It’s a difficult thing to express, but since setting out on these adventures, I’ve felt less like I’m having experiences, than that they are having me. Daily and unforeseen challenges that drag me out of the comfort zone and would otherwise have me running for the hills (or the pub) are encountered in equal measure to other things, such as beauty in abundance, the kindness of strangers as well as their unlimited ability to surprise, and of course, the sea in all its guises.
Never was this feeling of being “had” by experience so strong as on the passage across the Atlantic. The whole thing has taken on a dreamlike haze. Absolutely mental, in other words. I mean, I sailed across the Atlantic! The bloody Atlantic! And while I was in foetal position quietly weeping for most of it, I still did it.
From El Hierro to Carriacou: 2861 nautical miles in 28 days.
An incredible, scary, long, difficult and beautiful journey, which I’m grateful to have experienced.
Not sure I would have said that on day 25.
I was too busy hallucinating sun loungers and infinity pools with swim-up cocktail bars doing 2 for 1.
Here are some tales and images from the High Seas which I hope go some way to describing how weird it is to be at sea for a month.
EXCERPTS FROM CAPTAIN’S LOG
With annotations and diary excerpts from first mate.
Depart La Restinga, El Hierro, 1 p.m. Changeable winds from north east, many bluebottle jellyfish. Cloudy but good visibility.
Puked up two bananas and fell asleep for three days.
Skipper trouble sleeping as convinced boat is slowly cracking into a million tiny pieces.
Crossed Tropic of Cancer.
First ship spotted on radar. Cargo ship Grandeor, heading to Rotterdam.
Morning dolphin visit!
Ship spotted, AM Liberia, destination Gijon, Spain.
The body and mind are encountering significant changes in routine which result in cell, sinew and synapse generally moaning and having a miserable time. This culminated today as what looked like the aftermath of a kraken disembowelment drifted nonchalantly by. Said body and mind freaked out. “Look at that! You have no idea what that is! Hostile territory! You aren’t supposed to be here, get out! You can’t! You’re stuck! Malfunction! Activate tear ducts!”
Spectacular white bird with curved beak and long tail.
Miles covered: zero. Sea like glass, so we went for a swim. The water was 4km deep
Something is eating all the skipper’s fishing lures. Something big…
We have a small black and white fish living under the boat. He comes out to say hi when we throw potato peelings overboard, we’ve christened him Nemo.
Skipper made extra-strong fishing leaders to combat “slashing monsters from the deep” who keep doing away with his lures.
Now following the Great Circle Route towards Barbados.
Very squally night. Collected rainwater in buckets for shower. Very rough seas.
Pizza night! Skipper awesome, super-powered type man who can make pizzas in very rough seas.
First mate discovered singing therapy to combat nausea. Most effective song, Black Velvet by Alannah Miles.
Nemo is still under the boat. He has a little family with him now.
Lots of small flying fish committing suicide on the deck.
Skipper landed a beautiful Mahi-mahi, with a bright blue fin, about 5kg.
First mate cried and hid in toilet during death throes.
Fish fillets for dinner. Lovely.
My life, everyone else’s… as impermanent as every wave which passes our bow, whether under the crystal heat of the midday sun or the inky pallor of a thick, moonless night. Sometimes I think it’s just the same few waves; the same small, uninhabitable patch of ocean, seemingly so empty, and yet at night you can feel the life as if were you to dip your fingertips into the now warm depths, a million dreams and nightmares would swim up to meet you, casting glancing arrows and stars in the phosphorescence as they came.
The graceful blue flash of the fish through the water as it fought against its death became a defiant, resilient sheen of bright yellow, reflecting the sun, and eventfully, a dull grey as its light was extinguished, and later nourished us as its warm, delicious creamy flesh melted on our tongues. We threw him back in the ocean, his head, his tail, his backbone cleaned of all flesh; still recognisable but such a form for pity, just like the grey, lifeless squid we scooped from the fish’s stomach moments earlier. Beneath me yawns four thousand metres depth of dizzying briny nothingness and everythingness. Every time it is thought of, a moment of vertigo. Giving thanks for the gift of the fish was like a moment of inclusion; of every facet of this existence, through the spectrum of experience, from despair and fear to a deep, profound joy and an uneasy, quivering moment where true comprehension seemed possible, and may have even, briefly, occurred.
I realise sadly that the experiences I have out here in the ocean will be like lost cities, which will become submerged as soon as landfall is made, sinking deeper over time, always present through an eerie blue haze, but rendered inaccessible. I test myself and find myself wanting. The sea keeps rolling regardless. Such vast amounts of water and kinetic energy treating us so gently, which I am grateful for. Wary of epiphanies, I feel and I hope that this proves a lesson to me, about how weak I am, and clueless, and about what a wonderful thing it is to be weak and clueless in a life like this.
Ship sighted, Pythia, a cargo ship bound for the Azores. The Captain, a wonderful Greek man, took a telephone number via the radio and called the folks at to let them know we were okay. He was a happy and helpful soul who told us it was his obligation to help us as we were all seamen together. Watched the ship pass seven miles away. Felt deliriously happy, and then a bit sad.
Big seas, wind picked up to F5. 727 nautical miles until we reach Barbados.
Skipper caught beautiful shiny tuna. Lots of blood in cockpit. First mate much braver this time.
Sashimi for lunch. Seared tuna steak with coriander mash for dinner.
Loads of flying fish
Watch system now working very well. First mate does 2300-0400, skipper does 0400-0900. Hourly radar and visual checks.
Cargo ship Purple Beach spotted, carrying hazardous load. Bombs? Asbestos? MSG?
Snapped spinnaker pole whilst putting up spinnaker.
The ocean throws us around and gets on with its business. So do we.Glance up and around at the vast rolling blackness of it all, slide the hatch closed, check the radar, relieved yet again at its emptiness, its swooping invisible rays revealing the true scale of the nothingness. Do those invisible beams get lonely on their travels? There’s never anything here, they moan upon their return. We might as well not bother. But there are things here. We drift along in a smooth, deceptively fast way and suddenly the radar beeps or the boat is jolted sideways by a wave. Sometimes it feels like a personal attack, a very conceited way to view an ocean.
The ocean gets in, it gets inside. Not only inside your head. The bedclothes are damp and dry at the same time, crispy like unwashed curtains, coated with salt. My scalp itches with it, clothes become limp and shapeless. Run the saltwater tap in the middle of the night and the water spurting out of the pipe glistens with phosphorescence, spattering out into the sink, then back out into the sea and the night. What must they think, these plankton, pottering along nicely, then sucked in and back out of a random pipe in the middle of nowhere. I wonder if they caught a glimpse of my little night time life on this boat; the radar reflected in my glasses, discarded mars bar wrappers, kindle, warm sleeping bag, hammock swinging gently, cosy darkness.
In the last few days the ocean has changed. The weather is much warmer, so that the cockpit is a fiery sun trap. Gone is that Atlantic paint pot blue, the pewters and evening silvers hinting somehow of distant ice, the severe petroleum. Now we swing between a dark and yet gentle navy, teal, true sea greens and gentle sages, all warmer, more exotic tones. It seems like the ocean here also has more life in it. There are hundreds of flying fish, of all different sizes. They leap out of the water like wind-up missiles, disappearing in foamy smashes into wave faces. We saw a strip of pale, mud coloured water, moving from east to west, from the distance it looked threatening to me, as if it were an uncharted rocky ridge or some kind of boat-dissolving chemical. Up close, as we sailed through it, the moving current was made of tiny golden and copper coloured particles, like those tiny pearls you sometimes find in shower gel, gliding and slipping along the surface, all in the same direction, like paint streaks in an already confusing canvas. Algae? A fault line, bubbling up chemicals and fostering a zone of enriched life? This makes sense and also explains the strong sulphurous smells on the wind in the evening.
Part of the challenge is relaxing the muscles, all of them, so that you don’t jolt and tense against these forces which are pushing you around.
Trying to pick up Trudy’s Carib weather reports on radio with no success.
Land sighted in afternoon beyond the clouds. Talk has turned to first meal after landfall. Steak, salad, chips, beer the current preferences. As long as I don’t have to watch the cow go through its death throes first.
Landfall!! First mate took over the steering for the important bit and we arrived in Carriacou during a huge rainstorm. Anchored in Tyrell Bay. Amazing, superhuman skipper in remarkably good shape, now catching up on his sleep. Beer has never, ever tasted so good.
A final thanks to Patient Skipper who took most of these photos and putting up with me.
More photos and tales from the Caribbean AND a song to come. But I must dash. There’s 2 for 1 on rum cocktails in the local bar.