Surrendering to the force of nature

Words & Photography by Manon Verijdt

I was clutching on to my mattress while keeping my eyes firmly closed. With the waves crashing into us and the wind swinging the boat from the left to the right, I was no longer sure whether it was a good idea to join this sailing adventure to Norway.

I could feel my body disagreeing with these movements and my throat seemed to tighten up every time I could see the water level rising above our window. I counted the seconds of being underwater and truly wished we would be alright during this sailing trip.

After 72 hours of feeling sick in bed, I could no longer stand the cramps and pain. I needed to get to the deck of the boat, even if that meant getting even more seasick. But as soon as I got on deck, I no longer felt seasick, and I enjoyed the sun’s reflection on the water. I watched the others steer the boat towards the mainland. The word was that we would arrive within 18 hours, which meant that I would soon feel solid ground underneath my feet again.

The mainland started off as a dark grey line above the horizon. Within an hour, it developed into different shades of grey, all jagged rocks stacked behind each other. After more than three days on the ocean, without a coastline in sight, we now entered an entirely different country. Our sailing adventure to Norway, the land of Vikings, hadn’t even started yet and I was already amazed by the insights I’ve gotten. I noticed that I wasn’t only just infatuated with the water, but I felt anxiety for the first time too as I had to surrender to the force of nature while we sailed in force 8 winds.

My interest in sailing came to life in Iceland a couple of years ago. I remember one specific moment like it was yesterday. After observing whales for nearly three hours near Húsavík when I was researching the bay’s humpback whales, we decided to head back to the harbour where we soon noticed the mast of a Norwegian vessel. It was a rare sight in these northern waters of Iceland, which illustrates why my curiosity was so quickly evoked.

Hours later, we went to the local pool to bath and chat. We, as interns, were some of the very few foreigners in this town and it was obvious that some of the people at the pool were not from here either. A short introduction soon taught us that they were the ones who crossed the sea to visit ‘our’ whales. With a racing heart and speeding words, my overt facial expression was undeniable. I wished to be on that sailing boat once, to approach the whales even closer and to learn more about this extremely interesting crew. What did a person need to make a living out of these desirous adventures?

We ended up inviting the crew to our house so they could wash their clothes and take showers. The conversation continued in the meantime and the crew told us that they would head out at six AM the following morning for a full day in pursuit of whales and research in the bay. In return for the invitation at our home, we received one as well. It was the first time I would set foot on a sailing boat and I was instantly hooked.

Two years later I was still carrying the dream of sailing across an ocean with me; I dreamt of venturing into the unknown, at the mercy of the weather with swirling water hitting the bow and gushing winds stretching the sails. And two years later a simple Facebook post caught my eye and changed the expected course of my summer. A captain was asking for crew members that would be willing to join a sailing adventure to Norway for a month. I decided to reach out and I got invited.

During those exploratory weeks on the coastline of Norway, I was exposed to the force of nature again and again. I remember one moment when we were anchored in a narrow fjord. Winds picked up and our anchor started pulling us towards the rocky shoreline. We fought against this so we wouldn’t risk ruining the rear against the rocks, but nature was unforgivable. We had to leave the fjord earlier than expected and needed to find somewhere else to spend the night.

What stayed with me most about the sailing adventure to Norway, was the feeling that the force of nature was not only scary and stressful, but that it also brought a lot of peace to mind. I was able to feel the force of nature when walking barefoot in the forests, on the rocks and in the grass. As my feet touched the soil, I instantly felt my toes sinking into the mud. My reflex system was unexpectedly rapid when stepping on something sharp. As soon as I felt slight discomfort, I adjusted without consciously thinking about it and after a while I got so used to it, that I was nimbly jumping from rock to rock, wriggling my toes in the moss and stroking the high grass with my hands. I loved how connected I was to this environment and how our intuition and connection to nature was still as powerful as it probably had been decades ago. We had simply lost the knowledge of how to reach this connection.

Sailing across the North Sea has taught me more than the act of pulling up sails. Being so close to nature, whether on the water or on the mainland, increased my sensibility to the energy and environment around me. I suddenly felt where I wanted to be, I became aware of the energy within myself and what I needed to recharge. The silence of nature brought me closer to my own thoughts and I started to define life in a different way. What if society’s way of living life is not how I want to live it? What would I need in order to be this close to nature, to feel curiosity as well as anxiety and to surrender to nature without feeling powerless or afraid?

When I was back home, I felt the breeze in my back as I untied my hair. Strands of soft hair draped into my face, blurring my sight. Where first, before this journey, I would have cursed the wind for doing this, I was now grateful for it – the wind – to have pushed me home from Norway to the Netherlands. I had not yet found the answers to the questions I was asking myself, but I knew that this journey had given me another perspective on the force of nature. It now feels like my duty to dive deeper into the many ways we as humans collaborate with nature and how it could shape our lives.