Leg 3, Day 6 – Who’s afraid of the dark?

Natalia Cohen By

Who’s afraid of the dark?

It’s where the monsters hide, your imagination runs wild, your eyes play tricks on you, something that ordinarily seems innocent can appear menacing and a place you never really want to be alone. The dark is where the demons lie and we seem to allow fear more readily into our minds.

Are you afraid of the dark?

Our expedition is unique in that exactly half of it is done under the cover of nightfall. Considering the estimated time for the complete trip is now over 9 months, that will be close to 5 full months spent having had to experience and deal with ocean life in the darkness!

For all 6 of us undertaking this journey, rowing in the dark was one of our fears. Whether it was the black water, the thought of capsizing, falling in and being separated from the boat, the fact that you can’t see the waves coming towards you, the fear of the unknown and what is out there or simply being able to stay awake, nighttime shifts take some getting used to.

Although we are slowly earning her respect, the almighty Pacific will never give us an easy ride. We may be travelling at a decent speed and good direction, but she is testing us and in particular our lovely Meg, in other ways. Our night times over the last 5 days have been amongst the darkest we’ve experienced on this journey. We’re talking so black that you cannot distinguish any horizon at all. We have been rowing blind in a never ending abyss of nothingness with increasing swell and wind speeds.

The only artificial light we have at night is our small navigation light. This is a collection of white, red and green LED lights that make up a small circle and are mounted on the front (bow) of the boat. The light is used to signal our presence to other boats that get within 2-3 miles of us but also shines a dim glow onto the deck that gives us enough light to manoeuvre around during the shift changeovers and to see the hatches where we store our stuff. If anything else needs doing, then torch light is necessary.

Last night’s wind picked up to 18 knots and the cloud cover was so thick that not even one star in the sky was spotted. During the first night time shift for Ems and I, the rain started falling and it still has not stopped 12 hours later. Last night, we’re talking torrential, driving rain and howling wind, big swell and a sky so black that our perception of space was disorientating. It was cold. For the first time since the beginning of leg 1 over 6 months ago, we were shivering on the oars no matter how hard we rowed to try and warm our bodies up. Interestingly enough it was also the first time we welcomed waves splashing over us as they were warm compared to the rain and wind we were encountering. There was no way of seeing which direction the waves were coming from or their size and the boat rose and fell with the movement of the water and lurched often when she was hit from the side. At night time for some reason you always feel as if you are travelling at a much higher speed than you are and all your senses are heightened.

A far cry from our moonlit, star-filled, reflective night rows that we’ve all grown to love so much. This is ocean rowing. The real, the raw, the challenging.

It’s too easy for LP, Ems and me to be complacent about what we do, as for us it’s just become our life as we know it, day in and day out…but Meg has allowed us to see things afresh.

What we have learnt to deal with and has now become second nature, was a moment for Meg that was, to quote,

“The most scared I’ve ever felt in my life!”

So, how do we deal with the night time? How do we stop being enveloped by spiralling paranoia and our minds running away with us? How do we embrace them and not wish them away waiting eagerly for the sun to rise every day?

When the sea is angry and the waves are sneaking up on us, we use distraction. Film narrating, life story telling, word games and music. When we’re lucky and the moon or stars shine their magic light down on us, we normally revel in the natural beauty of our surroundings and are happy to be just where we are…

Whatever type of night times we experience though, it’s inevitable that the mind will occasionally play its tricks. I’m sure until our arrival in Cairns there will be more pirate ships coming towards us (Ems), bald headed men in the water next the boat (LP) or something flying into the boat that was really a flannel hanging on the grab line (Meg).

I suppose we’ve learnt, or will learn, to understand and be intrigued by the dark. For most of us some of our most memorable moments have been under the cover of darkness, for some it’s when we feel the most alive, for one right now it holds the most fear and for others it’s where the strange phenomena of gobbledegook occurs.

Whatever the feeling, emotion or experience it evokes, there is always an interesting mind journey for us humans that the darkness inspires x



  1. JG says:

    Fascinating post Natalia. You’re right total darkness is disorienting and being unable to see makes the other senses go into overdrive not least that of the mind with its power to imagine and create anxiety. I often wondered what you brave girls feared and didn’t like to ask. Dear Meg hope you get used to it all soon and that moonlit nights return soon for you. Keep safe.

  2. Tor Hillier says:

    Great blog entry,
    I hate the dark even in my own home so sympathise with Meg totally. Amazing to reflect on how the extraordinary really has become the norm for you girls.
    Hope that you get some clearer starry nights to help light the waves for you.
    Stay safe, xxx

  3. pete mewton says:

    First blog Ive read where youve mentioned the fear, Natalia. Very informative and understandable and oddly gives an even closer understanding of the bravery of you all in facing your huge challenge. We all know that fear of the dark is largely irrational but were still afraid. Hope the stars reappear for you soon. I wish you good rowing and happy experiences.

  4. Elaina James says:

    We are all cheering you on and we wish you warmer weather X every day we are watching your fantastic progress at dolphin swim school we are counting your miles and hope to have some more sponcered swims from our new children that have joined us, with all our love to you very brave ladies and I know you are looking after our Meg thank you xxxxxx

  5. I hope the weather has improved for you all. It all sounded quite daunting to me. Its amazing how you all take it in your stride and adapted so well. After meeting Meg for just a short while I am sure she has the strength to overcome her new challenges as you all have. Keep well and safe. Looking forward to your next blog already!

  6. Simon TY says:

    Had thought one of the great pleasures would be rowing at night with a million grillion stars. Not really thought about you having nights of complete dark. Here we neve get complete dark. There is always our night vision. Background artificial light coming through the window from the street, a slight glow from an alarm clock, or a phone. Complete utter darkness, knowing that your eyes are never going to adjust more must be spooky. And what you are looking out for, waves, are dark, moving, constantly changing, so impossible to focus on ?

    And your fears ? Now, pirate ships, yup I understand that. The wet towel flapping, I understand that. But, dear Laura, bald men next to the boat. Lie down on the couch and tell me more ?

    Great progress. Hope you keep flying. Fiji looks manageable in the next few days. There look to be lots of outlying islands. Do you have to worry now about reefs ?

    Xx S

  7. Jim Andrews says:

    I used to be terrified of the dark, as a child. I am not entirely comfortable with it now. Quite natural really, as we are not nocturnal and most, predators and beings with evil intent operate after dark.
    Your fears are realistic though, in this day and age, pirates are a possibility, things flying at you from the Ocean? I remember quite recently, you discussed your, immediate action drills, should Fernando, or was it Ferdinand lland in your laps. Though this is highly unlikely, it is good that you have a plan. The follically challenged men, out swimming in the Ocean, miles from land, in awfull weather, in the pitch dark? I feel are more in peril than the risk they pose to you. I think Ferdinand might be pleased though. I (seriously) feel for you, in those conditions, I cannot think of a more uncomfortable situation, than wet, cold and sleep deprived. I hope conditions improve and you can continue your epic adventure at the same speed but in more favourable conditions. Stay safe. XX

  8. Lorraine says:

    How scary. I have a very vivid imagination especially at night, I can imagine the most horrendous things appearing from anywhere. A dressing gown hanging on the back of a door in your bedroom , at night can suddenly become something else , something really scary- then in the daylight you realise how silly you have been as everything is as it was and you are left feeling shattered from lack of sleep.
    Your blogs are written so well that I can almost & I do say almost imagine being there with you. I do wish you a very speedy and safe journey. X

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