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From Stuck Ashore to Freedom Aboard

January 22, 2023 by Sailing Avocet
Change of course

Fulfilling my Dream of Sailing the World

By Regina Petra Meyer

Many of us feel stuck in our lives and wish we could try something new. But have you ever had the courage to do it? A little over a decade ago, this was precisely where I found myself – stuck – in a tiny community in South Australia with my partner of 13 years. It deserves to be noted that he was and is a decent and kind man. But I needed more. We were both in our mid 30s, working and progressing in life and years - but overall, our relationship felt stagnant and neither of us had a clear vision for our future. To find clarity, we decided to take a break and give each other time and opportunity to figure out what we desired for our future.

For years, I had dreamt of sailing. I had begged my partner time and time again to buy a yacht and sail the world with me. Alas, as soon as his feet hit a deck he got as sick as a dog, and my dream of sailing was never realized. This time around though, circumstances aligned. My partner had just landed an exciting job on a windfarm, whereas I found myself unemployed in the
small rural settlement in South Australia without any prospect of work. My partner and I agreed it was the perfect time for me to finally turn my dream into reality.

My father had introduced me to sailing when I was about 10 years old and I’d been hooked immediately, but throughout my teens I was only been able to spend an odd day here and there aboard his small yacht and had not gained any notable skills. Aside from my fascination with the oceans and a desire to do more sailing I didn’t think I had much to offer a skipper and his or her crew. It was time to skill up if I wanted to sail the high seas!

All Hands on Deck
I found a local RYA sailing school and signed myself up for an introductory course to keelboat sailing. It was every bit as thrilling as I had imagined! The St. Vincent Gulf, I soon learned, was a temperamental body of water, accessed from the training facility in Adelaide. During one of our training-sails we experienced winds of up to 30 knots - the boat bucking amongst the sharp waves as we clumsily attempted our tacks and gybes. When our instructor informed us, we would be having our lunch break, we all looked at each other, a little green around the gills and not at all enthused about eating in such conditions.

With a knowing smile the teacher enlightened us that we would be using a storm tactic during our break to make the boat (and us!) more comfortable and talked us through the steps to get the yacht into a ‘heave-to’ position. Once we had jib and reefed main set and the rudder fixed, the boat settled. The deck became stable among the sloshing waves, and we all looked at our
teacher with renewed respect. During these intense training sessions, I slowly began to feel confident in my ability to hold my own aboard and that I could be a valuable crew member.

Cruising Cuisine
After learning the ins and outs of sailing, I figured, the second most important skill to have onboard a yacht had to be cooking. An enthusiastic home cook who enjoyed a healthy and nutritious diet, I decided that knowing yachting-specific cookery would not only benefit my fellow sailors but myself. I ordered a few cruising cookbooks and began reading about where and how to store, stow and preserve foods to make everything last for the duration of an ocean passage. I learned that tins are best labelled with a permanent marker, in case the paper labels are rubbed or washed off. I read which fruit and vegetables lasted and how to store them to prevent rot. Herbs had to be wrapped in paper towels, slightly dampened, and placed in a plastic bag to last longer.

Boosting my Courage
Once I had a good understanding of the provisioning side of things, I wanted to know what would happen if things went pear-shaped. Yes, that might seem counterintuitive, but to me it made complete sense. If hell broke loose, I didn’t want to be the one standing helpless on the sidelines; I’d rather know the worst-case scenario and be prepared for it as best as I could! So, into the library I went and got my hands on every boating book I could find.

Naturally, there were ‘happy’ cruising stories, but I was mainly interested in the ‘disaster’ books like The Perfect Storm, Adrift: 76 days lost at sea and Fatal Storm, the book about the 1998 Sydney to Hobart tragedy, to name a few. I watched movies and documentaries about the Southern Ocean and freak waves that tore enormous holes into container ships. To my surprise these stories didn’t terrify me, instead they filled me with respect for the ocean and an understanding of how rapidly things could go wrong aboard. Neither did they manage to extinguish my hunger for a sailing adventure – instead I felt what I learned had empowered me and was more determined than ever to make my dream happen.

The Dream Becomes a Reality
My last step was the one that transformed my vision into reality. I had learned about the possibility of crewing on yachts from some of the books I read and signed up on and similar platforms. Within a few days I had several exciting offers land in my inbox. After emailing back and forth with some skippers I narrowed the search down and finalized the selection with some video calls. My final choice was a 46-foot yacht based in Antigua, with the plan to sail the boat back to Australia. The cruise would take roughly three months with a crew of five, including the skipper. This was exactly the sort of adventure I had been yearning for!

Trusting Myself and my Choices
After the last few years, we all know that life happens, and plans change. Once I arrived in Antigua, after spending a few weeks aboard, preparing the yacht for its passage, disharmony developed among some of the crew and the skipper. As a result, our trip fell apart. I was crushed but unwilling to give up on my dreams and soon found another boat to crew on. Instead of the Pacific Ocean, I ended up sailing across the Atlantic toward Europe. And when we hit adverse weather, I took it all in my stride. A 30-35 knot sustained breeze coming at us across the bow quarter, with gusts reaching 40+ knots, did not faze me. I loved the look of the angry ocean, the turquoise crests, and the crisp whitewash when the tips crashed. When the boat shuddered after each heavy touchdown into a trough or an oncoming wave, or when I heard the wind squeal in the rigging, I felt exhilarated! I trusted the boat and the skipper and developed trust in myself and my abilities. In those days, I felt nothing but completely free and alive!

To this day, these are memories I treasure greatly. I encourage you to figure out what dreams you harbour and step by step, inch your way closer toward them. If there is one thing I’ve learned over time, it is that dreams are not nearly as elusive as we may think. The world and the oceans are literally waiting at your fingertips. Go, set sail, and enjoy the freedom of the sea!

Regina Petra Meyer is the author of memoir Change of Course: Sailing into Love & Adversity on Caribbean Shores.
Born and raised in Switzerland, while working as a travel agent, Regina’s curiosity was piqued by coordinating trips around the world. Eventually she packed her own bags and adopted a globetrotting lifestyle. Regina has sailed across all continents, living and working in Antigua in the Caribbean, the USA, New Zealand. She currently calls tropical Cairns, Australia, her home.

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