A Perfect Ending

As I tell you about our last full day it is going to sound like the stuff of fairy tales or that I had been too long a sea and was hallucinating this day but this really happened. 

 It was sunny and warm but was also a day of sporty conditions. 22 knot winds and white horses and rollers as far as the eye could see. From the tops of the waves we could see forever in every direction and then would head down into a trough before riding up the back of the next wave. It was fun and invigorating sailing. The sort of day that allows you to forget all of the hard stuff, to feel that all is perfectly  well in the world and wish you could sail every day. 

A few days before the beautiful big blue spinnaker had been torn when an unexpected squall came through in a fit of rage. Somewhere between the wind shift, the increase in wind speed the rounding up and some mad flailing and flogging two tears appeared in the fine material and we have not been able to use it since. 

For the last few days we have been flying a code C sail at an apparent wind angle of 150 degrees.  We know we are asking a round peg to fit into a square hole and we have done everything we can to assist this.  The sail has shown a dissatisfaction with this arrangement and has quietly and repeatedly tried to resist being something it isn’t. We persist with bending it to fit our needs and now have a somewhat happy arrangement.

Trying to get the angles right for the Code C

We are on a beam reach headed directly for Grenada, we are moving along between 9 and 11 knots in 22 knots of breeze. The sun is shining and the ocean is an unimaginable blue.  The flying fish are putting on a real show this afternoon.  Several little groups of them come by always entertaining to watch their flashing silver torpedo bodies, and their antics before an eventual unplanned crash into a wave. This is the sort of day that sailors dream of.   We are all on deck taking this all in. 

As if this isn’t enough in itself, it starts with one dolphin swimming in the wake behind our boat.  Soon there are four or five, this is so thrilling to see as they accelerate to get to the bow.  Only a minute later there are more than 10 and as we look behind the boat again there are dolphins everywhere, absolutely everywhere!   There are 50 or more accelerating through the water making their way to the bow wave and leaping out of the water and under the boat.  We put Optimistic on autopilot and we all make our way to the bow to watch. There are literally hundreds of dolphins that come and swim along with us.  This is the most incredible up close display and interaction with nature that I have ever had.  (Well at least equal to the baby rhino interaction I had years ago in Royal Chitwan in Nepal). Over the next 10-15 minutes these wonderful creatures continue to swim along with us and then past us to their next destination.  I sit right at the bow and lean over.  There is a palpable joy in the air, they have changed the day energetically and we are all charged with the same absolute joy that they have transmitted.  There are so many and we are so close to these dolphins that we can hear them communicating with each other.  There are constant clicks and whistles.   I feel as if I am floating and then they are gone as quickly as they arrived.  We see some final silvery backs in the sunshine and it is all over. We all feel quite lifted by this experience but it is a bit like someone turning the lights off when they go. 

It’s hard to focus on anything else for the next while, I am in awe of this dolphin visit for hours.  I can not think of a better experience to have on our last day.  

Rounding the Last Headland

We round the last point on the island and the finish line comes into sight. This point of an ocean journey is a real mix of emotions for me excitement, relief, disbelief, a tinge of apprehension.  There’s a pull of the land and all of the comforts and ease that there is on land. I experience an equal almost greater and opposite pull of the ocean.  Although not yet on land I already yearn for the simplicity and perfect beauty of crossing an ocean on a sailboat.   

Goodbye to the Ocean

We cross the finish line at 3.55pm and do all the things we need to do to prepare to dock. We drop our sails and turn on the engine. We prepare dock line and fenders put on shoes. As we are heading into the harbour a sailboat is heading out to sea and I almost wish I was going that direction as well.

Heading out to sea.

When we arrive at the dock we are met by a cheer and a crowd of other boats and sailors who have recently arrived come to greet us. I step off the boat feeling slightly dazed and wobbly.  We are handed rum punches that could knock out a donkey.  Someone takes our picture and I can see we all seem slightly lost without our routine of watches and tending to the boat and the sails.

Optimistic Crew

We will spend the next week enjoying the Caribbean sunshine, completing boat projects and exploring Grenada before we scatter in our own directions. I am already thinking about my next ocean voyage. 

Thank you Optimistic!

Domestic Life on Board

We have been sailing under the big kite for hours and there is a relaxed, happy vibe on the boat. Besides keeping the boat moving as fast as possible we have a domestic life on board that is organized through our system of watches.  We are either on watch, cooking, fixing stuff, sleeping or doing the bosun duties for the day. 

We have a bosun each day who is not officially on watches that day but completes a list of boat tasks including: checking for chaffing, checking shroud guards for damage,checking water tanks, fuel tanks, solar panels, condition of sails, water maker, goose neck fitting, blocks at mast base, blocks for gybe preventer, furling drum, jib cars, Jack stays, steering gear, hydrovane, fuel cans, generator, engine, batteries and wiring, VHF and seacocks. 

Getting the pole back up after the repair

 In addition the bosun is responsible for cleaning the bilges, galley, heads, floors, saloon, rotating fruit and vegetables and doing boat laundry.  Bosun also charges the torches, reviews the routing for the day and night and updates the GRIB files.  Every 5 days one of us is bosun.  It’s a busy day with lots of good learning about what it takes to run and maintain a boat at sea. 

Someone each day is designated the cook for lunch and someone else for dinner.  Our watches are organized in 2 hour chunks. We all seem to be hungry all the time.  We spend time together talking about food and what we will cook and look forward to our next meal.

Potatoes from Northern Ireland

When not on watch we are helping with repairs.  There’s downtime for those not on watch or doing bosun duties so we have a boat chess tournament going and there is at least in game of chess a day and yes the board is magnetic.

Serious chess game

The boat is rarely quiet, it creaks and it groans.  There are tremendous forces at play on multiple areas at at given time on a boat.  The noise of 13 tonnes of boat and gear blasting through the water at 9 knots in a swell is hard to describe.

Today we heard news on the VHF of an accident on one of the other boats. The boat made a sudden unplanned maneuver and two of the crew were thrown across the boat. One sustained a concussion and the other has an open ankle fracture.   A vessel of opportunity was 10 hours away and they were going to try to get the injured people off to help get them to the Caribbean faster.  We later heard that it was too rough to make the transfer so the injured person is stuck with an open fracture on a rolling boat in big seas. I can’t imagine how painful that must be for the person and the crew .

Our routines turn hours into days and days into nights.  We sleep in snatches and I find myself happily heading up on deck at 2am after a few hours sleep to sail under the moon while the others sleep. 

Sailing By Numbers

There are so many numbers and calculations involved in what we do each day.   For those interested in this level of detail here is a little snap shot of our sailing by numbers. As I write this we are on a heading of 260 degrees and the wind speed is 24.5 knots with a TWA of  090 degrees. Our speed over ground is 7.2 knots.  Total miles covered from Mindelo is 1006 nm. Total miles to go is 1100. Rhumb line to Grenada is 270 degrees. We are currently only about 10 nm south of our rhumb line. The wind is predicted to drop to 15-18 knots early next week and change in direction in which case we plan to fly the spinnaker for the last few days if the angle is right. 

We use the data to guide us and guide our decisions as well as provide feedback about how our decisions were either the right ones or need some modification based on what the data tells us. At the end of the day the data is less important to me than feel and direct observation and experience. I can feel when the boat speeds up, when it slows down, when the wind shifts or if there is a gust.  I can feel and see if we have the wrong trim or the wrong sail for the angle of the wind. 

Of course the numbers can never capture the wonderful feeling of the force of the wind in well set sails and the sound of the hull happily gliding through the water.

As exciting as the numbers sometimes are they don’t convey things like the exhilaration of sailing the big kite through an ocean swell and the sheer joy in the power of Optimistic as she ploughed through the water heading 270 degrees.

It starts with an Atlantic Sunrise

All of the watches have a different quality and feel to them.  We have collectively decided that 2am-4am is the hardest, fatigue settles in like an uninvited guest and it’s hard to shake off.   A two hour watch feels like 3 hours and time stands still when you are alone at the helm or alone watching a line of squalls size your tiny little 45 foot boat up.

I especially enjoy the sunrise shift from 6am-8am. The day is full of promise as the sun rises, and the full beauty of the  Atlantic reveals itself.  As the sun slowly comes up there is a peaceful quality to the start of the day even when there are big seas and howling wind.  I have a moment of feeling that anything is possible. The boat is quiet and the others are sleeping downstairs, this is magical.  There are mental snapshots, like old Polaroids of moments I will remember from this journey,  this is one of  them. The daylight brings a relief and a feeling of accomplishment at having survived something.  

The promise of a new day

It’s always at night that shit goes  wrong. Yesterday was a lovely day quite relaxed sailing with the spinnaker up following a day of white knuckle helming with the spin in big seas and gusty winds the day before. 

We were all a bit tired from the intensity of the day before and yesterday felt really like a relaxed Sunday.  We had breakfast in the cockpit and then listened to music through the boats speakers. Fleetwood Mac Rumours which kept all music tastes happy.  Most of us spend the day together and in the evening our skipper surprised us with a Sunday roast which was wonderful.  For desert tinned fruit.  This meal has knocked the chilli lime chicken off the podium for first place meal of the crossing. 

As it grows dark in the evening we clean up and get the boat and ourselves ready for the quickly approaching darkness.  We look at our course and the weather and feel that we are too far south of the rhumb line and run the risk of sailing into a windless hole in the next 100 nm.    On this heading we will make landfall in Guyana or Surinam so a course change before nightfall is necessary. We make a decision to jibe before we are in complete darkness and talk through the strategy for this maneuver.  We only have one sheet on the big spinnaker so we will attach a rolling hitch to the sheet and tie this off to a cleat to take the load. We walk the sheet around the front of the bow and down to the port winch.  Slowly we bring the boat dead downwind then release the sheet from the starboard side.  The big kite momentarily flaps wildly and then unfurls like a leaf in spring on the starboard side of the boat. We adjust our heading to 320 degrees and we are now on our way northwest heading straight for Grenada.

Most of us head to bed at 8pm  when the sky is pitch black and there are a few stars overhead.  I am reading in my bunk when I hear the gusts and the bow of the boat start to lift out of the water. The power of a massive spinnaker on a 45 foot boat in 26 knots of wind is force to be reckoned with this evening. Quickly the boat starts to feel out of control as the squall blows  through. 

Within minutes we are all on deck and pull the spinnaker down and set the genoa.  This is a much more stable arrangement for a night of potential squalls. Our small drama seems no interruption to the long conversation between the sea and the sky.   Squalls come and go on this ocean whether we are there in the eye of them or not.

2.5 million light years away

Before dinner when it is dark we turn some blue LED cockpit lights on in order to have some light when we eat.  The blue LED renders everything outside the boat completely black.  It’s really easy to image and soon feel as if we are a spaceship travelling through space, we are cruising thought the Milky Way clearly visible just above us.  The darkness beyond the boat makes it feel as if we are hovering through space and no longer on an ocean. I call down to the galley “turn the blue lights off were trippin’ out up here”. It all starts to feel a bit surreal,  probably trippy, I’m not sure if we are floating through air or water.

There is no moon tonight so the sky is full of more stars than we can collectively identify. We lie on our backs in the cockpit and do some star gazing under sail. We look through binoculars and can clearly see, Mars, Jupiter, the seven sisters, Orion’s Belt, andromeda and the horsehead nebula.   We feel mind blowing small, small beings on a small boat on a vast ocean looking up at an even bigger galaxy 2.5 million light years away.   That gives us all something to think about quietly for the next few hours.

We can see small squally clouds in the distance lining up to come our way and feel the effects of the first one quite soon.  The wind increases in speed by 10 knots and veers 20 degrees in seconds. Rattle, rattle rattle, gusting cold threatening wind for several minutes then it moves on ahead of us.

Squall a comin’

Night has fully enveloped us now and everything feels more immediate. We collectively make a decision to drop the main and sail under headsail only tonight to make handling the squalls that come more manageable.   

Small squally clouds that don’t give us any trouble.

People soon disperse to find some sleep before the night watches. 


Darkness falls without much warning.  We still basking in the awe of an Atlantic sunset quickly find ourselves in a blue grey light and then shortly after that inky blackness if there is no moon. The sea becomes black and shiny like oil on black tarmac. Night is long on the boat.  The sea and the wind can start to feel a bit more threatening.  It’s always at night that things seem to go wrong or break.   Last night is a good example.  Things started as above. We had checked the weather and it was forecast to continue much as it had been during the day.  23-25 knots of wind gusting to 27knots.  We set up our sail plan so that we could maintain our route down the rhumb line.  We were wing on wing with a poled out Genoa and the main pushed out to the other side. 

Wing on wing

I went to bed early so I could get some sleep before my 2am watch. At midnight I heard the sails flailing and the boat heeling over.   We had accidentally jibed and the boat was rounding up with a backed main. All hands on deck and we brought the boat back around and tightened the jibe preventer.  We continued with the wing on wing sail plan with reduced sail. 

When I came on watch I could see a series of mini squalls lining up in the sky ready to move in our direction.  When each of us come on watch we complete a full log, observe the clouds and sea state, wind speed and direction, sail plan and whisper quietly to each other in the darkness about anything of note.  The last watch then disappears downstairs into the red light below to grab some sleep before their next watch. 

My watch was a challenging one requiring sharp focus so as not to have the main accidentally jibe or the Genoa back. Each shift in wind I was turning us either a few degrees to port or starboard in order to keep the sails stable.  10 minutes before the end of my watch the wind veers 20 degrees to starboard and goes from 25 knots to 35 knots. The Genoa backed and I couldn’t get the boat around fast enough.  The sails were banging like a brown bear trying to bang its way out of a garden shed. There was a crack as the pole snapped and was then flailing about in the 35 knot wind banging into spreaders and stanchions.  Thank fully the skipper was on deck really quickly.  He clipped on and went up to the foredeck in the darkness to retrieve the flogging broken pole which is much easier said than done. 

The commotion woke the whole boat and soon all 5 of us are up to reduce sails and wrestle the flailing broken pole. We bring both sails onto the same side so we were on a broad reach on a starboard tack for the remainder of the night.  Wing on wing is a very precarious sail set to try to carry through the unpredictability of Atlantic squalls, there is no room for error.

There is no judgement or blame about being the one on watch when the pole breaks, it could have been any one of us.  The next day is a day long job to figure out how to fix and fix the broken pole so we can continue to have use of a minimally shorter pole for the Genoa. 

It takes a crew to fix a broken pole

Later I think about how quickly the squall blew through and twisted us around 60 degrees before we could even blink.  I have  also thought a lot about the person with an open fracture and the crew trying to keep them comfortable.  We are all keenly aware that things change in an instant on the ocean.  


Sailing across an ocean is not an endeavour for the inpatient traveller. Our speed although a good 10 knots at times will average out to a solid 6 knots an hour.  Crossing a massive ocean under sail is a good way to re-calibrate your sense of time, purpose and perspective. 

We inhabit a world of sound, of wind, waves, water and endless horizons. An ocean crossing holds the potential of one of the most changing of journeys. It’s great to be back on the ocean among the salt and the stars.    And then the other part of this reality. There is nothing easy about even the simplest of day to day tasks on a boat that is sailing downwind through ocean swell.  You always have to hold on to something on the boat or you will be tossed and slammed unceremoniously onto the closest solid object and this will most likely result in an injury.

There is much sound, wind and waves and all the the creaking and groaning of the boat. There are textures of darkness shifting inky Black Sea, dark starry sky.  There is always lots to take in and this never gets old or boring.   During some of the days we are joined by a couple of birds.  Sometimes just one but today there are two circling and flying back past us and past each other in what looks like a well rehearsed ballet.

Bird ballet

I sleep in the bow of the boat. I manage to wedge myself in a narrow part of the V to reduce being rolled around as much as possible. Wedged there right at the bow I am aware of the tremendous volume of water rushing past the bow and the constant sound scape of tons and tons of cubic meters of water that we are pushing through that then rushes along the hull and ripples out. I can also feel the bow dip down as we go down waves and the bow gets buried in water.   I drift off to sleep. Please don’t let us hit anything like a tanker, a partially submerged container or a sleeping whale are my final thoughts before I drift into a watery sleep.


The start of the second leg out of Mindelo saw 100 boats full of sailors restless from too much shore time jostling for the windward spot on the start line. 

I felt I could breathe again being back on the boat with the sails up. The forecast was for 20 knot winds gusting to 25 for the next 5 days which would suit us fine.

One of the competition under full sail

We got a really good start and were sailing on a heading of 270 degrees in 21 knots of wind on a beam reach.  We settled into our watch system and I was on the helm for 2 hours from 3pm- 5pm.  The wind moved forward and softened to 16 knots so we pulled up our Code C to try and get a bit more speed.   

The wind was very finicky as we were still in the Lee of the outlying islands of Cape Verde.   The big code C started flapping and the wind vane was spinning in circles at the top of the mast. The next 30 minutes was a frustrating flap of sails as the wind transitioned.   Once out of the Lee of the last island we faced something different all together.  The sea had built as had the wind.  The sea state was very confused and the waves were coming from every direction. The predicted 25 knot gusts were actually 34 knot gusts and the boat heeled and rounded up often. We were overpowered at moments and she was a careening crazy little horse waaay out of control. All around us we could see other boats struggling in the same way.  We heard one boat radio in to say they were turning back to the marina.  The wind strength and sea was a bit more than any of us bargained on right out of the start. We worked quickly to get the code C down and set a reefed Genoa and reefed the main until it was just a blade.   We continued to be on a broad reach as it grew dark.  One of the crew made dinner and a couple of the crew started to feel sea sick in the confused seas and both took a pale green hue and grew very quiet. I didn’t have the luxury of feeling sea sick or queasy with two crew already feeling a bit ropey. 

My next watch was 8pm -10pm and the wind continued to howl and gust amid confused big seas.  We had all been soaked earlier and waves broke over the boat. So now I took the helm salt cacked and soaking in the darkness. This already felt like a challenge less than 12 hours in. I reminded myself that the first 24 hours is always quite challenging and took some solace in remembering that daylight the next day always feels like a relief.  There was no going back anyway.

We Made it to Grenada.

We did it!  We arrived into Grenada sunburnt and sleep deprived on Friday December 2nd at 3.55 pm.

Our Atlantic crossing was 2200 nm and took 14 days and 6 hours days. Prior to that we travelled from the Canary Islands to Cape Verde and that was 850 nm.  In 20 days of sailing we have covered 3050 nautical miles and crossed 4 time zones while doing so.  

We saw land in the early hours of the morning. Barbados far in the distance and then Grenada.  There is a moment when we hope that all of our instruments and all of our navigation is correct and that we are pointing at the right island.  For a few hours there is a blue reflective tone that inhabits all of us as we wrestle with the bitter sweet reality of hitting land and the imminent onslaught of outside life crashing in on our perfect simple bubble and life of one pointed focus.  

We have some threatening looking storm clouds at our stern reminding us that you are never safe in harbour until you are safe in harbour. 

The island looks very inviting from the water and for the few hours that we are approaching there is a gradual acceptance of this chapter closing. We made it safely, happily and harmoniously with no significant injuries. We were kind to each other and functioned well as a crew. 

The shape of the island and the contours of the hills through the low cloud looks eerily like Mount Elphinstone and Hopkins as the land gently slopes down towards Granthams and Gibsons and out to the Bluff.  My mind plays tricks, in this light with this sort of cloud and a gently falling rain. I almost feel as if we are sailing towards home past Keats and Gambier directly into Hopkins. Something tugs in my heart and my throat suddenly feels tight, I could almost cry but I don’t. I miss my Hopkins Landing home, that perch with a magnificent view of islands and the north shore mountains. I miss some of the comforts of home and my land life and now look forward to going back.  

Grenada or Gibsons?

The next bit happens fast, we cross the finish line and take a group shot. We ready the boat by dropping the sails for the first time in weeks and turn on the engine. I quietly acknowledge and thank the sails, the rig and Optimistic for her calm capable, unflinching role in carrying us across the Atlantic under the power of the wind in her sails alone.  I am always in awe of how well built boats with the right sails set and pointed on a heading will take you where you want to go.

Tonight I am happy to be on land and will enjoy a shower and sleeping on a boat that isn’t being tossed around like a cork but will miss the wildness of the ocean and the incredible night sailing under the moon and stars and the perfect simplicity of life on a sailboat. This has been another incredible and rich voyage,  challenging on some levels and immensely rewarding on others.  I have made peace and even feel a familiarity with the Atlantic Ocean and now am very comfortable with what this ocean crossing entails.

Grenada is absolutely lovely. A picture perfect lush little island with everything we imagine the Caribbean to be. We have a few days here to explore and will do some diving, hiking in rainforests and swimming in pools at the foot of the many waterfalls. This is a fantastic place to make landfall after 3 weeks at sea but this journey was always about the journey not about the destination.

St George’s, Grenada

I wrote a blog post every few days at sea but was unable to post as we did not have a connection for this. Over the next few days I will be putting up the posts and telling the story of crossing the Atlantic on Optimistic.  

Thank you all for your words of encouragement, your support, your curiosities and interest in this journey.  This net of support has been the life raft and for that I am very grateful. 

Passage of Time

November 11th 2022

Time does strange things when you are out on a vast ocean on a boat. It speeds up, it slows down, it bends around objects, it plays with the light and Tuesday becomes Friday.

I know this much, we sailed 24 hours a day.  We sailed as the sun rose and the moon set and we were still sailing as the sun set and the moon rose. 

Atlantic Sunset

We sailed under a full moon and then under the milky way when the nights were less bright. In the darkness we sailed happily along at 7.5 and 8 knots leaving a trail of phosphorescent star dust behind us.  We do solo watches so the night time is quite magical sailing Optimistic through the Milky Way leaving a  trail of glitter behind her. 

Every day there have been hundreds of flying fish flittering by at high speeds and bouncing off waves.  We have yet to see the creature chasing them from below the water but they seem to be fleeing for their tiny silver winged lives. I wonder where the three whales are who cruised by effortlessly the other day. 

We have tried lots of different sail configurations in an attempt to maximize our speed and keep moving up the fleet.  For several days we flew the spinnaker all day and all night.  All of your senses are heightened when sailing at night.  Flying the spinnaker in the darkness in 18 knots of wind and  9 foot swells on your own requires a laser focus and nothing else exists.  At times there are gusts and the boat accelerates, rounds up and heels over the big kite threatens to become a scoop full of water and pull us over unless we ease the sheets in time. It’s intense, fun and alive, an adrenaline, seratonin cocktail shaken not stirred.

Snap shackle pop

November 10th 2022

Things break and things have broken as they do on boats and we have made necessary repairs. The skipper is infinitely practical and can fix anything. He is very generous with sharing knowledge and taking the time to teach how things work and how they are repaired so I am learning as much as possible.  Yesterday the rudder on the hydrovane broke and today a fibreglass repair to fix it.  

Broken Hydrovane
Repair underway

We have not yet got into really big swells but the sea is big enough that we are all covered in boat cuts and bruises. 

5 days in and we are well on our way to becoming an efficient crew. We are all settling into the routines and the life of the boat.  Sometimes even in this small space we pass each other like ships in the night going on watch or snatching some sleep before the next watch. We eat lunch and an evening meal together and talk about what we have learnt, how the day went and what the sail plan will be for the night.

When things go wrong our skipper breaks down a potentially difficult task or maneuver into calm logical well thought out steps.  The tone is set and as a crew we have handled some challenging situations really well together.  One night the snap shackle that holds the base of the spinaker and drum to the bow of the boat broke loose.  We were about to have dinner and it was growing dark when we heard a loud bang as the shackle popped and the big kite and drum started flailing in 18 knots of wind. There was enough  of a swell that things went flying and Peri Peri chicken was tossed all over the galley floor.  Two people went up on deck to try to wrestle the big kite and drum to reconnect to the bow. This was a dangerous situation in the growing darkness as the risk of being hit by the flailing furling drum was significant.  Two of us in the cockpit tightening and loosening sheets  as required and one on helm.   Eventually the kite is wrestled down and re-attached where it should be.  We decide to continue flying it through the night. Once everything is tidied and Optimistic is sailing happily again we settle into the cockpit and eat the remaining peri peri chicken in the darkness.  We talk about what just happened and how we dealt with it.  A difficult and dangerous situation was handled really well by all of us and I am feeling at ease and confident in our ability to collectively handle what comes our way.

Two Days In

November 8th 2022

We have been sailing at a steady 8 knots in wind that varies between 14-18 knots.  The last couple of nights we have sailed wing on wing with a poled out head sail and the main boom pushed out on the opposite side.  The boom is secured with a preventer and the pole is secured down at the deck and with a topping lift that keeps it very stable. 

During the day we have hoisted the spinaker and have pulled out a small amount of the jib on the opposite side to stabilize everything.  We are sailing on a course of 230 degrees which is practically right down the rhum line. Our exact position as I write this is 20 degrees 18’90 N  22 degrees 16’74W

We all had lunch together on the deck and are blessed with 3 whales who swam beside the boat and came up to the surface very close to us.  The first whale swam under the bow bumping the boat as she went under.  Long graceful backs breaking the surface before a slow arc down. 

We have steadily made our way up the pack and now seem to be in 16th position overall and 4th in our division.  At this speed our ETA in Cape Verde is early Friday morning.

Beautiful sailing off the West Coast of Africa

The First 48 Hours

We motored out of the marina at Las Palmas and 11am and got our sails up shortly after that.  We wanted to give ourselves a a few hours before the 1pm start to  practice so maneuvers and to settle in as a crew.  It was the first time we had all sailed together.   

It was really exciting to be heading out and it was an incredible sight all of the boats having completed their final  preparations and milling around the start line.   The wind was blowing 14 knots and the sun was shining on the houses on the hillsides of Las Palmas.

There was the usual start sequence then the start was announced by a cannon fired from  Spanish Navy boat that doubled as the committee vessel.    The next few hours passed quickly and the once compact fleet had already started to spread out.  The multihulls that started 15 minutes ahead of the monohull classes were now 8nm ahead of us.  We were doing a steady 6 knots in 13 knots of wind.   By the time the sunset we could only see a handful of boats.  The sky was clear and visibility was good as the moon came up and darkness fell for on our first night at sea.

The start line and Spanish Navy Committee boat

My first watch in darkness was at 7pm until 9pm, the rest of the crew were all still up so it was not a solitary shift but felt good to have the company as I adjusted to the helming in darkness on an unfamiliar boat.   I tried to get some sleep before I was up again at 2.45am for my 3am-5am watch. It is only 2 days away from full moon so there was plenty of brightness throughout the night.

I would say that the first 24 hours was very kind to all of us.  The first 24-36 hours can be very challenging as there are so many adjustments that we all need to make in so many areas including: adjusting to each other, adjusting to a new boat, to sailing at night, to sleeping and moving around on a boat that is constantly rocking, dealing with seasickness and homesickness, adjusting to being cut off from communication and any loneliness that may bring, adjusting to working optimally and safely with 4 new personalities. All of this while sailing a boat across the ocean and all of the considerations and tasks involved in that.  Despite all of the adjustments this feels more like a homecoming than something foreign to me. Everything else that was concerning starts to slip away and the ocean becomes a deeper and deeper blue.

 Last night at 4am as I was on watch and was joined by a few dolphins who lept alongside the boat then sped off into the darkness. I took this as a good sign for a safe and happy journey. 

Sunset first night

Leaving Las Palmas

Tomorrow we leave Las Palmas for the first leg of our journey.  867 nautical mile trip to San Vincente.

Today we had a really busy day of last minute preparations including a briefing for the first leg. The Weather for leg 1 – Las Palmas to  Mindelo looks quite favourable.

Leaving Las Palmas there will be a ridge of high pressure to the NW blowing 15-20 knots which will be a great start.  We start at 1pm so will have just 5 hours before we are sailing in darkness.

A North westerly swell of 1.75-2.5 metres is predicted so it will be reasonably sporty right out of the gate.

The bad news we found out yesterday that the satellite is not working and so we will have no ability to communicate or get weather while at sea. 

First updates I send will be when we reach Cape Verde around November 12th.  

In the meantime if you want to track our progress you can do it here.  


Vessel name is Optimistic.  More from Cape Verde.

130 Nautical Miles to go

December 12th 2019

We have been quiet for hours.  At times it’s like this, we are each in our own worlds taking all of this in. I get lost in the beauty and the simplicity, the moments passing quietly into hours. Nothing is simpler or more perfect than this.  At other times we talk endlessly no holds barred, we have bared our souls and killed ourselves laughing over and over again all the while guiding this beautiful little boat slowly and steadily across the Atlantic.  I am savoring every minute, trying to imprint each wave in a place in my brain that I can recall easily.  I will try to remember the quality of the light as it bounces off the swell, the smell of the air, the salt, the colour of the sky and the sound of the hull gracefully moving forward.  I know I will miss all of this when on land.

The end is, figuratively although not yet literally in sight and our current estimate given our speed and the wind and sea conditions is that we will arrive in St Lucia in about 20 hours, approximately 5 am St Lucia time. Tonight is also full moon and my watch partner and I will sail through the evening. The whole trip we have sailed under the moon as it gets progressively bigger and bigger.

It feels so fitting that our last night at sea is under the full moon.

We have been getting reports of the other boats and heard today that one boat we met in Las Palmas has a broken rudder and they are still 500 nm away from St Lucia. It will be a long limp in for them as they try to jury rig a rudder and feel how that steers the boat in these big swells. They may not be enjoying the luxury of deep joy and appreciation at this moment.

The big swells have continued and I am savoring every one of these roly poly giants. It would be unimaginable to experience anything like this during Coastal sailing.  I have grown to feel very at home with these rollers and this constant motion. We are not breaking any records but we are making an easy 7.5 knots in 18 knots of wind and reaching up to 9 knots as we surf down the backs of 5 metre swells. Playing Around has been an absolute star.  She has got us safely so far across this ocean. She is the quiet heroine of this story.

The crew are tired and bruised from being constantly tossed about and being bashed into things. The others are sleeping down below and I am grateful to have this time to soak this all in.

For the whole voyage at night we have operated with no cabin lights on and wear red head lamps to preserve our night vision. It will feel very novel to have lights on after dark. I can do almost anything now without any light and have become accustomed to feeling my way through most things. I know the exact number of steps to get to the head; I can light the stove in the dark and find which clothes I need by the feel of their texture and find my toothbrush and toothpaste in a 60 litre bag. The moon is shedding her light on us so it is all clear, the traveler, the lines around the winches, the sails look magnificent, the helm, the cockpit that we have spent almost three weeks in all bathed in moonlight.

The impending arrival in St Lucia and end of this amazing journey is hard to take in. I am trying to capture the scene and the feelings of being out here on this big ocean so I can conjure it up at another time but I am afraid I may not, nor will my photographs do it justice. I shall have to return but likely to another ocean and I am sure that once on land I will feel the pull back. I look forward to getting back onto my own sailboat and integrating this learning and ease on the water.

We will be on deck most of the night and I wonder if we will first smell the land before we see it. I have heard that you small land long before you see it so I have my nose to the air this evening.  However, given that the wind is almost directly behind us, hitting our hull at 165 degrees I know it is unlikely that we will smell st Lucia before we see her.

The moon is huge, it is earth shatteringly beautiful, this all feels somehow so unreal, its almost too much…..take this in….I wish you were here.

Tension and Breakage

December 11th

An argument breaks out between two of the crew members and one flies off the handle and looses it on another.  The tension is thick, heavy and threatening in this confined space.  It hangs as if not knowing which way to go.  I go on the deck and feel annoyed that people get caught up in petty ness.  I want to yell, how can you get caught up in something so small when there is so much majesty all around us,  there is magic happening out here people. I keep quiet but want to tell the aggressor that he is so far out of line for tearing a strip off a crew mate.   It is 24 hours before this tension disappears.

It’s hard to imagine from the space of land what the dynamic or day to day life is like on a small boat making its way across an ocean.  At times things feel very harmonious and we are all in sync and at others the mood of one or a tension between two can affect the whole balance of the boat. 

A day thick with tension.

Playing Around remains steadfast and unflinching as she sails, beautifully, determinedly to our destination.  There’s lots to learn from boats.

Shortly after this the auto helm packs in.  In the aftermath of the tension there is little desire to work together to problem solve.  I decide I am going to fix it if nobody else is.  I know nothing about the electronic part or the mechanism of an auto helm but I have just put myself on a crash course.  I find a small trap door at the back of our bunk and stick my head in there and can clearly see the auto helm mechanism nothing obvious there and it was the display that went out so I start looking for the electronic parts.

Annie helps me pull 12 bags of garbage out of the lazarett along with a ladder, a hose, an emergency helm a few buckets and other miscellaneous bits and bobs.  The cockpit is piled high with all of this stuff and the lazarette stinks of garbage.  I climb in and wiggle my way forward to where I can see the electrical panel for the auto helm is.  5 black wires go into the box and they look intact.  I take a photo.  I then follow the wires to the auto helm display right beside the helm,  all look good.  I climb out of the stinky lazarette with my second last clean t shirt smelling like garbage.  I go to the electrical panel and check the fuse.  “It’s not the fuse”, I’m told, well I’m checking it anyway.  There is so much tension and apathy on the boat but Annie and I are determined and I am sure we can fix this thing.

Fixing stuff is part of our daily work.

Everything in my life is training for something I will need later, I tell myself.

We continue our watch and try to logically walk though everything again.  I don’t let the fact that we are so far out of our depth deter me.   We have three hours left on watch so we talk it all through again.  The auto helm had been on earlier in the day and there were rolly seas and it was struggling to hold a course down waves.  I remember hearing a different noise like it was straining.  We look at the pulleys again and all looks intact.    We can hand helm for the rest of the trip but is definitely a lot more fatiguing on the crew.  We put all of the garbage, ladder, bucket, hose etc back in the lazarett.

We sail in the afternoon sunshine quietly trying to think it through.  After about 20 minutes I look at the display on the helm and see that it has flashed on again. We are back in business.  Squall riders fix the auto helm!   

Later as we discuss this as a crew what is put forth as the most logical explanation is that there was possibly a thermo cut out after a few hours of straining and then it came back on again once it had cooled down.

Despite the challenges of this day I lean back on the guard rails watching the sunset and tune in to that beautiful motion of the bow cutting through the water and think,  every day at sea is a good day.  I have loved this day like all of the others.

Every day at sea is a good day


Mahi Mahi

December 10th

The big swells have continued and now all of our days and nights have blurred together.  Day has turned into night as we have crossed three time zones but stayed on boat time. We have been sailing at an easy 8 knots and often 10 knots as we surf down waves.

My watch partner and I set out a fishing line at 6 am and I feel mixed about catching a fish but we have been out of fresh food for days and I don’t really think that we will catch anything. We are a few days away from the finish and I understand from land that we are steadily making our way up the pack.  We have made good steady progress and overtaken other boats that we have not seen even.  All this despite the fact that we have sailed conservatively at times especially during the night in heavy weather.

Around 2pm we notice a flash of green on the line and we have a fish on the end of the hook.  My heart sinks a bit. There is a lot of excitement on the boat and everyone comes onto the deck to see the fish being reeled in.  It is a 25 LB mahi mahi or dorado as they are often called. A strange looking fish,  a creature from the deep or outer space even. It thrashes on the line and I can see that it’s jaw has been badly torn.  I knew it was a brutal lure when I saw it clipped on to the line.  I don’t want to watch the ending for this poor creature who was earlier swimming with such freedom.  I feel slightly ill at the scene, my private agony about being involved in a killing. We are meat starved barbarians, taking the life of this strange looking creature.  I turn away, I turn back, I turn away, I turn back, now I am the photographer, I am a bystander and therefore complicit.

Mahi Mahi

Once the fish is on deck my watch partner pulls out a diving knife and within minutes she has filleted the fish. She has definitely done this before I am thinking.

Strange looking aquatic creature.

Annie fillets the fish

We eat sushi for lunch and then later fish and chips for dinner.

Sushi lunch with ginger and wasabi.

The fish was exquisite, I try not to think about what we have done. I thank the fish for feeding us and the others follow suit.  “ Thank you fish” five times which helps to soften the blow or the guilt I’m not sure which. The catch  was a real highlight for the crew but I end up feeling a bit sad about it for the rest of the day. As my duty this day is cockpit, I use bucket after bucket of salt water to clean the cockpit of fish blood, guts and scales and say one final “thank you fish.”

With the trauma of the mahi mahi episode behind us the evening brings another  beautiful night of sailing under the stars, moon and big rolly swells.  There are some squally cumulus clouds off to the north but they don’t give us any trouble. 

 As with most nights the phosphorescence is incredible leaving trails of sparkly light off either side of the bow.  It leaves the stern with a huge final blast of glittering light in our wake as we slip through the water. What a perfect was to spend a night.

Blue Mind

December 9th

I am completely in my element and completely in awe of the perfection I find myself in.

In my element

I came out to race across the Atlantic feeling strongly pulled towards this challenge… but having never done it before I didn’t know for certain how this experience would be. I feel so relaxed and at peace out here on this blue planet.

Our daily routines remain the same and yet every day feels completely different.  Our days and nights are taken up with our watch duties, plotting, studying weather and discussing our sail plan for the day, carrying out sail changes and manoeuvres, navigation,  cooking, cleaning and finding snatches of sleep when we can.   At moments our schedule could feel punishing and that one is constantly sleep deprived as the days and nights blur completely into one another through the rhythm of our watches.  Even though punishing at moments, I feel very alive and at home in the rhythm of these days.

Being on a boat at sea I am more aware than ever that this is a pathway to more disciplines than I could ever master.  Astronomy, oceanography, aerodynamics, physics, hydrodynamics, meteorology, weather, diesel mechanics, sail repair and common sense problem solving are all part of sailing along with a good deal of grit to put up with the discomfort and pushing through the fatigue.

This is the beginning of a love story… a falling for ocean sailing.  I can’t quite remember the exact moment that I fell in love with the sea and boats. There may not have been just one moment but it was more like falling over and over again at different times and in different places.

My dad was in the navy and at 10 years old I was ready to sign up for the navy too.  I could picture myself on deck saluting to the Captain or Admiral of the Fleet.  Somehow I was gently discouraged and the vision of myself in a navy uniform slipped from focus.  I got into horses or something  and this captured my attention for a while.

Despite the diversion of horses, I have been around boats and drawn to water all of my life, however this feels different, more intense.  Perhaps I am more aware now that life is short and time is finite.  We should probably all be doing the things that make us feel fully alive.  This journey has solidified what I hope will be a life long love of journeying on the ocean.  Sailing the ocean….it’s all about the wind and the sails for me.

Playing Around surfing down waves.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the perfect boat to do this and my idea of the perfect boat has been evolving.  I used to think classic blue water boat, full keel, heavy displacement, safe and steady, lots of beautiful wood and now that all feels potentially like a wallowing pig.  I’m thinking something faster. Something lighter, something more striped down to only what is essential.  Something that blows past the competition when they are doing 9 knots! In the last year I have  had the immense pleasure of sailing a Pogo 30.  The Pogo is blue water capable, planes at 11 knots and is at the other end of the spectrum from my original thinking.  After an around Keats Island race on the Pogo I couldn’t stop thinking about the way the transom moves through the water and then separates from the surface and starts to plane.  Everything goes quiet and the boat feels perfectly balanced, it’s an incredible feeling.  I made a video that day of the wake we left behind us and it looks like we were in a power boat.

We are all on deck talking about boats and I ask my crew mates if they think I have an unhealthy obsession with the Pogo and they all agree that I probably do.  We laugh as they can each totally relate as everyone has a story about a boat that they have lots their hearts and minds to.

Another day begins its fade into night and we watch the sun set, a big orange ball dipping below the waves and then into the sea.  The moon rises slowly into the darkening sky as we continue our journey west.

It’s a beautiful blue planet out  here my friends.

Beautiful blue planet

Flying Fish

We often see flying fish during the day and one night at the helm I had to duck as one whizzed right past my head like a little quidditch from Harry Potter.

In the morning we regularly find dead flying fish on the deck. They have huge eyes on either side of their heads and long translucent wings.  Twin tail blades at the back assist them in flying up to 100 yards at a time.  Such strange creatures to see just flitting above the water.   Not being used to seeing fish fly, at first, each time I see one I think it is a small silver bird and then I realize it’s a fish.  

The flight does not look especially graceful or planned,  it looks  more random and more like an act of absolute will. They seem to fly haphazardly and bounce off waves, fly a bit more before one final crash into the ocean and then they disappear into their aquatic world, which I can’t help but think they are better suited to. It makes me smile every time I see one.  You little nutters, I think. 

One morning as it grows light during our watch we find a small flying fish on deck.  It’s body already stiff and I’m struck by how huge the eyes are relative to the svelt flying form. My watch partner poses with the fish on deck then we return it to the ocean.

Annie and Flying Fish that was found dead on deck.

Later in the morning we find a large solitary eye, like a flat marble, at the foot of the mast.  No fish,  it has likely carried on in the world with a view only of things to starboard or port depending on which eye is left.

What big eyes you have little fish.

40 ft of Endless Freedom

Dec 8th

In the morning there  is a quietness on the boat as if we have all survived something fierce. We wake to a beautiful sunrise and a nice steady 23 knot breeze from the east. 

Sunrise over the Atlantic

We sail along effortlessly at 8 knots with just a reefed main.  We resist putting more sail up in an attempt to give ourselves a bit of a breather and we decide we would likely only gain about 1.5 knots more of speed. Everyone is quite tired after a few days of being battered by Atlantic squall after squall and days of large swells. We are all a bit bruised after being thrown about the cockpit in the darkness.  Everything  has been a massive effort as the boat is constantly lurching side to side in the swells and this downwind sail.  Sleep was next to impossible.  All this has pushed the crew a bit and people are slightly on edge.

The day passes peacefully and fades into evening bringing a red sky and then  night is upon us again. The daytime watches are a joy and I am happy to be on deck in the sunshine.

Red sky at night, sailors delight.

Tonight my watch mate and I are on watch 10pm – 2am.  At times this is a challenging one as fatigue tries to settle in.  We take turns at the helm an hour on and hour off.  When the conditions stabilize and we are too fatigued to focus we turn on the auto helm and we do exercises on the deck at 1am in the darkness to try to keep ourselves awake through the remainder of our watch.  Again, we quietly kill ourselves laughing as we attempt planks, push ups and sit ups in the swell and slide back and forth across the cockpit like fish brought in from a net.

The watch ends about 2.20am when the two other crew arrive on deck.  They are 20 minutes late and I try not to be irritated. For the remainder of the night I was again tossed around my bunk relentlessly between the hull and the lee cloth.  My bunk mate is now in the pilot berth which is suspended from the inside of the hull.  It takes a small feat of amateur acrobatics to get in but once in, one is wedged so tight that you can not be tossed around.  Meanwhile on the bunk below,  I have learnt to brace myself with my legs and stick my hands down the side of cushions to wedge myself in.  I even try sleeping across the berth but after about the 7th time of getting my head bashed and neck compressed I realize that was a daft idea.

The bunk with pilot berth suspended on the right.

As I lie awake listening to the sound of the water rush past the hull and my crew mates whisper to each other in the darkness, I realize that we now only have 1000 nm to go.  The other parts of my life start to come into soft focus around the periphery of the bubble we have been in over the last two weeks.  It feels too soon to think about the land.

Since being at sea we are surrounded by horizon everywhere you look and so it feels that we are constantly travelling across a blue disc of ocean.  I imagine what we might look like from a birds eye, specks of white sails in a vastness of blue, so small and yet we could travel the whole blue planet on this boat…40 foot of endless freedom.

Squall Riders

December 7th

We have had 3 days of squall after squall that came to a wild head last night.
  We have been completely soaked as this wild front passes through.  I have a few dry things left and I notice this morning that the skin on every finger tip has started to peel off.

The weather is the most potent force on this trip. On land I hardly notice a low pressure system coming but here at sea we are able to see the squalls coming across the sky, we track them very carefully paying attention to how fast and what direction they are moving in.  We baten down the hatches and reef the sails and wait a short time for them reach us. 

I can now see that there is a predictable pattern. The wind direction shifts,  the temperature drops, the sea state changes and the swells get much bigger, the wind speed goes from 20-40knots in minutes followed by torrential rain.  We are enveloped in the eye of the squall.  The air feels electric and I’m sure my knuckles are white as I grip the helm.  This all passes in about 20 minutes after which the wind speed dies down, sea state settles down wind direction shifts back to E and we all breathe a sigh of relief.  We continue like drowned rats for the next four hours enduring and preparing ourselves for the next battering.  We are absolutely getting our asses kicked and I am loving it.

Last night was the pinnacle of this front when me and my watch partner were on 10pm- 2am watch.  We lost count of how many times we had been hit and then we saw the monster of all squalls approaching.  The moonlit night sky suddenly went pitch black as the moon became occluded and then we watched the wind speed indicator climb up to 38 knots and the swell rise to 6-8 metres.  We were roaring down from the crest of waves and disappearing into the deep troughs then surfing up the next wave only to be tossed violently down the other side.  The boat, in the pitch black careening out of control and reaching speeds that no sailboat should really go.  I found it so disorienting in the darkness being spun around sometimes feeling that we had gone in a circle. At the end of our watch we are soaked, flooded with adrenaline and exhilarated having survived 4 full on hours.  My watch mate and I are killing ourselves laughing uncontrollably on the deck in the darkness, maybe this is nervousness or a side effect of adrenaline whatever it is we both find this challenge immense fun.  We call  ourselves Squall Riders while the others sleep downstairs oblivious to what we have just been through.

After the watch downstairs we get tossed around the boat slamming into things in massive body bruising blows as we get out of our wet kit.

Doing everything on a boat in this sea state is a challenge and a balancing act.  You have to hold on to something all the time.    In a second of not holding on while brushing my teeth, I am sent flying across the cabin and slam into a shelf beside the nav station.  Somehow even this is amusing and we laugh in the red glow of our headlamps.  This bruise joins the others that no sailors seem to be immune to.

I climb into my bunk and find it hard to come down from all laughing and all the adrenaline. There is very little sleep in the following hours as we continue to be tossed from side to side in our bunks.  It’s ridiculous really trying to sleep in conditions like this so I am up and on deck early ready for my next watch.

The Half Way Mark

Dec 4th 

Today at 1am we passed the half way mark.  The swells have been huge and the wind has been a constant 20 knots.  I’ve tried to capture the swells on video but don’t think that it will do it justice. I clipped on and  sat on the swim platform as giant waves rolled towards me and we sped down the other side reaching speeds of 9.5 knots.   We have run out of fresh vegetables and the crew are a bit tired but all is going well and tonight we will toast our success with celebratory glass of champagne.

We are now only 1500 nm from St Lucia!  As is customary when reaching the mid point across the Atlantic we drink a celebratory glass of champagne on deck as the sun is setting.   The bubbles and feelings of accomplishment are intoxicating and we all enjoy the buzz after living on a dry boat.  I make a short video of us toasting life through gleaming mugs of champagne and ask my crew mates to say one word about how there are feeling right now.  Happy, relieved, amazing, accomplished and mellow are  the words that we have each used to describe how we feel at this point.

1500 nautical miles under our belts

As if right on cue and as if they knew a celebration was happening on this small vessel, a pod of dolphins joins us as we are sipping champagne.  At first we see one or two surfing in the waves created by our bow and then as we look at the sea behind us and beside us we see there are at least 50 dolphins, swimming along side us and frolicking in the waves.

Dolphins Celebrate with us

It really doesn’t get much better than this.  As the sun dips below the horizon and the sky slowly darkens we clear away the champagne  glasses and prepare for the first watch of the night.


December 4th

We are consistently sailing on a heading between 245 and 290 degrees.  Rhum line to St Lucia is 245 but the wind does not always allow us to point in that direction.  The wind is blowing from NE to SE.  We pick our sail configuration based on the wind direction wind angles and wind speed.  We are constantly looking at the instruments and making calculations in our heads in order to have a safe point of sail and maximize the wind we have at any given time. We jibe, we make sail changes all manoeuvres taking on a degree or risk in these swells that is not as present in coastal sailing.   We have a huge distance racing sail called a Jib Top and when when the winds are right and we fly that sail we at add least 1.5 knots to our speed.  The Jib Top is a reaching sail and so we are often pushing it to use this sail and requires a lot of concentration on the helm. 

Running with a poled out job top.

We are now at 20 degrees of latitude so are firmly established in the trade winds.  The trade winds or easterlies are the permanent east-to-west prevailing winds that flow in the earth’s equatorial region.  Ships have taken advantage of these winds for hundreds of years.

The trade winds act as the steering for tropical storms that form over the Atlantic, Pacific and southern Indian Ocean and make landfall in North America, Southeast Asia and eastern Africa. Trade winds also transport African dust westward across the Atlantic Ocean into Caribbean Sea.  In this weather pattern portions of cumulus clouds cover the sky on a daily basis.

Reach with the Jib Top as the sun sets.

In addition to paying attention to what is going on above the water, I become aware that there is a lot going on under the water. I start to notice all of the underwater mountains on the chart as we are about to cross the longest mountain range in the world.  It is located along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean and called the Mid Atlantic Ridge.

It creates it own weather conditions down there as under water storms rage through the mountainous terrain below us.  Meanwhile above, there are often rainbows after the storms.

Rainbow after the storm

At the Helm

December 3rd

I love helming and the focus that it requires.  I am often at the helm when we are doing sail changes or manoeuvres.  We try to minimize these as they are often risky and involve someone going on the the foredeck.  We are clipped on all the time.  We clip on before even stepping out of the companion way.  We are all too aware of the story of the young woman who was on the Clipper Around the World race who stepped into the cockpit out of the companion way before clipping on at the very moment that a wave broke across the cock pit.  She was swept off the boat and was not found.  Not clipping on cost her life and so we are all aware of this constant risk.

In the First 40.7 the helm is a massive 60 inch wheel behind a traveller that cuts the 9 foot cockpit in half.  When on the helm you are in your own domain, separated from the rest of the crew in the pit who can adjust sails and grind without interfering with the helms person.

While on watch today the wind picked up steadily and blew consistently 25 knots. The swells increased to 6 metres with 8 second intervals.  We were absolutely flying pushed forward by the great wind and then aided by the swells which we surged down the backs of before disappearing into a trough and climbing up the back of the next wave.  Oh my god, this is absolutely amazing sailing I thought.  I can never get enough of this! It is a real thrill to be at the helm in these conditions. 

The sea is boiling like a live creature all around us and Playing Around seems to be in her element.  There is a predictability to the way she rocks and rolls that makes me feel like I know her and trust her.  She is no longer just an anonymous boat.  She bucks if the waves come close together and the stern is slightly lifted and twists down into the trough in front.  I can now feel the waves coming behind me and know what way we will be twisted down the wave and what corrections I need to make on the helm to hold our course. 

Corrections at the helm are best made at the crest of the wave when you feel what the wave will do.  This is not a cognitive exercise, it is something that is felt in the body by tuning in.  I don’t necessarily want to talk when I am on the helm all of my focus is on holding our course and staying attuned to what Playing Around will do with each wave. The helm is light if I make corrections at the right time,  we don’t swing around as much or loose as much speed.  It’s a game I play with myself, the boat and the waves for hours on end.  Several hours of helming in these conditions is exhausting because of all the pointed concentration that is required.  It is a moving meditation, second by second paying attention.  It grows dark and I am still at the helm, still absorbed in my task. 


At the helm at dusk

After my watch I have a brief but deep sleep and my dreams are dominated by waves and the wheel.  

Seven Days at Sea

December 2nd

I’m not sure how this happened but we have now been at sea for 7 days. We are headed west and moving along nicely at 7 knots in 16 knots of breeze. The crew seem to be settling down into a rhythm and we all seem to adjusting to our life on board.

The days and nights blur into each other and we are constantly busy.  At moments it feels like we have been on this boat forever and nothing else exists. If not on watch there is always plenty of work to be done. We have a list of daily jobs that we rotate through.  Cleaning the head, galley, saloon, cockpit, deck and then checking for chafe on the sails and sheets.  Keeping on top of this stuff on a daily basis is essential with 5 people sharing a very confined space.  We have no refrigerator on board so when we provisioned we bought some frozen vacuume packed meat and nice cheeses and had them on a block of ice but they are all off now and I am going to clean out the ice box and feed the sharks.


Sailing into the sunset

I love the evening sail, it is quite magical. As we are headed west every evening we sail into the sunset and then sail under the night sky studded with stars.   I find Polaris off of the starboard bow and track the movements of Ursa Major and Minor through the sky as we make our way through the darkness.  The moon is a sliver right now but is going to be getting bigger every night, right now the nights are pitch black.

Night time sailing hurtling down waves at 8-9 knots in the darkness is pure exhilaration.  When I come off watch at 2am,  I feel so high I can hardly sleep. 

Up at 6am for the next watch and we get to watch the sun rise behind us and be part of the early morning unfolding over the Atlantic.  I don’t feel separate from any of this.  I feel very much a part of this minute by minute unfolding. 

Dawn breaking over the Atlantic

There has been nothing in sight for days.  We are completely surrounded by horizon in every direction and we are out here alone on this big ocean.  I relish this feeling. We exist in a 360 degree horizon of perfect blue.  The ocean at this point is an indescribable blue,  I have never seen this colour before in any ocean anywhere.  It has a purity about it that makes it feel untouched and unspoilt.  I look at the chart and at this point we are sitting on top of 5000 metres of depth.  I wonder about the vast amounts of life going on below us…we are clearly not alone, it is just not visible. 

I enjoy this life stripped bare where there are simple routines and the constant connection to the elements, the sun, the moon and the stars.  I do not find the lack of convenience or creature comfort any hardship. Often there is  nothing else but the sounds of water as the bow cuts through waves and water rushes past the hull….this feels like enough.




December 1st

On the deck this morning looking out to sea, I contemplate that 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by ocean and yet we have only explored about 5% of it. It’s easy, out here, in this vastness to see how that is possible.  I think about trying to describe our water situation to you and the famous lines from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner come into my head…”Water, water everywhere nor any a drop to drink.”  

Since the beginning of the trip we have been aware that we have to preserve water. Playing Around has two 150 litre tanks and we have 50 x 2 litres bottles on board.  Unlike lots of boats we do not have a water maker on board or any other luxuries for that matter but more about that later. There is no water to waste and there is definitely no water for washing or cleaning,  that is all done in salt water.  We are rationed to 2 litres a day for personal use.  It’s getting hot so I drink all of this and keep a splash for brushing my teeth. We wash and rinse our dishes in salt water.

We wash ourselves with sea water by sitting on the back platform, clipping on to the transome and pouring sea water over ourselves with a collapsible bucket.  The water is relatively cool and the first bucket makes me feel more alive than ever. The transom is not wide and occasionally a wave rushes over the back.  I ask my watch partner to keep an eye out for any fins that appear off the back of the boat.  I have a momentary panic when my mind flashes to a Jaws like vision of an open mouth full of razor sharp teeth finding me as an easy catch of the day.  The Jaws soundtrack is now in my head as I quickly wash. This is one of the reasons that we would not swim off the back… there are sharks out here!

Close to half way we do an inventory of the remaining water on board and the amount left tells us we still have to conserve and the daily ration will continue. There will be no fresh water showers on this trip.  I think about the crews on the big cats, having daily fresh water showers and perhaps even washing their clothes in an on board washing machine and I tell myself, that is not really sailing.  I quite enjoy sitting on the transom to splash down as we fly along at 8 knots.

By now everything is slightly salt encrusted and it is hard to get rid of the sticky feeling that salt leaves.  My hair is a thick mat woven together by salt crystals, a hairbrush would be futile.  I realize that I may have dreadlocks by the time we get to St Lucia and imagine I will be in good company there

We talk about what we each want to do when we first arrive back on land and the top of everyone’s list is a fresh shower.

Becoming A Crew


November 27th

Skipper and Crew, Playing Around

One of the things that appealed to me about joining the crew of Playing Around is that we are not fixed with one role on the boat for the whole journey. There is only ever one captain and all direction trickles down from there.  At different times, I am playing all of these roles: helm, trim, navigator, strategist, fore deck, communications, interpreter of weather updates, watch leader, cook and cleaner.  

As much as Playing Around is equipped with lots of electronics,  I am old school and plot our position at noon each day on the paper chart. The scale of this journey is so huge that our daily plots after 140-200 nm barely seem to put a dent in the map.




My watch partner and I are starting to gel as a duo. We recognize each other’s strengths, we discuss strategy, sail configuration, we talk through our roles before making manoeuvres, it is crystal clear what we will each do when. She is a very competent and hard working sailor.  We know each other’s strengths and respect and support each other through our watches.   I have her back and I know she has mine.

There are some personality tensions brewing in the other watch duo that spills out and threatens to impact our whole crew.  It leaves the boat feeling a bit unbalanced and I can see that this is frustrating to the skipper who tries to address this in various ways.

I am keeping my focus on the wind and the waves and am grateful for the fact that on our watches we function so well.  We are becoming a fearless duo with flawless teamwork and we make a point of having fun in all conditions.

On another note we have hung a sail bag over the head door so the indignity is over.  We will get to know each other well enough on this trip and this sail bag door now feels like one of life’s luxuries. 


The First 24 Hours

The First 24 hours

November 25

We headed out of the harbour for our 12.15pm race start.  189 boats in total, with 20 boats in the racing class and 169 in the cruising class.  We are in the racing class and we know who our completion are.   There are 4 Beneteau 40.7’s in the race and we have met each of the crews.  We are a few of the smallest boats in the fleet.

As we jostle for the start line with the other 19 boats in the racing division, the winds were blowing at 25 knots and we decided to pull the spinnaker up to get a fast downwind start.  This was an ambitious way to start and was out first mistake.    A Spanish army ship fires a gun and the 20 boats in the racing class head for the start line.  The wind shifted right as we were crossing the  start line and our massive brightly closured spinnaker gets wrapped  around the main stay several times and it looks like we crossed the start line flying a cognac glass.

Getting this knot of sail untangled from a sail this big and light is a massive job in the 25 knot winds and building seas.  For a minute we talk about heading back into the marina to untangle it but that feels quite defeating and so we try everything else possible before going that route.  After about 30 minutes we have it sorted out and pull the spinnaker down.  Even with all of this going on we have stayed with the pack just sailing on our main sail and even passed several boats in the process.

Once the spinnaker is down, we replace it with the big jib top and we are really back in the race flying along at 8.5 knots.  

By 6.30 pm it is completely dark and the wind has picked up to close to 30 knots and there are 20 foot swells.  We need to get the jib top down as we are totally over powered and the skipper goes on deck in the dark to try to take it down.  The wind shifts and we jibe accidentally and there is a sickening crack as the boom flies over and we make sure everyone is still on the deck.  The sea state is is massive and we “heave to” in the wind and the swells while we recover. 

The wind is howling and we can barely hear each other talking, it is pitch black and we are being tossed around in the sea like we are a small cork.    We manage to drop the sail and get back on course.  It is only the skipper and I who are comfortable helming in the dark in this weather.  He and I do one and a half hour shifts throughout the night.  The boat is tossed around relentlessly.  Things that were not properly stowed and hatches not completely closed get blown open and shit gets thrown across the cabin.   The toilet door and a bunk door break off their hinges and fly across the cabin along with everything else that has broken loose. It is a frightening first night and we were lulled by the sunshine and the fanfare of the start. The weather forecast did not predict these conditions here now.  I keep going on adrenaline. 

As the sun rises there is no mistake that we are on a huge ocean that has no regard for whether we survive or not.  I wonder if this is what the whole journey will be like.  There is no sign of any of the other boats.

By day break the cabin looks like a hurricane past through.  There is no door on the head (toilet) and we have to bear the indignity of using the bathroom in front of 4 complete strangers although this is actually the least of my worries at this point.

The wind is still blowing 25 knots but the swell is slightly less and it all feels easier in the light of day. I am on the deck for the next day and night and finally get into my wet bed exhausted.

I wake up in the middle of the night on Monday night and feel very very unwell.  I ask someone to pass me a bag and start to vomit and this goes on for the next 36 hours.  I take the helm as  I know that this helps and throw up off the back of the boat into the darkness.  I have never felt so ill on a boat in my life and wonder if I will make it across the Atlantic if I feel like this for 20 days.

I lie in my bunk and get tossed around and don’t manage to sleep. Every time I stand up I vomit and having  not eaten this now only bile. 

By Wednesday evening thankfully there is evidence of this passing and it looks like I now have my sea legs… I am back in the race.

Crossing An Ocean


Dec  16th

After 19 days and 1 hour and 16 minutes at sea we catch sight of St Lucia.  Emerald green rising up out of the sea we catch a glimpse of the mountainous terrain and sail across the finish line on December 13th at 13.33 GMT.

We made it,  2896 nautical miles across the world’s second largest ocean.  It’s hard to know what I feel, we are tired and this ending is bitter sweet.  I could just keep going and going.  Relief, disbelief, joy and something that feels like loss creeps in as we drop our sails and turn on the engine. Of course, I am overjoyed to have arrived safely, we are all in one piece, our boat is in one piece, but  I am sorry it is all over.

What an amazing experience.  I have accomplished every major goal that I have set for myself and like other major goals once you are there you can always see that there is something further.  Even though not off the boat I am thinking about my next ocean race and suspect it will be a transpacific Vic- Maui.  This will be my next horizon beyond this horizon.

I have portrayed my experience as accurately as possible but I am coming to terms with the fact that it will be an imperfect representation of  reality as so much of this voyage is inadequately decribed in words.  Hopefully the blogs will provide a hint of the flavour of this voyage but there was always a richness and depth in my direct experience that is hard to capture.

I will add the posts over the next few days.  Grab a coffee and enjoy the retroactive look of my adventure.

…and that my friends is how you cross an ocean.

A Quick Word from Anna!

Hi everyone! This is L, Anna’s friend, with a brief update. Anna is having a whale of a time, but internet connectivity is rather lacking.

In Anna’s words, via a quick email, “blogging from the Atlantic has been challenging but I am documenting the journey and will post it retroactively when I am back. In the meantime, we have survived our first major storm, during which all the cabin doors blew off and several boats pulled out. We regularly have dolphins swimming off of our bow and I am finding ocean racing to be quite magical. I am loving this.”

Preparing for the worst

The morning starts with a helicopter rescue demonstration.    A real person is winched off a real sailboat just outside the harbour. Everyone stands riveted on the end of the break water probably all secretly praying that it never comes to this, as cool as it looks from the safety of the break water.

Next we move to an outdoor pool where we launch, inflate and have a chance to practice climbing into a life raft.  Every boat in the race has to carry one.  The life rafts inflates spontaneously, hopefully the right way up and comes complete with provisions for 6-8 people for a specified duration.


Climbing into the life raft


Later in the day the race organizers come and do a safely check on the boat. Flares, first aid kits, how many people are first aid trained? Where is the grab bag?  We are reminded to put passports and cash in the grab bag at the start so we don’t have to look for them in the event of having to abandon the boat.  Do you have an emergency life raft and of what type?  When was it last serviced and how long is it provisioned for?

How do you cut the rigging?  I never thought of that!  Bolt cutters and hacksaw of course…all stored in an accessible locker in the port quarter berth.  Is the keel stepped mast properly bolted to the salon floor,  how many storm sails on board?  Does each person have their name written inside their life jacket? Does everyone one have a three point harness integrated into the life jacket?  Are the lifelines the entire length of the boat?  How many flares and of what type?  Do you have emergency steering? Are there softwood plugs at each through hull fitting?

What is your man overboard recovery method? Do you have a hand held sat phone?  Do you have paper charts?  The list goes on and on until every inch of the boat and safety gear is inspected and understood. This was a really helpful process given that 10 hours ago I hadn’t stepped foot on this boat.

Later I am tasked with doing an engine check using the WOBLE (water, oil, belts, leaks and electrical) method and get my first crash course in diesel mechanics.  I top up the oil and tighten the belt. Of course we will not use the engine between here and St Lucia but need to ensure it is ready on the case of an emergency.  It may be run in neutral if our solar panels don’t generate enough power.  

Another of the crew is sent up the mast to inspect the top of the mast and change a bulb.

A long way up to change a light bulb.

Safely checks are done and we spend the rest of the day working through the other items on our to do list.

As much as I always enjoy hanging out at marinas I am keen to get the race underway and get out to sea.

A sailors send off

My friends hosted  a rum fuelled sailors send off complete with pirate napkins, a sailboat centre piece, 5 different ways to drink rum and an evening filled with much laughter and nautical story telling.

Our host had prepared a Bon Voyage Cocktail menu that featured rum quite heavily.  Many of us arrived at the party as non rum drinkers  but that would be a hard title to claim after the sailors send off.  


 A friend and former BC Ferries captain spoke about crossing the Atlantic on a ship and encountering 60 knot winds and 30 foot swells.  As he was speaking I was trying to imagine a 30 foot wall of water coming barreling towards us followed by another one and another one and another one as we make our way in our little 40 foot boat.

As you probably already know from fluid dynamics waves travel in sets of 14 with the middle one being the biggest.  Typically in a group of waves the 7th is the biggest.  I imagined myself at the helm in the pitch black, possibly wondering what the hell I had got myself into or possibly thinking, this is fantastic and feeling more alive than ever while counting in the darkness to make sure the 7th wave doesn’t hit us broadside.

…and then we all tried the third rum cocktail and shared more stories of boating adventures and misadventures.  It was a perfect sailors send off including a very fun and thoughtful package that has me prepared for every eventuality under the Sun or moon.

Wisely we all wrapped up and went home before the sea shanties started.




How to pack for a quick jaunt across the Atlantic Ocean

Having never crossed the Atlantic this is a bit of a learning curve.  There will be trial and hopefully not too much error. My strict instruction is to pack only a 60 litre duffel and keep it light.  Knowing that it is going to be a wet journey with little chance of getting anything dry I have tried for clothes that feel fine to wear when damp and salt encrusted.  Two sets of light foul weather gear and no slip boat shoes.

About the Journey

This is going to be absolutely amazing.

On November 19th I will be joining 5 strangers on a 40 foot racing yacht in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to sail 3000 nautical mile across the Atlantic Ocean to St Lucia. We will spend 18-21 days at sea on the classic trade wind route. The ARC is the largest trans-ocean sailing event in the world and we will be joining the ARC fleet of approximately 200 boats. The race starts on November 24th so the first few days in Las Palmas will be spent on familiarizing myself with the boat and crew, final boat preparations, provisioning and some safety training.