Songs from the sea

To reignite her creativity, musician Emma Jay Ashton is sailing around the world, recording songs in a mobile studio on her boat

The life I left behind in Lisbon, Portugal, was far from unsatisfying. I worked as a music teacher, played gigs in the local bar and nurtured lifelong friendships and a deep affection for Portugal. However, a familiar restlessness kept resurfacing. I’d watched my closest friends settle down, have children, buy houses and move up the career ladder, while all I had to show for my years of full-time work was a loyalty account with the local pizzeria.

It was pointed out to me that these feelings of restlessness might be linked to that mysterious, erratic aspect of so many people’s character, my ‘creative side’. I’d dabbled in songwriting in the past, but for several reasons, my creative side had been shoved in a cupboard, where it languished, drinking brandy and complaining that “music just wasn’t the same nowadays.” It was time, I decided, to give it a much-needed airing.

My opportunity arrived when a good friend invited me, and my guitar, to accompany him across the Atlantic in a small red sailboat. Despite having zero sailing experience, and not much cash, the thought of adventure on the high seas, and the chance to connect again with my passion for music, was intoxicating. I immediately began making preparations to leave. Even just the thought of adventure reignited my inspiration for songwriting, and I released my first CD, Libertine Dawn, in August last year.

“I love being able to work with the natural ebb and flow of creativity rather than trying to force inspiration into small chunks of free time.”

A few weeks later, our ship, Bloodshot, departed Lisbon, bound for Morocco. As we cast off the lines I felt a strange and vivid kind of freedom; a release from that complex web of nest building and future planning that can easily become a trap.

We arrived in Agadir after a five-day offshore passage. It was an intense first sailing experience. We encountered huge monstrous waves, dolphins and ocean phosphorescence, all of which would become regular visitors to our boat.

After Morocco, we spent two relaxing months in Lanzarote waiting for replacement parts, and two months on El Hierro, enjoying the swirling volcanic hills, crystal waters and nostalgic atmosphere of this beautiful undiscovered Canary Island. At the beginning of March we set sail across the Atlantic and, 28 incredible days later, we reached the island of Carriacou, in Grenada.

Despite its poetic appeal, life on the ocean waves can be tough. The intimidating tasks of surviving at sea and learning how to sail are combined with the challenge of living together in a confined space. It can leave you exhausted, exhilarated, miserable, frustrated and giddy. Night watches still terrify me, and don’t even get me started on seasickness. But not once have I regretted the decision to become a boat dweller.

Life on the ocean can be a healthy, sustainable lifestyle too. Power comes from three solar panels and a wind generator, and fresh water is substituted for seawater wherever possible. Thrift becomes a pastime, which satisfies both the pocket and the soul. Every squeeze of shower gel is thoughtfully executed. It’s satisfying to remove dependencies that have built up over the years.

On board our ship, my mobile studio consists of an iPad, with a recording app called Garage Band, and a small Apogee microphone. Musical inspiration comes at me from all angles. Tunes pop unbidden into my head, as do bizarre mid-ocean ballad-worthy hallucinations. Some get forgotten; some develop into full ‘sea sketches’ once the boat is quiet enough to record them. Each sketch is posted on my blog, and Soundcloud, along with the story behind the music. I love being able to work with the natural ebb and flow of creativity rather than trying to force inspiration into small chunks of free time.

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On top of that, there are chances to meet and play with other musicians. Many boat dwellers have instruments on board and I’ve had some unforgettable nights playing Irish jigs, sea shanties and German folk ballads with fellow guitarists, ukulele players, accordionists, trombonists, even a kitchen implement band in Grenada. Having time to spare, and no strict schedule, allows for opportunities to play, chance meetings, spontaneous collaborations, and just making the most of wherever you are.

For anyone looking to give their creativity a boost, travel, especially slow travel, is a great way to go about it. Inspiration and unanticipated life lessons lie in wait around every corner, and what starts as an adventure can quickly become much more.

You can read more about Emma’s adventures on her website and hear her sea sketches on Soundcloud. You can find the album Libertine Dawn on Amazon, Spotify, and iTunes.

Positive Travel is edited by Aaron Millar. He writes about adventure travel, and personal development through exploring the world, at The Blue Dot Perspective.