The life aquatic

Updated: 2014-05-31 07:48

By Chen Hong (China Daily)

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Chinese woman joins husband to live out dream on the high seas. Chen Hong reports in Shenzhen.

Wan Jinyu believes she is bolder than many Chinese women.

She has enjoyed taking rollercoasters and could climb a rock wall up 100 meters when she was 45 years old in 2007.

Also in the same year, she married a Swedish man, then 55, after chatting with him online for three months and meeting him in person for three days.

To mark their five-year wedding anniversary, the couple set sail in a 12-meter sailboat from San Carlos of Mexico on Nov 8, 2012 and crossed the Pacific Ocean to reach Hong Kong in March this year.

They traveled more than 20,000 kilometers, visiting 38 islands and passing a total of seven countries and regions during the trip.

However, before the long voyage, the Chinese woman never drove a sailboat or had any sailing experience on the high seas.

"I trust my husband," Wan told China Daily. "It's his life-long dream to travel around the world in a sailboat. We wanted to make it before we got too old."

Her husband Rolf Nylander has rich knowledge in sailing. He bought his first sailboat 30 years ago. The IT veteran knows radio well and is fond of studying and analyzing the global climate, said Wan.

"He is smart and careful. We did not intend to risk our lives but wanted to live it differently through sailing," she said.

The couple practiced for more than a month before heading out to the Pacific Ocean so that Wan could learn the basic skills of controlling the boat, understanding the equipment and grasping the knowledge to observe climate changes at sea.

"It's critical to keep a close eye on the change of the seawater, the wind direction and the cloud layers while sailing on the Pacific Ocean," Wan said.

For example, when the seawater faraway gets darker, it reminds the sailors of strong winds and they must loosen the sails in line with the speed of the waves, Wan said.

Thick clouds do not always mean strong winds or heavy rain, which would also decide the change of their speed and direction, she said.

Captain Rolf, the name Wan calls her husband, stood at the right side of the rear compartment of the boat - the best position for observation - for at least 18 hours a day when they were sailing.

At night, they took turns to keep three-hour watches, but the husband would usually sleep for just one and a half hours and took over the job from his wife.

Still, bad weather would hit them in the blink of an eye.

On Oct 10, 2013, they sailed from Wallis, an island in the Pacific Ocean belonging to the French overseas collectivity of Wallis and Futuna, to Funafuti of the island nation Tuvalu.

The sky was grey with no wind in the early morning, but a thick layer of dark clouds gathered at about 7:30 am, a sign that heavy rain would hit any time.

Wan went to control the rudder while Captain Rolf handled the sails.

Strong winds came and suddenly turned around. Correspondingly, Wan shifted the helm abruptly, but the boat started shaking violently from one side to another.

The wind got stronger and the waves reached a height of more than 7 meters. Captain Rolf quickly prepared the anchor and threw it into the roaring sea.

"For the first time, I felt death approaching, but fortunately we remained calm and tried to keep safe," Wan said.

The most severe winds and storms would last from 8 am till 4 pm during their journey. During these times, the couple would also huddle up on the sofa and wait.

"Every time we survived the adverse weather, I had a better understanding of life and cherished every beautiful day of being alive," she said.

Compared with the unexpected bad weather on the high seas, the time they spent on the islands were delightful and relaxing, Wan said.

Most of the residents living on the islands were friendly and amiable. They offered fruit, sometimes even precious home-grown vegetables, to welcome them.

But on the island of Puluwat, women had to kneel down to walk when their husbands or senior male members of the family passed by, which affected Wan deeply. "Women did not seem to be respected on that island," she said.

Everything about the boats, even sewing the sails, could only be done by the men.

To teach them to sew the sails as good as a sewing machine, Wan became the first woman in the history of the island who could work on the boat, she told China Daily proudly.

At the island of Kosrae, the couple met government officials to lodge their complaints about the unreasonably high charge for visiting sailboats. As a result, the local government held a hearing.

While dispersing candies to the children on the islands, the couple also left medicine to residents who could not receive timely medical treatment.

As a native of Central China's Hunan province, which is famous for spicy food, Wan also provided some unique cooking methods to the island residents.

The couple, who are expected to launch their second voyage, from China to Sweden, by the end of this year, expressed their wish for sailing to become more popular in China.

"People are so busy in China. Why not slow down and enjoy the beautiful sea views and experience a different lifestyle?" Wan said.

They bought the second-hand sailboat for about $120,000 and spent about $1,600 a month when sailing, "an amount many Chinese can afford", she said.

Besides sufficient knowledge about sailing, she advised people to exercise regularly. Wan and her husband cycle for at least one hour every day. Both of them have loved sports since young and continue to keep fit.

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Xu Lin and Feng Zhiwei contributed to this story.

 The life aquatic

Wan Jinyu and her husband Rolf Nylander sailed from San Carlos of Mexico on Nov 8, 2012 and crossed the Pacific Ocean to reach Hong Kong in March this year. Photos Provided to China Daily

(China Daily 05/31/2014 page5)