In the year before I was born, my mother sailed with an all woman crew in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
Twenty-five years later, I sat down and interviewed several of the women who had sailed across Bass Straight with my mother. In the hours that unfolded, I found each woman gravitating towards a time they had joined an otherwise all-male crew… a time when they’d been the only woman in open ocean. And then, one of them told me, you have to know who you go to sea with. You have to trust them with your life. Because, at sea, no one can hear you scream.
I knew from having grown up on yachts that when something goes wrong on a yacht, it tends to go very bad, very quickly. I also knew that in old sea superstition, women are considered bad luck at sea.
I knew from having grown up on yachts that when something goes wrong on a yacht, it tends to go very bad, very quickly.
And so I wondered, if something were to go wrong on a yacht in open ocean, how would it change if a woman were involved? Would she be blamed for bringing the bad luck?
I wrote Below Deck after a man asked me, but if you didn’t want it, why didn’t you just scream? I wrote this novel because I wanted to interrogate the reasons why we don’t always scream. I wanted to examine rape culture and the myths that sustain it. I wanted to challenge the language that exonerates perpetrators of sexual violence. And I did it all in open ocean because what we ignore on land is impossible to escape at sea.
At the same time, I wrote Below Deck because I wanted to write a book about the climate crisis. And in many ways, I believe I couldn’t have written Below Deck as a book about one or the other… because sexual violence and the climate crisis share similarities in that they both involve the violation of bodies, and are both propped up by a sense of entitlement to those bodies.
Ultimately, however, I wrote Below Deck because I wanted to empower women and inspire hope. I wanted to show how a body that has been violated might be reclaimed, to show that it is possible to inhabit your body after the fire, that it is possible to again write poems about beautiful things.
Below Deck is available now