01 Feb Sailing Beyond
When I was 26, my friend and I decided we were going to sail around the world.
As I type this, I am 3.5 years in to this journey, with an estimated two weeks until I reach home-base.
I’m not sure if I will make it.
I’ll sum up my life’s story thus far in three short sentences: I was lucky to have a nice family growing up, and we lived by the water and loved to sail. After college, I realized I wasn’t very happy with myself and needed direction. I thought I’d find answers on the open-water, or something like that, so me and my best friend set sail.
Samuel and I had saved up a lot of money ever since we were teenagers. We bought a “yacht” together, AKA, a tattered, thirty-five-foot boat that was built in the 1960’s with a nice motor and huge sails. It took some work to get it going again but was worth every penny.
We had plenty of food, clean water, water purifiers, medicine, flare guns, solar generators, batteries, a pro-GPS—all the essentials. We also have a nice satellite thingy that Sam set up so we can have wi-fi on board. It only works about 10% of the time, truth be told, but if you’re reading this, it means it’s done its job.
The past 3.5 years have been, uh, interesting. Some weird shit has happened but I don’t have time to type it all out now. The only thing of importance now is surviving the situation I’m in, and creating this written record of what happened.
It started a couple of hours ago.
Like I said, I’m about two weeks away from California (where we started our journey) going north away from Mexico in the Pacific Ocean. A few hours ago, Sam and I were sitting out on the boat’s deck sipping some champagne, celebrating the fact that we were in the home-stretch. The stars, my God the stars were beautiful. You really can’t get a better view of them than from the middle of the ocean.
We were quietly admiring them. We had talked so much in that past three years, but the silent moments we shared were the ones I remembered most. Like that moment we were in then—silently watching the stars at night and sipping some bubbly. Or the first morning we set sail, we didn’t talk for almost two hours as we watched the sun rise. As it first appeared as a red blob climbing over the ocean’s end, Sam was strumming Here Comes the Sun on his guitar. The salty wind was hitting our face and I thought, this is it, no looking back, this is the beginning of this whole journey.
I thought about these moments and more like them, but I was broken from my daze as I noticed Sam had stood up from his seat, rather quickly, and was staring off in to the dark horizon.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I thought I saw a flare.”
I looked out in the same direction he was and waited.
A couple seconds passed, then a skinny, barely visible streak of red appeared. It was a couple miles away, maybe more. Sam turned to me. “Flare?”
I nodded. “Flare.”
“Let’s go. Now.”
“Got it.” I ran to the controls and started up the engine.
We turned the vessel sharply and darted over in the direction it came from. We were traveling fast, for sure, but not at an unsafe speed. Our boat rocked up and down, and side-to-side as we traversed the rough waves.
Sam and I probably sailed for ten minutes or so without seeing any more flares, and no sign of any other vessel in front of us.
“Should we keep going?” Sam asked.
“Just a little longer, I think.”
So, we did, but this is where things took a turn. No, not a turn. A turn implies the driver is still on the road. No, things didn’t take a turn—things drove off a fucking cliff.
“Woah! Slow down!” Sam yelled at me.
I slowed down significantly. “What is it?”
“Uh—I see something—not sure yet. Can’t make it out.”
We continued at a slow, steady speed keeping an eye out. I could see what he saw soon after he pointed it out, but I couldn’t make it out. A buoy, maybe? Some scrap from a ship? We approached closer. Wait, no, it’s too skinny. Except on the top. Oh, it’s a—a sign? It’s a sign—it’s a… no.
“It’s a… stop sign?” Sam muttered.
It was about 10 feet higher than the water’s surface. It stood perfectly still as the waves crashed around it. The octagon was red and weathered, and covered with rust. But the white letters reading “STOP” in the middle were unmistakable. How is it not moving? It was almost as if its pole was stuck in the ocean’s floor hundreds of feet below us.
“What the hell?” I said.
“I don’t know man. Let’s turn around.”
I agreed, because I didn’t like whatever vibe a fucking stop sign in the middle of the ocean was giving off. We turned, passed by the sign once more, and sailed away.
We were silent again, but not like before when we were sipping champagne—we weren’t thoughtful, reflecting, or anything like that. We were scared. I could tell he was. I was. But why? It’s just a stop sign. Right? Nothing spooky about that. Just weird. Just odd. Out of place.
We continued on for a while, not speaking, until I made a remark about the water.
“Wow, the water has really calmed down. These waves are baby-waves.”
“Seriously,” Sam confirmed. “This is the quietest the water has been in months, maybe years.”
He was right. But a chill crept up my neck when I realized how quiet it really was. It wasn’t just quiet, it was growing quieter by the second. Twenty minutes before, the waves were roaring and crashing into our boat, but they had weakened to small splashes. Then that had diminished into the faintest sounds of water moving, like a small creek. But then—then it was silent. There were no ocean sounds at all.
If any of you have been out on the ocean in the middle of the night, you know how dark the water is. It’s basically black. The only definition of the waves comes from the moonlight, and you can faintly make out where the waves break and crash. Well, as the sound diminished, so did the waves. The choppy black water had grown stiller, and stiller, and stiller. And now, it was still. It was black. It was flat.
It looked like there was no ocean. There was no reflection from the moon or stars anymore—there was nothing beneath our boat but darkness.
Sam turned to me. He didn’t have words, but his petrified expression confirmed that I wasn’t going crazy. We both moved towards the side of the boat’s deck and looked down—where the water should be.
Looking straight down was an odd experience. You know when you look up in the sky, and your eyes go to the furthest possible focal point they can? Well, this seemed to go beyond that point. There was nothing but darkness and I couldn’t find an end to it.
Sam grabbed my arm. “What is this? What’s happening!”
“I’m not s—” I turned to him. But then I noticed something far worse. He was no longer backlit by the moon. There were no stars behind his darkened figure. The only light came from our boat’s lamps. There were no stars. There was no moon. There was no water. There was only us and our vessel.
There was nothing beneath us, and nothing above us. The ship no longer rocked back and forth with the water’s current. It was perfectly still—absolutely motionless. We floated somewhere in space and time, I know that much. But I had lost all direction. I felt like I was losing my sanity too.
I had an odd out-of-body experience then. It was like I was a mile away from where I stood. I could see the small light emitting from the boat far off in the distance, and surrounding us was nothing but darkness. It looked like we were floating somewhere in outer space—a part of the universe void of any stars or light.
I came back from that “vision” and gained some composure.
“What does the GPS say?” I asked.
Sam ran over to the navigation system’s display. “It says…” his eyes were locked on the screen. He didn’t finish his sentence.
“What? What does it say?”
“It says…” he paused again without looking up at me, “it doesn’t know where we are.”
“That’s impossible. You said that GPS works everywhere.”
“Everywhere on Earth, yeah.”
That gave me pause. “What’re you saying?”
He still looked at the screen. He ignored my question and asked one of his own. I’ll never forget his words.
“Does it feel like we are falling to you?”
“No—” I started to say, but after he asked that, it did, kind of. Before, it felt like we were floating on stagnant water in complete darkness, but now, I felt that drop in my stomach. My heart was beating faster. It felt like I was lighter, like my feet were barely putting any weight down on the deck’s surface—like the boat was about to fall away and leave me behind, floating by myself in the dark.
“No,” I reconfirmed, though I wasn’t sure what I really believed. It could have been my imagination. I didn’t want to accept the fact that we were falling. Falling into what? “No,” I said a third time, “we aren’t falling. It’s just dark, it’s messing with your senses.”
We looked off in the same direction—first towards where the horizon would’ve been, then down where the water should’ve been, then up at the starless sky.
We had nowhere to go. I was unsure if the motor would work or if the sails would be any use. There was no wind, and I was sure there was no water. We were sailing on an ocean of emptiness.
What came next was something I’d never experienced before, so I may have trouble explaining. That feeling that we were falling was gone. It had been replaced by a feeling that we were upside down. I don’t really know how to describe it. At first, we were upright, not falling anymore. But then, we were turning—no, flipping. It felt like the whole boat was capsizing—turning over, very slowly. It kept turning over, and then stopped once I felt like we were perfectly upside down. It was still completely dark. There had been no change in scenery to indicate we had turned upside down. Nothing on the boat shifted at all. It was just a feeling.
Like in outer space, there’s no real “up” or “down,” but I’m sure an astronaut would be able to feel if they’d been turned upside down.
And I could tell Sam felt it too. He turned to me with eyes wider than I’d ever seen them. We didn’t say a word to each other.
Our locked eye contact was broken by light above us. It slowly appeared but it was obvious that it was stars. It was the stars and moon in the sky once again.
“Oh, thank Christ,” I said.
But, as Sam and I looked upward, I realized we weren’t actually looking at the sky. We were looking at a reflection of the sky—it had a slow, rhythmic motion refracting the light in a strange way. Then, I realized, we were looking at water.
I looked overboard and saw that beneath us was the night’s sky, beautiful and bright now, unmoving, and above us was the ocean, daunting and dark, but reflecting every star off its surface.
We were upside-down. Or we were still upright, and everything else had flipped.
I turned to Sam, whose expression matched my own, one of shock and confusion—but the word confusion doesn’t do the situation justice. It was beyond my ability of comprehending something as a human.
He looked to me, his expression had turned to sorrow. He looked like he was about to burst in to tears that second.
“Help,” he whimpered.
And with that one word, I watched my friend fly upward, flail and scream for ten agonizing seconds, then splash into the dark ocean above my head. He fell I thought. He fell! He fell up—or down—into the sea.
But I didn’t fall. I looked up at the now rough waves and waited for my fate to be sealed, but nothing happened.
I ran into the cabin and began typing this out. I had come to the conclusion that I was going to die, somehow, and soon. I wanted my experience to be written out for someone to read, so someone knew what happened to me. I got about halfway through it before I heard the noise.
It was a long, slow, loud, and deep rumble. It almost felt like a light earthquake. It slowly got louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore the fact that something was happening. I peeked outside the cabin door, cautious not to go all the way outside.
I looked up at the ocean, where I deduced the sound was coming from. The waves were bigger now—rougher too. Those black monsters would crash into one another and produce a light shower of white water. That’s when I noticed, it’s closer. It was, indeed. The water was maybe 1000 feet above the boat when I first noticed it. Now, it was more like 250. And that distance was decreasing fast.
I stared at it, stuck in a panic of confusion and fright.
It was falling on me. Or I was falling into it. And it was happening rapidly.
I ran into the cabin again for shelter, knowing it would be little help. Seconds after I secured the cabin door, the ocean fell on to me, or I fell in to it. The surface of the water crashed down hard onto the ship’s deck and quickly began flooding the cabin. I think the boat was fully submerged underwater, for a second at least. I felt the pull from it as it brought itself back to the surface, trying to float.
And I don’t know how or why, but I knew I was upright after that. I’m not sure if the boat flipped itself or maybe a wave helped flip it over—it all happened so fast, I don’t know—but I knew I was upright then, floating in the ocean.
I got beat up pretty bad—whiplash, bruises, a couple cuts, maybe a concussion.
My boat got beat up worse though. There is about a foot of standing water on the deck. The engine is completely wrecked, possibly beyond repair. The sails were torn to shreds from the impact of the water.
But I’m floating, upright. That’s good.
But I’m floating, wandering with no control over my direction. That’s bad.
And that’s where I am now. I’m not sure what happened, or where we went wrong. I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it home. I’m not sure if anyone will ever actually read this.
My GPS isn’t working anymore. God knows where I am. I’m just hoping this internet thing Sam set up still works. God rest his soul.
All I can do now is send up a couple flares and hope someone rescues me.
I just want to go home.
It’s still so dark.