Sometimes, we think we know enough about other people's pain, the taste of an exotic food, the customs of a foreign land, and so on. But the actual experience often leaves us stunned, realizing that we knew nothing. Such was the case when I sailed out to sea for the first time.
There is nothing but sea around me.
Stormy waves of a typhoon roar and crash on the beach at the end of each summer. —But now, bigger ones are hitting the small sailboat 'Aomi' one after another.
Like most sailboats, Aomi leans as she sails, her white sails billowing with the wind. Each time a wave hits Aomi's side, she tilts further, almost tipping over. One moment, a huge wave lifts Aomi several meters high, and the next moment, it throws her violently to the bottom of the wave.
Everything flies around the cramped cabin. Magazines, harmonicas, dishes, onions and even sharp knives threaten me one after another. The cabin shakes so violently that it feels like being in a massive earthquake. Is there actually a typhoon nearby?
My head aches. Dizziness and nausea overtake me. The pain in my stomach is so sharp, it's as if I can feel its exact shape. As I lie in bed in the cabin, the days are passing by one after the other.
At the stern, a handmade wind vane steers Aomi automatically, and she cuts through the water without being defeated by the waves.
She is so strong, but I am too weak. In Japan, everyone knew I was more resistant to seasickness than anyone else, though.
Perhaps my muscles have been working unconsciously in response to the rocking, so my strength is draining away even as I lie in bed. Moreover, I haven't eaten anything in the two days since the storm began.
Intense fatigue and hunger have pushed me to the limit of my physical strength. Even when I want to look at my watch, I don't have the strength to raise my hand.
I must eat soon while I still have the strength to move; otherwise, exhaustion will overtake me, leading to my death.
With all my remaining strength, I manage to get out of bed. Sitting on the small floor space, no bigger than a tatami mat, I open a can of peaches.
I'm worried my stomach will reject it. I grab a spoon and bring it to my mouth, trying not to hit my nose as the floor rises and falls several meters.
Surprisingly, the peaches taste incredible. In no time, I find myself eating the entire can. It is probably the first time in my life that I have been so impressed by canned food.
Once my hunger is satisfied, I press my nose against the acrylic pane of the cabin's tiny window and gaze out at the stormy sea. It is like being in a mountain hut and looking through the window at the numerous peaks that tower and line up around me.
All around, steep slopes, valleys, cliffs, and peaks rise and fall rapidly, constantly altering the seascape. I had never imagined the sea could be so different from the land, with waves so towering...
I have to sail more than 8000 km to reach San Francisco, USA, the destination of my Pacific crossing. It is a voyage equivalent to one-fifth of the distance around the equator. And yet, I feel weak right from the start.
Do I have the mental and physical strength to endure this suffering? Can I really cross the vast Pacific Ocean alone? Has Heaven given me the necessary qualification to return alive from the sea to the land? I crawl back onto the rocking bed and bury my seasick head under the blanket.
Suddenly, the intense rocking subsides. Curious, I turn to look at the compass in the cabin. Strangely, Aomi is several dozen degrees off course. I open the cabin hatch and look out to adjust the wind vane and sails.
Instantly, the sea surface rises like a real hill, bubbling white and crashing over my head.
"Watch out!" I yell, hastily closing the hatch. A direct wave hits Aomi and knocks her to the side. As the cabin tilts violently, I am thrown into the air. Then, as the side wall rotates ninety degrees beneath me, becoming the floor, I crash down onto it.
In the next moment, however, the ballast at the bottom of the hull — 880 kilograms of it — acts as a counterweight, automatically turning Aomi upright. The suddenness of this motion throws me across the cabin, slamming me against the opposite wall.
A hard hit to my head, jaw, and chest has left me unable to breathe for a while. When I get up and look around the cabin, I notice several buckets of seawater have poured in, drenching the bedding and food supplies. There are even cracks on the wall where my head hit.
"I really let my guard down."
The vivid white of the wave's crest, crumbling as I look up, is etched in my memory. It feels as if I have just witnessed the blinding flash of an explosion.
Even two days after the storm has passed, my head still hurts intensely, and bruising marks are on my chest. I suspect my ribs have broken because every deep breath brings sharp pain to my chest, and coughing hurts intensely.
My mental state has also become increasingly anxious, and I often find myself waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason.
I stick my head out of the hatch and look around. Bars of light, resembling chopsticks or distant masts, flicker on the night sea's black horizon, only to vanish moments later.
Hovering just above the horizon, an eerie red crescent moon casts a faint glow.
"Mr. Moon, please, please help me."
After a storm, the seas calm down for a few days, then next storm begins and ends. The weather is cyclical. It is the summer at the 38th parallel on the Pacific Ocean, where Aomi sails to San Francisco.
Under the clear sunlight, white sails billowing in graceful curves, Aomi sails with perfect freedom over the shining sea. It is the world where you can enjoy the soothing sound of breaking waves. It is also the world of refreshing breezes and the satisfaction of plowing through the vast sea.
The waves breaking on the bow reflect the sun in an instant and look like splashes of glass. The sea is so blue that it seems you could turn a white cloth into a blue handkerchief just by dipping it in the water.
On stormy days, I get seasick and stay in bed, yet once the weather clears, I become strangely energetic. I jump out of bed as if I have only pretended to be ill.
Every morning, when the alarm rings at 6:30 a.m., I measure the sun's altitude with a sextant to plot Aomi's current position on a nautical chart. Then, I adjust the tension of the sails, hang wet clothes to dry on the railing, inspect each part of Aomi, and repair anything broken. Some days, I have dried dozens of US dollar bills wet with seawater after a storm. I heat them on the stove much like cooking nori, a Japanese seaweed.
After the evening meal and sunset, I write a log of the voyage under the cabin light, read a few nautical stories, of which I have many on board, and fall asleep. But even at midnight I have to get up and check the compass to keep the course.
I often jump up when there is sudden rain or a gust of wind and change the sails if there is a storm. Living at sea is like being a wild animal on the prairie, constantly threatened by natural enemies. So I cannot sleep peacefully and soundly.
This regular rhythm of my life at sea is gradually disrupted because the sky turns white as early as 2 a.m. Also, the sun sets at 4:30 p.m., even though it is midsummer.
I am awakened by the sun streaming into the cabin in the early morning. In the evening, it's too dark to wash the dishes on deck with seawater. This makes my life very inconvenient.
As Aomi moves eastward across the globe, there is no doubt that a time difference has occurred. I directly feel part of the proof that the Earth is round. This is a completely different kind of knowledge than what I learned in school or from books.
In the middle of the North Pacific, where I find myself alone, I often lie on deck for hours at night in the gentle breeze. I never get tired of looking at the night sky.
Far away from crowded cities, stars so large and luminous fill the night sky, appearing as if they could fall with a whizzing sound at any moment. Aomi seems to float in the darkness, sailing across the galactic sea as I lie on the deck, feeling it with my back. The sails now look like black shadows against the background of the dazzling starry sky.
On a full moon night, a bluish-white light fills the atmosphere, and I can see the horizon as clearly as if it were daytime. Under the moonlight, which seems to pour down with the sound of steady rain, the sea undulates powerfully like a gigantic black creature. Aomi runs and runs through the fantastic moonlit sea, making the sound of water like a stream.
The moon shining over the sea is unexpectedly bright, and its intense light coming through the window often surprises me. It's so strong that I jump out of bed, thinking a ship is coming and illuminating Aomi with a searchlight.
After spending eight weeks at sea, far away from the common sense of the city, I have set the cabin clock six hours ahead due to the time difference. Aomi has already crossed most of the North Pacific, more than 8000 km from east to west. Clear, crisp English songs and news broadcast reach me on the radio. My destination, San Francisco, is right in front of me.
But a storm comes up, and Aomi pitches so hard that even putting the pot and kettle on the stove becomes impossible. I am tossed around the cabin again and again.
After dusk, I eat only canned tangerines and biscuits for my first meal of the day and go back to bed, suffering from seasickness. Huge waves toss the little Aomi from ridge to trough, each landing sending a painful shock through the hull and into my spine. Outside, the wind sounds as if threatening me in the darkness.
I estimate that Aomi is only about 100 kilometers from the American continent. If the unpredictable currents push her, a collision with land would be possible before dawn.
I tell myself to go out and look for the lighthouse's light, but I can't bring myself to do it, even though I'm not starving or exhausted. I just lie in bed, frozen as if in bondage, paralyzed by fear. If I left the cabin, a wave might hit me, and I would fall into the water. But there is no one to save me.
"The speed of a small sailboat is the same as that of a slow bicycle. The land is far away, and I'll be fine anyway, so go back to sleep," I mutter.
With excuses like that, Heaven will never give me the necessary qualifications to cross the sea safely nor allow me to learn anything important from the sea. With such an attitude, even if I could cross the Pacific Ocean, I would lose my life in the rough seas of my next destination, Cape Horn. I feel so frustrated that I want to cry.
By the next evening, after the storm has subsided, we, Aomi and I, arrive just off the coast of San Francisco. Ahead of us, the city lights and car headlights paint the night sky a bright white, a remarkable contrast to the moon and stars I'm used to at sea.
A smell like sewage fills the air. I wonder if the sea in Japan has the same stench. Since leaving my country, I've bathed in pure white waves breaking over my head and rinsed rice with clear sea water daily. Perhaps only those who have lived at sea, far from the human herd called "city," can truly recognize this stench.
Tomorrow, two months of inconvenient and painful life at sea will end. Soon, life on land will begin, stable and not rocked by the waves.
But my mind is full of anxiety. How will I make ends meet in the unknown land of the USA? How will I find a part-time job, understand English, and prepare for the next destination, the stormy Cape Horn? I want to steer Aomi's bow back out to sea if possible.
America — the first foreign country in my life.
Hi! Thanks for reading my story. Since English isn't my first language, I'd love to get some tips from native speakers on how to make my writing smoother. If you spot any weird phrases or anything strange, I'd really appreciate your feedback. Thank you!