Into the great wide open

“What about skipping Brava and heading straight for the Caribbean instead?” voiced Inge during our sail to the southwestern Cape Verdean island. The situation onboard was so relaxed that within 5minutes we’d all agreed and had a new way point programmed into our chart plotter, 2000nm further west… we didn’t even have to change the sails.

We were back to our rhythmic rolling life, the vegetables were swaying gently in their nets, the spices shuffled back and forth in their rack above the stove as our bodies rocked back and forth in their bunks. It was time to hit the big ocean, all that mattered for the next 17 days was us, the boat, everything on it… and maybe the weather 😉

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My theory regarding longer passages at sea, is that the first few days are acclimatisation days, when the crew breathe out a long sigh and begin to relax into life on the ocean. Our last few days onshore before casting off are often extra busy with last minute preparations and our watches are more rigorous during these first few days at sea, since we are more likely to encounter other ships the closer we are to shore. This means more disturbed sleep patterns and time spent awake during the night, accumulating in a large proportion of time (when not on watch), spent in a horizontal position. There’s also the adjustment to the motion of the boat and the fact that we are now living in a world which is constantly moving. Every activity involves engaging your stomach muscles, and extra energy is naturally expended simply in order to walk in a straight line through the boat without covering ourselves in bruises.

By day 3 however everyone is well rested, refilled with new energy, accustomed to the motion and  starting to get busy, tackling jobs, making elaborate dinners, baking, fishing, reading, learning languages, writing or playing music.

By day 4, we’d turned off our second fridge (an unnecessary item with only 4 people onboard) so that we could save electricity for showing our guests an introductory video entitled “Pirates of the Caribbean – the curse of the black pearl”, to inform them of what they might expect once we reached land.

On day 5 the wind dropped, giving us the chance to hoist our spinnaker.

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By day 6, we were so relaxed that the days and nights were rolling into one another and we’d lost all sense of time – which itself was changing as we travelled westwards and the sun rose and set later each day.

It was the most relaxed we’d been in a long time, with an unknown number of days stretching before us and no deadline in sight, we could tell ourselves that if a job didn’t get done today it didn’t matter because there was always tomorrow.

At times like this, you can group jobs into two groups, those that need to be done out of necessity to continue the journey, i.e. a ripped sail that needs immediate stitching, a broken halyard or sheet that needs to be spliced or replaced, an overflowing toilet, or broken navigation lights. We were grateful that Pantagruel was still in a condition that we didn’t have many of this sort. The other sort of jobs are those which you plan to do because you have plenty of time, e.g.  patching up the dinghies, planning and installing a new security system, reinstalling the water maker, making a new kitchen utensil holder and a new rope ladder.

By day 9, we’d had barely any change in the weather or sails and our existence had become pretty monotonous. It is for this reason that I’ve heard other sailors say they prefer day sailing around islands and the challenge of calculating tides, seeking out new anchorages and exploring unknown inlets. As is frequently the case when crossing the Atlantic along this route, you have force 4-5 northeasterly trade winds blowing you elegantly downwind the entire journey. We’d been blessed with such consistent conditions on this trip that apart from the odd gybe, or furling a head sail in and out we’d barely touched the sails. We saw on average one boat/day – always a fellow sailor, no tankers or freighters insight. So with (little or) no boats, land, tides, sails or much change in the weather to think about, this kind of a passage is in many ways easier than sailing up the Bristol channel! Instead the challenging part of a long trade wind passage like this comes in the preparation, to ensure that the boat (and the crew!) are ready for any eventuality. To do this successfully it helps to think of all the possible things that can go wrong and prepare for them, because there aren’t many options to visit a DIY store or phone a friend at sea. The other challenging aspects of these passages are that of being alone for so long, and the movement. There were moments when growls of frustration echoed around Panta as a freshly brewed cup of coffee slid off the edge of the table, or an elaborately prepared plate of food fell to the floor. Sometimes just the noise and chaos caused as water bottles, books, tool boxes and every single other loose item crashes from side to side as particularly big wave smashes into the side of the boat is enough to cause a scream… or a giggle… depending on which side of the bed you were knocked out of that morning 😉

There were times when we momentarily forgot we were in in the middle of an ocean, when reading a book, watching a film, or even having a particularly interesting dinner conversation. In these moments you subconsciously let your guard down, take your hand off your wine glass to gesticulate about something important and then WHAM a cheeky wave smacks into the boat at an awkward angle, throwing your wine into your soup, your soup into your wine, and a heap of itself through a forgotten open hatch.

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By day 11, the end of the journey began to take shape and our productivity rate increased.

During the night of day 13 we were hit with 35knt gusts throughout the night, just to keep us on our toes.

By day 14, we began to dream of new fresh food items.

By day 16, we could smell land.

On day 17, I woke up to the sight of a champagne bottle being installed in the fridge, and the words ‘land ho’ were soon heard on deck.

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