02. Pacific, First Sea I realized

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.

course of aomi in the pacific
-- This is a real story. --

1・Storm 2・Brilliant Sea 3・Approach

1・Storm

big wave in pacific

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 leans 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 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 pass 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. Back in Japan, though, everyone knew I was more resistant to seasickness than anyone else.

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 get out of bed. Sitting on the floor that is no bigger than a tatami mat, I open a can of peaches.

Worried about my stomach rejecting them, I carefully spoon the peaches into my mouth, trying not to hit my nose as the floor violently 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 feels like looking out from a mountain hut, where, instead of mountains, numerous towering waves line up around me.

All around, steep slopes, valleys, cliffs, and peaks rise and fall rapidly, constantly changing the seascape. I had never imagined the sea could be so different from the land, with towering waves...

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.

Can I really cross the vast Pacific Ocean alone? Do I have the mental and physical strength to survive this fierce storm? Has Heaven given me the necessary power and skill 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, without any sign, the intense rocking stops. 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, knocking her sideways. 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 onto it.

In the next moment, however, the 880-kilogram ballast at the bottom of the hull acts as a counterweight, automatically turning Aomi upright. But the motion's suddenness throws me across the cabin, smashing me against the opposite wall.

A brutal 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 badly, 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."


2・Brilliant Sea

After a storm, the seas calm down for a few days, and the next storm begins and ends. The weather is cyclical. It is the summer at the 38th parallel on the Pacific Ocean, where Aomi is sailing to San Francisco.

Under the clear sunlight, white sails billowing in graceful curves, Aomi sails with perfect freedom over the shining sea. It is a world where you can enjoy the soothing sound of breaking waves. It is also a world of refreshing breezes and the satisfaction of plowing through the vast sea.

The waves breaking on the bow instantly reflect the sun and look like splashes of glass. The sea is so blue that 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 had 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 and hang wet clothes to dry on the railing. I also inspect every part of Aomi and repair anything that is broken. Some days, I dry dozens of US dollar bills wet with seawater after a storm. I heat them on the stove, similar to cooking "nori," a Japanese seaweed.

After the evening meal and sunset, I write the voyage log under the cabin light, read some of the many nautical stories I have on board, and then fall asleep. But even at midnight, I must get up and check the compass to keep the course.

I often jump up from the bed when there is sudden rain or a gust of wind, and I change the sails if it is stormy. Living at sea is like being a wild animal on the prairie, constantly threatened by natural enemies. As a result, 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.; the sun sets at 4:30 p.m., even though it is midsummer.

I am awakened early by sunlight streaming into the cabin, and in the evenings, it's too dark to wash dishes on deck. This makes my life inconvenient.

As Aomi moves eastward across the globe, there is no doubt that a time difference has occurred. I must be directly learning one of the proofs that the Earth is round. It's not just knowledge that's given or taught; it's knowledge I've confirmed myself. It's a completely different kind of knowledge from what I learned only in school or from books.

Alone, in the middle of the North Pacific, 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 big and bright fill the night sky, seeming to fall at any moment with a whizzing sound. Aomi apperes to float in the darkness, sailing across the galactic sea, while I lie on the deck, feeling its surface 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 streaming through the window often surprises me. It's so strong that I jump out of bed, thinking a ship is coming and shining its searchlight on Aomi.


3・Approach

San Francisco sun rise

After eight weeks at sea, far away from "the common sense of the city," I have already 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 broadcasts reach me on the radio. My destination, San Francisco, is now within reach.

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 like it is 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 lights from lighthouses, but I can't bring myself to do it, even though I'm neither hungry nor 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 such excuses, Heaven will never allow me to cross the sea safely, nor will I 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.

 

The next evening, after the storm has subsided, 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 seeing 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 every day. 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 out to sea again, if possible.

America—the first foreign country in my life.


pacific map track of Aomi

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