Starting up the engine. Stepping off the dock. Slipping the lines. Final calls to family on weak signal as you sail away from the disappearing land. Ahead of you - 3,500 nautical miles of open water, across ‘the pond’, towards the tropical islands of the Caribbean.
Whether it is your first, tenth or even thirtieth Atlantic crossing, be it by motor or sailing yacht, super or small; spending a long length of time at sea is a unique experience, an enjoyment, a challenge! Where the toughest moments become the fondest memories.
I have sailed across the Atlantic three times, on the same boat. Each trip has been very different.
My first trip was last year. I was eighteen. A complete novice, who had fled farming life in the English countryside to live at sea. I had just landed a job on a sailing yacht as the Chef/Stewardess. The day I started, I was told that we were leaving to sail the Atlantic in a couple of weeks’ time. I was given the responsibility to prepare and provision for a month at sea.
We were a boat of eight crew, while on delivery, ranging from the ages of eighteen to eighty-five! An Aussie, an Irishman, a Brazilian, and the rest British. After endless menu planning, ingredient calculations and food shopping; fridges and freezers packed full, we left the boat yard and waved goodbye to the Mediterranean.
The trip was a huge learning curve. I started by creating a set routine, rotating the fruit and vegetables, using fresh goods first and saving the butternut squash and leeks for the final few days. As well as cooking, I took my turn on watch. 06:00-08:00, 14:00-16:00, 22:00-Midnight. I would always see the sun rise whilst I washed away biscuit crumbs and coffee marks from the cockpit, peeled the sun roasted flying fish from the deck and put out the fishing line (dusk and dawn - prime time for fishing!).
I aimed for a 13:00 lunch and a 19:30 supper, always ensuring enough for second helpings to feed a boat of hungry boys, any leftovers would be available during the night for those who got peckish during their watch. The Irishman was my main man for hoovering up the scraps!
I woke one night to the sound of flapping. Given my cabin hatch was open, I concluded that it was just the sails backing in the wind. I fell back to sleep, only to be woken up again to an even more rapid flapping sound. I flicked on the light switch - SCALES EVERYWHERE! I will never make the mistake of sleeping with my hatch open again! A flying fish had inadvertently propelled itself into my cabin and was now having a fit at the end of my bunk, slapping itself against my lee cloth. I grabbed its tail and flung it straight back to where it came from!
A forty pound catch was our prize winner of the trip. A Yellow Fin Tuna! Bled and filleted within the hour. That evening I rustled up a spread of sashimi, ceviche and steaks with new potatoes, salad and salsa verde.
Galley clean and everything away, I'd watch the sunset, shower, and jump into my bunk to catch some shuteye before my midnight watch. A clear sky, full of stars, glowing phosphorescence and the spray from dolphins. Incredible moments!
Counting down the miles before we arrived in tropical waters, the days grew warmer and nights more clear. Everyone filled the abundance of time with good stories, banter and the odd bit of betting. After seventeen days at sea since leaving the Canary Islands, we arrived. Everyone jumped into the clear water and spent that evening settling our gambling debts with drinks at the beach bar, reminiscing about our 2,700 nautical mile journey across the Atlantic.
After a very busy season in the Caribbean, we left Falmouth Harbour in early May, with the aim of avoiding motoring and relying on the wind alone to sail our way back across the Atlantic. The return trip is always colder, wetter and more bouncy. We kept a close eye on the weather forecast and followed the winds, calculating our way through the mid-Atlantic weather systems. It took us twelve days to reach Faial, an island in the Azores. We sailed the entire way and even managed a good blast using the Spinnaker. We saw Whales, Dolphins, Turtles and a continuous stream of Man’of’War jelly fish.
But, just when you think all is going well, after a long season and another month at sea; you are nearing home, family and friends…the engine suddenly stopped. The solution was to dive in cold northern waters, with the boat drifting side-to the rolling Atlantic swell; we all took it in turns to dive in and attempt to cut free the thick, nylon Fishermans rope, that had caught in the propeller, with a bread knife from the Galley. For an empty expanse of water, the Atlantic can teach you a lot.
Before I know it, I am back in the Caribbean again. Where has the year gone?! Those who also sailed across in November will concur that there wasn't much wind! But after a week sailing south from the Canaries, down the African coast, the trade winds finally began to kick in. Once the butter began to melt, we changed course, set our sails for downwind sailing and rolled our way back to the tropics.
We left the Mediterranean at the end of the Supermoon, a giant orange glow that lit up the sky each night. Sperm Whales, Turtles, Dolphins and a variety of birds were spotted in abundance throughout the journey. Standing on the bow during my watch at sunrise, the ocean a millpond, watching Dolphins break the glass, their spray sparking in the early morning light. Special moments I will never forget. We caught Mahi Mahi and Tuna so were spoilt by banquets of fresh fish most days. A new personal record was set during the crossing, for the most flying fish to be peeled from the deck in the morning…thirty three!