Our Atlantic crossing is complete. I have come a long way to be in this place. I have travelled from one horizon to another and I can now count myself as one who has crossed an ocean in a sailing boat. Yipee.
All that needs to be done is to share what the experience was like.
I will start with the end.
Significant to this journey was a decision that had to be made once we arrived on the other side of Barbados. Do we turn south and head to Panama, then home taking 2016 to do this, or do we remain and explore the new neighbourhood and as a result have to sell Miss Catana. The latter means putting her on the market more or less straight away, because who knows how long she will take to sell. The Captain has to be back at work January 2017. Prior to departure, neither of us had come to a clear pathway and I had been put on notice by the Captain that I needed to know my own mind by crossings end.
This meant the crossing thoughts were dominated by oh, what to do!
Before big boat decisions…
What’s It Like Crossing the Atlantic Ocean
The crossing is different for everyone. Just because you are on the same boat doing the same nautical miles, my experience is different from each aboard. So I can only tell you what it was like for me. I won’t be going into the boat mechanics, the weather forecasting and the best sail configurations in any detail. If you want a how to do it, step by step sailing guide, you can stop reading now, as you are in the wrong place.
In regards to sailing, the first 9 days were harder than the final few. With the wind directly behind us and significant waves we found it best to hand steer rather than use the auto pilot. This meant that for nine and a half days whoever was on duty were required to work. As a sailor who loves the auto pilot and was sold on the idea of reading and relaxing my way across the Atlantic it soon became apparent “not this trip”.
We each earned our crossing. No we did not experience horrendous weather conditions or a great storm but we did have to put the work in to get from point A to point B. Hand steering meant that for 6 hours each day you had to focus, maintain watch and do ones duty. There were times of discomfort, noise and constant motion that is part of the deal with a moving vessel in a big sea. Yet for the most, it just wasn’t that bad.
We learnt along the way how best to sail Miss Catana to the conditions, and if we did it again I have no doubt we could do it faster and better. For me, my helming skills have improved crossing an ocean. Funny that.
Let’s Do This Day Again And Again And Again
Having a Groundhog Day is how I would best describe crossing the Atlantic. If you haven’t watched the movie or know the expression in the movie Groundhog Day, the main character is forced to relive the same day over and over. Each morning when he wakes he is back to yesterday.
On our boat, each day seemed to blur into the next. Time is different on a long passage and we all quickly lost what day it was in our journey. What day of the week or date seemed totally insignificant so quickly forgotten. Day and night was broken into repeatable components – helming, sleeping, eating and rest. You did your watch, you did the day, you slept (or tried to on some nights) and then you got up and did it all again. The world in which we moved seemed not to alter as the days passed. When waves come behind you to pass underneath, it is as if you stay stationary, it is the world underneath that is moving away. The truth is somewhere in between this. We were moving and so was the ocean. At times each moved faster than the other depending on the conditions or time of day. It is a long way to go regardless of the vessel you are sailing in.
The scenery was ever constant, a solid support act to my role of sailor on the big blue. The clouds, the water, the waves all remained as they had the day before. My most important marker to each day was my turn to helm. Some days I became an obsessive clock watcher. At the end of my watch I would delight in the fact that I had 9 hours to go to the next watch. I would watch and count the hours of the others in relationship to my next turn. Then I would count mine and Captains watches together having only 6 hours to go. Is it starting to sound slightly crazy?
Each helming shift I compared to driving from Launceston to Hobart 300 kms, or a 3 hour watch twice a day. Standing on your feet and not always having companionship to share the trip, it was a battle of will and for me concentration. When surfing down huge waves I wavered between thrill and fear. Even though the boat was in total control and behaved exactly as she should, it took me a couple of days to trust the boat when she sat atop the huge waves.
I was most wary at night when without moonlight I sailed by watching the bearing rather than the horizon. This by the way is not always as easy as you think. As you aim to keep an exact bearing, you are in battle with wave movement, rogue waves from new directions and wind. If sailing with the main up too far outside your bearing range or allowance you could do an uncontrolled jibe. Bad, bad, bad. Not good, in particular on night watch whilst others were trying to sleep. Or if front sails were up and you steered too far from your 5 degrees allowance you would lose shape of the sails. This also is not good.
Besides the bearing each person would aim to keep the boat going as fast as she could with the sail configuration set. The days were certainly more fun and faster than the night sails.
Sailing gives you plenty of time to think. I compare sailing to living inside a virtual computer game. I devised rules, points and game details. The aim of the game was to successfully navigate each day, to arrive at my planned destination in the shortest time possible with the greatest number of points acquired. Daily tasks and events all earned points. Points gained for being on time to watch, points gained for rescuing a flying fish before it was out of the water too long, points lost for not doing the dishes. I had a clear picture in my head of our avatars and what our secret weapons would be.
You get the idea? I doubt I could sell this game in the computer world but as a participant in my very own virtual game I derived no end of satisfaction.
Did I mention I had plenty of time to think, too much time perhaps…
Wild life was conspicuous in its absence. We saw a few birds, no fish except flying fish, until we were close to land. Scenery was pretty dull, blue sky, blue waves, white fluffy clouds and press repeat for tomorrow.
Dull until mid way when a whale decided to join us.
I didn’t know that whales played, investigated and checked us out as much as we checked them out. The whale was approximately 8 metres long and right beside a 12 metre boat, that is impressive. Four visits by the same whale over four days, felt like he or she had become our trip mascot. On the first day after spending 90 minutes with us she breached 4 times, as if to say “Farewell the Miss”.
Award for Consistency goes to the wind. Except for the last 40 nautical miles the wind remained a constant at 15 to 25 knots. Yes there was the odd time we got a 30 knot gust or it might drop down to 10 knots on some evenings, yet for the most it was constant. Unlike the Mediterranean we all began to trust the wind to do and remain as the trade winds promised. Trusting the wind at first seemed like trusting the local drunks with the keys to the brewery. I kept expecting things to go pear shaped with the weather and they didn’t.
The Awesome Award goes to our boat. We were so comfortable and snug in our home that I can truthfully say there was little true physical hardship to our trip. At night we had to purposely slow the boat down as the faster you go the more difficult it is to sleep. When below, riding down waves, adjusting ropes or touching the winches is noise magnified, whilst up on deck all seems quiet.
Our one issue on the journey was the main sail coming down and we can’t blame Miss Catana for our lack of preparation. The Captain had a spare made but didn’t get around to changing the rope even though he thought it needed to be done prior to departure. Our boat was a stellar performer and we all love her even more now that she has proven herself worthy by easily crossing an ocean. Not that there was any doubt.
In a prior post I mentioned how fabulous our Watt and Sea was for giving us plenty of power. Power on a boat means 2 fridges, 1 freezer, multiple computers, phones and electronics charged. Power means ice in your lunch time gin and tonic, and fresh food at all times. Power means hot long showers because the water maker could run without issue. Plenty of power means we all travel in total luxury and comfort. At no point did I feel I was roughing it as we travelled.
These facts were not lost on me as I contemplated the long term future of Miss Catana.
Other Random Observations From Our Crossing
Before we left Europe we put a safety line around the mast and around each side of the Bimini. This meant once hooked in you couldn’t fall into the water, though if you fell over you could graze you knees. Daytime it served as a great washing line and night time the rule was you hooked in whilst outside. The only exception to this rule was the Captain who did not hook on. He told me unless the weather was bad or he was moving forward of the cabin he was safe. I had to take him at his word. As a compromise, he wore a Stormy Seas jacket and on about day two I put a personal AIS device and a strobe light in his blue jacket pocket.
If my Captain had fallen in and drowned, we could have said well at least he died doing what he liked doing. Drowning that is. To this day we still disagree on this point.
Crazy. They can fly up to 100 metres and every morning we had fish dead on our boat. On the final night watch with only minutes to 9 pm, I was sitting at the helm station when a fish whizzed over my head, hit the window above the desk, and then landed on our log book. What are the odds of a fish getting so far into the boat do you think? Good news for the fish the Captain picked it up and had it back in the water so the poor thing didn’t lay there too long gasping, wondering what the hell happened and where was the water.
I could write an entire post on the food consumed on our boat over the past two months. Cooking was the hottest competition in town and the winners were Captain Underpants and I.
Whilst underway food became an expression of care for one another and each of us went to great lengths to cook at our very best. Curries, Chinese, Indian, Swiss style food and baking of biscuits and cakes were all on the menu. Then there was the regular bread bake off between the Captain and Captain Carole whilst travelling. I have had better bread in the past month than bread consumed from expert bakers.
Have I put on weight? You bet, no surprise there. Prior to departure I had read on multiple sites that everyone puts on weight crossing the ocean. I think we on Miss Catana took the food and no exercise to an extreme.
Pay back is a bitch and the diet has begun.
I will start with crew. It just worked. Two months together and harmony was the norm. Testament to the fact that if you try, if you all accommodate, and if you are not egotistical and opinionated it isn’t so hard. We have no horror stories to relate about crew and hopefully they have none about us. I do think having a hull each assisted, plus the fact the crew spoke French as their first language. In my opinion this allowed them to vent with liberty if needed and this has to be good for the soul. I for one will count Captain Carole and Captain Underpants as friends.
Getting along with my Captain. Just because you have been married for many years and know that you are a solid team, isn’t any guarantee you will get along on the Ocean. Crossing water for days on end, all bets are off. The final 48 hours, discord seemed our music and we were both out of sorts with each other. There is no place to go when pissed off with your partner when living on a boat. My options included sulking on the front seat or in my bedroom. The final 24 hours I decided I didn’t actually like my Captain. This is a first time I have thought this since living on a boat. I even wondered what life would be like single…
The fact that I even went there surprised me. I decided to blame the crossing. I bet I am not the first wife to go there either. Good thing we have since talked about it, kissed and made up.
So I wasn’t quite the Grinch but I wasn’t happy. I found Christmas day pale without family, without certain food, without loud talking, without discussions ranging from people, politics and the merits of Australia finally becoming a republic. I missed the stress, the love and joy of being together as a family.
I missed my tribe.
New Year’s on the middle of the ocean was the same lack luster experience.
Missing ingredient to both occasions – the important people in our lives. At the stroke of midnight our boat time, I was snuggled in bed fast asleep with a 6 am watch to get up for. Prior to bed we had a rare drink of Greens Stone Ginger Wine to toast each other and absent loved ones. Next morning as the sun rose on a new year I pondered how it took an expensive boat and thousands of miles from home to teach me yet again that life comes back to the relationships we have with the people we love. Yep on that morning I was homesick. Sniff.
As you know we did 3 hour watches, though at night we tended to work in rounds as a couple 6 on 6 off. Three of us voted the 6 to 9 shift the best as you get to have the sunrise and sunset each day. The morning shift allows you to have peace, quiet and reflection, whilst the night watch usually involves the evening meal and some quality sharing time. The Captain liked the 9 to 12 watch the best. When sailing with twin head sails out at night, it was important to have a second ready for action to pull the sails in if the weather changed. For me that meant the second shift on the couch of an evening as the Captains shift followed mine. Sometimes I slept, other times we had those hours to talk, share and be alone as couple.
Lucky me I got to do the 6 to 9 shift for the final 6 days as it was the only time cycle I hadn’t done during our time with crew.
Nice rotation to finish on.
How To Be Frustrated On A Boat – Grrr
You would think it near impossible to lose stuff on a boat, especially when you are fairly organized. I felt frustration at not having two items whilst we travelled. Our expensive fancy head torch with the red light additional feature, has disappeared and with continuous night sailing a head torch is a must have item. In the end we shared a torch belonging to the crew. The other item absent was my iPod which I left in Australia. At night I would wear my iPad around my neck in a waterproof bag. Not hard to work out why iPods are as successful as a portable music device in comparison to an iPad.
For the crossing I had been building my library with anticipation.
I did not read one page of any book, unless reading the pilot book for landfall counts. My self-promise to read Moby Dick remains broken and as an avid reader I look back amazed at this turn of events. The first 9 days of hand helming meant it was either your watch or you were resting, there just didn’t seem much time for reading. The trip was more reflective than I anticipated.
Also I listened to podcasts for the first time. Week one I listened to the 12 part series called “Serial” a true story looking at a murder conviction and asking some sticky questions as to who did or didn’t kill the girl. At other times I listened to downloads of Triple J’s Hack and Dr. Karl who enlightened me me on such things as fart breathing. My crossing has left me so much smarter than when I left.
Go on ask me about fart breathing. You know you want to.
Captain Underpants (4 across)
My brilliant mother does the cryptic crossword every day and I am always impressed but never inspired to do crosswords myself. That all changed when prior to leaving I downloaded an app for crosswords as a maybe this will be fun moment. The crosswords became addictive. We all got involved in solving the next word needed. Captain Underpants, Force 7 or Emergency Doc on Board (4 letters across) was fantastic in assisting the completion of each one. Considering English is his third language he would be the undisputed champion of Miss Catana crosswords.
You never know one day I might be good enough to do cryptic crosswords even.
There was plenty of laughter and spontaneous joy on our trip. Comfortable jokes regarding body functions, body fluids, and the life cycle of food were the norm. Taking the piss, sharing culture and trying to enlighten our Swiss friends on the joys of swearing was part of the day to day. Keeping the crossing fun was important for everyone on our boat. The Swiss now have a handle on terms such as bugger, better than a kick from a donkey and shut the front door.
Among some of the laughter we shared was my refusal to learn how to cook rice. Too much – I know!
Prior to our crew arriving I did fret a little of sharing music with strangers. Music is important to me so listening to music I can’t stand filled me with dread. The Crew and I had little trouble enjoying each other’s music except for The Beatles and the occasional song from the Rolling Stones. It is amusing that the younger crew prefer the 80’s and 90’s music. When I was 19 I had my share of Led Zepplin so I do appreciate, but…. Now I prefer a DJ to a rock band.
As a Miss I got the right to veto any song I didn’t like. What would be interesting would be to ask the crew what they thought of my music.
The Headspace Rather Than The Sails
Let’s talk about emotions.
My confidence took a beating on this journey. With each 100 nautical mile crossed I felt continually more mortal and insignificant. Like a swimmer moving further and further from the shore I felt compelled to go on but not sure of the direction I was going. (Besides a 275 bearing off course)
Instead of raising my confidence for a journey complete I found the journey challenged me as to my worth. Maybe it was living with high achieving others, a Captain in his element and then there was me. Even though I am a better sailor than when I first started (well that couldn’t be hard) I enjoy sailing more for the destination rather than the act. I see my greatest strength as turning up every day rather than offering insightful knowledge when it comes to running the boat.
When I hit land I debriefed with a sister, told her on a boat I don’t seem to excel at anything. There is nothing good that I can claim as mine. I don’t mind being average but it is nice to be good at something. (Does turning up each morning even count when you can’t get off the boat?)
Maybe my confidence suffered by not knowing what we would do once we got to destinations end – I really do love my home and the lifestyle afforded to me.
Or maybe in sailing an ocean you are constantly aware that life is tenuous, that really our lives are quite small if truth be told. Again I pondered regardless of belief, you are a long time dead so it is important to live a life that matters. On the final day I decided to cut myself some slack. Who said we have to be brilliant? A life lived and loved as best you can will have to do for me. Plus I might be average but hey at least I can say I’ve done a transatlantic crossing. Now that put a smile on my dial.
The final day was not what I thought it would be. Excitement was present but it was subdued. It was a moment of fulfilment yet I wasn’t joyous or awed by the occasion. It was almost just another day on the journey, just with more cleaning. A first time visit from dolphins even failed to lift my spirit. Maybe I was too pissed off with the Captain to be enjoying the thrill or maybe I was just to weary to catch the expected moment. Whatever the cause I knew it wasn’t what I had imagined. It was the long race rather than the short sprint and I was just happy it was done more than having done it. The joy of completion came later in the proceeding days when I got to feel, smell touch and taste the differences of a new culture, new people and a new place.
Barbados beaches are everything and more than I had hoped for. After months of European beaches it is nice to go to a beach that is perfect. Perfect as in ideal temperature, fish, coral and sand.
A final observation was when Captain Underpants commented on the smell, a smell he couldn’t quite put his finger on. It was the smell of land. Seeing land for the first time was strange but smelling land before you see it is a strange experience that I think is unique to sailors. The first time it happened was when we arrived in Tunisia it was one of my strongest memories of landfall and good to repeat for the second time in my life.
PS Re crosswords I do have to ask is there such a thing as a cheese plant? …..Really
PS Re our decision to continue or sell, keep an eye on our next post! Based on the current rubbish state of the Aussie dollar what do you think we should do…