Halfway across the Pacific Ocean, 2006
The song set our rhythm as we polished the boat, preparing the old girl for a long voyage across the Pacific Ocean. Our boat was tiny but our love was boundless. I was terrified but he was brave enough for the both us.
Gamble everything for love, gamble everything
Put it in a place you keep what you need
You can gamble everything for love if you’re free
You gotta gamble everything for love
I had met him in a bar in San Francisco and one year later he offered to sail me all the way home to Australia via The Marquesas, Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga…. It would be just the two of us on a ten-metre-long boat, 7,000 nautical miles across the world’s largest ocean on a journey that would take two years.
This might’ve been an epic romance if not for my gripping fear of the sea, my dizzying nausea, my profound lack of interest in the sport of sailing. If someone had asked me which direction the wind was coming from, I would’ve licked my finger, pointed it into the air and declared I had no idea whatsoever.
“What if we die?” I asked him.
“We won’t die,” he assured me.
He was very sure of himself. I was not sure of myself at all. This love felt frightening. This love felt dangerous, even. And gambling everything for it – including my own life – felt reckless. But still. The song set the rhythm. The song told me: Take a chance.
As the boat left the harbor, everything safe and familiar flat-lined behind rolling waves.
Not all those who wander are lost, but I was. At age 26, already the grind was killing me. Just one year into the career I’d studied for, an earworm had already burrowed in deep to whisper at 4am most nights:
Is this it? Wake up? Shower? Drive to work? Sit. Click? Drive home? Sleep? Repeat?
What is the purpose in this insanity?
I lived in a sleepy fog, having fallen into an existential depression so deep and revolting that travelling into a watery wilderness with a man I hardly knew seemed essential. I needed somebody or something to save me. Amazing Grace was the name of our ship. How sweet the sound.
“What if something goes wrong when we’re far away from land?”
“Nothing will go wrong.”
Tell me are you feeling lost, have you crossed
In the places that you never knew to get through
Tell me are you gonna cry all night
Tell me the truth, and I’ll tell you the truth
If you gamble everything for love
You gonna be alright, alright
Halfway across the Pacific, something went wrong.
In between French Polynesia and Tonga, the engine broke. The winds died, leaving us adrift, and it was then that the boat sprung leaks in two places.
As our boat hemorrhaged the Pacific Ocean into our home, my captain stuck his finger into the hole and stood there looking bewildered and a touch embarrassed. He’d promised we would not die, and now the water was two feet deep, sloshing around in the bowels of our one and only home, his promises had gotten terribly soggy.
“What do we do now?” I asked him.
“I don’t know.”
I flicked the emergency switch on the pump that drains water overboard in a crisis but the battery was dead. “I forgot to install it,” he told me then.
I found a roll of duct tape and used it to patch the hole. Using a crank and some elbow grease, I pumped the water overboard by hand and said Please, please, please one hundred times to the wind. Hours later, it obliged, sweeping in with its warm caress to nudge us forward once again.
It’s shocking to me still that we made it back to Melbourne intact. A relationship that has survived two years at sea should be able to weather any storm. But not long after settling into a house, buying furniture, getting a dog, the relationship sprung a leak in two places and no amount of duct tape could save it from going down.
I’d gambled everything for love – and lost.
I started to write. The compulsion to tell my story was overwhelming. As I tapped out one long rambling stream with no paragraph breaks, no chapters, no direction, I had no idea what I was doing. Was this a script? A memoir? A very long apology to my mother?
As I sat at my desk assembling words into strings of meaning, I was crafting – from the raw materials of my mistakes, my heartbreaks, my near misses and lessons learned – something that felt truer and richer than real life. It felt funnier, too – much easier to laugh at and let go of.
In the written realm, I could pull in the disparate pieces of life’s chaos and assemble them into meaningful order. There was purpose in the insanity after all. At my desk, in my pajamas and hair awry, dog snoring nearby, time disappeared as I slipped into flow. Each cell in my body would sing in purposeful harmony. This new song kept my rhythm.
Torre De Roche is a guest writer at Stereo Stories In Concert at the Write Around The Murray Festival in Albury, New South Wales on Saturday 8 September 2018. Torre will be backed by the ever-versatile Stereo Stories Band.