This post is the second part of my Atlantic crossing story,
– 23 days of non-stop sailing from Gran Canaria to St Lucia, Caribbean.
– At least 3,100 Nautical Miles travelled (about 6,000 km)
– A friendly crew of 3 Norwegians + myself sailing on sailing yacht “Dory” (16-meter long)
– 14 books read, less than 2 movies watched
Hello reader, this is a long post: Feel free to find the sections you like!
On October 24th, I started looking for boat to join an atlantic crossing, and a month later (after many adventures and preparations detailed here) we left Gran Canaria, on November 24th: Here is the story of what happened to us.
My longest previous sailing trip was of 4 or 5 days away at sea, earlier this year in South Africa. Since our transatlantic trip was meant to take around 3 weeks, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this trip.
Our departure day – Nov. 24th – was incredible. About ten friends and family members came around to the marina to wish Trude, Jon, Thomas and myself farewell on our journey. At this point I had been living on Dory (our boat) for a week, which was great to get to know people and the boat better.
Our adventure – the ARC (“Atlantic Rally for Cruiser”) – is a big deal for the city of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, about 200 boats leave the island on the same day, ARC is the world’s largest transatlantic cruising rally. They treated us very welll: fireworks on the previous night, a marching band and hundreds of locals and tourists watching us cast off on that sunday afternoon.
It’s a strange feeling to go out knowing that you’ll be back on land in about a month. It feels just like going out sailing for a day, but with a more adventurous taste to it.
Getting accustomed – Our first day was filled with excitement, about two hundred boats left at the same time! Our second and third days required some adjustments, we all felt the transition from the usual rhythm to the cruising life, slight dizziness and and feeling tired.
Living rhythm – We were 4, that’s two pairs, we worked by “watches”: In fair weather, we are on watch for 4 hours, then have 4 hours off. In rough weather, we’ll either have rolling watches (three people on deck with two hours on, one hour off) or shorter watches (3 hours on, 3 hours off). Obviously, all those routines apply 24/7. Here’s a typical schedule I would get, I’ll be on from 8pm-midnight, then off til 4am, back at it from 4-8am, nap until lunch and get back at it after 12, and so on and so forth.
When you are on watch, yourjob is to trim the sails, operate the radar if needs be, fix minor things and to talk to the stars (optional). Dory is a well equiped boat, she has two autopilots: an electrical one, and a Hydrovane (a beautiful wind-based auto-steering mechanism), both were extremely useful: I have always hand-steered for my previous trips, yet this time we only hand-steered when we wanted or when things got out of hand: This makes a huge difference and much easier watches!
Food – Yum! Every day, we take a daily turn for cooking and galley cleaning. I got to serve my almost famous “Cape Town curry” more than once! As detailed on my previous blog post we left shore with great quantities of fruits, vegetable, and deep-frozen vacuum-packed meat (chicken/beef/pork/bacon).Usual snack include peanuts, chocolate and fruits (limited supply!). We all very much looked forward to dinner everynight.
Trude & Jon have been fantastic with the cooking, baking fresh bread every week!
For us, cooking was quite a performance: Dory was often hit by waves, and heeling over quite a bit. I have no memory of cooking without holding on to something. Some days, it was almost impossible to cook: Knifes flew, boiling water was spileed and tomato sauce had an on-going affair with the white couch. Challenging conditions and general state of exhaustion made us truly appreciate each and every meal, we all worked hard to have a happy and well-fed crew.
Energy – Dory has a water maker (making sea water drinkable!), 3 solar panels, 1 wind mill, 1 electrical generator (gasoline) and about 300L of Diesel in total, that was enough to make us energy sufficient for a month or more (electricity, water and fuel). Garbage disposal proved to be challenging too (more information on all-things garbage at sea here).
Personal Space – On a 16-meter long boat, it’s priceless to have your own space and I do like having my own space. Luckily, onboard Dory I had my own cabin and own bathroom: fantastic! I have no issue with sharing a room, yet sharing on a boat and for many weeks wouldn’t have been as confortable for me. One day, in the middle of the atlantic, we met a german boat that came close enough from Dory to say hi, they had a crew of… 10 people! even on a slightly larger boat, that’s a lot!
Communication blackout – Spending about a month with no email/phone communication was quite refreshing (our trip was GPS tracked through Google Maps Yellow brick for friends and family).
Funny thoughts, during this trip:
– I saw 0 ads/commercials (others than branded items on the boat)
– My phone was in airplane mode at all times (only used as a MP3 player)
– I watched less than 2 movies (although we had 100s on board and many devices)
– I wrote more than I had in years, I read 14 books
This helps you setting sometime aside to think and reflect. Would I enjoy living my life this way on the long run? I don’t think so, but it was well worth trying.
Weather is king – Weather is a strange thing. We had daily forecast via Satelitte Phone giving us updates for wind, swells, squalls, current… Those update are never accurate, they cover zones as large as an average european country.
It is what it is, the best you can do is to make an educated decision on how you will adapt your course and strategy to get the best (or avoid the worst) from it.
We sometime get smooth sunny sailing, yet there’s no norm. Weather will change fast, and local anomalies happen.
All your daily activities (especially eating & sleeping) are heavily affected by the weather. Small details like humidity have big impact on how you live aboard: my cabin’s hatch was leaking, it took me about 3 days to find a weather window to empty my cabin and dry it all, including clothing, papers, electronics and bank notes.
Another time, while lying down in my cabin, the boat took a strange turn and I ended up upside down: As I stretched my legs, they found the roof/ceiling.
Things break – A sailing boat is just a large floating toy. Skippers love thie boat so much that they take them out through the worst possible conditions many times over to try to find their limits. Eventually, things break! Especially through strong winds, nasty waves and a never ending streams of salt water.
We had a thorough boat check and preparation prior departure, still 2 weeks in the genoa halyard snapped right off: I had to climb up the mast (18 meters) while the moving through the waves to hook up a new one. Eventful!
Other boats reported various damages, including mast break, boom break, numerous auto-pilot failures, one engine fire and a numerous sail damages.
Eating & Sleeping – Our sleeping and eating patterns revolved around what the weather was doing. We kept all our watches on UTC time (that is, UK time) for the entire trip, it was quite odd readjusting the time once we got to Saint Lucia (4 hours time difference). On shore, usually get 8-9 hours sleep a night, onboard it takes some times to practice resting by 1, 2 or 4 hours break. After some time, just like in most situations: If you are tired enough, sleep will find you.
That odd activity rhythm that keeps going night and day need some fuel, we end up eating a lot on the boat: 3 meals plus snacking was the norm (no nutella was spared), in South Africa I was known to be the biggest eater onboard, this time competition for the title was stiff!
A little bit of Magic
Sailing helps you discover a new kind of magic. Not all of it can be written down, I’ll try my best to explain it:
“All by myself…” – We sat in the cockpit at all possible hours of the day, it was fantastic. You get to see the stars, the milky way, the moon and dozens of shooting stars for hours. Below your feet, many thousands of meters of depth with strange and unknown creatures. Nothing around you, yet your tiny yacht is making way on a huge ocean. It’s a unique and privilege feeling to simultaneously have a huge and tiny space for yourself.
Wild life – Spotting dolphin pods, swimming around Dory’s bow at dusk, being their playful selves. Also great to spot wild birds, hundred of miles offshore, you get to wonder how they got there.
At night, Dory would often have fluorescent plankton in its wake, a beautiful bright green flow of light. We also got many fly fish around us, one of them decided to flight straight for me and landed on my shoulder. Not painful but very surprising to be hit by something in the middle of a conversation during a dark night!
Madness – You and your crew are on your own. About half way through the trip, we took a swim on a quiet day. Strange feeling to bath and dip in those waters, when closest land is over a week of sailing in any direction. The largest fish caught by an ARC boat this year was a 2.45 meters long swordfish. Morgengray, another Norwegian boat, was fishing one day, when they realized they had hooked on an ORCA (yes, like “Free Willy” Orca). They are HUGE!
Another ARC boat was followed by a scary-sized Hammer shark, and most boats had curious whales around them.
ARC is one of the safest way to go across, since 200 boats leave on the same day towards the same island. In theory, you’re never far from the others, also “not far” can be a few days away. Sailing is like mountaineering, when you start your trip there’s no “pause button”, you need to make it to destination safely, and almost always without assistance.
Think about it: cars can break and stop, planes can land, divers can go back to the surface. Sail boats must keep moving, from the moment they cast off until they are moored/secured. Sailing is a truly immersive experience in the long run, constant motion for almost a month is a unique feeling.
In 2009, finishing Paris Marathon felt like a long-term project and effort, weeks of preparation and a tough sustained effort on the day. Sailing redefines long term, you live around sailing instead or running around your routine. Both are extremly rewarding and quite humbling.
Getting back to shore
On the morning of the last day, our 23rd day, we were closing in on Rodney Bay, St Lucia, about to finish a long and great trip. Getting back to shore was very exciting, it’s hard to describe how much exitement and exhaustion affected us. ARC team welcomed us on Deck with a glass on Rhum and a fruit basket! Excitment kept us up on the night prior to arrival, and we celebrated the end of our journey properly, spending very little time napping over 48 hours.
It took us some time to re-adapt. Here are some of the weird things that happen when you reach land after 3+ weeks at sea:
– Urge to eat a burger. “Yes m’am, I’ll take extra bacon!”
– Walking for more than 5 meters is strange, going for a long walk is exhausting
– Cannot help holding on to something when cooking / going to the bathroom
– Feeling slightly off balance for the first days
– Getting ridiculously exciting about good coffee and fresh laundry
– Develop ping a suspicious attitude towards any sailing-related sound (must keep an eye out!)
– Talking to new people is such a novelty
– Opening your emails will be overwhelming.
If you are still reading, I guess you enjoy travelling and exploring. 70% of the world is covered by water: make sure you get to experience life afloat.
It’s an uppercut outside of your comfort zone, feeling amazed and humbled at the same time. We have seen dead-flat water and 14+ meters high waves on the same trip, together we managed to get a 16-meter long toy across one of the largest oceans.
Most of my time and activities are on land, I still look forward to set aside weeks and months in the years to come for sailing trips. This taught me a lot about resilience, dedication, practical thinking and creativity.
One more thing: This trip exceeded my expectations by far. Sailing is exhilarating, sailing with great and passionate people is paradise. Special mention to Jon & Trude, welcoming me on their boat and making us feel like a big family. They will sail Dory through Panama Canal to explore the Pacific Ocean. Follow their adventures on Dory’s blog!