Medical Chronicle

So far away

Didac Costa - One Plane One Ocean

From being in the spotlight, you have gradually become more and more a spectator yourself. For a while now the rankings haven’t really been your main concern, even if you would quite like to move up a place. Everything has more or less been determined for a while. Seeing others drop out, you tell yourself that the most important thing is to get home safely without any additional damage. In some ways, you feel privileged not to have to worry about the time it takes or getting a good result. You will be able to say. I did it. I completed the non-stop solo round the world voyage – the Vendée Globe.

But this climb back up the Atlantic isn’t that easy. You can’t wait to get home now, so you try to enjoy everything that is happening, whether it is a pleasure or a difficulty. Here in the middle of the Atlantic, you are living in the present rather than the future, day after day. Psychologically, you set yourself certain targets. Each time you get there, you see it as a victory. Later after the Azores, when the finish is within your sights, that’s when you will want it all to end quickly.
Getting used to life in this ocean wilderness took some getting used to. The phone calls used to drag you back to life ashore. On the one hand, you wanted to fully experience this solo adventure, but on the other, you would love to be with your friends and family. But the, after a few weeks, you really felt like you had left all that behind and that land was way beyond the horizon.

You became aware of that one morning in the South Atlantic. In the distance, against the sunlight, you could make out the hazy outline of Tristan da Cunha. You remember the story about the 264 inhabitants, who were taken to England when the volcano erupted and how they were unable to adapt to a consumer society, so two years later returned to their island to get back to their ancestral lifestyle. You became aware that your boat was a little island and was self-sufficient. You had now got used to being alone and this long voyage around the world had become a voyage into yourself at the same time. You talked to yourself to hear a voice. You talked things over to avoid feeling alone. You argued and swore at yourself. Out there, you can scream, shout, cry at yourself. There’s nothing odd about this dual personality, as long as it remains in your head. That was not the case for Donald Crowhurst, when in 1968, he took part in the Golden Globe, the ancestor of the Vendée Globe. He set off aboard a plywood trimaran, which was mores suited to coastal sailing in fine weather. His voyage around the world came to an end in the Roaring Forties that he refused to enter. But he still had his dream and told his story over the radio – the Indian Ocean, Australia, the Horn. At that time they didn’t have GPS beacons to check positions. The positions given over the radio were made up. In fact he sailed in circles around the South Atlantic. He decided to make a good job of it and claimed to be in the lead. But the dream would have to end and the lie was becoming unbearable. Facing an impossible situation, he preferred to take a different way out by diving overboard. His boat and logs were later found relating his real story about all his crazy fantasies and his remorse.

Today, such an incredible story would be impossible. The route to get to the start is too demanding and leaves no room for doubts about your intentions. Once you are out at sea, satellite communications mean that you are in close contact with land. The long voyage around the world that was a trip into the unknown now falls within the framework of a reality that can be seen and heard every day.

Sometimes, tiredness means that things get you down, but it doesn’t tend to go much further than that. Even if being alone out there means you miss certain things, you tend to forget that, as you are kept busy with looking after the boat and al the stress of sailing. You think of life ashore as an observer, looking in from the outside. Your cravings gradually vanish. Your fantasies are forgotten and are no longer worth thinking about. Your body adapts to this forced abstinence to the extent that some hormonal secretions are reduced, until you get back to a more normal life ashore. For now, you just have to hang on in there. Hold on and remain vigilant. As there are still hurdles to come in this long and slow voyage around the world until the finish line is behind you. Be brave!

Dr Jean-Yves CHAUVE

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