I was cruising solo down the east coast of Malaysia, when I picked up
a passenger. Actually, it dropped in on me. It was a tiny swallow in need
of forty winks.
I know many sailors who have traveled alone and this theme comes up frequently
during long voyages. One picks up a passenger or tag-along that follows
ones boat for days. The deep-seated feelings of loneliness suddenly vanish
because one now has something to converse with. Unfortunately, my passenger
was only interested in napping.
I was motor/sailing with the boom lashed to the opposite handrail on the
cabin top. I was running about thirty degrees off the wind. A large front
had just passed and the sea was like a dishwasher. The waves were leaping
at the boat from all directions making the ride rather stressful.
I went inside to get a snack. I came back a minute later and there, on
top of the depth gauge was a tiny swallow. Its eyelids were closed upward
and it was asleep. I went back to piloting the boat and watched it. It
snoozed for about 3 to 4 minutes, then, like clockwork, it woke up. It
looked around for a few seconds and then closed it’s lids again.
Another 3 to 4 minutes passed.
I went inside for a drink and came back out to find that it was now on
the seat next to the stereo. Its eyelids were scrunched tight and it was
rocking with the boat.
It didn’t even notice when I reached over its head to put another
tape in the stereo. I walked around the cockpit adjusting equipment and
it just ignored me. I started to realize that it must be power napping.
I had never been in such close proximity to a swallow in the wild. I put
the camera lens two inches from its head and it seemed completely unperturbed.
I watched it for a while and felt somewhat satisfied that at least one
of us was
getting a break. It power napped for a total of 20 minutes. It must have
felt at home because the next thing it did was shit. I was a little annoyed
but left it to it’s own business. As I adjusted my course, the sun
slanted past the cockpit cover and beat down on the swallow’s head.
It remained stationary for another 10 minutes. I am pretty sensitive to
the tropical sun and I felt that the little critter’s brains must
have been boiling. It finally awoke and decided to fly into my cabin.
“Uh oh,” I thought.
“Ok, I don’t care as long as you don’t shit in there.”
It flew around and landed on the electrical chord hanging in a loose arc
below the charts. The charts were stored in the ceiling above my bed.
Why the swallow chose the electrical wire out of all the other things
in the cabin more stable, I have no clue.
“Habit?” I wondered.
“Birds and electrical wires: an inseparable pair,” I thought
The next question I asked myself was; “Will it shit on my bed?”
I couldn’t answer that question just yet. I had to pay attention
to the wheel and the shifting winds. The sea was chaotic, pitching the
boat constantly. One has to hang onto something most of the time because
ones body does not adjust to that kind of motion. Actually, I should say,
I was not able to adjust to that kind of motion. My friend, the swallow,
on the other hand, seemed to be doing just fine on a single electrical
Periodically, I would glance inside and see it perched on the wire swinging
with the erratic motion of the boat. It continued to power-nap.
After another 20 minutes, I went inside for another coke and ice and found
a little puddle on my sheet. Darn, another sheet for the wash.
“OK, that’s it.”
“A free ride is one thing but shitting on my bed is another.”
I waved my hands two inches from its tiny face. It didn’t notice
at all. Next, I nudged it on the breast. It blinked open its eyes, and
looked at me for a second. As I reached to nudge it again, it swooped
from the cabin and out into a dark sky over a churning sea.
I felt alone. I was, once more, a solitary man on the sea.