Writing In The Gulf of Panama

Some days it feel as if years have passed since I have been at sea, yet in reality it has been just a few months. This morning, as I warmed up for my days work with a third coffee, I looked at the track of my last voyage to see where I was last year on this day.

I was three days out of Archipelago De Las Perlas, and one hundred and twenty miles west of Buenaventura, Colombia. I was fighting a strong counter current and adverse wind, and although I didn’t know it at the time, was embarking on one of the most difficult sails I was to ever experience.

On this day last year in the Gulf of Panama,  I made no progress. In fact at the end of an arduous day of sail and course changes, I was five nautical miles further from my destination, with three thousand eight hundred miles to go. I was alone in an area thick with ships and floating debris. It was tiring and demoralising. Surviving on fifteen minute sleeps between watches and sail changes was taking its toll.

Sounds rather like writing some days.

For the next two weeks I pushed Next Chapter to windward against a two-knot current, squally headwinds and those short hard-nosed seas that stop you in your track every eight seconds. There were days when I made as little as thirty miles progress noon to noon as I tacked back and forward. And there were nights when the wind died completely and the current swept me relentlessly back towards Panama.

Day after day, whenever the wind blew, Next Chapter threw her shoulder into the oncoming waves, and mile by hard-won mile we neared Isla Darwin, the most northern of the Galapagos. These first thousand miles should have taken seven or eight days, but here I was, day sixteen and still inching along to the west.

I learned both acceptance and resolve, patience and determination. It was another one of life’s lessons that at the time seemed unduly harsh, but in hindsight was what the British would class as character building. It was a lesson that makes many other difficulties seem less significant, and one that I have been able to apply to writing.

Today I will make no progress on editing and polishing my manuscript. With only two weeks remaining before we move to our new home, with all that entails, the thought of no progress makes me uneasy. Yet I know that just as I finally submitted to the ways of the ocean and arrived in Polynesia, so I will accept these days and reach the end of all things.

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Author: A.J.

I have written as far back as I can recall. Until 2011, that writing was just for me, or as rambling letters to friends and travelogues to the family. I never thought about why, or if others did similarly, and the thought of publishing never entered my head. Since I left England in 1979, I have been collecting experiences, people, and places. From the blood-soaked streets of Kampala, the polluted dust bowls of the Sahara, or the pristine ice floes of the Antarctic, I have gathered and filed them away. Some have recently squeezed through the bars of insecurity and are now at large in the pages of my first three novels. Others await their future fates.

4 thoughts on “Writing In The Gulf of Panama

  1. Jayne Lockwood says:

    Loved this post. I know only too well the feeling of lack of progress, especially when you have given yourself a deadline. You write so beautifully about your life at sea, and I’m very much looking forward to buying “Heather” as and when she is published. Good luck.

    1. A.JSendall says:

      Thanks for your kind comments, Jane.
      Heather is almost there. Just two more passes… I think. Will send you a copy when it is ready.
      Hope your project is going well.

  2. Mik Hetu says:

    Nicely put, Alan! Maybe it’s because I’m a sailor, too, but I certainly can relate to contrary winds and invisible currents slowing me down as I shoulder toward my goals. If sailing doesn’t teach you patience and persistence, nothing will! I’m reminded of M. Scott Peck’s famous first line of The Road Less Traveled: “Life is difficult. Accept that, and it becomes easier.”

    1. A.JSendall says:

      Great quote Mik. Acceptance is a wonderful and liberating thing… as long as you don’t take it too far.


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