Adventuring Author: Logbook of a sea cook (part 2)

(This is the third post of my sea cook adventure. Click to read the first installment and the second installment.)


How many times have you embarked on an adventure and, partway through thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Every adventure has an upside and downside. Most of the time, an ‘upside’ takes place before the actual adventure, in our minds. Visions of sunny skies, calm seas, full sails, and shrimp-on-the-barby next to the captain’s helm. Mental pictures of sunbathing, fishing, snorkeling with dolphins, and looking through a spyglass at a deserted island.


(Introducing…the A’la carte!)


Thus far, the five-person crew of the A’la carte has been sailing through the ‘downside’ of adventure.

Moment #1 – seasickness: My sister and I—the two sea cooks—set to work preparing lunch on the first day heading out to sea. It’s not easy slicing pickles in a rocking boat, mind you. Then the rocking started. It grew and grew, with the increase of swells and…I was on my knees in the bathroom. Much of the four days were spent either on our beds or in the bathroom while the men braved the seas on deck.

Moment #2 – midnight awakening: The first night after my shift, I woke to shouting on deck and waves splashing down into the cabin. We’d come upon unexpected shallow water and might have run aground had my dad (the captain) not turned us into the wind away from the shallows. Now hitting the waves head-on, the swells sounded like hammers against the hull. Saltwater continued to drench the deck and cabin. In order to lay in bed, we needed to prop pillows and even suitcases on our beds to keep us from rolling off.

Moment #3 – the little things: Four days. No showers. Unable to keep a single full meal down. Hours of sleeping solely to pass time faster. During the waking moments, I had to choose my actions wisely. Do I wash the dishes, brush my teeth, or pick up the kettle that fell to the floor? I could only do one before my stomach rebelled. Because of this, small things turned into luxuries, like washing my hands of the sticky saltwater or taking a drink of cold water. What must it have been like for the people on the Mayflower? 

These experiences gave me a lot of meat for writing (yes, there is a boat scene of sorts in one of the future Time books.) For others who may have a ship voyage in their novels, I made a list of observations once I was able to hold a pen without turning green.

  • The wind hitting the sails hard sounds quite similar to loud thunder (which, I admit with embarrassment, frightens me.) This woke me throughout the night. Every night. Great touch if your character is afraid of thunder.
  • There is nothing ‘rhythmic’ about the rocking boat out at sea. I often read about a character enjoying the ‘cradle-like motion’ or relaxing in the ‘gentle sway.’ Not a single day of sailing felt like that to me.
  • Four days at sea without showering feels disgusting. I made note of this mainly for description reasons, but in case you’re wondering, the saltwater was very sticky. My hair felt like damp straw and the idea of just washing my hands blared in my mind like angelic trumpets. Even sleeping was uncomfortable due to dirtiness.
  • Feeling trapped. One of the hardest feelings was knowing I couldn’t change my situation. We were a day’s sail away from land and I had no power over the wind or waves. If I got sick, I just had to be sick. If there was a storm, I had to brave it. The crew still needed to eat. I still needed to cook. I just had to push through.
  • The sea never looked as fierce as it felt. The cabin rocked so much that walking was more like crawling through a jungle gym, but when I went on deck, the sea didn’t seem to match the ferocity experienced on the ship.


(This is a picture of our sea at sunrise during one of my watches. I’m no photographer, but it gives you an idea of what I meant about it not looking very fierce.)

These four days weren’t without their small joys. Once, on my watch, I saw a sea turtle come up for air. Another day, flying fish flew and flopped on deck, but we didn’t find them until they’d dried out. We also had a small moment with dolphins leaping at the bow of the A’la carte.

Now that we are at the Bahamas, we’ve entered the denser ‘upsides’ of adventuring. We are staying at the Abaco islands instead of continuing down through the Exumas. Although the first week was trial by fire, there’s a sense of epic accomplishment at pushing through. Surviving. Prevailing. Which makes the ‘upsides’ all the more enjoyable—pina coladas, lobster dinners, strolls along quaint island towns. We picked prickly pears to eat, found conch shells, and played in the surf. Plans to snorkel today and scuba dive tomorrow. It’s like the other side of a coin and, now that I stand on it, I can confidently say it was worth it.




(Photo Credit: Ben Champlin)


A particular pressing mental urge has taken hold of both us author-sea cooks (my sister and me): The desire to write.

Adventuring always tends to do that—inspire, create, plague me with ideas. It is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), after all. Now that the seas are calmer, we’ve been designating clipped moments of the afternoon, of morning coffee time, of post-dinner relaxation time, to writing. Plotting. Imagining. Creating. All words we love. It almost feels like a writing retreat on the seas. Though neither of us expects to make the 50k NaNoWriMo mark, we’ll get as close as we can.






 (Photo Credit: Ben Champlin)

 (This is the third post of my sea cook adventure. Click to read the first installment and the second installment.)



About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.
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