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Why I relax as soon as I lose sight of land…

Why I relax as soon as I lose sight of land…

Why losing sight of land is different to what most sailors expect

Written by David Hows owner and skipper of the 72 ft ocean racing & expedition yacht Silver Fern and former owner and skipper of Ocean Gem a 45 ft Beneteau.

For many sailors who go offshore sailing for the first time, the thought of losing sight of land can create fear, anxiety and the sheer dread of being alone on the water, in a small yacht on a dark night, hundreds of miles from safe harbour, if something goes wrong. That was my fear in the lead up to my first 1,400 Nm Tasman Sea crossing in 2013, but the voyage turned into one of the biggest personal highlights of my life.

Navigating in coastal waters is far more complex. Rocks, reefs, islands, poorly lit recreational vessels, commercial ships and steeper wave formations are just some of the constant challenges you need to watch out for. As you head away from the coast and the depth goes from 50m to 500m and then to a few thousand, the sea state settles, the waves are further apart, the coastal traffic disappears and the sea life grows in scale and variety.

Life settles into a watch system, wondering what the next meal is, reading, sleeping, sharing stories, learning new skills, managing chafe, minimising loads on the boat and putting up the least amount of sail you need to, to maintain comfortable speed without excessive heel or rudder loads.

Every day is greeted with a sunrise that takes on different colours and tones, weather that changes and evolves as the wind cycles up and down in strengths; sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. It’s likely you’ll see no other vessels for the most/all of the ocean crossing and your whole world is simply the 6 Nm of ocean you can see in every direction, all the way to the horizon.

All you do each day, in every moment is simply set your sails for the conditions, to keep the yacht moving in the general direction of the next port. That’s it. Nothing else matters. Your whole world is that small piece of ocean you have all to yourself. No newspapers, no TV, no email, no social media and no crime stories! Just you, the crew, the yacht, the weather and the sea life around you… That’s why I relax as soon as I get out of sight of land.

As each day turns into night, the colours fade as the suns slides down sky in the west to the horizon, before sinking into the sea again, to mark the end of another day on the ocean. The night watch roster kicks into action again and while its fun to share a watch with another crew member and swap life stories, the solo watches are what I value the most.

Gliding across the ocean on watch alone, with the rhythmic sound of the hull slicing through the water, under a sky full of millions of brilliantly lit stars, is a surreal experience. If you concentrate and stare deeply into the ocean, you’ll see an electrical light show unleashed, right before your eyes, all caused by the phosphorescence in the ocean.

Phosphorescence is a phenomenon observed at night as a result of the bioluminescence of organisms in the surface layers of the sea. The luminescence of these organisms is stimulated by mechanical irritation, such as movement of the waters at current intersections, the action of waves or the wake of a yacht, or the collisions of the organisms with each other, or it may arise as a reaction to a flash of light produced by nearby organisms.

Whether it’s the weather, the endless range of colours, the sense of adventure, or just simply your awe at the beauty of planet earth in this environment, your voyage is over all too quickly, but you’ll treasure the memories forever. The common question most sailors ask after their first ocean passage is; “whats next?”

Going offshore literally expands your own personal horizons, your belief in your own ability and just like going up the rungs of a ladder, you’ll subconsciously start thinking, “now that I have completed that passage, what’s my next adventure?….” and so the offshore bug takes hold!

What I love most about the offshore passages I do, is the people that join the crew as inexperienced sailors, and complete each passage full of new skills, stories, sailing experience and the new self-belief and determination to take their own adventures with their families and friends to the next stage.

Steven Covey wrote in a book I read (First Things First), that “no one on their death bed, with their family, gathered around, ever says I wish I had spent more time at the office”. My personal perspective shift happened at age 36. My best friend Phil was 48 years old, really healthy and active and found out he had an aggressive form of cancer and only a few months to live, with a low chance of survival.

He died 5 months later.

I was devastated for years afterwards, but it as the catalyst for me to start living my life, as though I had only 5 years left to live. In the past 13 years I have packed in so much more, as a result of this thinking; with my family, my sailing and my businesses, than I ever would have if this had not happened to me.

When we sit back and think, “I’ll get to that one day”, “I’ll wait until I have time” or “I will wait until I am 60”; the years disappear far too quickly, along with some of our dreams, as time left on the clock, counts down.

I am not trying to be morbid. I am just trying to explain what drives me to fit in 90+ days on the water each year, plus more time with my family, and my best work in my businesses. It’s not easy, in fact, its hard work at times. But once you are dead…you are done!


Join David on Silver Fern

The calendar is a combination of racing regattas and ocean passages up and down the East Coast of Australia with the highlights including Hamilton Island Race Week, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race and unique ocean adventure passages to Middleton Reef, Elizabeth Reef, Lord Howe Island, a circumnavigation of Tasmania and some Trans-Tasman crossings. Secure your place on the crew for a once in a lifetime adventure from just 20% deposit.

  • David sold his 45 foot Beneteau ‘Ocean Gem’ and purchased the exciting 72-foot ocean racing and expedition yacht ‘Silver Fern’ in August 2020 to expand our adventures.

  • If you book an event and then cancel (at least 30 days) before departure because you are affected by the changing border control/quarantine restrictions due to COVID-19 (when travelling internationally to our port of departure and/or at the port of arrival) your registration fees will be 100% refunded in full or transferred to another event.

Check out Silver Fern

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