130 Nautical Miles to go

December 12th

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 savouring 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 traveller, 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.

Wind

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.

 

Water

Water

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.