Diary Of An Atlantic Crossing
It all started in Licata, Sicily, around the middle of September 2011. I’d arrived at Marina Di Cala Del Sole on the 31st of August in my own boat, and now I was arranging to go home to England to try and sort out some property issues when a big, glossy plastic yacht moored alongside. It flew the New Zealand flag and I had a brief chat with the family aboard. They were very pleasant. It turned out they’d bought the yacht in Croatia and had been sailing it home with another couple, an old friend of the skipper from way back, together with his buddy’s wife. Unfortunately they’d fallen out with their friends who had flown home and the skipper’s wife wasn’t in the best of health herself, so would also fly home soon with their school age son. This would leave the skipper alone to sail a near fifty footer across two big oceans, starting with the Atlantic.
I was flying back to London the next morning with property and financial problems of my own, but I heard myself saying “if you’re really stuck and still short of crew by the time you need to cross the Atlantic let me know and I’ll try to help”. I really meant by the time you get to the Canaries, but I suppose it was ambiguous. Next morning I left them my unused perishable food supplies and departed for London. It was a rash offer I’d made given my own difficulties but I expected they’d find crew on the way to Gibraltar. When I got a phone call from him asking for help, whilst he was still in Ibiza, even though I hadn’t truly committed myself, I felt like I’d sort of made a promise. By then my own problems had grown not shrunk. I was more than a little in debt, the house renovation having cost very nearly ten thousand pounds, I had no tenant in place and a blood test after a viral infection suggested a possible cancer.
Although my father technically died of pneumonia in hospital, he was only in hospital because of a serious cancer, my mother in fact died of cancer so it wasn’t something I could afford to take lightly. Despite everything that was going on in my life I said I’d help and that I’d try to get another crew member in the form of an experienced friend who often sails with me. It became apparent I’d have to pay for my own flights, contribute towards food and given that my own sailing gear was in Sicily I’d either have to make an extra flight there first, or buy duplicate clothing in London. I should have baled, but instead I went deeper in debt, bought the gear I needed and booked a flight to Gibraltar.
Next the skipper phoned and asked me to source some cooker parts for his boat, which I did and which he got delivered to me to bring out. Then at the eleventh hour he also wanted an electrical part, which he also ordered on-line or by phone in Britain to be delivered to me and which rather messed up my plans for the last couple of days in the UK, since I had to wait in for it to arrive, but by now the die was cast.
In Gibraltar a Bulgarian guy looking for passage to the Canaries came by the boat and I was asked to help decide whether he seemed like a good addition to the crew, which he was. The owner of the boat had, whilst in Ibiza, also collected a Brazilian guy looking to get miles for his Oceanmaster qualification and who wanted passage to the Caribbean. So now there were four of us for the passage to Lanzarote where one would leave and where my friend was due to join the yacht, making four once more for the main Atlantic crossing.
Our skipper however felt there should be two people on watch at all times, so four was still a bit thin under those circumstances and he really wanted six. As a largely solo sailor it all felt a bit over the top to me, but it is a biggish boat, so I took myself off to the marina office and sifted through all the notices. I found one from a young lady wanting to cross the Atlantic and passed the information to the skipper who promptly decided he’d interview this one alone. He duly signed her up. It turned out that the English girl, the Brazilian guy and the Bulgarian chap were paying twenty five Euros per day for the privilege of helping this bloke deliver his boat, which back in New Zealand would be worth approximately sixty thousand U.K. pounds more than he’d bought it for in the Mediterranean. I didn’t find that out until much later however.
For them this may not have seemed such a bad deal since they were already in situ and had reasons of their own to be in the Caribbean, or Canaries, it certainly wasn’t generous of course from someone in need of help and when I mentioned it to a liveaboard yachttie friend of mine later, her immediate reaction was to look at me and say “are they mad?”. I was too embarrassed to tell her what it cost me! I had spent about fifteen hundred pounds on fares, duplicate equipment and a contribution to food. That works out to sixty three Euros for each day I spent at sea.
When we did the provisioning in Gibraltar I went along to the supermarket, but in Lanzarote I was informed the car was too small for me to go too, enabling the owner to stock up as much as he wanted to, to include whatever he wanted, such as rum, beer and meat (the rest of us being veggie and I’d personally never drunk at sea at all before this trip) and he could then tell me exactly what he wanted about the cost, of which I paid a quarter. Perhaps I have a suspicious mind, perhaps he paid for his meat and rum separately, but no receipt was proffered and I was finding out more about the kind of man I’d got involved in helping with every passing day.
Had I mentioned my own costs to my friend Liz she would have thought I’d lost a grip on reality completely! However, I would be told later by the skipper that I’d got away with it cheap, because I’d only contributed towards food, whilst the others paid €25 per day don’t you know. Got away with it! Aside from the cost to me, I only went out to help the damn bloke in the first place. Still, at this point that little discussion was somewhat off in the future.
So, on to my diary: On 31st October 2011 I flew to Gibraltar after spending a night in a hotel in Luton, more expense, but early departure and not an easy connection from where I had been staying. I had with me, the parts for the boat’s oven and a splitter for an aerial to enable an AIS to be installed. An AIS is a device which shows you, on a screen, the big ships in your general vicinity together with their names, in case you want to call them on the radio, and other useful details such as course, speed and destination. When I arrived with these parts, and given the owner had only one crew member at that point I was welcome indeed. For now.
The owner also confided in me that he felt the AIS was vital as he’d come on deck once between Ibiza and Gibraltar to find a big ship far too close up behind (in his opinion) and said the Brazilian guy, on watch at the time, was way too relaxed about it. It wasn’t the first time he’d criticise him to me behind his back, which rather makes me wonder what he said about me.
Anyway, I settled in that first day. The owner said he’d buy me fish and chips in the pub in return for my missing my Sunday lunch out the day before, whilst I’d waited in for his splitter to be delivered. So off we went to The Ship for the evening. The fish and chips were good and the pub quiz was most enjoyable and although the skipper left early he did leave almost enough money to pay for the meal.
Tuesday November 1st
I got up early to help the crew of a nearby yacht put sails back on, then went to look at the Chandlery with our skipper. At that time I sort of thought of him as a friend, even though I hardly knew him, but you know, shared interests and all that. These days it’s hard to know what to call him! So in this article I’ll continue to just refer to him as the owner or the skipper. He and I then changed a fitting on our own Genoa, I showed him the charts I have as a back-up on my laptop and we went off to Morrisons supermarket for supplies. That evening there was a dinner party on the yacht I’d visited in the morning and before that the owner and I ‘interviewed’ the Bulgarian guy looking for a ride and decided he was a good guy to have along.
Wednesday November 2nd
I explored Gibraltar a bit and found wifi and did some work on my computer, just e-mailing and uploading to my You Tube channel.
Thursday November 3rd
The owner, alone this time, ‘interviewed’ the young lady whose notice I’d found for him in the marina office and came back to announce that she’d join the boat the following afternoon.
Friday November 4th (showery weather)
The owner decided in the morning, that rather than take the boat to the fuel dock, the three of us already on board (the Bulgarian guy was due to join in a few days and the English lady later in the day) would make two trips each, walking all the way around the substantial harbour with two twenty litre fuel cans apiece. Apart from it being much easier to just motor over and back in the boat I’m not a particularly muscular kinda guy and the handles on the cans were so big you couldn’t get your fingers right around them, and just to make the job even harder they were slippery plastic too. Diesel is of course messy stuff, but no point making a fuss I decided, just get the job done so I lugged my eighty litres, putting the cans down every few hundred metres to give my arms a break and got it done, but I didn’t think very charitable thoughts about the skipper.
I managed to tear my brand new sailing trousers in the course of this exercise, catching them on something sharp, but at this early stage at least everyone was ostensibly getting along well. The owner, it turned out in conversation, is descended from Admiral John Byng, who was executed by firing squad for dereliction of duty when Fort St Philip on Menorca fell to the French. I was able to inform the chap that his buddy Tony Blair had posthumously pardoned his famous ancestor.
At 6pm the English lady joined the boat and by another strange coincidence it turned out that her mother knows an old skydiving buddy of mine from the nineteen seventies and she had also met her, since the families live near to each other in France. We then did the main provisioning of the boat, for the first leg, as we were to sail the next day and finally the Bulgarian guy came aboard too. The English lady’s brother had dropped her off and he stayed over for the night, to see us off on the morrow, there was a very happy atmosphere at that moment.
Saturday November 5th
No proper sewing kit on board so borrowed one from another boat and sewed up the rip in my new trousers.
At 12-20 we slipped the lines and manoeuvred out of the berth in somewhat windy conditions. Once out I was asked to take the helm, which I did for the next five hours. I should have gone off and got some warmer clothing before those five hours were up, but I suppose I wanted to make a good impression, the result was that although I never get seasick I did get too cold and developed a splitting headache. The Bulgarian guy was seasick and the owner felt the English lady was a little inexperienced, so he, the Brazilian guy and I did all the night work. We had twenty five to thirty knots on the nose for hours and the current against us much of the time too. It made for fast sailing through the water but damn slow progress. In daylight I saw a shark in the straits, a rare site in all my years of sailing.
The headland was roughly abeam at ten p.m. and we’d cleared the straits by about eleven. After we were able to turn south somewhat we sailed quite fast, but a twelve millimetre reefing line snapped. It was certainly windy! The owner’s reefing system was also suspect in my view and he ran the line wrongly on a couple of occasions and had to do it again. In fact we had a few problems with reefing, broken boom fittings and torn sails during the voyage, but suggesting different ways to do things didn’t, on the whole, go down well.
Sunday November 6th
We made some good sailing progress today but had to put the motor on mid afternoon which was disappointing. The Bulgarian crew member is now over his seasickness, so five people to rotate during the night watches and a reasonable amount of sleep was had. Pasta for supper. During the night I noticed that our navigation lights are almost as bright behind as they are viewed from the appropriate angle, I put black tape over the back area to prevent showing misleading lights.
Monday November 7th
Scrambled egg and beans for breakfast. By1-50pm I guess we’re about half way to Lanzarote. The extra fuel from the cans went in this morning. The engine has been on for a very long time, but we’re making six knots average from about two thousand revs and three litres an hour roughly. Saw dolphins and a turtle today.
Tuesday November 8th
We actually did some sailing last night, real engine off sailing, but this morning we’re back to motoring. On my first watch last night (accompanied by the skipper) we were theoretically motor sailing, although in fact the main was flapping idly, or flogging as it’s called, but flogging to me means quite violent flapping, and it wasn’t particularly violent in this case.
Nonetheless the ring on the out-haul car broke. This is a piece of equipment towards the outer end of the boom, which tensions the foot of the sail by pulling it away from the mast. Maybe some damage had been done earlier in the trip, beating into the wind to get away from Gibraltar. It also transpired that a webbing strap, secured with velcro, which holds down the clew (that’s the foot of the sail at the outer corner) had broken, chafed through, or simply vanished. During the post mortem we thought we recalled hearing something earlier, which could have been that strap snapping although we hadn’t realised what it was at the time. Without that component in place the strain on the out-haul car would have been increased.
The skipper and I got the boom down on deck, hacksawed off the rough sharp ends of the broken stainless steel ring and tied everything back in place with rope. I suggested we look for stronger parts in Lanzarote, maybe something specified for a larger boat, but the skipper is intent on keeping everything standard and suggestions are not well received.
The English lady and I suggested books to each other today, she suggested The Mahjarabacha to me, by which I believe she meant The Mahabharata, and I suggested Colleen McCullough’s Masters Of Rome series to her.
Wednesday November 9th
Uneventful day of motoring.
Thursday November 10th
Arrived at Rubicon Marina at 4-30a.m. Later in the morning we refuelled at the quay, checked in and then moved to the pontoon. Marina wifi doesn’t work – of course.
Friday November 11th
Shore power connection to the boat failed. The skipper was determined he’d fix it. After he’d spent literally hours of trying to reassemble the plug the Bulgarian guy and I persuaded him to let us try our way, which we figured was the way the designer of the plug had intended it to be assembled. He didn’t want to let us try, but twenty minutes later we had it sorted; not sure it did our popularity much good though!
Saturday November 12th
We got the broken car and torn sail bag off the boom so they could be taken to the chandler/sailmaker to see about repairs. The Bulgarian guy left us and the English girl and myself saw him off at the bus garage, he’d been a fun bloke to have around.
Sunday November 13th
I got to watch the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix on the television at a café, a rare treat these days. The café also had wifi and I spent some time there trying to sort out my property issues by e-mail and Skype, plus uploading to my You Tube channel to promote my books. No tenants in my house yet and slipping deeper in debt.
The skipper removed my untidy tape from the back of his nav. lights, he felt the plastic was so thick I must be mistaken. That night I persuaded him to put them on in the dark and actually look. He then decided I was in fact right and put some blacking on the inside of the lights. A better long term solution, but not a five minute job when at sea with the bow going up and down. Trouble is helping doesn’t go down well.
Monday November 14th
Checked out options for a trip to Gran Canaria to see friends on two other boats, Liz and Terry who I’d met in Seville and Julia who I’d met on the East Med Yacht Rally. Unfortunately Terry was away working, but I arranged to go stay on his boat and see the other two.
Tuesday and Wednesday November 15th and 16th
Spent most of my time trying to sort out problems at home via e-mail and Skype as well as trying to progress the artwork for two of my books. Could possibly have got both books on sale for Christmas if I hadn’t given up my time to help this guy. We’re waiting here until the 25th so the skipper can see his brother, albeit rather briefly. The brother is flying in to crew on someone else’s boat, not his sibling’s; given the skipper’s friends had baled out, it makes you wonder what they all know.
Thursday November 17th
Flew to Gran Canaria to see Liz and Julia, damn it feels good to be away from that boat for a while. I was getting quite down, things should be better when my sailing friend comes out, but, she’s hinting she’ll cry off due to property deals she’s doing in London going slowly, that would be awful. It would mean only four on board, so with two on watch all the time, however you cut it, it’s two or more hours on and the same off then on again all night.
Met Liz at San Telmo Bus Station during her lunch break; she teaches English. She gave me a key to the pontoon and told me where to find the key to hers and Terry’s boat. She also suggested I visit Christopher Columbus house which was within easy walking distance from the bus station. Actually I walked all the way to the marina as well afterwards. Christopher Columbus House, which the great man probably visited, although there’s no actual proof that he ever did, was in fact a quite interesting museum. Most of the artefacts appear to be reproduction but it’s free, charming and informative.
Friday November 18th
Took the bus to Galdar with Julia to see a painted cave. It’s not prehistoric, but it was very interesting history once more. Strangely I’ve been reading a novel called The Tenth Chamber which is about a secret left behind by cave painters.
Saturday November 19th
Was supposed to meet Julia at 9a.m. She is working as a cook on a yacht doing the ARC (Atlantic Rally Crossing) and I’d agreed to go to the market with her and help bring back all the fresh produce. I’d borrowed some bags and a trolley from Liz to make it easier to get everything back. At the rendezvous I was met instead by her skipper who’d insisted she go at 7-30 a.m. as he was worried all the good stuff would be gone. Not exactly likely given the size of the market. The upshot was that Julia had to arrange delivery, it was promised in a couple of hours but of course it never left until after the market closed. She waited all day for it then had to clean and treat the veg on the pontoon in the dark and pack it all away that night, ready for the crossing. I couldn’t help wondering if her skipper had the same character traits as mine, but apparently he was pretty ok after this cock-up.
Liz and I went out to lunch and on to listen to a Blues Band at an outdoor bar. They were very good, but the heavens opened half way through and it all came to a rapid halt despite brollies over the electrics!
Sunday 20th November
Saw the ARC leave Gran Canaria with much fanfare, bands playing etc. There won’t be any of that when we leave Lanzarote on our own next week. Liz and I went out for a meal afterwards, which, with the world’s slowest service, took care of the rest of the day! Since my sailing buddy in London seems uncertain about coming still I’ve been scouring the notice boards here in Gran Canaria for people wanting to crew and have been texting details to my skipper. I’m not sure he’s been following them up though. Don’t want to tell him my friend may let us down in case she doesn’t but doing my best to make sure we’re not down to just four on the boat given his two on watch rule.
Monday November 21st
Flew back to Lanzarote, chased my sailing buddy for a decision on whether she’s coming or not, seems increasingly unlikely.
Tuesday November 22nd
My friend finally phoned the skipper and said she can’t come. Don’t think he’s any more chuffed than I am, but of course now he says he’s missed other girls that were interested, because he was banking on her. This of course is rubbish, because in theory he wanted at least six on board, so if he had any other prospects he should have snapped them up. More likely they didn’t want to pay twenty five Euros per day. Anyway, there’s just the four of us now and that’s how it is. The affable Bulgarian guy had also expressed an interest in coming back to the boat for the crossing but likewise he couldn’t afford to pay the twenty five Euros per day and of course the skipper wasn’t going to let the two already paying pay less to help everyone out, when he could just make us all work harder.
Wednesday and Thursday November 23rd and 24th
Spent a lot of time on-line but still no tenants in the house, only prospects, but prospects don’t put money in the bank. Neither of my paperbacks is ready for print, I have a freelancer working on the artwork, but it’s taking a long time without me being available to check the work regularly and frequently. In addition I’ve had problems opening some of the attachments. However you look at it they won’t be on the market in time for pre Christmas sales so no real reason to rush now.
Bought more Christmas presents on Wednesday, don’t know why, since I’d left several behind for my sister, my daughter and a friend when I left the UK. Just saw things I thought people would like, so I bought them. Retail therapy maybe, not feeling too happy and the money I borrowed is nearly all gone.
On Thursday evening the whole crew went to a party on another boat which our skipper has friends on. During the party I received a text telling me my tax bill. Of course that’s for the previous year when the rent mostly came in. This year I’ve had bad debts and a ten thousand pound refurbishment and a great long void period. The tax man also wants an advance against the next year, ie this one which is a disastrous year, but he assumes the same income of course, what a bloody system it is. Financially it’s desperate, I never should have come and the skipper’s going to want a contribution now for food, haven’t seen the bill so have to take his word for it. Ironically some people pay for delivery crew!
We sail tomorrow, too late to let people down now, well in theory, three people and two on watch all the time would not be fun for them at all, but a flight home from Lanzarote would be a whole lot cheaper for me than one from Antigua, with hindsight this was my second opportunity to look after myself first, but again I didn’t take it. Unfortunately it now feels like a prison sentence. Will do my best to put a happy face on for everyone else’s sake. At least I can stay on the boat for a while when we arrive, which means I can choose the cheapest flight.
Friday November 25h
Boom fittings and sail bag replaced, lee cloths delivered for the forward bunks, stores stowed and we’re about ready for sea. The skipper’s brother is apparently dropping off some fittings of some sort this evening, I know not what they are. The two brothers saw each other very briefly, yesterday I think. The brother and his wife called round today, while I was alone on board, to collect some DVDs. They’re chalk and cheese those two, it’s like they’re avoiding one another, they’ve hardly spoken since the brother got here and are not close if appearances are anything to go by, yet we waited around for days, paying marina fees so the skipper and his brother could get together. All seems very strange.
One of the estate agents has an offer, but the referencing etc will have to happen while I’m at sea, so I won’t know if it comes to anything until we’re on the other side. The skipper bought himself a satellite phone whilst in Gibraltar but I’m not anticipating any great generosity from that quarter.
Well, it’s a bloody weird evening for the night before a major passage. The Brazilian guy is out drinking with his surfing buddies. The skipper is out, but not apparently with the brother we waited here for him to see. The English girl is apparently at the internet café and I’m on board writing my diary. There seems to be no collective consciousness, it’s a strange, strange feeling. Shortly after writing my diary two girls and a guy from the boat we all went to last night came round and invited me for a drink. Well, good things do happen. We went to a couple of live music bars, the guy from the other boat reckoned it was just like Bolton! Anyhow it was fun and I got back to the boat sometime after 1a.m. and went to bed. I believe the others were already all asleep.
Saturday November 26th (Day 1 of the main crossing)
Up at 8am, ahead of at least two of the others, but the toilet and shower block key was not in the chart table, the agreed place for it since there was only the one key between us. Hiked to the loo in the shopping centre instead. When I got back I recovered the key from the now risen person who went to bed with it and then went off for a shower. The Brazilian guy also went to the shower block, shaved off his beard and left the clippings all over one of the sinks and a large area of the surrounding counter for other people to look at until someone else has to clear it up. I was not impressed but since I have to sail with him the next three weeks best not kick off with an argument, he obviously feels this is acceptable behaviour.
Still having no confirmed tenant in the house I e-mailed both estate agents to make sure they knew what was and wasn’t acceptable and vowed to keep my phone on and fingers crossed until we were too far from all the islands to get a signal. I also uploaded the cover artwork for one of my paperbacks which had arrived in my inbox from the freelancer.
Back at the boat we fitted two lee cloths one for me and one for the English lady, so we wouldn’t roll out of our bunks in rough weather and at 1-15 p.m. we cast off our lines. I got a splinter in my foot, from the wooden pontoon whilst pushing the boat off but was able to dig it out later without too much damage. In the evening I thought I’d prepare an evening meal for us all, but the Brazilian guy threw a wobbly when I decided to mix two flavours of pasta. Since he clearly had very strong feelings about the cooking I left him to it which set a pattern for most evenings. Luckily he and the English lady formed an attachment so they prepared the majority of the evening meals together and everyone just fended for themselves most of the rest of the time.
One of the estate agents texted she had taken a deposit. I gave her the skippers satellite phone number to text again when I’m at sea so she could confirm if it all came good. Doesn’t cost him anything to receive texts, so why not. I wouldn’t hear anything for the duration of the voyage. As it would turn out she didn’t actually have a deposit as such, just a fee for referencing. It would also happen that the tenant would change her mind on the 15th December, the very day she was due to move in. With Christmas in sight this would mean at least another month with no rent!
Had a fairly sleepless night, the boat rolled a lot running before the wind on just the mainsail, two periods on watch and two off, so a pretty un-restful night.
Sunday November 27th (Day 2)
We did some motoring in the early hours then started sailing on a run again. Lots of experimenting with the genoa poled out as the skipper had not had the opportunity to use the pole supplied with the boat before. We fitted a gybe preventer to the main and put some whipping over chafed areas of rope to prevent them chafing further. When all this was done I cooked up scrambled eggs and beans on bread. Toast is impossible since no electricity for the toaster of course and the gas oven has no grill. This great big (by my standards) Beneteau has all sorts of things, like a big fridge and a big freezer, but my little boat has at least got one up in having a grill!
Then a new development, the delivery cruise has turned into a race! The skipper tells us conversationally that he couldn’t stand to be overtaken by his buddies (probably leaving Lanzarote today), or far worse his brother, due to set sail tomorrow. The embarrassment of leaving first and arriving last would be too much for him. He jested that if he knew we’d been overtaken he’d sail to another island other than Antigua, well, many a true word spoken in jest!
On my return from Gran Canaria to Lanzarote I’d brought back half a rucksack load of paperbacks given to me by Liz for us to read at sea, the few books already aboard having been mostly read between Gibraltar and Lanzarote. I buried myself in a heavy tome about the U.S. Civil War. Still, we’re sailing at eight knots, if it stays like this a while we probably won’t have to worry too much about racing those behind us.
Monday November 28th (Day 3)
Cloudy day, with spots of rain! The sailing gear I had bought at home and supplemented in Gibraltar had truly been needed and remarkably, it still was, despite the latitudes we were then in. At 3-15p.m. By Canaries time (which is the same as London time) we were at 25 degrees 39.22 minutes North and 017 degrees 53.525 minutes West. Therefore not yet west of the westernmost Canaries, but well to the south, which is a better course, in order to pick up the Tradewinds and favourable currents. We left our watches set to UK/Canaries time for most of the trip. Our Course Over Ground (COG) at this moment was about 240 degrees and speed 6 to 7 knots.
We had the genoa poled out to port during the day, the main to starboard. We’d taken the pole in during the night as it can be problematical in a squall and it was a dark, moonless night. Quite a big swell and speed has been variable but mostly good progress. Two watches in the night, so catching some sleep in the day when possible.
Tuesday November 29th (Day 4)
Pretty much direct from my diary but without names: Last night we had two large pods of dolphins playing around the boat. The first came just before sunset, the second just after. The first group was more numerous and included young dolphins – the smallest I’ve ever seen – so lovely.
Now 2-40p.m. on the 29th and we’re a little over 240 miles from Lanzarote, but, our course not being straight we’ve covered more than 450 miles in three twenty four hour periods – pretty good going!
Night shifts are getting tedious. If my friend had come we’d all be getting three hours more rest per night.
Electricity is a problem. This boat has no wind generator, or solar panels and running the engine for an hour per day (the skipper’s original plan) simply isn’t enough. We ran without navigation lights last night. We have a separate red and green at the bow and a white on the stern. The skipper normally runs those three, plus the anchor light – all round white at the masthead, which has the effect of illuminating the windex. Nothing like I was taught. (I won’t digress here into the legalities or practicalities as I see them, of either the above arrangement, or running just a white anchor light, but it’s not the way I do things on my boat).
Now we’re just running the white masthead alone, so one bulb instead of four and the fridge is off. Haven’t seen any traffic for more than forty eight hours mind you.
Wednesday November 30th (Day 5)
By 2 p.m. We’d made about six hundred miles from Lanzarote, still not doing badly. Now four twenty four hour periods. 2 p.m. seems to have become the accepted time to check daily progress as it corresponds to the time when we initially got the sails up on the day when we left the harbour in Lanzarote.
The wind is apparently forecast to die on Friday, according to forecasts the skipper has been getting from a guy he knows in New Zealand. The forecasts are being texted to his satellite phone. The forecasts don’t go further ahead than three days, so we don’t know yet if it’s reckoned to be a lull for one day or longer.
We’ve been doing a lot more hand steering and the fridge is off permanently. We’re running without navigation lights at night as standard now, except that we did see another boat far off last night and put them on for a short while. We ran the engine for four hours this morning to top up the batteries. The skipper maintains the auto pilot uses less than two amps, possibly only one, so we’ve been using it in the night.
Nights have been very dark, little moon in the first half, none in the second. Some of the shooting stars have been impressive though. No dolphins at dusk last night, but we did have a short visit at dawn.
It’s a shame we’re burning so much fuel, just to maintain the batteries, when we might have made better use of it in no wind periods. The skipper is now convinced solar panels would be a good idea and reckons he’ll buy a couple in Antigua, which of course won’t help this passage. Still, I’m learning things. I’d always wondered how boats without wind generators or solar panels coped, now I know – badly. Not even a quiet, economical, suitcase type petrol generator here.
It’s been a slightly problematical morning. First the end came out of the vang (for the non sailors it’s basically a strut that supports the boom when the weight goes on it – there’s more to it than that as it’s held down as a kind of shock absorbing kicking strap too, but you don’t need the full monty). It wasn’t a nut working loose though, the old bolt had pulled through the aluminium. I’m a fan of the way this Beneteau goes, apart possibly from the steering characteristics, but suspicious of the quality in certain areas, thinking also of the out-haul car on the boom which broke on the last passage. (It transpired later that the skipper knew in advance there was a problem with the vang but he hadn’t been able to get it fully repaired in time prior to the trip).
A new hole perpendicular to the original was drilled in situ and the bolt replaced, which proved enough for this passage anyway.
Next problem was a mainsail batten coming out. We got the main down as quickly as possible, but had to deal with the boomed out genoa first as the skipper wanted to turn into wind (technically correct), rather than try to centre the main downwind with the engine on which I would have tried, and which on my boat I think would have worked. On this boat I cannot say. Problem is you’ve got to get the sail down really fast, the longer it sail flaps about the more likely it is that the batten will be flung out and into the sea, which is what happened, not helping the skipper’s mood. He didn’t verbally blame anyone else, but from the look on his face I’d have given a penny for his thoughts. We then had more fun re-running the second reefing line which was threaded through the wrong side of the mainsail previously.
Finally we got back to sailing fast and reasonably comfortably, down wind, wing and wing as before. When you turn across the wind, as we’d had to, you realise it’s quite blowy, it’s just that downwind this boat is so fast it’s all terrifically calm as we keep up with the wind – well almost!
Have idly calculated that with this system of watches, then if the passage takes twenty days, the non arrival of my friend will have cost us each a total of sixty hours after dark sleep. We’re still having two on watch all night. Lately I’ve been on, from 7p.m. till 10p.m., 1a.m. till 4a.m. And then back on at 7a.m. till 10a.m. Sunrise currently about 7-40a.m. the way our watches and clocks are set. Skipper plans to change the watch rotation tonight. We’ve staggered the three hour watches so in a three hour watch you spend one and a half hours with one person, the following hour and a half with another.
Now 3-40p.m. back to my book. 5-20p.m. had a whale behind us about half an hour ago. I only caught a glimpse, suspect Minke whale as they’re the most curious and the most likely to come close. Skipper started the engine to let it know we’re an inanimate object. I think the video of a whale leaping on to a yacht which was posted on YouTube and made the news some while ago worried him. The sound of the engine might be why the whale promptly left, shame really, one swam with my boat once, when sailing in Biscay, for about an hour and a half, my crew and I at that time felt thrilled not threatened.
We’re now, technically, in the tropics, doesn’t feel like it though – especially not at night! Well officially we were just outside the tropics last night, but I doubt tonight will be much warmer.
Thursday December 1st (Day 6)
Down to 21 degrees 12 minutes North (and incidentally 24 degrees 14.8 minutes West), when we gybed to turn west for Antigua. Now on the starboard tack making between 7 and 7.9 knots from a wind of around 15 knots.
21 degrees 12 minutes North is still quite a way north of the Cap Verde Islands and 24 degrees 14.8 minutes West puts us marginally above the line of the southern route on the Imray Atlantic Crossing Chart. Our Course Over Ground (COG) of 250 to 254 degrees will I think (I haven’t looked closely) keep us just north of that track, however, if the wind holds like this it will be a good choice.
Apparently we’ve pulled out about forty miles on the skipper’s brother since yesterday, this information by text to the satellite phone (not that we’re racing of course). It was almost exactly 11a.m. when we gybed.
Friday December 2nd (Day 7)
Spent a great deal of time today playing with the genneker. (A genneker is a large, lightweight sail that’s a cross between a genoa and a full on spinnaker). This sail came with the boat, was not particularly new and like the pole the skipper had not had the opportunity to try it out before.
First we tried flying it as a genneker ie the way it was designed to be used and then we tried it on the pole rigged as a spinnaker would be flown. Personally I wouldn’t have invested so much time in changing sail plans, but then I don’t race. Nonetheless I learned a couple of things from the experimenting.
Saw my first flying fish and tragically a turtle caught up in floating fishing net. The turtle may have been dead already but if I’d been on my own boat I’d have stopped and cut it free to find out if I could have saved it, and I’d have removed the hazard from the ocean. The other crew didn’t react and with the skipper on the bow trying to get his genneker set perfectly for maximum racing speed it didn’t seem politic to demand the boat be stopped. I remained mute, felt guilty and now I really long to be my own boss again.
Last night, the batteries being reasonably healthy we had music which I DJ’d from my iPod. Tonight the other crew asked me to do it again. Although I like most of his music we have had a repetitive selection from the skipper up to now, but not sure if he appreciated my being asked to do it twice.
After dark I played truth or dare and charades with the Brazilian guy whilst on watch, we don’t always see eye to eye but that was a fun hour and a half anyway. He light-heartedly tried to bribe me to do his second watch so he could get some sleep, he offered chocolate, listerine and wet wipes (hope that wasn’t a hint) and to peel clementines for me for the rest of the trip. I thought there was a good practical joke here I could bet the English lady her chocolate that her new boyfriend had become my slave and prove it by demanding a clementine. Unfortunately my sleep is too valuable to trade, even in jest.
6p.m. engine on, sails away and motoring on a more southerly track in search of wind, skipper is certainly on a mission to stay ahead of his brother, but that’s his problem, the motoring is not unpleasant.
Saturday December 3rd (Day 8)
Motored all night last night and given it was so calm we took solo watches and got a reasonable amount of sleep each for once. From 1a.m. We were able to utilise the genoa as well and motorsail. Having a watch alone at last was very pleasant, no small talk about nothing, nor the need to be diplomatic, I could just enjoy the stars and the sea and think my own thoughts.
In the morning there was a dead flying fish in the cockpit drain, no idea who was on watch when it came aboard, but possibly no-one to blame as we do pop down below to make drinks or visit the loo. Have seen quite a few flying fish today and no more casualties thankfully. They really are remarkable creatures, they’re becoming a very common sight but they’re no less remarkable for that. A fish that doesn’t merely jump, but which truly flies and can control its flight and change direction in the air, how did that evolve? Was it in fact created? I tend towards the former view, but the mechanics of its coming about through natural selection or whatever must be most remarkable.
In the lighter winds this morning we tried to put the genneker back up. In the course of this exercise the snap shackle on the sheet attaching to the clew of the sail let go allowing the sail to flap about and potentially damage itself. Thankfully the skipper had attached the sheet, not one of us. His reaction when it came away was to grab the foot of the sail by the hem to pull it down, and in so doing he ripped the sail. We got it all safely back on the boat and then the skipper and I poled out the genoa to starboard with the main to port and took turns on the helm for some hours whilst the other two stitched and patched the genneker by hand. I offered to help with the sewing but I think the lovebirds like to be together.
I enquired about changing the snap shackle but the skipper intends to use it a again and in the same capacity. Sometimes I fail to follow his logic, if he’s certain that he closed it properly, as he says, then it’s unreliable, if he feels he didn’t shut it correctly that’s something else, but he was most adamant.
The wind in fact got up to 15 to 20 knots so we wouldn’t have kept the genneker up long anyway as things turned out. In these new conditions we achieved 9 knots for a while, by 4-15p.m. UTC or Greenwich mean time to us traditionalists the wind had moderated slightly but we were still making 7 to 8 knots. At 1-15p.m. today it was a full week since we cast off in Lanzarote. The skipper’s brother cast off three or three and a half days later, we’re not exactly sure. The skipper reckons we initially stretched the lead by forty miles but that they’ve since pulled sixty back. Clearly he’s monitoring the race that isn’t a race quite carefully.
Seems we did about a thousand miles in the first week, which seems pretty impressive to me. Francesca (my boat) would do about half that in these conditions I reckon. Have been wondering what to do when I get there, it would be nice to look around, but, there’s four of us, only one dinghy and the skipper has announced he won’t be paying for a marina; that means anchored out or on a mooring buoy. On that basis I envisage conflicts of interest with people wanting to go ashore and return at different times. Has the potential to become a real mess.
Have started to worry about my financial problems again. Had managed to put it out of my mind for a week, but no text from either estate agent and no news is unlikely to be good news. Christmas presents are sorted, but house insurance and tax are looming, already have a large debt and will have to pay for a flight home at some stage too. Put simply it’s depressing.
At 5-30p.m. checked on the GPS myself, 1830 miles to go in a straight line, in so far as a straight line is possible, we’ve probably sailed 1030 by now so 2860 would be the total, but given we can’t go in a straight line and curvature of the earth, probably think in terms of 3000 miles 1000 per week round figures, three weeks. That’s if we can keep up this pace, which I still find impressive. On Francesca I’d allow up to two weeks from Gibraltar to Canaries, two to three weeks Gibraltar to Cap Verde islands (which I’d want to visit) and about five weeks from there to somewhere in the Caribbean.
Anyway, on this boat roughly two more weeks to endure.
Sunday December 4th (Day 9)
Now 1-30p.m. Don’t know where the morning has gone. Calm enough he allowed single person watches last night, it’s good to have my own company and peace for a while. A flying fish joined me in the cockpit and unfortunately slipped down into the tight channel under the enormous steering wheel on this boat. I did manage to get it out, uninjured I think, and returned it living to the ocean.
At breakfast one side of the cockpit table collapsed and the English lady lost her breakfast and the plate shattered. I had wondered what the plates were made of, a kind of white pyrex it seems, pretty dangerous when people so often wander around boats in bare feet and given that plates can get thrown about in rough weather. A wine glass also got broken recently and although we cleared up scrupulously I found a nasty one and a half centimetre shard hours later. Luckily not by stepping on it. No plastic plates or glasses on this boat and the table supports could use a locking mechanism. Since the English lady had cooked the scrambled eggs this morning I gave her mine and cooked some more.
We seem to be making seven knots or thereabouts most of the time – sometimes more, sometimes less – course over ground 367 degrees. Skipper’s sat phone forecast by text was for very poor winds today but we have 12 to 18 knots pretty consistently. Sometimes I feel like a flying fish who’s just landed in the cockpit. The other two crew have formed a relationship so they’re happy, the skipper is in his own home with his own things around him and of course in control; much as I live on a boat normally, I am a fish out of water here. And, at least ten days to go, maybe thirteen or so as winds are reputed to get lighter the further west we go.
My frame of mind is not as positive as I would like although I’m trying hard to be outwardly buoyant. I’m reading Trial By Fire, written by Page Smith about the U.S. Civil War. Maybe the stories of racism and atrocities are affecting me, will put it down for a while, read something light and then come back to it. As books go it is interesting and informative. I think he assumes his readers have the benefit of a U.S. education mind you, so I still have questions, even so I’ve learned a lot.
It says in my diary that ‘I quite like the people around me, but doubt any will become close friends’. They certainly wouldn’t as things turned out, but it seems I didn’t feel so strongly at this juncture. Thinking about my future, as I tend to do sometimes at sea anyway, it’s harder to see which way to go than it has been for the last few years. I had intended to be in the Canaries with my own boat this December, but property and money problems and a short illness put paid to that, so my boat is in Sicily still.
I can’t just carry on with my plans albeit a little behind schedule as I now have debts to worry about and clear first. Getting back to my friend’s flat in London appeals now, so long as I’m welcome there. Peace, contentment, a sense of achievement and a successful personal relationship all appear to be zephyrs right now. Mind you contentment has never been my way really, I always seem to be striving for something. It’s just that right now things seem more uncertain than ever.
Monday December 5th (Day 10)
11.00 GMT, the wind dropped in the night and the skipper is in his “this is crap” frame of mind. Prediction for 14.00 is that we’ll have done 130 nautical miles in twenty four hours, our previous worst 132, our best ever 168, but several days around 150. 130 would be fine in my view but apparently the skipper’s brother has taken another fifteen miles out of our lead, to the dismay of our leader.
It’s overcast this morning, with the possibility of squalls, so we’ve elected, so far, to stay with the genoa and main rather than pole out the genneker. The wind is inconsistent. Sometimes I think we should try the ‘kite’ as we’ve nicknamed the genneker, but at other times I think it’s likely to be more hassle than it’s worth.
We’ve been running the engine for a while to get the freezer cabinet cold again and to charge the batteries. The freezer compressor runs from a belt direct from the engine, whereas the fridge is purely electric and runs off the batteries. The fridge as mentioned has been off for some days. The freezer cabinet seems to be better insulated, but it’s not terribly cold right now and seems to be none too reliable. The plate gets cold when the engine is running and the light on the control panel is on. That light just goes off of it’s own accord sometimes and when it does, despite the compressor turning, there’s no refrigeration going on. We’ve tried making a better connection at the back of the switch and it seems to be working for now.
There appeared to be a strange noise from the steering earlier too, but it turned out the flexible exhaust hose was banging against the inside of the locker it passes through. This was caused by cooling water which is ejected in spurts through the exhaust, it’s strange we never heard it before, but it doesn’t signify a problem. A couple of times in the night I thought I heard a flying fish flapping in the scuppers, only to find nothing there, I realise now it was that same odd noise from the exhaust.
Keeping the batteries topped up is wasting loads of diesel which we could use to make progress in calm conditions, running the engine with sails up in anything over 10 knots of wind adds little to our speed and in 15 knots plus it adds nothing at all, so it’s just for the batteries that we do it. The skipper’s assumption that we would just run the engine for one hour per day for battery power was way off. We have the fridge off, the nav. lights off and we hand steer for extended periods, using the autopilot mostly at night and meal times. I think it’s still not enough and we need to run the engine for two to four hours in every twenty four hour period.
Sadly I’d quite like to just get it over now, the more so as I can’t foresee a fun time in Antigua, given the likely problems of getting ashore. I’m told a Beneteau First 47.7 like this one has done the journey in eighteen days but I can’t see that happening to us. It would if we suddenly get twenty knots of wind the rest of the way, but that doesn’t seem likely. In effect this is the tenth day, at least it is come 1.15p.m. and we’ve had some very good days in mileage terms, but we’re not half way.
Twenty one or twenty two days maybe, but predictions are meaningless. We’re actually making 6.5 knots on course right now, which isn’t bad, nonetheless if the wind pics up we have the potential to do 8 or even 9 knots, but if the wind dies we have to consider how much motoring to do. In a flat sea with full tanks, plus the jerry cans I reckon our motoring range at about 600 nautical miles, but that’ll probably be down to about 400nm by now and we know we need fuel for every day of the trip, wind or no wind, to charge the batteries.
Tuesday December 6th (Day 11)
After much umming and ahing about the exact mileage from Lanzarote to Antigua on the exact route we’re taking I figured I agreed with the others that we’d reach half way some time today. So eleven days, twelve at worst if we don’t get there today, meaning twenty one or twenty two days looks likely to be the best for the total journey, but it could easily be longer.
We put the genneker up again this morning, poled out as a spinnaker. It’s definitely faster but we did have a nasty moment when it wrapped around the forestay, but it came off with a course correction. I was kind of hoping we’d just leave it up all the way, unless the wind increases, but the skipper wants two on watch all night again if it stays up. Once more I don’t follow the logic, we have a system for putting it up and for taking it down, that system involves all four of us and it’s rehearsed, each person knows where they’re stationed and what they’re doing, so if there are two on watch they’d want to get two people up, one person on watch they’d need to rouse three, is it so very different? They don’t have to get fully togged up for a shortish job.
As well as meaning slower progress, taking the genneker down at dusk and putting it up at dawn may mean more risk to what we know is a fragile sail, because it’s in the removing or setting of it that things tend to go wrong if they’re going to, that’s when it’s most likely to get damaged, snagged or wrapped up. Winds at night have tended to be lighter than during the day, so far, but there are no guarantees. However, it makes little difference to me overall, I’m not racing. I want to get the whole thing over with now, it’s become like a prison sentence, but one day more or less isn’t going to affect me greatly. I also decided some time ago to say as little as possible since suggestions are not appreciated, adding a little personal stoicism would seem to be essential seasoning to that decision.
During the day, when most of us are kicking around, most of the time, there have been quite a few philosophical discussions, partly prompted by the English lady’s esoteric reading matter about whales holding dreams for humans and the Brazilian guy’s claims to spirituality, no wonder those two have become close, although if I was the bathroom cleaner at Rubicon marina I might not think too kindly of our spiritual companion.
We’ve definitely passed the half way mark in miles now, lets hope the speed stays up as winds are reputed to be lighter on the second half of this passage at this time of year. Still looking like twenty one or twenty two days. No traffic now for several days. The freezer played up again this morning when we ran the engine; with a little fiddling we got it to go again, but the writing is on the wall.
Wednesday December 7th (Day 12)
All being well, we should reach thirteen hundred miles to go today. Had to get up during my off watch in the night for a sail change when we made slow progress. At 10a.m. we poled out the genneker, this time on the port side, I think we’re making nearly six knots. No sooner was the genneker up than we had a pod of dolphins visit us for half an hour, which as always, was lovely.
We saw more abandoned fishing net floating yesterday evening and the subject of the starving, or possibly dead turtle from earlier in the journey came up. The skipper said that if I’d told him at the time he would have stopped the boat. I feel guilty enough anyway, however, remembering how he was at that moment – stood at the bow, intent on getting the most out of his genneker and racing his brother I’m not just sceptical, I plain don’t believe it.
Thursday December 8th (Day 13)
There are two ‘heads’ (that’s toilets in non nautical terms) on this boat. On my own boat I have just the one. The effluent, waste, whatever you want to call it can be sent straight out into the water outside, which does no harm I think, in small quantities well out to sea, or it can be sent to a holding tank on board by switching a valve. The holding tank is used close to shore, in harbours and in bays where people might swim. On my boat there is a thing called a macerator pump, it’s electrical and chops everything up and pumps it out when the holding tank needs emptying. It’s not a pleasant subject but in order to understand the next anecdote it’s useful.
On this boat, the toilet (I’ll stick to common language rather than nautical jargon) at the front of the boat has no holding tank, like most sea toilets it has a manual pump and this one pumps straight out to sea. The second toilet just back from amidships does have a holding tank and there’s no re-direct valve, everything goes into the holding tank and then gets pumped into the sea later. There’s no macerator pump either, it’s all pumped manually. I’d long ago been taught not to put toilet paper in a sea toilet and had also read that you should never put anything at all in a sea toilet that’s not been eaten or drunk first. Nothing gums up sea toilet plumbing like toilet paper. Even domestic plumbing in many countries can’t cope with toilet paper and it’s put in a separate bin.
It turns out I’ve been the only one bagging toilet paper and disposing of it separately. I’ve also used the loo at the bow exclusively, it’s next to my cupboard of a cabin. I think the English lady has been using both, the other two mostly the one towards the back ie nearest their cabins. The skipper has been putting loo paper down the toilet, so ,of course, have the others and most of it has gone into the holding tank, because that’s the toilet getting used the most. No surprise to me then last evening that when the skipper tried to pump out the holding tank and found it was blocked. And who did he command to help him un-block it, me of course.
I couldn’t resist telling him that putting toilet paper into that system was a mistake (especially given no macerator pump). I suggested it politely, but, there’s that word again ‘suggest’ hadn’t I promised myself not to do that any more, it does not go down well. Of course he got all defensive, he knows best and anyway it’s only got blocked twice now – in all the months he’s had the boat! Once is too often in my mind. You can lead a horse to water…..
Had I suggested it might be more appropriate to have the culprits sort it out I’d have been a winging Pom I’m sure, so I did as I was asked. Besides the other two knew no better about marine toilets, I’ve lived on a boat for eight years and the skipper worked for a charter company, he should know this stuff, it’ll be fine for a while and people do it, but eventually it’ll bite you.
Anyway, that was yesterday evening, after I’d written up my diary, now back to today. Light winds, but we managed to sail utilising the genneker, but with increasing difficulty until 3-30p.m. when the wind died completely and we all took a swim. Not all at the same time of course! More than a thousand miles to the nearest land in all directions and four thousand metres of water underneath you makes for an eerie swimming experience. The most striking thing is how blue the water looks when you dive down with a face mask on. I took my underwater camera, purchased originally to take pictures for my book ‘How To Anchor Safely – So You Sleep Well! http://tiny.cc/k4zkk and we got pictures of everyone. There was no marine life to be seen. I’m not feeling too fond of two of my shipmates, but I shared the pictures with the skipper now in case there’s a falling out later. Even then I felt the journey would end unhappily, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as acrimonious as it in fact turned out to be.
After our swim we motored with just the mainsail pretty much centred. However, wind is forecast from Friday (tomorrow) night and twenty five knots at that, so maybe we’ll make substantial progress.
Looked for the folder ‘My Writing’ on my laptop today and it’s not there, nor is it on the hard drive I have with me, maybe I accidentally deleted it when trying to make space. I’m pretty certain it’s backed up on a hard drive back in London, but all that work – it is a worry, as if I haven’t got enough of those already: debts, no tenants in the house, a possible cancer, what is increasingly becoming an unpleasant journey with two out of three people I find more and more I don’t respect and potential difficulties at the other end plus a flight home to fund.
The Brazilian guy gave us another one of his anti-British diatribes today. Colonial warmongers, empire builders and was telling the English lady to call the Falklands the Malvinas. It looked like the English lady was soaking it up, but then she’s pretty attached to him now and having been brought up in France from about the age of six she’s not terribly pro British herself. The Brazilian guy had previously told us about his “love, hate relationship” with the British. He’d clearly spent some time in London and been treated to standard British hospitality. I think we try really hard to be hospitable and welcoming in this country, but, despite this and although he was taking British sailing qualifications, because apparently we do get that right, it seemed to me that his “love, hate relationship” tended far more towards hate, unless you were twenty three, pretty, female, and a little suggestible.
He’d previously told us that two Argentinian friends of his had died in the Falklands and made his view that the islands belong to Argentina very clear. On that occasion he’d asked my opinion on the subject, so I’d given it, which is that we can’t change history and shouldn’t keep old disputes going. That people everywhere should be regarded as sovereign and since the Falkland islanders have been there for generations it’s their right to determine their own government and who they ally themselves to.
I’d also pointed out at that time, that the appalling military Junta in Argentina, who did great harm to their own people, had in fact invaded in order to distract attention from their own crimes and to manipulate their own people with a supposedly patriotic cause. No point in repeating it all again. Nor did I, in order to not fan the flames, mention things I might otherwise have raised like certain atrocities committed by Argentine troops, such as opening fire under a flag of truce. Nor, for the benefit of the Francophile on board did I mention how our French allies helped Argentina sink British ships killing NATO sailors in order to boost French missile sales.
Interestingly the topic of the immoral French nuclear test in the Pacific and their disgusting attack on the Rainbow Warrior was discussed on the trip. Of course the New Zealand Government naïvely, or worse, from expediency, returned the culprits, ostensibly to serve their jail tine in France, where unsurprisingly they were given a heroes welcome. How mad the world is. I’m a committed pacifist, but even this tiny community of four people is teaching me how difficult diplomacy can be! I’d like to fly home right now, but that’s impossible. The sea is calm, so if the wind does pick up at least we’ll fly across the water for a while.
Friday December 9th (Day 14)
Two weeks down out of a likely three. Had another disagreement with the Brazilian guy last evening when I was on watch in the cockpit and he decided to take a piss over the upwind side of the boat by the transom, and declined to use the lee side when I saw what he was about to do and asked him kindly to use the other side. Voices were raised. He has a big ego in my opinion and to change sides when asked by someone else would be to lose face. I moved away, he pissed into the wind.
At 20.30 Greenwich Mean Time last night we had 1130nm to go, so today should see us into the last thousand nautical miles. We had quite a fast sailing night, seven maybe seven and a half knots average. A couple of squalls though and now at 11.30 GMT it’s very squally all around and over us. The wind has in stages changed from SSW to WNW and we’ve tacked, rolled away some headsail and put one reef in the main. Our COG is 234 degrees approximately, which is just south of west and is fine I think.
It’s very rainy though, even in these latitudes I’d much prefer my own wheelhouse to this open cockpit. Which is a surprise to me. With this arrangement you either get burned by the sun, cold, soaked or both most of the time. The nicest time to be outdoors is on a warm, moonlit night but then on Francesca I can choose to be indoors or out as it suits.
Tomorrow it’s two weeks since I had contact with the letting agent, no text received on the satellite phone, desperately hoping their would-be tenant is about to move in. Now 18.00 and I’ve just finished a Lee Child novel in the Jack Reacher series. I read it to take a break from the strong emotions caused by reading the U.S. Civil War book. We’ll probably break the thousand miles to go milestone in the next two hours. After various squalls the wind died to nothing and we’ve been motoring at 2000 rpm and about 5 knots for several hours.
Saturday December 10th (Day 15)
Wear and tear is taking its toll on the boat. Both genoa sheets were shortened slightly yesterday due to chafe, then yesterday evening the mainsail ripped along a seam. It was stitched on deck, literally just before dark, without removing it from either boom or mast, but we haven’t tried it yet. (Whilst this was going on I spotted a yacht on a parallel course on the horizon, the skipper’s friends overtaking?) I personally think the reefing arrangement is pulling the sail out of shape and creating undue strain, but I’m still resisting making suggestions though they try to burst out, even I’m not sure of my motives any more. There was a time when I was certainly only trying to help, now I may be at least partially motivated to point out deficiencies, which wouldn’t help anything.
The weather is gone to pot. Squally yesterday afternoon, bouts of very heavy rain and wind up to 35 knots in the squalls themselves. My watch officially from 1a.m. to 4a.m., went up to find the skipper motoring with a tiny scrap of foresail. This time persuaded him we could use about half the foresail and kill the engine, which we did and it’s stayed much like that. We’re doing solo watches for once, but the skipper didn’t want the English lady up here alone so I extended my watch by two hours and let the others sleep.
I then got up at 11.20 a.m. and went into the cockpit with my video camera as we had a good following wind and big waves, quite dramatic. As I started filming the skipper growls, “keep me out of it”. What the fuck put him in that mood after getting extra sleep and what does he think – video cameras don’t have microphones? Wanker. Sorry but that’s what I think. Had breakfast and made the old bastard a coffee.
The skipper has allowed each of us up to two texts on his satellite phone. Not overly generous you might think but something strange is going on anyway. I texted one estate agent and she’s always responded before – no reply. The English lady sent a couple to her family – no reply, the Brazilian guy sent a couple to different members of his family – no reply; yet the skipper texts his brother, his wife, his daughter, his real estate agent, his weather forecasting mate and they all reply. A more suspicious person might wonder if he’s rigged it to only look like he’s sending ours whilst actually saving the credit for himself. Actually I don’t believe that’s the case, but it is an astounding coincidence.
Sunday December 11th (Day 16)
Last night was quite tough. The wind instrument records two hours history, so you don’t have to watch the anemometer constantly, (as you do on my boat) to see what the maximum gusts are. It showed three spikes of fifty knots. I don’t really believe it but forty at least for sure. Due to the squalls we had two on watch all the time, it changes about these days, if it’s very calm we get by with one on watch, which is so much better, but the skipper still doesn’t like the English lady being up in the cockpit alone even in a calm. Personally I think she’s proven herself, but it is a judgement call and it’s his call for sure.
Anyway, last night I did 21.00 to 03.00 in the company of the skipper, then the other two did 03.00 till 09.00 although it was 09.30 when I went back up, but no one called me and they were happy enough in daylight, it makes a huge difference to the way you feel. They’re both asleep now anyway. It’s 13.15 and I’ve just done two hours of hand steering, but we’ll need to run the engine soon for the batteries’ sake anyway. The masthead light was left on at day break, I just checked, don’t know what instinct made me do that, just the batteries being low I suppose.
The skipper and I had several huge downpours during our six hour watch, apparently the other two only had one five minute shower, well, that’s how it goes. The barometer has shot up this morning and the sun is shining, wind is roughly 20 knots from the East. Only a wind on the beam could be better. We have a three reefed Main (because we found more damage on it, not because of the wind) and half the genoa out on a very broad reach. We’re doing 6 knots and heading ever so slightly south of our intended course but I expect we’ll gybe later rather than pole out as things get a bit roly on a true run.
We made such good speed in the first few days I thought an eighteen day crossing might be possible. Not now. Over two thousand miles behind us and about 800nm to go. Twenty two days total? That would be Saturday 17th. Once within 300nm we could certainly motor the rest of the way if becalmed. Very close to Christmas for a cheap flight home though and the skipper is now talking about getting himself an immediate flight to Auckland. He’s very concerned because it turns out his wife’s employers had an insurance policy on her which pays out if she’s unable to resume the same job. She doesn’t have to be unable to work at all just be unable resume the same job, or same level of job. If she flies out to spend Christmas in Antigua it might have an affect on the claim, or on appearances at least and anyway he wants to be in New Zealand to argue the case.
He’s talked about the insurers offering her therapy to help her get back, but his stated view is that she won’t get better, can’t do the job and they want the money. I really can’t help myself from uncharitably thinking he’s more concerned with him getting the money than trying to get his wife fully better. That may be impossible and it’s not a nice thought, I’m not proud of it, but he certainly has helped to create or put that thought in my mind with what he says.
Whatever the truth of that situation it potentially leaves me homeless on arrival and possibly the others too, but then they already had plans to be in the Caribbean. I had no plans to spend Christmas alone out there. My friend not coming has certainly made everything harder, but the skipper changing his plans will mean an expensive flight, or to wait a while in a hotel for a cheaper one, but that will negate any saving on the flight anyway and potentially leave me spending Christmas alone in a hotel room. Therefore I really have to get an immediate flight home more or less if one is available.
I mentioned my conundrum to the English lady who had no sympathy whatsoever, “well things change” she said and “his flight will cost more than yours”. No point going through all the differences in our situations with her it’d just get out of hand so I said no more, she wasn’t in Sicily when the skipper needed help, nor in London when he phoned me; things certainly do change once you’ve fulfilled your usefulness. Anyhow, she’s quite naively satisfied with the deal she got, plus she has funds in hand from her last job and expects to find a new job in Antigua, therefore she’s happy and sees things differently.
No SMS yet from my estate agent and there won’t be today because it’s Sunday. The skipper’s not offering any more text messages on his satellite phone, so the sooner we get in cellphone range the better. Maybe I’ll check out satellite phones at the London Boat Show in January. The skipper’s was not nearly as expensive as they were the last time I checked. Mind you, I still don’t know how good they are, none of our texts seems to have gone anywhere, but then on the other hand he’s been using it very happily, does it know who its master is?
Apparently the skipper’s brother and three companions are three hundred miles behind us now and hand steering twenty four/seven as their autopilot has packed up. Very tough for them, but no more racing to worry about, nor could we, the state of our mainsail although we’re still making surprising progress all things considered.
Monday December 12th (Day 17)
Well, the days are ticking by, wishing my life away, but still four or five to go I expect and the prospect of getting a flight home for Christmas eroding with every passing day. It will be 14.00 in a minute and the Brazilian guy will announce our mileage for the twenty four hour period. I’m hoping it’s going to beat our 168nm record but expect it’ll be tight one way or the other. Apparently we slowed down at 5a.m. I went off watch at four, having returned two more flying fish to the ocean.
This morning has been almost constant rain, I spent two hours in it on the helm. The skipper seems to request a forecast from his mate every twenty four hours now and often hassles him again the same day for clarification. Naturally the forecast changes almost every time and much debate goes into intellectualising our course. Mostly between the skipper and the Brazilian guy who’s studying for an RYA Oceanmaster. I try to resist the temptation to join in.
On my own boat I’m more inclined to decide on a strategy, take what comes and adjust if necessary, forecasts are notoriously unreliable and you can’t change the weather. Of course if you knew about a large storm and if you had a fast enough boat you could try to avoid it. This is a fast boat but a big storm is not so very likely at this time of year, nor have we been warned of one, so it all seems a little unnecessary to me.
I read somewhere, (and my experience supports the premise) that a forecast five days ahead has a fifty percent chance of being right, the percentage gets better the closer you get to the day you’re on, but even so the fifth day of the forecast is totally meaningless and the fourth and third not so much better. Adjusting course on the basis of a seventy percent probability of what’s going to happen tomorrow just doesn’t cut it for me – especially if it compromises progress right now. I’ll take the bird in the hand thank you and I guess I’m just more of a seat of the pants sailor.
This experience has decide my strategy for the crossing, IF I ever repeat it on my boat. I would visit Cabo Verde first and then use the current along the route from there. I’d rely on seasonal trends, not daily forecasts although I might invest in a satellite phone. No reply from my estate agent still, although the skipper texted his ‘real estate’ agent and received an immediate response. The English lady tried her Mum again, no reply for her either.
Well, the mileage for the last twenty four hours came in at 158, bit disappointing given what we’d hoped for, but really very good. Back to my Civil War book to pass some time now. Yesterday I reached the assassination of Abe Lincoln, now for the reconstruction of the Union under Andrew Jackson I guess, it’s another world and so tragic.
15.40, the skipper has gone to bed having announced it’s two on watch again tonight at all times, six hours about. Last night we had single three hour watches and the skipper was on first, so he actually had nine hours uninterrupted, nonetheless he’s complaining he only got three hours sleep. How that can be I’ve no idea. I was so tempted to use the word ‘winging’ rather than ‘complaining’ there, the skipper being an antipodean, that I have to record the temptation.
The conditions are not significantly worse today, just wetter, so why two on watch I don’t know. We have a triple reefed mainsail which is tiny and a partly furled genoa, which is a doddle to roll away anyhow. Certainly I don’t feel I need the skipper’s company on watch, in fact it would be far more pleasant alone. Having three people to call on in an emergency is a luxury I don’t normally enjoy and if they’re rested, so much the better. Oh well, I’ve tried, from day one, to be diplomatic when it comes to decisions I don’t agree with or understand, no point changing that policy with four or five days to run. About 614nm left.
Spent some time hunting through lockers because the stove lighter has broken and I knew we’d bought some extra long matches. Found them eventually, in the last place I looked, obviously! I also discovered there’s going to be bucket loads of food left over, not really surprised at that and there’s a safety argument for overstocking, but can’t help feel I’ve contributed to the next leg too.
Tuesday December 13th (Day 18)
Now 11.45 GMT and we broke the 500nm to go landmark , if landmark is the appropriate word, about fifteen minutes ago. We’re reaching with the triple reefed main and the full genoa making six knots currently sometimes more. Doubled up on watch last night, skipper and myself first. By taking in the genoa we were able to steer a perfect heading running on the main alone and reasonably sedately. Apparently the autopilot made graunching noises during my off watch, so now we’re doing even more hand steering, although the sound could not be replicated in tests this morning.
The skipper sent me down half an hour before my six hours were up. It was patently obvious that two people on watch was not necessary, but maybe, like me, he wanted to be alone or maybe he was trying to be generous for once, not the most scrutable of characters. I went to my bunk at 2a.m. and returned to the cockpit at 9. Since then I’ve helmed for two hours twenty minutes. The skipper seems to spend as much time playing with his satellite phone as one of my friends at home does with her computer, which is a lot!
In his case he’s having his lovely wife organise that flight home for him so he can shoot off as soon as possible once we arrive, that’s likely to leave the rest of us homeless. The Brazilian guy is unconcerned, he has funds and would be happy enough to sleep on the beach. I think I’m too old for that and I wouldn’t want to risk having my bags stolen while I slept, so it’s a hotel or a flight for me – force majeur.
There is no hydraulic fluid on board to top up the autopilot. The skipper says he didn’t get any because he thought it was a sealed unit, which of course is rubbish. The freezer has now packed up completely so the list of boat jobs to be taken care of in Antigua is growing : solar panels, sail repair and new batten, sail cover repair (again), freezer repair (again), autopilot repair and there’s another strange thing, whenever you press transmit on the VHF radio the GPS loses its fix and an alarm goes off!
Our eta (expected time of arrival) is Saturday really, Friday if we’re lucky. Tomorrow morning we should have under 400nm to go, Thursday morning under 300nm, but if we have really big days where we cover a very good mileage in twenty four hours we could be under 100nm Friday morning, but by how much? We can’t do 100nm in the hours of daylight and we don’t really want to be going into harbour during the hours of darkness.
Saturday morning arrival seems most likely, may the winds be kind to us. Yesterday morning was wet and windy, the afternoon dry and windy, last night was mostly dry and windy this morning it’s partially overcast and windy for now at least.
Wednesday December 14th (Day 19)
Now 13.00 GMT where does the time go? At 09.30 we had 370nm to go, that’s about the distance of the North Sea crossing I made with Gill and Clive in 2005 which took us seventy something hours, say seventy five, might have been seventy three. Anyway we should definitely be in Antigua Saturday morning on this boat, so long as nothing major breaks. In fact if we averaged seven knots or more we might just scrape in Friday night before dark. That seems unlikely but the sooner we’re in cellphone range the better.
Very rainy this morning and very dark the first half of last night, before the partial moon rises, but clouds affect that too, so when I say very dark, I do mean very. Still the upside is that ship’s lights will show up very well, except in a squall. The skipper still insisting on doubling up on watch, which is like having a crew of two instead of four in many ways. He also announced yesterday evening that he doesn’t want to risk damage to his autopilot so it’s officially kaput and we’re hand steering all the way now. We had over 400nm to go at that point, I’d already been on the helm for four and a half hours when he made this announcement, adding heroically “I’ll stand here all night if I have to”. By which he meant someone will stand here all night and we all did.
However, that wasn’t the only news he imparted at that time, whilst discussing his personal situation (his only other topic of conversation being the weather these days) he casually dropped in that “my wife is organising a flight for me on the 21st and I’ll be locking up the boat and going. I suppose that impacts on you too” I’d been expecting something like this of course but the way he drops it in as if it’s nothing is really crass. Of course it fucking impacts on me you arsehole I’m thinking, a smile on my face. It means I’m homeless in a foreign country, up to my eyeballs in debt, four days before Christmas, no certainty of getting a flight at all, let alone a cheap one and potentially having to pay for a hotel to remain alone over the festive season.
I gave him a few minutes to see if he’d offer one phone call to the condemned man so that he too could get someone to organise a flight before they’d all sold out. Nope, not even that, some thanks for helping him deliver his boat, bringing out his parts, paying all my own expenses and buying extra gear. After a while I asked if I could try a second text on the satellite phone, yes that was ok, but only after he’d given me a speech about how little credit he had left, as if to emphasise his great generosity. Of course the text was never received by my friend in England anyway.
I can’t see myself staying in touch with this guy, or the Brazilian chap really. It’s a shame and I’m trying to be diplomatic to the end, but really I can’t wait to be back in the U.K. amongst my kind of people. It’s good to have done an Atlantic crossing, but I should have waited and done it on my boat, alone or with my friends, on my terms, my way of sailing. Still, the weather forecast says it’ll clear up today and be nice the rest of the way (believe what you like!).
I had another little contretemps with the Brazilian guy yesterday, I think my New Year’s resolution will be no more Mr Nice Guy, at least no more favours for people. The skipper’s boat incidentally will be worth forty percent more than he paid for it in Europe on the New Zealand market and it’s probably a £150,000 boat in Europe! £60,000 profit, maybe more. Ironically he’s now getting fed up with the journey himself, says he’s done the Pacific before as well, so, somewhat ironically from my point of view, he’s talking about PAYING other people to deliver it across the Pacific. Without him, and a crew of my choice it’d be a joy, but he won’t be offering me that job, nor would I really want to have any more dealings with him to be honest, least of all financial.
Thursday December 15th (Day 20)
Bucket loads of rain yesterday afternoon and evening and intermittent rain in the first half of the night. I was on the helm for a lot of it yesterday evening, but this morning the skipper has decided to risk the autopilot again. Why now I have no idea, Mr Adamant with his “I’ll stand here all night” speech is not as adamant as all that it seems.
Yesterday evening was also the evening of the fearless (or just too exhausted to care) swifts. These amazing and charming little birds migrate thousands of miles across great oceans and they’re so fragile that I dread to think what it would be like if they got caught up in one of the big squalls. I imagine they’re too clever, or take refuge on a yacht!
First two landed on the stern rail, right behind my shoulder since I was helming at the time. Eventually we had ten on board. They certainly trusted us and would sit on shoulders or heads, it was delightful. After dark two settled inside the main cabin and eight huddled together under the spray combing on the ropes coiled up there. They stayed there until about 10a.m., it’s getting light quite late now, we’re really in a completely different time zone, but we’ve left watches, clocks and phones etc set to GMT. Anyhow in the early morning light the skipper just reached for his gloves, over by the ropes, without thinking or looking, the result swifts everywhere and one appeared to flutter into the sea where it would certainly have drowned.
Whether he injured it, or it was too tired or sleepy to fly properly who knows, I say ‘appeared to’ because it was dusky at the time, the sea and the sky both look grey at that moment, but in reality I’m pretty certain that sadly it went in. Later in the day another one died on board, exhaustion or starvation I imagine. The others however flew off looking strong enough to continue and not that far from land now in their overall scheme of things. Or ours.
At 09.00GMT we had 255nm to go, so only about 115nm covered since 09.00 yesterday, not good by our standards. It’ll do for a Saturday arrival, but forget Friday, we actually had a headwind for much of the night and that was unexpected. Headwind and rain; we’re working hard for the last bit, well, most of the last eight days really and the two to go I expect.
Now 11.40; at the moment we have the last two sleepy swifts aboard, I wonder, at this moment, if they have the sense to take a free ride all the way, unfortunately it’s one of these last two that won’t make it, regrettably that’s two casualties out of ten.
We’re motor sailing close hauled at present, but expect we’ll try turning the engine off to see if we can sail shortly, no real rush now we’re aiming for a daylight arrival Saturday, but I’m very keen to get into cellphone range so I can get a friend looking on-line for a flight before they’re all gone. I say no real rush, but please let it only be two more nights, the weather, or an accident, could theoretically still bugger things up and while we’re on it, let me have a tenant and let me get an immediate and affordable flight home. Bit upset I won’t get to enjoy Antigua but C’est la Vie.
16.30GMT the engine has been off for a while and the skipper has discovered his brother is now 310nm behind us. They’re still battling a headwind. We’re sailing at a mere four knots, slow for this boat, but we’re heading right at the target and it’s adequate for a Saturday arrival. The other crew cannot match that.
Therefore, the feared embarrassment, to our skipper only, of having his brother leave after us and arrive first seems impossible now. He did it again! Skipper, without looking what he was doing, just put his clumsy great hand on the two remaining swifts, one flew away seemingly unhurt, the other stayed put, also seemingly unhurt, but would die later. Just like the turtle and the previous swift it saddened me. I can’t help feeling that when a wild creature seeks sanctuary with humans and trusts us so much that we have a duty of care, but maybe I’m just an old softie. They just strike me as such incredible creatures, so brave and yet so delicate.
The weather is now lovely, the other two crew stretched out in the cockpit sunbathing, so no room to sit down out there, but that’s ok, there’s plenty of deck, and actually I’ll read inside, don’t want to risk getting burned anyhow so short spells work for me. The autopilot is on. The milk is now in the electric fridge which was brought down in temperature while the engine was on, the freezer having long ago packed up. Unfortunately the skipper has banned us from opening the fridge door and letting the cold out. I’m the only one who takes milk in drinks anyway. Hell, at this rate I will start to seem like a reasonable skipper! I wish people who’ve sailed with me in the past could witness this!
Looking forward to being in cell phone range. Slightly concerned about whether it’ll be easy to charge phones and computers etc but will cross that bridge when it comes to it. This boat cannot utilise 110 volts shore power, not sure if 220 volts will be available. I need a flight home is what I need and the world needs to standardise more; the bottled gas is different on the other side of the pond too and get down to New Zealand and you’re back to 220/240 volts electricity once more, but still the U.S. style gas bottles I believe.
20.25 GMT 200nm to go, tomorrow afternoon sometime and we should be down to 100nm to go and arrive Saturday. Forecast is for north easterlies too which is perfect and it’s not a long range forecast, so it might even be accurate. We’re close hauled now and only managing a COG of 240 degrees when 267 degrees would be ideal, but we’ll get there. If it becomes more NE that will be just dandy. I wonder how close we have to get to pick up a cellphone signal twenty miles, fifteen, ten, five, closer still? Probably depends whereabouts on the island the mast or masts are. The skipper has his flight booked, no one has had the chance to even look for me yet.
Friday December 16th (Day 21)
Writing this on my bunk at 10.50GMT, bit bouncy though, still sailing fairly close hauled. It was calm enough last night that the skipper agreed to one on watch at a time. He took 22.00 till 01.00. On account of GMT being well off local time now that’s definitely the best watch if you want a long and uninterrupted night’s sleep. Still, I’m just glad not to be doubling up. I had 01.00 till 04.00 then it was the English lady, finally being allowed some responsibility at last, and then the Brazilian guy.
Technically I suppose I’m free until 13.00, anyway I feel the need of some time alone hence being on my bunk. Unfortunately there’s another bunk right over my head so sitting up to read or write isn’t possible. Roman style reclining it is then.
We must be into our last twenty four hours. Skipper wants to go into port around 10.00 tomorrow. The engine went on, together with the triple reefed main and the full genoa during the Skipper’s watch, apparently he got up to turn the engine off again during the English lady’s watch around 04.30 and we’ve been sailing ever since, feels like about six knots but I haven’t checked. I did get my phone and camera charged while the engine was on, so at least I can photograph our arrival and call England to get my friend to look at flights for me and check with the estate agent to see if I have a tenant yet; just as soon as I pick up a signal.
None of the surviving swifts returned for another night’s sleep last night, I do hope the rest of them made it safely to land. The weather outside looks doubtful, overcast and with the promise of rain but not unduly threatening.
Maybe it’s some species of paranoia, or maybe it’s sitting here in my cabin, but the other three seem increasingly like a little clique of anti Brits; I feel sure the Kiwi skipper is of the winging Pom persuasion and even though another is technically English, she’s more Francophile than Anglophile and doesn’t seem to have a good word to say about her mother country. She has also, it seems, formed a deep attachment to our anti British South American crew member and his cause célèbre.
Going back to the English lady’s comment, mentioned earlier, that “things change” I can’t quite stop myself feeling that I didn’t let the skipper down when my circumstances changed, I nonetheless still flew out to help, but as soon as his circumstances changed he was very happy to let me down and leave me in the lurch here, especially since my usefulness is coming to an end. Not even a phone call, that rankles.
It’s a shame to spend all this time with people, to share a major experience and to never want to see any of them again, but that’s how I feel right now, even if the English lady’s mother is, spookily, friends with one of my oldest and dearest friends. I really want to see the back of them and it’s not an emotion I’m used to feeling about my fellow man, or woman.
111.5nm still to go at 12.23GMT Saturday arrival pre midday still entirely possible. The look of the sky has improved, blue with patchy clouds. Just had cornflakes for breakfast. The chocolate ration, I bought two extra large bars for myself in Rubicon marina, has lasted perfectly, just running out now. Skipper is currently on the helm, the other two asleep I think. I’ll offer to take over the helm at 13.00. Cell phone range, that’s what I want!
Now 16.12GMT making around 6 knots, was about 5 knots until recently. 92nm to go and no chance of cellphone range tonight, certainly not before everyone in the UK is tucked up in bed. The skipper’s main topic of conversation today – his arrangements for getting home; thoughtful as ever given I’m still waiting to make a call to even start organising a flight. I’ve only ever known one other person in my life up until now, whose only topics of conversation were their life, their family and anything that affected them, not a trait to be admired.
He’s going via Miami because it’s cheaper apparently, when he wanted to go via San Francisco where he knows people. My heart bleeds. He’s got a six figure boat and an architect designed house built to his own requirements and the New Zealand economy is holding up better than most at this time, I expect he could have afforded to go via San Francisco if he really wanted to.
When we do get there he’s going to want help cleaning the boat and if we don’t find a fuel dock he’ll probably want help lugging jerry cans again, I’m afraid I have other priorities, like getting a flight and enjoying the drastically foreshortened time I’ll be having in Antigua.
This morning the skipper’s brother was 430nm behind having hove to for some hours rather than battle the headwind. Feel a bit sorry for those buggers. Puts the skipper’s competition with his brother pretty firmly to bed unless we experience a total disaster.
Saturday December 17th (Day 22)
Optimistically, or in desperation, tried the cellphone at 11.00 and again at midnight last night then at 07.00 and 09.00 when I finally got on. I’d helmed from 12.00GMT until 03.00 and then got three and a half hours kip. At 9 I got a signal but not from Vodafone who I use normally, so three short phone calls, two about getting a flight and one to the estate agents plus three SMS text messages cost about £35.
Only a week to Christmas eve but I finally have a friend trying to source a flight and I will be on land later today, although not sure what time, or how long formalities will take, or whether there’s an easy internet connection, but flight and estate agent were the most important. I’ll catch up with my e-mails as soon as I can.
Bad news from the estate agent. The tenant who made an offer the day we sailed went through referencing OK, she was due to move in on the 15th December, but never signed the agreement and announced on the day she was due to move in that she’d changed her mind. If I’d been in contact I wouldn’t have allowed that situation to develop, no signature, no deposit, then the house stays on the market. Another cost of helping with this delivery.
The house is back on the market now, but with Christmas fast approaching nothing’s going to happen now until sometime in January, so that will be another month lost, possibly more if people have to give notice where they are currently. My finances are at their lowest ebb for as long as I can remember. I have some assets, which I don’t want to sell, but maintenance issues, debts, tax and a flight to pay for plus bugger all liquidity it’s not good, not good at all.
We tied up at 12.00GMT still not sure what time that is here! I found wifi at a nearby bar/café. Huge inbox, spent some hours looking at my e-mails but many more to look at in the next few days. The others went and got pissed up on the other New Zealand boat that we’d socialised with in Lanzarote. I didn’t fancy getting drunk, so although I do really like four of the people on that boat quite a lot, I went exploring on my own and actually found somewhere to dance in the evening which suited me much better. I got back to the boat around 1a.m. local time to find the skipper and the English lady very pissed up and drinking rum in the cockpit, left them to it and went to bed, although they did seem more likeable in that condition. Actually she has a very likeable personality, we just don’t have much in common, he was definitely better for the rum in my very personal opinion. Next morning I rescued her sodden handbag from the cockpit, glad it wasn’t stolen or lost overboard last night.
Sunday December 18th
Went ashore first thing to get much needed cash, on credit card from the ATM, expensive but very necessary, and then to find a loo. There are no loos in the ‘marina’ where we are temporarily tied up – crazy, I imagine they don’t want the water polluted either. After that I went on-line at the Seabreeze café to start reading e-mails in earnest. Yesterday I really just identified the dross and deleted it or marked many as read.
Now to be fair to the guy he didn’t know what I’d just read, one e-mail informed me that one of my oldest friends, someone I liked a lot, who was a brilliant character, who I’d known since 1975 and who I’d kept in touch with since I’d left the parachute club in 1981, a fellow aviator, racing driver and petrol head had just died. The next e-mail I read from good sailing friends said that cancer had become a serious issue for one of them and despite extensive treatment seems to have come back strongly.
I was trying to take in these terrible messages when the skipper comes up behind me and says “the boat needs cleaning, it’s not pleasant, but it’s got to be done” and then stalks off in the direction of the boat. Well, if I don’t help I’ll be the bad guy and it’ll be more work for the other two ‘crew’. So I pack up the laptop and head back to the boat. When I get there no one is cleaning because the other Kiwis have come for a visit, one of whom is a sail maker so I lend a hand getting the mainsail off, but really there are two many cooks and we get in each other’s way.
Then I wait around while the skipper socialises with his compatriots and then just when I think we’re going to start cleaning he announces he’s going to the bar with them, the very bar he’d just dragged me out of the bastard. Finally I crack, I call him back, rather than embarrass him in front of people he knows. I point out to him that I’ve helped deliver his boat three thousand six hundred miles, paid all my own expenses, delivered his parts, bought duplicate gear and he hasn’t even said so much as thank you. I tell him what I was reading when he pulled me away from the bar to clean his fucking boat (I haven’t even had time to answer the e-mails yet) and now instead of cleaning the boat he’s off to the bloody bar himself.
You might have thought that lot pretty unanswerable, or even that an apology might be forthcoming, but quite the opposite. “Right” he says, somewhat aggressively “you’ve had your say, now I’ll have mine. The others paid €25 per day, you knew I wanted a contribution, you’ve done as little as possible….” I can’t actually remember the rest because the red mist came down. The thrust of the message was that I was a freeloader on his boat and didn’t pull my weight. I wondered if he has selective memory, but it had to be hypocrisy since only a few days ago he was recalling how bleak things looked when he was in Sicily “and now we’re almost there” he’d said, with great pleasure.
Most days we had eleven hours of daylight, and used the autopilot after dark, I quite often did two hours on the helm in the morning and two in the afternoon, that’s four hours per day, four fours are sixteen but there weren’t sixteen hours of daylight and there were four people on board, so I’d pulled my weight there. I had done some, but not much, food preparation in the evening it’s true, but then neither had the skipper and I had done plenty of washing up. I had made a cooked breakfast several times and I never, ever made myself food or a drink without asking if anyone else around me wanted something, I’d extended my watch to let others sleep, I’d helped unblock a holding tank I’d never used, I’d man handled gallons of diesel around a marina and more. There’s no question I’d contributed a useful amount of labour, to HIS profit making delivery project, when HIS friends had completely abandoned him.
I’ve already recorded the fact that the cost to me was €60 plus for every day at sea, which is just on the basis of my contribution to the skipper in cash, plus flights and gear. I’d left the house problem in the hands of others and that meant it drifted a bit and I’d missed out on getting my two new books to market for Christmas, so the real cost I can only guess at. However, I’d honoured my promise if it can be called a promise, I’d helped out a fellow sailor in distress and this is the thanks I get! I had stayed true to my beliefs and principles, which is good I suppose, but on the downside it’s made me less inclined to help others now, something which will probably pass, but I’m pretty fed up with being Mr. Reliable these days. It doesn’t seem to be a common trait in people any more. Bitter? At this juncture you can be sure.
I cannot find the words to adequately describe my anger, however, he wisely turned around and left to catch up with the others en-route to the bar. I meanwhile started cleaning – you must think I was mad. Two reasons why I did; one was that the skipper had twice run the Brazilian guy down to me, behind his back, so I’m sure he did the same to me behind mine, he was pretty much bound to after this incident and I didn’t want to add ammunition by leaving without helping out with the cleaning. The second reason was that it would mean more work for the other two, not exactly friends, but no reason to penalise them. So I cleaned, hard for and hour and a half, then left to go find somewhere else to stay.
I wasn’t having much luck finding accommodation, which didn’t bode well. My friend had found me a flight for the 20th December thank goodness but I didn’t want to be spending two more nights on that cursed boat, especially as the skipper was taking it out to a mooring the next day to save money, making getting ashore the issue I’d anticipated it being. Eventually, at the third place I went to I had a stroke of luck. I met two Swedes on their way out and one of them was a Lindy Hop dancer who’d been at Herrang in 2005 – the last time I was there! Instant friends to hand, oh that felt good. Their hotel turned out to be full, but they took me to meet their landlady who also ran a bar up the street and she pointed me to a hotel which did have a vacancy. I had to use my credit card again, but it was a price I was prepared to pay, I was free.
By the time I got back to the boat the others were all off partying on the other New Zealand boat. I took my stuff and some of the books I’d brought on board. I left a couple of books behind and rather than create more ill feeling I left a note saying I’d met some Swedish friends and was moving out. I suppose the suggestion was that I was staying with my friends, but I didn’t actually say that, it was technically truthful. I wished them all well with their individual plans and said I hoped the skipper’s wife got her insurance payout. Actually, in hindsight, that was pandering to the skipper too bloody much and taking diplomacy a step too far. I should have said I hope she gets better, because that’s what I do hope for.
Monday December 19th
Nice shower and breakfast in the hotel and no need to go hunting for a loo either, heaven. My friend in the U.K. reconfirmed the flight for tomorrow and I then went out, met Joakim and Cecilia, had a beer and a sandwich with them and then went off to book a taxi to the airport for tomorrow. Passed the skipper with his sailmaker buddy in the street, he said “hi”, I reciprocated and carried on. Went out for a pizza in the evening, just about the only veggie option around here, then went back to the hotel and watched old episodes of British Top Gear on U.S. Television – surreal.
Tuesday December 20th
Nice breakfast again and friendly people to chat to. Checked my e-mails, sorted my luggage, watched a little more British TV on American channels and then jumped in my taxi. All very comfortable and pleasant.
I’d arranged to get to the airport early in case of problems. Just as well, they wanted me to produce the credit card I’d booked the flight with, but of course my friend in England had booked the flight so her credit card was a few thousand miles away. Don’t American Airlines realise that sometimes people buy flights for friends or relatives, is this a new thing? First time ever?
It took several phone calls, to my friend and then several, or a very long one by her to American Airlines’ customer services. That’s once she’d managed to find a number to get a human being to talk to and hung on for a while. She effectively had to re-book the flight direct with American Airline’s London office (it was originally booked and paid for on-line) and then, eventually they altered the status to confirmed (remember we’d already been told it was confirmed) and once the computer system said it was confirmed the check in desk in Antigua finally let me check in. Cost of just my international mobile phone calls – about another £40, thanks American Airlines, losing business? I know this chapter must really make me look like the winging Pom certain nationalities love to hate – but really.
I then had to pay embarkation tax to the Antiguan authorities, luckily I still had some currency left from the ATM.
Wednesday December 21st
Changing flights at Miami was a zoo, the queues for passport control were mega and of course, even though you’re not staying you have to have an esta number for security, and have to give your fingerprints, and collect your luggage and go through customs and security, and then check it in again for the next leg. I am actually in favour of security, but there is a worry about missing the next flight. I had some hours in which to do it but it was still a close call.
I’ve taken this from my diary and typed it up and tidied it up for publication, but it’s essentially what I wrote at the time and therefore reflects how I felt at the time. It’s now towards the end of January, so a good month after returning to London. During the intervening time I’ve had Christmas and New Year at home with friends, gone dancing and although I’m still short of money and had to go for another blood test today I’ve pretty much got my Mojo back. So how do I feel about it all now the dust has settled?
Basically I still feel I was taken advantage of by a bit of an ingrate. I’m also proud to be British; we’re not perfect of course, but on the whole I think we’re polite, tolerant and the antipodean whinging pom thing is all a bit overdone, although I really like to think that with most Kiwis and Aussies it’s pretty much a friendly leg pull. I’m fully aware that this chapter of my forthcoming book ‘Mostly Of Sea’, the sequel to my original book ‘Of Land, Sea, And Sky’ http://www.oflandseaandsky.com/ if read in isolation might well be taken as being very whinging. I hope not, but some may see it that way.
I felt that none of the other three was particularly fond of Britain or the British. I don’t know how they really felt about me personally, but it’s hard to like people who don’t like you and then perception becomes everything. If you perceive that people don’t like you, or even just suspect that they might not, then you’re not likely to make lifelong friends out of them. Spending time in a small space and having to work as a team with people you’re unsure of isn’t easy, which is fine, it really taught me a lot, although I wouldn’t have wanted it to go on much longer!
Having said I feel used, I’m not looking for revenge I don’t think that’s a positive thing as a rule. It doesn’t read very nicely when you refer to people as the skipper, the Brazilian Guy and the English lady all the time. The anonymity is not because I’m worried anyone will sue me, although the skipper might be the type, it’s because I wanted to record the story and my feelings, not point the finger.
A handful of people who know us may realise who’s who and one or two people may work it out if they want to, but there’s no point to that. It’s a story; a real life factual story, a record of what happened and a record of what I felt, my emotions and my personal opinions contemporaneous with the events as they happened. Sometimes in life we meet people we don’t hit it off with, maybe we suspect their motivations, even feel they’re not terribly nice, but it’s not like accusing anyone of a crime. Of the three, there’s only one I’d really be happy to see again and I don’t really have much in common with her. She is, in my personal opinion, a very jolly, optimistic, fun person and therefore very likeable, even if we do have little in common. My other, more negative opinions about the other two are also that, just personal opinions, nothing more or less, and I’m not saying that they’re all bad either.
So there you have it. My diary of an Atlantic crossing, warts and all. Not a happy experience, I wish I’d done it my way or delayed it, but in some ways one can look at it as an achievement and as a lesson or lessons learned. The Atlantic Ocean is a fabulous place to sail, long swells rather than breaking waves as a general rule, flying fish, whales, dolphins, turtles. The sky at night is amazing and it’s an adventure, for all that there was much which wasn’t good about it, better to focus on the nice things and not to worry about any regrets.