It flies extremely low to the water, racing the sea spray, dipping behind waves and disappearing from sight. I could have sworn this bird is part fish the way it disappears into the churning waters. Focusing my eyes on it is hard enough- let alone my binoculars. No chance for my camera. Unfortunately for me, many species of white-rumped storm petrels roam the Atlantic, so their specifics will remain cryptic for me until they choose to slow their swoops and fly a little higher. But that would be no fun. They fly so effortlessly, so close to the edge. It’s freedom. I think that’s what we’re all chasing as we sail.