Power Napping Swallow - 15 Aug 2003

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.” I yelled.
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 to myself.
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 wire.
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.