Yep, we are still out there, just in case you have wondered. 22 days have now passed since we left Gran Canaria. We made over 2600 nautical miles and only have a couple of days left till our planned landfall in Grenada, one of the southernmost islands of the wind ward islands. Here a short update of what has happened in the meantime. During the first part of the Atlantic crossing we made it just south enough to take the “right turn” towards the west at about the latitude of the Cape Verde islands. Since then we have sailed across the large open space of water between Africa and Central America. We have never been that far from civilization for such a long time, but to our surprise it didn’t really feel that lonesome.
The concept of being so far away was rather theoretical anyway – the ocean looks the same whether one is 50 or 1000 miles away from land. The only real evidence of our remoteness was our position on the map and the absence of other vessels. Over the last 22 days we have seen only four ships. One of these, a freight ship, overtook us with less than half a mile distance – quite a close encounter given the vastness of space out here. Its course change indicated, however, that it had seen us.
We are on a space ship
During this passage, our world is confined to the boundaries of Naïma. And in a way, Naïma feels like a space ship. We carry food, water, diesel and so many other things to survive on our own for a long time. In order to speak to other human beings, we need to communicate via satellite phone or radio (Houston this is Naïma…). The former has worked really well for us and kept us connected with our close friends and family for the entire time. It is probably the main reason that we didn’t feel alone on this passage. To continue the space ship analogy, at night when the water is black and the sky full of stars it feels like Naïma is sailing through our milky way. The boundary between the sea and the galaxy blurs and within this black universe sails Naïma, drawing its sparkling tail of luminescent algae… or stars? Amongst the bodies of the sky, I could clearly see the elephants and the giant turtle carrying Terry Pratchett’s disk world. Can you imagine a better place to listen to an audiobook of Stephen Hawkins about the unified theory of everything? Everything he talks about – stars, nebula, galaxies, space-time, black holes, and perhaps even a couple of undiscovered life forms – are everywhere around Naïma, in the vast black above or below our space ship. And here you go, your night shift has just passed in an instant!
Unfortunately, not all night shifts were that exciting. During our first week of heading west, the winds had picked up and with it the waves. It felt like a roller coaster. Our sails were constantly reefed. It was still cold at night and we were tired and exhausted. The shifts appeared long and sleeping was difficult under these conditions. Would this voyage ever come to an end? The excitement of the first days was gone and we were dreaming of finally arriving. Where was this beautiful romantic ocean passage that so many people had told us about? Did everyone suffer, but then forget the suffering and tell you how great it was? We had enough.
Finding our passage rhythm in better weather
But then it got better. The wind calmed down a bit and with it the roller coaster. It finally became warmer and we started to enjoy our passage more. It also helped to look at the increasing distance that we had already covered. Fortunately, Naïma is a pretty comfortable floating home. Next to all the technical gadgets that we have on board (and learning or improving this stuff can easily fill entire days) we carry plenty of books, audiobooks, music, and movies, a guitar, a harmonica, games – you name it. Thanks to our cockpit speakers we have been to Stevenson’s Treasure Island and a number of other places during lazy afternoons. This daytime laziness is necessary to recover from our night shifts. As we are a shorthanded crew, we never get more than 4 hours of sleep in a row. Even though our autopilot has worked almost perfectly this time, one of us needs to be on watch at all times, adjust the sails, do the navigation, and other things to ensure that Naïma sails safely into the right direction. And the sleep we get on board is different than on land. First, because the boat is constantly rolling, and second, because we remain alert to some degree to the boat’s movements and noises, so that we can react quickly or help the other if necessary. To compensate this, we are taking it easy during daytime. Now, during our fourth week, we are still looking forward to arrive, but we’re also enjoying the last days of our space ship existence – our passage rhythm – a time and spaceless life so different from that on land.
Meanwhile we also started fishing. We put out our fishing lines for many days without success. Even shouting the latin names of the desired fish into the sea did not help. Thankfully the sea didn’t take it too literally when Ela accidently shouted “Hippopothamus” instead of “coryphaena hippurus” (a type of mackerel). On day 19, finally, we did catch our first fish – a mackerel of 90 cm and 3-4 kg (the called-for coryphaena hippurus). What a first catch! Killing it took some courage, but afterwards we felt proud. It lasted us for three delicious meals in addition to the three glasses of fish that we conserved using our steam cooker. We since caught another, but smaller mackerel. At this late point of our passage, such fresh food from the ocean is a welcomed addition to what we have left in stock. Yet, we can’t complain. The fruit and vegetables that we got on the market in Las Palmas are amazing. After three weeks, we still have plenty of fresh tomatoes, cabbage, cucumber, pumpkin, and onions. On the fruit side apples, oranges, grapefruit, and lemons are left. And two bags of dried fruit from my mother’s garden, which makes our night shifts so much sweeter! Our canned food, on the other hand, remains hardly touched. I fear we might never eat it. Cooking at sea has worked really well for us due to our Las Palmas project of re-adjusting our stove. It now moves freely to compensate the waves and the pot-holders are great. With fresh ingredients and a working stove, our diet is surprisingly good, even during the fourth week.
During the last few days we have made our first encounters with squalls. These local weather systems are typical for the tropics and bring rain and heavy winds, usually from a different direction. We had been warned about squalls, so we watched out for them. Generally, we are rather careful regarding the amount of sail surface that we hoist. But apparently not careful enough. Of course, it happened at night. The full moon ensured an excellent visibility, so we decided to keep our gennaker hoisted, the only sail that would keep us sailing at wind speeds below 10 knots. Suddenly,a dark cloud appeared rather quickly and started to shadow the moon. The dark vertical stripe on the horizon indicated that this cloud carried rain. I called Ela from her sleep and to help me take down the gennaker after I had gone to the toilet. That toilet time was too much. Some wise person had once told us to reef when we first think of it. By the time I was on deck again, the wind had risen from 8 to 30 knots. Our autopilot couldn’t keep the course anymore, Ela tried to control the boat and I was fighting to pull down the sock around the gennaker, which takes the wind out of it. It is easy in light winds, but now all my force was not sufficient, it just didn’t want to come down. After a couple of tense minutes, which seemed pretty long, we did manage to pull down the sock using a winch, but I admit that my knees were shaky afterwards. This was a good lesson for us, and fortunately, the only situation so far during our voyage that had made us uncomfortable.
Waiting for the landfall
Now, we only have a couple of days left until our landfall in Grenada. Just like we were really looking forward to starting this Atlantic crossing, we are now looking forward to finally arriving. Caribbean islands, here we come and we are ready for you! We have ridden across more than 300 000 waves and now we deserve a non-shaking beach with white sand, palm trees and a barrel of rum left-over from those pirates… !