Reflections In The Water, Breeze In A Jar

A farewell party, a fading English coastline, a voyage begun.

Modern aviation required just 28 hours to undo what it took a 32-foot sailboat 16 months to achieve. Half a world covered, just like that. In the time that it would take Blue Eye to cover a smidge over 100 miles, I was transported from the sterile corridors of Auckland’s airport to the warm comforts of an English cottage, with all the love, dog licks, and hot running water I could wish for.

A tranquil English Channel, scenes from a French café, music and sunlight soaked.

That’s all very well and good, but the speed at which such displacement is possible does leave the ambling sailor somewhat perplexed. The morning after I arrived back home it seemed impossible I’d ever been anywhere but right there the entire time. Sure, the room had been rearranged, and evidence to suggest a teenage girl had moved into it was dotted about the place, but it didn’t appear I’d been rearranged. Some lost weight and longer hair perhaps, but nothing more.

That kindly Spanish fisherman, blurred Portuguese nights, the hum of a Moroccan market.

Strange though… there was no teenage girl here before, only a little sister. Plus there’s an extra dog barking downstairs now, and come to think of it, the lady in the shop wouldn’t take my pound coin yesterday… something about it being too old. Train tickets are paper, not card; everyone’s suddenly talking about plastic in the oceans; and Tottenham Hotspur are above Arsenal in the league. This can’t have all changed overnight.

A storm at sea, the following calm, the first ocean crossed.

Indeed, amongst the familiar sights, smells and sounds of home, there was a feeling of genuine uncertainty that Blue Eye’s travels were anything but a dream. And the thing about dreams is, they have the propensity to leave lasting and often powerful impressions on us, but not always do we connect with them in an imagistic way. Sometimes the visual is superfluous detail, an excess of mind activity that has no real bearing on the dream at all: “You were in my dream last night, but it wasn’t actually you.” We can justify such oxymorons because dreams have feelings to them, and even if the images are at complete odds with them, it is the feelings that stay with us.

An electric Caribbean night, a wild Panamanian jungle, a fearful lightning storm at sea.

Our memories are like dreams in this sense: mostly accessed through the realm of the visual, but in a manner faded and fitful, as if being watched on an old tape that transmits no sound, and certainly none of the sensations life drenched them in at the time: the damp tropical heat; scents of rain on earth; nature’s relentless chatter. Memories are rarely so wholesome. They are reflections in the water: fractured rays of light bouncing back from the past that we acknowledge in the present, only for them to be absent moments later. There one second and carried away the next. Temporary, fleeting, transient.

Twenty-four days on the ocean. Vast. Empty. Free.

But our memories can also be like dreams in that they too possess the capacity to make us feel. A recollection can be so important that it ultimately serves to mould the landscape of our mind. These memories – these powerful ones – are not reflections in the water, but rather the water itself upon which we float: they have brought us to where we are today. And just as the waves do, they might lift us up to their very peaks, or loom over us as we sit down in their troughs, but the remarkable thing is that a mere memory can move us at all.

A Marquesan war cry, a game of rugby between palm trees, a whale’s song reverberating through cabin walls.

Sitting in bed on that cold winter’s morning I was surprised at what I found when I asked myself what had moulded the landscape of my last 16 months. It was seldom the tropical paradises or panoramic hilltop views, as delightful as they were. Rather, it was the charm of a stinking Moroccan fishing port, the love of Fijians amidst a poverty stricken city, the hilarity that accompanied morning coffees on a dirty boat in the middle of the ocean… the type of things that are nothing to look at, but everything to be a part of.

A Fijian smile, an albatross soaring over ocean waves, an outline of New Zealand on the horizon.

And so half a world of reflections amount to this: it doesn’t matter whether or not we go to pretty places on this trip. We are in the embarrassingly blessed position to have learned that laying our eyes on another stunning island is temporary, fleeting and transient. Yes the world is a beautiful place, but Google images can tell you that. We might take a photo for ourselves, but more often than not the photo is all that will remain, because it will capture only a frame in time and make no room for the other sensations of life. Equally, I might take shells from the beaches, or fill journals to put the beauty onto a page, but I might as well be bottling breeze in a jar for those windless days at sea. Try as you might, you can’t take it with you.

A celebratory morning beer on the arrival dock, a seething Kiwi customs official, a giggle behind his back.

Best to learn this now. Better to realise sooner rather than later that a camera full of photos, a journal full of notes, and a suitcase full of shells won’t recreate a moment.

Best to learn this now. Better to realise that the trick to travel is opening up much more than just your eyes. The reflection in the water is but a ray of light bouncing back from the past; and that breeze in the jar won’t take you anywhere…

Best to learn this now. Better to realise before…

A farewell party, a fading New Zealand coastline, a voyage resumed.

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