Walking On Unsteady Feet

Most people take walking for granted. Aside from those first unsteady steps we encounter when learning how to walk, the skill is mastered early on. However, that fundamental ability can be questioned when you find yourself on a sailing vessel upon the rolling seas. The sure footedness in which you walk to the kitchen and pour a cup of coffee suddenly becomes a feat that involves both hands and feet, which you use to brace yourself against the counter.

For those that have never sailed the high seas, this constant rocking and rolling can make you queasy or sick for days. Even if your stomach is fine, walking in six foot swells is difficult. During my time at sea, I certainly have improved my walking ability and kept the saying “one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself” constantly in mind; it’s a reminder to keep a hand ready in order to hold on to something whenever the ship lurches.

Many amusing moments are reaped from this abnormal environment. I’ve walked in a full circle just to keep my balance; I’ve tried crouching and moving with my arms splayed wide. Below the deck in the ship, I would also attempt to walk the length of the short hallway, perhaps 15 feet long, without bumping into the walls or using my hands for support. This was not an easy task and required concentration and speed. I was usually unsuccessful.

At sea, walking is not the only difficulty you encounter. Sleeping and eating also pose a challenge. I gained my sea legs on a sailing vessel that had its tables gimbaled: a¬†weight acts as a counter balance, resulting in the table staying level as the boat swings beneath. This is an ingenious invention that prevents food from falling off the table – although it is rather odd to see a table swinging back and forth. In really rough seas, your knees are also in danger of being squished, as the ship rolls so much that the lip of the table becomes level with the bench. Eating in this fashion does take some getting used to. Each bite is a timed calculation, as your food swings close to you and then moves away. Your body also rocks back and forth in opposition to the movement of the table. But if you are hungry, which if you probably are if you’re not sick, then you get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Photo Courtesy of Anna Yoors

Sleeping requires another adjustment. Recently, as I was laying in my bunk, my feet rolled with the swells, so bracing is sometimes required. I like to sleep on my stomach just because I feel like I can hold on better.

The best part about sailing, however (despite¬†the fact that the sea overturns our fundamental abilities), is that it opens us up to new possibilities, where the waters rock you to sleep and you and your shipmates take care of each other. It’s a chance to experience the world untainted by modern technology, where learning about your surroundings is your most important task. If you are ever given the chance to sail on a ship, jump on it, because it may just change your life. It did for me.


Photo Courtesy of Anna Yoors