I didn’t develop a fear of sailing until I actually tried sailing.
Back in 2012, Dave and I and a bunch of his friends chartered a yacht for two weeks in Turkey, and it was one of my least enjoyable experiences ever.
Oh god, the seasickness.
I felt nauseated for two weeks straight (while battling an inner ear disorder that had left me with vertigo, because of course). None of the motion sickness tablets I tried worked on my stomach, and we’d had several paramedics with hefty first aid kits on board. Oh, and whenever I resorted to pills, I ended up sleeping my days away.
I was the only person on the yacht who had zero sailing experience, so I had no idea what was going on most of the time. Everything seemed terrifying and out of my control. I didn’t know what any of the ropes did, or what a jib was, or how to tie knots, or to look out for cleats.
The ocean was cold; the food and mooring fees were overpriced; there weren’t any beaches.
Rather than island hopping from secluded bay to deserted cove, we instead spent our time raging against the rough waters that ran along the jagged coastline.
There was no real wind either, so we didn’t even get to actually sail.
And throughout that trip, everyone on the yacht couldn’t stop talking about how Turkey had nothing on Greece.
In Greece, I was repeatedly told, the ocean was as calm as a swimming pool. The water was warm. You didn’t get ripped off by taverna owners. The food was inexpensive and delicious. There were beaches and bays and it was so much prettier.
I bought what they were selling, so when Dave invited me aboard a 47ft yacht in Greece earlier this year, I leapt at the chance.
It was only when our departure date loomed closer that I thought about backing out.
Because, well, how had I managed to forget I get seasick in swimming pools?
I was practically guaranteed to spend my week in the Ionian feeding the fishes my feta cheese lunches.
So what made me get on the boat despite my fears?
Well, if there’s one thing that travel has taught me over the past five years, it’s that you’re not growing as a person unless you’re at least on the outskirts of your comfort zone. And with my anxiety no longer wreaking havoc on my life, thanks to a change in diet, I could now turn my attention to all the other work I wanted to do on myself.
I saw sailing in Greece as an opportunity to challenge myself, to make myself proud, to pick up a new skill, or maybe even to prove that I can still have fun while feeling terrible. I’m far stronger than I was in 2012. And plus: we were there for Dave’s birthday. I’d have felt like a terrible girlfriend if I’d skipped out on those celebrations.
After receiving confirmation that if I felt truly seasick, I’d be able to get off the yacht and ferry my way back to the mainland, I decided to face my fears.
It was time to take the plunge.
In Turkey, it had taken mere minutes for the nausea to hit. I remember being moored up in the marina in Gocek, barely moving, but feeling so, so unwell. I remember finding Dave in our cabin and squeaking out that I didn’t think I could do this, but not knowing how I could possibly get off the yacht in front of all of his friends, having only been on it for all of five minutes. I remember counting down the hours I had left on the water from the moment I’d left solid ground.
In Greece, I took a pessimistic step on to the boat and held my breath.
I didn’t feel anything.
And that was really unexpected, because, y’know, I’ve experienced motion sickness in the bath before.
But I felt normal.
I felt fine.
And I have some theories about how, suddenly, I seem to have overcome my severe motion sickness.
This year, I finally found the time to do the Whole30 and it was the single best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Hands down. And it was through doing the Whole30 and studying how my body reacts to certain foods that I learned I have an intolerance to histamine. On a low histamine diet, my anxiety dropped from around an 8 to a 1, my hayfever, which often leads to my face swelling up like this, completely disappeared, and you know what else is linked to histamine? Motion sickness. A doctor friend of mine in Lisbon had suggested my seasickness might improve on my new diet, so maybe that’s what it was.
It could have been that, or maybe it was because I tried a new type of motion sickness pill I’d never tried before.
Or maybe it was just that the ocean in Greece really is that freaking flat.
A few months before doing the Whole30, Dave and I had checked out the Tall Ships Race in Lisbon — I remember stepping aboard a 150ft boat that was tied up on the river and instantly feeling like I was going to throw up. It was barely moving!
But for some reason, in Greece, I was immune to that sickness. For our entire week in the Ionian, I felt fantastic.
That has never happened before.
So with one less thing to worry about, all I had to face now was my fear of breaking the boat. And with four other people on board to help with the mooring and the sailing, I could thankfully take a backseat for anything that intimidated me.
Until I couldn’t.
But before I get into that, let me tell you how much I fell in love with sailing.
Guys, it’s so much fun.
It’s the ultimate form of freedom.
You get to wake up whenever you feel like it, then sit and have breakfast in the warm morning sun. You’ll untie yourself from wherever you moored for the night and set sail across the ocean in search of a tiny bay with a beautiful beach and nobody else around, because it’s only accessible by boat.
When you find one of these magical spots — which aren’t hard to find at all — you’ll anchor there for the day and spend your afternoon sunbathing on the yacht, jumping in the warm ocean, snorkelling with hundreds of fishes, drinking Vodka North, and swimming out to your own private beach.
As the sun starts to set, you’ll either decide to spend the night on the anchor in that secluded bay or motor over to a nearby village to moor and eat dinner and chat with other people who were also sailing the Ionian.
It was bliss.
I started talking about how I was going to get my Competent Crew qualification. Asking Dave how viable it would be for us to buy a yacht and spend the rest of our life sailing around the world. Attempting to get everyone to commit to a yacht trip for 2017.
What I loved most was feeling so disconnected from the online world. I wasn’t worrying about answering emails or checking the Amazon reviews of my book or putting up photos on Instagram. I didn’t care about what was happening in the world, because look at where I was.
Even though I had data for our entire trip, I didn’t spend more than five minutes online each day.
I only wanted to be in the moment.
And then two members of our crew left the yacht for reasons I won’t get into here.
Suddenly, it was just me, Dave, and Dave’s best friend left on board, and that meant that I could take a backseat no more.
I was going to have to play an active role in the sailing and mooring of this yacht, and I had no idea what I was doing.
I was terrified.
I was either going to have to learn how to work the anchor or I was going to have to learn how to use the ropes. Both of which looked like things I would most likely fail at.
And that was so scary because if I screwed up something important while we were trying to moor, it wouldn’t just be a cute story about my stupidity on this site. It would be me damaging something that was probably worth a quarter of a million dollars.
The old me would have considered pretending to be unwell to try to get out of my duties, or so that I could have had a valid excuse if I’d managed to screw things up. The old me would have spent our final few days panicking about how we’d moor that night and picturing all the ways it would inevitably go wrong.
And don’t get me wrong: I definitely did a little of that to start with.
But I also knew that the things I worry about almost never actually happen. And if they do happen, they’re never as bad as I’d expected.
So I sat in my cabin listening to my beloved Headspace app for ten minutes or so. I took a swig of vodka. I shook my fears off, and I plunged into the ocean.
Literally and figuratively.
And just as I’d predicted, nothing bad happened. Nothing scary happened. Nothing I did put us in any danger. I just had to stand on the back of the boat and do some stuff with the lines that wasn’t all that complicated, and then it was over within minutes.
So how did I overcome my fear of sailing?
By being forced to jump head first into the deep end of my ocean of fears.
I should have learned by now that that’s the best way to do it.