If Biscay is a sprint then crossing the Atlantic is a marathon. The preparation is mammoth, the endurance needed is vital and the relief at finishing is immense!
We had to wait for good weather – or at least for good wind – we ‘watched’ friends sailing in an organised rally from the Canaries float around with no wind going only 3 knots at most and decided our patience, food supplies and fuel couldn’t withstand 3 weeks of that. It was a good decision. Our extra time in the Cape Verdes was a bit of a whirlwind of getting the boat ready, getting the crew ready and trying to provision in Mindelo – Patrick’s sister Matilda and her partner Norman did a fabulous job visiting every single market and street vendor sourcing the best and freshest produce which with the exception of one cabbage lasted the whole way! Even though the Cape Verdes motto is ‘no stress’, emotions ran high and patience was definitely tested at times – thank goodness for caipirinhas!
We finally left on Saturday 3rd December (at least a week later than initially planned!) – there were 10 boats leaving together so we even planned our own little rally with a 12 o’clock start line. It was so lovely having other boats out there in VHF radio contact even if it only lasted about 24 hours until we were all alone in the Atlantic without sight of anyone.
We had a fabulous first few days of passage – we flew the spinnaker, we had ‘calm-ish’ seas and everyone slowly adjusted to life onboard and our world of 50ft. Life really revolves around keeping busy or doing nothing – meals, books, games, a tiny bit of school (ok only 1 day!), sleeping, doing your daily night watch, staring out to sea, listening to podcasts, playing ukulele (ok only once!).
We had a rather dark middle bit – when the stress of the constant swell got the better of everyone and our initial seasickness medication wore off. You couldn’t actually do anything except hold on tight even making a cup of tea was a test of co-ordination and endurance. We had a couple of hairy nights with squalls, high winds and big waves but we just reefed the sails right down and carried on. That’s the thing about sailing across an ocean – it doesn’t stop, you don’t stop, you can’t stop day or night until you reach your destination.
We celebrated my 40th birthday half way which was a great distraction especially for the kids who planned a whole party complete with presents, cake and party games! Patrick and the kids managed the incredible feat of making a delicious volcano birthday cake in a very rolly sea and I was spoilt rotten with lovely presents. We even had a visit from dolphins for only the second time the whole trip – a real treat!
Fortunately we had excellent wind strength, 15-25 knots, almost all the time but the direction was a little challenging at times – it started in the NE and veered E as we crossed. This meant we had to sail directly downwind – rolly rolly – or zigzag on a broad reach doing lots of extra miles. We experimented with all sorts of different rig configurations but mostly favoured the later. We still had a very fast passage – just over 13 days!! Blue Zulu handled the crossing like a pro – not a breakage in sight!
It is really quite difficult to describe the whole experience of doing an ocean passage – even listening to other sailors talk about their experiences feels surreal. I wish I had kept a list of quotes from the trip – although they would have no doubt contained some ‘interesting’ language at times!
When we were celebrating our arriving in Barbados in the middle of the night again (don’t we learn?!), we were talking about our favourite moments and they were almost all about being on watch in the middle of the night when the boat is flying along alone on the ocean, the sky is full of stars and you are the only person awake – you feel like you are the only person alive, you count endless shooting stars and if you are me usually sing a thousand songs – it is a true and rare privilege and I guess it is the magic of these moments along with countless others that keep us sailing.
I have to say a huge thank you to our amazing crew – Mat and Norman – their patience, kindness, generosity, spirit and endurance were incredible. We couldn’t have done it without them. They cooked, cleaned, shopped, read countless stories, played millions of games of wink murder and sat every single watch asked of them. A special thank you to Norman who may not have been a sailor before the trip but most certainly is now! I also want to say how amazingly proud I am of our kids, Stella and Fin – they didn’t complain, they just got on with it – almost always with a smile and I know that must have been difficult at times. I hope they remain proud of themselves, I hope they retain a little bit of the ocean crossing magic and carrying on believing they are capable of great things and that anything is possible! They just sailed across an ocean after all.
Captain P’s Atlantic Crossing Statistics:
Distance: 2280 nautical miles – average of 169 nm a day
Total time run: 325 hours (13.5 days!)
Average speed: 7.03 knots
Best 24 hours: 195 nm – average of 8.1 knots!!
Top Speed: 12.7 kts leaving the Cape Verdes
Total Food consumed: Everything and anything – at times very little and at others chocolate cake! We also caught three big dolphin fish – also known as Wahoo or Mahi-Mahi – completely delicious! The biggest of the three was caught instantly with an amazing repurposed flying fish lure!
We’re staying in Barbados for Christmas – it’s a tough gig but I think we’ll just about manage it!! So Merry Christmas to you all xx