Crossing the Atlantic by Rachel Westwood
Arriving in Tenerife on Saturday 24th November I was greeted by my disgustingly brown and healthy looking parents who, to add insult to injury had both lost weight since I last saw them in September. Apparently the cruising life was treating them well and their separation from their dearly beloved children (the youngest of which is a very tender 24 and liable to suffer issues in later life concerning abandonment) were clearly not causing them the heart ache and trauma that any self-respecting offspring would expect.
Gripes aside, it was pretty good to see them especially given that I’d left a miserable, grey London that was getting steadily colder and steadily wetter. That having been said there isn’t much wetter than the Atlantic ocean but it’s all relative, at least the water wasn’t falling from the sky and I didn’t have to contend with miserable, bedraggled commuters on the tube.
Rather than a blow by blow account (too much to remember and not sure how interesting ‘saw lots of sea, had cornbeef hash for tea, dad a bit annoying’ would be) I give you instead the Westwood’s A-Z of sailing the Atlantic. Read the bits you want, don’t bother with the rest.
Westwood’s 1 – Atlantic 0cean 0! Taking a route approximately half way between the middle and southern we headed south west from the Canaries for 5 days and then routed west at about 21 degrees north for the rest of the trip.
20 days, 2800 nautical miles sailed and an average speed of just over 6 knots. Not bad going and what made skipper especially happy was that a 54′ Oyster had only managed it in 22. He had to restrain himself from rubbing his hands together with glee.
The safety briefing was pretty straightforward ‘don’t fall in and if you do, yell like hell’ and ‘avoid getting a shark up your arse’ were the wise words of dad and mum respectively and filled me with confidence that this was going to be smooth sailing. In skipper’s defence he also showed me how to set off the emergency beacon and probably would have briefed me further if he thought either a) I’d have paid enough attention for it to be of any use or b) there was any chance I could have been helpful had anything happened to him. As it was, we’d have been screwed. And he knew it.
The crossing was predicted to last 2.5-3 weeks so of course they needed to stock up accordingly. Instead they had catered for the nuclear holocaust and then some. It opened a whole new (unwelcome) world of the variety of food stuffs that can be tinned or pickled.
Ingeniously and in order to keep track of everything, mum had stuck a post-it on the inside of every cupboard door with a list of the culinary treats that you could find within – ‘mystery meat’ bring a favourite being categorised by either a white or red variety. As you diminished the tin supply you were obliged to cross off from the list. Failure to do so could result in quarrelling (see separate entry).
Given the rolling (see separate entry) motion of the crossing skipper took all cheffing duties on himself. This impressively included fresh bread, pizza from scratch and even cakes to the delight of the crew. Skipper maintained that good food was crucial for keeping up morale and created a good way to organise the day. The crew were not going to argue with that.
Seen on one occasion at sunset where they swam alongside for 20 minutes keeping us entertained. True show offs when we stopped paying full attention (drinks had arrived) they started leaping clear of the water in the style of an attention seeking child.
As well as being a spectacle to watch make good eating!The only positive to come out of ‘disaster Friday’ (see Mishaps) was that the out of action sail, now tied to the foredeck proved an effective net for trapping flying fish as they whizzed over the boat (typically at night). Skipper tried to claim that this was a successful fishing attempt. The crew weren’t having it. He did however fry them up with a bit of ginger and served them on fresh bread with butter. Delicious.
Reported to occur on a clear evening with the sun setting into the sea the green flash was keenly awaited as we supped sundowners (see separate entry) but always managed to elude us. Most of the crew are now convinced that it may actually be just a myth but the skipper remains convinced (and reports to have seen them on numerous occasions since arrival)
We were surrounded by the salty variety and had to ration the fresh as we could only carry 500 litres. Which meant three showers in just under three weeks (eugh) and hair that defied gravity given its salt content. Unfortunately despite my whining skipper was proved justified when on the last morning on our approach to English Harbour (see separate entry) we ran out. Although had the worst happened we could always have drank the water from the multitude of tinned vegetables. I’m sure pea juice would have been both hydrating and tasty. Or not.
Skipper was unsure of how much diesel we had so DVDs were a no go. After continuous two weeks of continuous reading there are few things that will keep you amused. Mum and I decided to try ‘I spy’:
‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with…s’
We felt we had the game down until dad asked whether he could play:
‘I’m going to try something different – this h could be ‘metaphysical’ .
We didn’t know what metaphysical was…got bored…the game ended and was never played again.
Were not required (haha). Bar a couple of nights at the beginning days were spent in shorts and t-shirts. Perfect apart from the tan lines that make you look like you’ve been dipped in brown paint up to your thighs.
The saviour of the first mate and deck hand who managed to avoid hours of threatened boredom. Skipper kept himself amused by constantly finding things to do on the boat or playing with his drum kit (all drinks cans were bashed flat to save space). Likened to a puppy there was endless enthusiasm for a thousand jobs and a constant need to be moving around. And like a puppy a pat on the head often led to a wag of the tail.
Ever the educator skipper was keen to show me the ropes (excuse the pun). Overhand, round turn and two half hitches, reef, figure of eight and bowline (kind of) are now all part of my know tying repertoire. Not sure how handy being able to tie a reef knot behind my back will be in my London office job but should I ever join the scouts I’ll be golden.
Star constellations and nautical terms (see official language) were also favourite topics.
Despite the trade winds behaving as expected there were a few incidents that we could have done without. ‘Disaster Friday’ – was six days in. Skipper was trying to get the (brand new!) jib sail down and hadn’t noticed it had got jammed, when it came free it flew backwards, tangling itself in the wind generator on the mizzen mast at the stern of the boat. The sail ripped so as not to be usable and we missed the best sunset of the trip.
As if we hadn’t had enough about an hour later after a subdued dinner the wind generator started making a lot of noise. At this point it was after dark so skipper got a torch to investigate. It turns out that in the sail/generator fight and despite the rip the wind generator came off worse, now hanging off a single bracket and threatening to fall at any given moment.
And so, safety lines attached skipper scaled the mast, in the dark, amid rolling seas to secure the bugger (both wind generator brand name and apt for the occasion). Pretty darn impressive for an old bloke: put me in mind of an ageing action man.
Our other notable mishap was also the 24 hours that we made the most progress (averaging over 7.5 knots) but the wind proved too much for the sail configuration and the pole supporting the genoa sail snapped on night watch. Secured over night ‘less haste more speed’ was the lesson of the day.
All watches were split into 3 hour shifts, starting at midnight. During the day it was informal but at night you were on your own. Skipper woke me, I woke first mate etc. Which meant I hated skipper, first mate hated me etc.
Apart from being woken up night shifts were a great opportunity to star gaze – the milky way was visible if the sky was clear and a meteorite shower produced so many shooting stars that we lost count. It also provided a sense of perfect solitude and the opportunity to reflect and be truly introspective if the mood took you. Fortunately for you, it didn’t.
When on a boat (yacht) speak like you’re on a boat. No more left/right, it’s all about port/starboard. No more upstairs/downstairs, it’s above and below deck to you missy. No more ‘dad’ it’s ‘mister skipper, sir.’ Ok, so the last one not even dad tried to implement. He’d have faced either mockery or mutiny from his crew, neither being desirable, best to understand the limits of your authority.
Conveniently forgetting the nautical terms: ‘can you grab my sunglasses, they’re downstairs in the lounge to the right in the desk’ is an entertaining version of poke the bear (see entry below)
Poke the bear
A great game to pass the time in a confined space – pick a topic you know will wind one of your crew mates up and start to ‘poke.’ The rules are very simple, if they rise to it you win. Of course they don’t know that you’re playing and the threat of violence in response to your goading is always a potential threat (see quarrelling).
Surprisingly few given the confined space and proximity of a small family group. Dad only threatened to stab me (he was careful to emphasise with a knife) once. Given the circumstances I think that’s pretty good going as he had no cause to carry out his threat, even better.
The biggest cause for complaint for trans-Atlantic crews is the motion of the ocean (not a euphamism). The almost continual rolling makes it difficult to move, cook, eat and sleep, is responsible for a myriad of bruises and the grumpiness of the crew.
An alcoholic beverage to be consumed as the sun goes down. Beer and wine both get a mention but the ever trusty G&T as usual comes up trumps. Being ever vigilant and not being advocates of drunk driving, quantities were kept modest but it is a ritual that I’m going to bring home with me, albeit one that has to be restricted to the summer months unless I’m going to keep a hip flask under my desk at work.
Our port of origin and last view of civilisation. Not to mention the last opportunity I had for rethinking three weeks at sea with only the parentals for company. As it faded into the horizon I had to question my sanity. At least I knew I wasn’t going to starve.
My parents tried to poison me with it.
Official term for being sick, vomiting, chucking your guts up etc. Thankfully incidents were low (a dodgy olive put mum off for the rest of the trip) and kept to the first couple of days. Once sea legs were acquired after the first few days business can go about as normal, almost.
‘thar she blows’ was called just once during the trip exactly half way across when a pilot whale and her calf joined us for over three hours providing unofficial encouragement. Having done the official recce mum stayed a couple of hundred feet away whilst baby stayed close to the boat popping up every now and agin for a quick hello.
Marks the spot. We didn’t find any treasure but there’s bound to be some. It’s a pretty big ocean.
The old girl did us proud. She kept us warm, dry and safe for the duration with only the occasional protest if we pushed it too hard. She is named after two pretty impressive women though so she did have something to live up to.
Napping is key to any successful trip when you’re running shifts and I was the undisputed queen. Golden blanket striven for and achieved.