‘My sailing trip changed me, and the world I left behind’


A two-year voyage taught me as much about my feelings for friends and family back home as about the spectacular places I visited

Weve got some sad news, said my dad.

Id heard that tone of voice before once aged 12 when my cat had to be put down and again at 15 when my grandmother died.

I wasnt prepared for it. And it wasnt to be the only time, on my epic journey from home, that I would hear that somebody special had died.

I was 3,500 miles from England, on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, when I received the news about my stepgrandmother, Mary-Lou. Preparing for a 12-day voyage across to Panama as grief consumed my stepfamily.

With little more I could do, I logged on to Marks & Spencer, sent flowers and felt helpless.

Months later, after a tough ocean passage from Colombia to the Bahamas, the call came again. This time, it was my grandfather who had died. It was painful to think of my dad losing his dad.

Kitiara Pascoe during her two-year trip. Photograph: courtesy Kitiara Pascoe

Id not expected any of this when I steered out of Falmouth harbour in June 2014. I knew Id be leaving the UK for some time. But my anxieties were focused on the journey. I thought of islands, the tropics, dolphins, scary waves and the possibilities of drowning. I worried about myself, my finances and what I might find out there.

I didnt think about the things that would change while I was away. What could change? England was England. Home was home.

I was 25, sailing with my partner of three years. Hed bought and refitted a 1974 Nicholson 32; small but sturdy. Having spent its life pottering around the Solent, we gave it a new engine, new sails and a new lease of life.

I left England as my friends were heading into graduate jobs. None were married or engaged. Many had lengthy travels behind them ski seasons and Asian jaunts. I was just beginning mine.

As we hit Spain, one of my closest friends, Christina, told me she was pregnant

Within six months we had reached the Canary Islands, our jumping off point for an Atlantic crossing. I was overjoyed to have made it that far, never having sailed before.

I spent my last days in Gran Canaria nosing around M&S, which I had gleefully discovered in Las Palmas. I stocked up on mince pies and Christmas pudding as wed be spending our Christmas and New Year mid-Atlantic.

I wrote a goodbye email to my family and close friends. As much as I was nervous about the month-long crossing, I knew they were concerned, too. Without a satellite phone or long-distance radio, they wouldnt know anything of our progress until we reached the other side.

Rolling down Atlantic swells, I often toyed with the idea that the world would be a different place when I next reached civilisation. What if The Day of the Triffids had come true? What if nuclear war had begun? Something huge could happen and I wouldnt know for weeks.

It took 28 days to reach Grenada. Once we arrived, I logged on to the internet in a beachside cafe to let my family know we were safe. I skimmed emails, looking for anything of note, but there was nothing important.

I turned to WhatsApp, and found a message from Christina.

My dad died, she wrote.

My world hadnt ended while I was gone, but Christinas world had, a little.

Her beloved stepfather had died at Christmas and with little warning. She was seven months pregnant at the time, and he would never meet his granddaughter.

I wanted to be there, to hug her. But I felt guilt, too: I was missing event after event.

I spent the next two months lapping up the Caribbean. I couldnt believe I had made it to a place that Id seen in brochures as a child. I thought you had to be rich and honeymooning to go there. How was it possible that wed sailed there in our little boat?

When we arrived in Bequia, in the Grenadines, I walked jungly trails, peered into clear, tropical waters and drank Caribbean lager. I wasnt bothered with going online for a day or two. Eventually, I took my phone to a cafe and opened up my notifications.

A message from Christina.

This is Safiya Kitiara, she said, and gave a time of birth.

I had to read it several times before I even understood why my name was staring back at me. Christina had given my name as a middle name for her newborn daughter. I felt so emotional, I couldnt speak.

But then I continued scrolling. The attached photo wasnt of Christina holding her tiny girl. It was her daughter in an incubator, with an untold number of wires and tubes taped to her. Shed contracted a life-threatening virus and was in intensive care.

It didnt seem possible that I could be on this little Caribbean island, living my dream and yet missing out on such a monumental event. I wanted to be in that hospital even if I could do nothing. I just wanted to be there.

Kitiara Pascoe with some of the celebrated Bahamas pigs. Photograph: Courtesy Kitiara Pascoe

During my two-year voyage, I crossed 17,000 miles of ocean, sailed to 15 countries and more than 35 islands. It was everything I wanted, to explore hard-to-reach places, anchor off little towns rather than luxury resorts and see local life from a unique perspective.

But I never knew when Id arrive somewhere or even if I would arrive. Sailors aim, they dont make plans. Many islands were cheap to live in but expensive, difficult or even impossible to fly to. The concept of inviting family or friends to take time off work, book expensive flights and then, months later, me actually being in the agreed place was ridiculous.

My sister bought a house with her husband, my mother a house with her partner. Two friends got engaged, one to a man Id never met. My closest friends were recounting tales of new partners, jobs and homes and I hadnt witnessed any of it. Not in person.

I couldnt even picture where my mother lived. I had the address, but didnt know what it looked like, what colour the door was or whether she still had a patchwork quilt over the back of the sofa.

With good wifi Id see photographs online. The family at a cousins wedding, my sister finishing first woman in a 20-mile running race, my mother competing in a sea-swim, my stepsister holding her newborn son; countless moments I can add to a growing list of things Ive missed. Whod have guessed there was such sacrifice in travelling?

I gained so much from my adventures and achieved things I never would have believed I could have done. But I made choices that meant missing times when my friends needed me or just wanted me there. Ive missed sitting next to my father at my grandfathers funeral and hugging my stepmother when her mother died. Ive missed clinking glasses at engagement parties, the newborn-baby smell of my nephew or my friends daughter.

Travelling is about growing, learning and exploring. But its also about the things you miss and what you leave behind. Every mile you take from home takes you further and further from the people you love.

Sailing long distance was exhilarating and unforgettable. But I have had moments of powerlessness along the way something I never anticipated. By the time I got home, two people in my family were gone and three had come into existence. I had changed; so had everything else.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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