|Date: Thursday, March 15, 2018. 1052Z|
|Location: 53.1631° N, 9.0760° W — Aughinish|
There are two types of sailors. Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.
Sorry, old joke.
There are actually hundreds of different types of sailors. Even within the racing fraternity, you have your speed demon athletes, like the Volvo Ocean Race nutters or the America’s Cup sailors. Then there’s the club maniacs, the guys who’ll drive their J-109 to within a hairs breadth of the committee boat in order to win (for a year) a 30 year old tin pot and a club tie. Not to mention the ones who politely sit back on the start line, courteously allowing everyone to go on ahead, while they wait for the wine to chill and the wind to ease.
But I’m talking about cruising sailors. Those ladies and gentlemen who like to put miles under their keels. Those people who throw the hook out in secluded anchorages, admiring the sunset from the cockpit with a chilled gin and tonic.
So, yes, I sailed across an ocean. I think I might have mentioned it before… And yes, it was a life-changing experience. All in all, we spent about sixteen days at sea. For most of that, we were out of sight of land. Nothing in comparison to the 226 days that Francis Chichester spent at sea, or indeed any of the many others who ply the oceans. Well, anyway, sixteen days seemed like a lot to me at least.
On our transatlantic journey, Henry once asked us, when the miles to Saint Lucia were a lot less than the miles from Las Palmas, whether we’d do it all again. Some said yes, emphatically. Me, I wasn’t sure. Yes, it was great to do it, and it certainly messed with your head in a good way.
But would I do it again?
I still don’t know what the answer to that question might be. We were fortunate, in many ways. We all got along; incidents of the dreaded “stir crazy” were few and far between. The boat was roomy, fast, and yet not overly demanding. The route we chose (well, the route Marina chose, as she got lumbered with routing us across the puddle) was free from storms and equally free from doldrums. We had consistent, but fairly strong winds, all the way. We settled in to an easy routine, quite quickly. If every crossing was that easy, why the hesitancy?
I think it’s because I’m one of those cruising sailors who likes to ‘arrive’. To me, there is an excitement about ending a day’s sailing (or even sixteen days sailing), by turning in to some unknown harbour or cove, furling sails, dropping anchor, and discovering something of this new and unknown part of the world. New to me, at least. There is a certain nervousness about approaching land, again. Sometimes all you can see is a cacaphony of lights. Some are traffic lights on land, and some are navigation marks, and often it’s hard to tell which is which.
So much so, that when we arrived in Saint Lucia nursing a broken boom, I found myself relaying messages between Marina who was at the chart table and Henry & the rest of the crew, in the cockpit. She told us that the race instructions (for the 2009 ARC) stated that there would be a committee boat at the finish line, and a bright light at the pin end. We could see the bright light, but not the committee boat. Instructions from Marina were explicit and unwavering: “Turn hard to port now!” To which the incredulous response from the crew in the cockpit was that the finish line was dead ahead, about three or four nautical miles, and to the left (port) was land! I was the messenger. I am reminded of that joke about an aircraft carrier and a lighthouse. I won’t repeat it here. Marina’s instructions couldn’t be clearer. “TURN LEFT NOW!”
The crew dutifully and sheepishly followed her instructions, all assured that we’d end up on the rocks. We turned to port, straight into a strong headwind, something we hadn’t experienced since Biscay, months earlier. We had almost forgotten how to sail upwind. As we beat upwind towards land, we discovered three things. Firstly, we had entered a sort of cove or natural harbour. Secondly, in front of us was a tiny little floating lamp at the pin end of the finish line, with a committee boat not too distant. Thirdly, the bright light we had been sailing towards was the main airport in Rodney Bay!
We crossed the finish line, received our finish gun, dropped sail for the first time in over two weeks, and motored in to the marina where we were met with a hamper of local fruits, and some very nice beers. After we’d tied up, and sorted out a few bits and pieces, we waddled along the marina to the pub. I say “waddled” because we all felt the effects of trying to walk on a very solid platform. One which didn’t heave and sway with the waves. One which didn’t try to eject you from its fibreglass decking into the nearby ocean. Simply put, we were land-sick. We found a table, and to the accompaniment of a steel band, we chased those initial beers with one or two more, while resisting the notion that the table and indeed the land was gently moving, back and forth.
The watch system which had served us well across the Atlantic, was no more. We all climbed into our berths and slept soundly. Over the course of the next few days, we explored the island of Saint Lucia, and bathed in its unique climate and culture. From there, we sailed on to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua and the British Virgin Islands. Each time, we came across a new anchorage or marina, new sights, sounds and stories.
On the whole, I think I prefer that aspect of sailing. I could handle two hundred and twenty six days at sea, but preferably interspersed with that, would be perhaps eighty new ports. Eighty nights at anchor, perhaps, swinging gently with the tide. Having said all of that, there is still something magical about being on watch at 4AM (local) as the boat weaves her way through waves you can scarcely see. Sitting in the cockpit, dodging the Kamikaze Flying Fish, alone with your thoughts. There is also something liberating about being free from land, free from schedules, and free from the incessant news cycle.
Photo credit: Markus Voetter