The photo above is looking up at Bob from somewhere in the depths of the South Atlantic Ocean.
We’ve made it from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Woohoo! Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a reasonable chunk of Atlantic lying between us and Bermuda that we’ll be tackling over the coming months, but it still feels like a major achievement to cross such a huge swathe of ocean. We’re currently in the Caribbean and working our way north, from Martinique to Nevis, where Alex will be the best man for his best friend’s wedding. I can’t think of anything better after almost two months at sea than a week of celebrations with good friends.
We spent about six weeks crossing the South Atlantic, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: I really enjoyed it. The South Atlantic is truly the most beautiful ocean I have ever seen. The sea is vibrantly blue and almost glassy. Long swells add a gentle motion to the surface, as if it were the slow deep breathing of some huge animal. The wind was calm enough to keep the seas chop-free, but strong enough to keep us moving at a steady 4 knots. Conditions were so peaceful, and the weather so pleasant, that we hopped overboard for a cooling swim on numerous occasions.
We were visited by various pods of dolphins, and at one point I was treated to a spectacular show when a false killer whale cleared the water as it propelled its enormous body into the air just meters away from Bob. I also made friends with a brown noddy who, much to Alex’s annoyance, came to rest (and sometimes poo) on our solar panels each night. The bird seemed to have some sort of night-blindness. He didn’t seem to recognise us as human beings (a potential threat) and therefore came much closer than he ordinarily would during the day. At one point he even landed on my arm! I still can’t believe that a completely wild bird chose to willingly land on my arm. This type of behaviour must be so rare that I’m mourning the fact we didn’t get a photo as proof.
It didn’t take long, however, after leaving the Southern Hemisphere that the relentlessly unforgiving seas made their usual appearance. Alex was happy to be travelling a knot and a half faster, but I immediately began to feel unwell. The unpredictable pounding of the boat made everything difficult. It took all my energy to complete even the most basic tasks, like cooking a meal, going to the toilet or getting a glass of water. Non-essential tasks such as cleaning, tidying and bathing were almost completely forgotten and Bob soon became a place of squalor. As we were less than 200 miles from the northeastern coast of South America, unmarked fishing boats were a constant hazard and thorough watches had to be kept to avoid colliding with them. Now that we’re sailing up the leeward side of the Caribbean, not only do we have local fishing vessels to contend with but also wind shadows from the high islands. This means the sails require constant attention and a good night’s sleep out here is as rare as snow in the Sahara.
Let’s be honest, who wants to spend six hours a night, when they should be fast asleep, constantly trimming sails while swallowing down bouts of vomit in a stinking and filthy floating bathtub? In reality, that’s what it usually means to go offshore sailing in a small yacht, and even the beautiful South Atlantic hasn’t managed to change my view that this type of travel is possibly the most unpleasant type in existence.
What’s that I hear you say? Why on Earth have I stuck with it for the last three and a half years? Well, the main reason is this:
And the other reasons include:
I might not fully enjoy offshore ocean sailing, but that’s okay. What I do enjoy is the travel, adventure and amazing experiences that I get to share with Alex. Besides, it’s not like I hate sailing altogether. I absolutely love day-sails in flat(ish) coastal waters, which, incidentally, is often where most of the interesting wildlife is seen. Plus, given a little time, those additional challenges we face at sea will be all the more valuable with reminiscence and hindsight.