Dave Cornthwaite

Mar 22 2012
Dave Cornthwaite

Dave Cornthwaite

‘You’re going on a gin cruise,’ said Dan. Ironic, really, that this friend of mine who deals exclusively in motorised transport was insinuating that I’d taken an easy expedition option, but maybe he had a point?

The control freak in me has been wrestling with this concept of travelling 1000 miles dependent on the skills and efforts of others, rather than a reliance on my own bloody-minded determination. Prior to this journey my sailing experience had been fairly limited so I wasn’t in a position to accidentally float off across an ocean solo, thus a slight change of tack for this project.

Until now Expedition1000 has certainly been a voyage of discovery but now, as my vocation gains pace and the frequency of my journeys increase, I’m realising that mere self-propulsion isn’t the point. Oh the joy! The blisterless joy! Now, at least here, there is a wider view. Teamwork. Understanding. Communal solitude.

For six days we’ve been moving west from Mexico across the Pacific Ocean, eleven near strangers bound together by a joint mission. Our vessel, the scientific research yacht Sea Dragon, has become a habitat of developing personalities rebelling against conventional timezones. We live at a mean angle of 25 degrees, nestled up against the port side of our bunks when not up on deck scanning the horizon for other ships, or in the saloon discussing global changes of mindset. It took days for some of the crew – myself included – to settle out here. Sea sickness creeps up on you, so unsettling and debilitating. Thank goodness it has passed.

Somehow we’ve only been at sea for five nights. It seems like twenty. This is our life now, a small cocoon amidst a vast spread of directionless ocean. There is literally no law out here. None of us has spent money since we left land. We are split into three watches: one on, two off. The 6-hour day slots, 6am-12pm then 12pm-6pm and then three at night, 6pm-10pm-2am-6am. Fast we look forward to the rewards of the post graveyard shift, 12 hours of freedom to sleep, listen to music, and eat!

And all the while, we sail west. We’ve seen three ships since losing sight of land last Thursday, all cargo freighters. We have laughed plenty. Moments of sheer excitement are very few and far between, so much so that when on Sunday captain Dale threw two items of undisclosed fruit straight up out of the hatch into the ocean, the unexpected splash caused great wonder. And then, subsequently, embarrassment.

Luckily, I was glad to be present on last night’s graveyard shift, the best yet. A ship was spotted seven miles to the bow and soon afterwards the first marine life for days splashed into action alongside us. We have caught no fish since Mexico, we are sailing over a great, barren, over-fished trench several miles deep, so the opportunity to witness a pod of dolphins alongside, lit up by nothing but the ocean’s natural phosphorescence, was an eternal pleasure. I worry sometimes that my dromomania ┬ámeans I’ve become desensitised to natural beauty, but witnessing the whizzing, whooshing and bounding of luminescent mammals alongside and beneath our bow in the deep dark of night will always stay with me. Quite incredible.

Just minutes before our four hours of duty were up, the milestone came. The wind had played with us over the weekend, threatening the need for motorised transit into a new weather system, but sensitive to my hopes the crew had opted to hold out for a natural passage. Indeed, the patience was rewarded and last night Sea Dragon covered its one thousandth mile under sail since departing from Cabo San Lucas.

Therefore, this journey is now officially the fifth of my Expedition1000 project. Its challenges have been vastly different from any I’ve faced before and I daresay we have plenty more to deal with in the nine or ten more days we still have at sea. The distance hasn’t all been mine, in fact, it hasn’t been mine at all. We’re at the whim of Mother Nature and of the ocean, but the experience of being out here, so far from land and so deserted from normal life and the temptations that come with it, these have all been worth that lack of control. And, I’m strangely glad to reveal, there hasn’t been a drop of gin in sight.