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Atlantic Crossing: A Grave Error In The Stock-Take

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Sean contemplating a sunset mid-Atlantic
Sean contemplating a sunset mid-Atlantic

(by Annick)

Sixteen days at sea. 2180 nautical miles to sail. That's a lot of water to cross! The first days were hard. Sean and I celebrated a little too much on our last night in Cape Verde and started the crossing with hangovers. Skippy was still ill. He picked up a stomach bug in Mindelo and had already had diarrhea for two days. And it takes time to slow down, to enjoy doing nothing and to have no or little contact to the outside world.

After three days and 1750nm to go we'd already learned two valuable lessons. One – don't leave port when skipper is ill. And two – always take a spare bucket. In order to save on fresh water we use a bucket to get ocean water on board to flush the toilets. Unfortunately we lost our bucket pretty early. But boredom and necessity create opportunities to be creative. Sean found a way of using a rope and an empty water bottle and it worked very well.

You may ask yourself what do you do all day on an ocean? Well as Sean aptly put it, everything you do at home in five minutes takes forever on a moving boat. Because of the night shifts (one person always has to be awake during the night) you need to catch up on some sleep during the day. Looking for wildlife, cooking and eating are also time consuming. I have to say skipper did more than his fair share in the kitchen. After a week with most of the fresh food gone you need to be inventive. But we ate well, despite the lack of salt (a grave error in the stock take).

The first days I got bruised a lot but that also improved. Generally moving around the boat is a work out so you spend a lot of time thinking about moving before you muster up the courage or the necessity to move. Therefore you try to limit your movements. So I had a bag with my 'bear' necessities (book, phone, headphones, towel etc.). All the things I needed to get through the day.

On day three I washed myself. Well, I say wash but wearing a bathing costume and a harness makes accessing your body difficult. But it was refreshing.

By Monday 28th November we'd completed a quarter of the trip and we were making good time. Skipper was finally interested in food again and could also keep it down. After a week of diarrhea he started perking up. He declared, “I am bored of being ill” and happily started eating biscuits again. That night we passed another boat and the waves had died down. There is no wildlife to report apart from flying fish and the occasional bird.

Bird resting on the bimini
Joined by a hitch hiker

Friday 2nd December we saw tuna. Clearly visible in the water, hunting the flying fish. It was very entertaining. We listened to some music and hit the halfway point. Still on schedule, averaging 160nm per day.

But by day 8 we started slowing down. The weather forecast told us that the usually reliable trade winds were being disturbed by a massive depression north of us and we would have at least two days, possibly up to five, with no wind. Our daily average distance covered dropped by almost half. Despite the slow progress we keep ourselves entertained. Sean and I read a lot. I can watch the clouds and make up shapes or just sit and think and sometimes not even think, just sit and be. A lesson in mindfulness. Skipper is back to his old hungry form.

Passing time reading mid Atlantic
Annick reading whilst Little Pinky does the work

Monday 5th December, because of the light winds we dared to fly little pinkie (our biggest sail) at night but almost just to prove a point the wind became unsettled and with winds gusting to 20 knots we had to take it down.

Tuesday 6th December, was a very slow day and there were almost no waves any more. The sun was also replaced by rainclouds for the first time on the trip. At night, with Sean on watch, and what seemed to be a calm night ahead of us, we got suddenly caught in a big storm with wind coming from everywhere, gusting to 27knots and lightning. Big waves had come out of nowhere and also from different directions. It felt like we were being sloshed around in a bucket. We quickly dropped the main sail and then tried to furl the genoa but it got tangled and Tom had to go out on the foredeck in the beating rain with the boat rocking every which way and spend fifteen minutes untangling it. Sean was on the rear deck on the furling line. They were screaming at each other but couldn't understand what the other was saying. Tom even got knocked sideways at one point but, of course, he was harnassed. Eventually we got the genoa furled and went below deck to dry off. We decided to motor out of the storm because we had seen that the CAPE numbers (something to do with atmospheric disturbances) were already high and getting higher through the night. A few hours later the worst had passed and we were clear of the storm. In the morning the sails went up again.

The trades were due to return on the 12th, three days after our planned arrival. So instead of adding five or six days on to the trip we motored on the windless days. Sean is lovely company and very keen to learn all about sailing. Skipper is loving it. And so the day's pass. It's not boring or unpleasant. It just is as it is.

Tuesday 6th, we chat and laugh a lot. We even play cards. 500Nm to go.

The mirror-like, glassy sea mid Atlantic
The mirror-like, glassy sea mid Atlantic

Wednesday 7th. I woke up and the ocean was like a mirror. We have been motoring since 9pm last night. We started seeing some Portuguese Man o' War but unfortunately couldn't take any good pictures. I also tried to video the flying fish, also not very successfully.

Friday 9th. Thursday night we had an overnight passenger. It was very entertaining to watch his arrival. It took him more than ten attempts to get the landing on the mast right. But eventually he did and he slept on the boat all night until the sails went up in the morning. That day skipper was in his element, racing against Ruben (a 52ft Arc boat). I don't think Ruben was aware that he was racing. But he definitely lost. We tried to contact them, but no answer. We had good wind all day. Sean briefly saw dolphins. It was their first visit since day 2. But they were gone as quickly as they came. 209nm to go. And only 108nm to Barbados and our first sight of land! It was nice to see the lights of Barbados on my night shift (7-11pm). When Tom came on deck we watched in amazement as a huge lit up ship, which did not have his AIS (a signal which shows up on our computers) on. It was getting brighter and rising and it seemed very strange for a ship. After a bit we realised we were looking at the moon rising.

On the morning of Saturday 10th and 69nm we had some wind again and we were sailing 6 knots with little pinkie but by midday we were back to motoring again. Now we could clearly see St Vincent, the largest of the islands. We were close. Our Atlantic crossing was almost over. At 2pm our destination is three hours away and we start getting busy. Blowing up the dinghy, cleaning the toilets, the kitchen, the foredeck, having showers (our first non salt water bucket showers since Cape Verde) and skipper even had a quick sleep. We ate the last of the food we had cooked. Our piece de resistance from the previous evening: chili sin carne sin sal. The parmesan helped. We were looking forward to a proper meal on land. One with salt. Finally, we organised all the washing, made the beds and prepared for arriving. We were so excited after sixteen days and couldn't wait to set foot on land and celebrate. Which we duly did with lovely food and a few rum cocktails. What an experience!

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