I am writing to you from the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Morocco at 1:30am in the morning. We have been sailing since 9AM – that makes us 16 hours into what might be 80-hour trip! The skipper sleeps, the mate is on night watch and I am up literally freaking out silently with my ipod on listening to RADIOHEAD – In Rainbows disc 1 and 2.
And I ask myself……. WHAT AM I DOING ON THIS BOAT?
It is night 1 of at least 4, the boat keeps rocking, it is dark, and after spotting 3 shark fins today off the boat’s stern I am freaking about falling overboard! Where is civilization when I need it? I mean how the hell am I supposed to take a shower when I can barely walk on the boat? I am trying to think if I really knew what I signed up for on this trip – well can tell you that I had no idea. HOLYSHIT I AM ON A BOAT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!!!!!! And I am officially missing my beloved garbage trucks that wake me up every night, my sirens that rock me to sleep! My late nights facebooking, texts and bbms. Where are my Golden Girl or Nanny reruns???? Ok, I know this is a travel blog, but I am missing home big time tonight. Where is my dog Beckett sleeping next to me on the floor? Where is Elke stealing stamps out of my wallet? Where is the world I know? HA HA HA
For those of you who know me, you know I am kidding… For those of you who really know me, you know that I am not… Is that confusing enough for you all? Well it is for me. The open water forces you to converse with yourself. And I have been doing it all day… It’s enough to make you nuts or sane? I will let you know in a few days… As this boat rocks side to side and up and down – I wonder if my Dramamine is even going to keep me from puking while I write this to you below deck!!!!! I am having a serious love hate with deep ocean sailing right now so I thought the only way to come to terms with this is that I write to all of you…
I also hope you know I am laughing as I write this. I mean, if I was not laughing, I would be crying!
Wake up at 7:30am for an 8:30am departure out of the Gibraltar Harbor. We manage to get our stuff together on time and find ourselves moving out of the marina and into the port dodging massive cargo ships on our way out. The engine putts and the weather gets worse. The current is out of our favor and at one moment we are doing a whopping 1.5 knots and then the rain hits… and lots of it. Off in our distance we see various storm cells so we head for the smallest of the 3.
On a lighter note we had a beautiful rainbow bid us farewell off the mountainside of Tarifa, it was a full arc and it was amazing… it was a slow start but we knew it might be, but we left anyway and now are happy to have these 16 hours behind us at this point. As the Gibraltar rock began to slip away and we left Spain behind us, to our left or “portside” is Morocco. Plenty of towns on the coast that will take us in should something go wrong – the only thing I wanted on this trip was to stay near land… even though we see the lights of Morocco tonight in the distance at the rate we are moving it is hours away. An odd feeling to say the least. Still those lights are comforting me tonight.
We put some sails up today and we picked up some speed that excited me… to watch putting the sails up is actually a beautiful sight. To watch wind catch the fabric is satisfying, tomorrow we expect much better sailing conditions and there might even be promise of shutting the engine off. This is what we have come for… silent movement across a large body of water, just like Columbus and the rest of those guys. It was interesting to think of the men who left Europe behind in search of new lands. I mean the horizon is flat, it is no wonder why they thought it would eventually end and you would literally fall of the planet. In addition they did it without engines… another thought, oh and no GPS or satellite phones or radios… so this should be a piece of cake right?
A big thing to look out for out here is the movement of all these cargo ships. We have a program that spots them miles away, alerts us and even tells us the name of the ship and where it is going. At night it is a bit more tricky, but if you see a green light that is starboard = red light is port side and if you see both on each side, she might be coming for us so it important to have someone on watch. We have lights on our center mast so it should help them see us. The issue is they rock at about 20 knots and us at 6 so really we need to just get out of the way. Otherwise it is like turtle trying to move out the way of a car on the road… not too promising. The good news about the ships is that if we are in distress, they should come right for us! I know where the distress button is thank God and I keep my eye on it!
On the radio you hear local announcements in Spanish and Arabic and there is news given out to the fisherman that we see in our distance.
We are on autopilot most of the time and the boat seamlessly floats through what are pretty big waves. Argo is a beautiful boat. I asked the skipper if she had a soul and his answer was 100 percent. After sailing on this boat for 20 years there is history here. It is very sweet. She also is wide bodied, so we have plenty of elbow room on deck and below and she is pretty long, so far we are in swells so none of this crashing off waves, and we are at about 2 meters or so, luckily they are swells to much smoother to deal with. You use your stomach muscles a lot just sitting, since you are rocking back and forth all the time. In addition, the ocean has different terrains that I never really thought of. Choppy waves, swells, currents and smooth water. Also the water on the back end of the boat looks dark blue but for some reason straight ahead the ocean looks black and menacing.. Like shiny garbage bags all scrunched up… isn’t that a weird observation?
I swore I saw 2 shark fins off the stern and no one believed me until the skipper saw a third… “I told you I saw sharks!” and we laughed… a few minutes later I saw an enormous fish flying through the air I think it was a swordfish, a specialty of the area. I am hoping to see some dolphins and maybe even a whale.
Today the skipper urged me to put on my life jacket, plugged on my safety line and go for a walk to the bow and sit on the nose. Which I did for a few minutes, it was like a roller coaster up there. Amazing to move through the water at that pace, it was pretty cool.
I have been making the crew their meals, and so far they have been light snacks. Um, no one told me how hard it would be to cook on a boat. Putting things here and there and everywhere so they don’t slide around and never the less use a sharp knife! One false moves and look ma! NO HANDS! I have been using the dull butter knives and I am simplifying my menus. Dinner turned into literally canned tomato soup- yes out of the can! We have an oven that flows with the ocean, it literally rocks back and forth and the liquid stays flat… What the????
I can honestly say my biggest fear was to be on the boat at night. As the sun dipped into the horizon we had a the most beautiful pink clouds behind us which was beautiful but still the sad sign that darkness was ahead and, then out of nowhere, a little gift – the crescent moon! Even better we were in the same path of the reflection it left on the ocean, and we had that for about 2 and a half hours so that was really nice.
Then bye bye moon and hello, yes you guessed it… tons of light? We have light from some of the Coastal Moroccan towns, we have stars above and the milky way, we have lights from cargo ships far away and even better we have the stars in the sea… the effervescent light of the that dances around the boat it is the movement of plankton that hits the hull of the boat that spills our fireworks of light! (Bioluminescence.) It is spectacular and continues all night. Somehow Mother Nature always figures it our for us doesn’t she?
On our 12-hour mark we figured that we had moved about 60 nautical miles… that was not so bad if you figure in the straights we had to fight to get out of the Med. As our engine hums, I am told we have enough gas to get to the Canaries but we hope to get this wind that everyone keeps talking about that should help us along.
It’s cold out here and I abandoned my sailor pants and opted for gortex waterproof gear,. This ain’t now fashion show and I am still trying to even figure out the science behind sailor pants. THEY ARE TERRIBLE for a boat, they catch onto everything and you trip on them? What is the sailor pant all about? Can someone find out for me?
Well I might try to hit the sac as they say and I am feeling a little queasy…. Night night for now.
“You are never really alone on the sea. At the very moment you think there is nothing… there is something…” sjb
Last night we were in medium seas and some medium winds and I wrote you from below the deck. Both the skipper and the mate were shocked as I did not get sea sick typing in the dark while the boat rocked back and forth and frankly so was I. It was night of potentially 4 nights at sea.
The boys slept in the cockpit under a starry sky and I slept in the living area. It seemed to be the least movement I could find on the boat. Every hour or so we either all moved or got up to check the sails or radar or the cargo ship tracking device. The winds beat the boys as they lay under wool blankets, sometimes I would get up and sit on the cockpit floor to hunt for shooting stars. There are so many it is really incredible. With Orion sitting right behind me and a very clear big dipper – I see a formation that I make up myself. It is a triangle of stars that looks like my collie Beckett’s angular face. I name the new constellation Sir Beckett.
It was cold, it was windy and it was dark and our first night came to a close. Sunrise is slow and arrives at around 8am giving us 10 hours of darkness and I night that feels very long…
When the sun came up, I slept for an hour longer and then woke up to a frantic boat. The wind was terrible, and the skipper needed to change things. Swells were coming from the northwest and we were riding a current in such a way the swells keep side swiping us… the Genoa jib was put up to catch the little northerly wind we were promised. We continue to wait for this famous northerly wind. In addition to the Genoa on the front of the boat, we have a mizzon sail (on the stern) that rudders our boat keeping it as steady as possible and then engine hums away, it has been on since we left 24 hours ago. We are traveling an average of 6.5 knots.
The mate said, we are going ok, should have clear skies today and if we continue on like this we will be in the canary islands on the 6th of September. WHAT??? The 6th of September that was 4 days from now? I ran to the chart and took a look at our progress and surely we were getting somewhere… but slowly. OH MY GOD It hit me. This was a big sail. I asked for the land that I wanted nearby and the skipper said if I wanted to look at land I need to look at it on the GPS…
I felt sick as a dog waking up to this slow progress. We did the math and it was correct, I am going to be on this boat for 4 more days. – And then the panic hit me! I was very unhappy and my spirit was deflated. I felt a little seasick, like I was going to throw up so I threw a blanket around me after telling the skipper how annoyed I was and went back to sleep.
2 hours of glorious sleep to a very rocky boat, my outlooks suddenly changed. The sun was warm above us, and the swells were much smaller than yesterday (or maybe I was getting used to it.) I had a big bowl of grape nuts and an apple and suddenly felt spry again. I decided that I was going to organize the boat a little. First do the dishes and dry them and secure the kitchen from flying objects. Second, fold up blankets and pillows and clean up everyone’s night clothing. I then scrubbed the bathroom toilets and sinks and opened the windows. Then I drank a big glass of water, which I needed, looking at all this water does not actually make you thirsty – but staying hydrated is really important. I tackled lunch and make fresh tuna fish sandwiches with fresh tomatoes and lettuce and thought – shit I forgot to by pickles, how delicious would a cold pickle be right now? After a lunch on deck with the sun warming us up I cleaned up and decided to boil potatoes for dinner tonight.
I felt revived, so I went to take a sponge bath, change my clothes, brush my hair and I felt like a new person. After that morning sleep and realizing that I had my sea legs going, I was actually enjoying this!
I went Sunbathing on deck for a few hours listening to music, and then talking to the boys, watching the cargo ships go by and pretty much just staying quiet, I felt I should take a nap in my bedroom. I open the hatch and the warm wind hits my face… I fall deeply into a sleep and wake up to something sensational….
During my nap the winds adjusted themselves to come from the north, just like we wanted. We were officially sailing meaning the engine after about 31 hours was turned off and the sails were carrying us at about 7 knots! What an amazing feeling? It is so quiet with the just the sounds of this boat rocking her way through water. The seas had calmed as well, I went to the deck and just took it all in, it was simply amazing. The ocean around you was so quite, the spitting of water against the boat. I decided to celebrate with a glass of wine, I watched the guys work on the sails for a while and starting to think about cooking dinner. I browned the potatoes I had made and served it with baked cod… Delicious.
Our sunset was beautiful as we searched for the green flash the moment it crosses the horizon. Rumor has it; once in a while if you are really lucky you see a flash. I swore I saw something; the boys assured me I did not.
Night watch is annoying. I decided to go to the living area to fall asleep, it was around midnight. The stars were out and it was very clear and the was weather warmer than the night before. The boys setup their posts and I agreed to relieve the skipper at around 4am. On night watch, you wait for the alarms to go off on the radar that tells you which ship is close and where. It also tells you at what speed it travels on. We had two interesting situations last night. The first was that two ships were coming straight for us from opposite directions. We turned on the lights on the sail to get us even more visible, checked their timing and waited. With a few changes in both directions on their part and ours – we were in fine shape… then hours later, the mate asks me to wake up the skipper. We might have nets ahead… Nets? A series of blinking lights set ahead of us out of nowhere. There were 4 of them. We were on beam with Casablanca so possible that it was fisherman and nets. (On beam is a term that defines something that is parallel to the boat, but off on distance.)
We were warned of this, we check our depth and it is 80 feet, so now were are sure it is fisherman. The green blinking lights were confusing. Usually green light means starboard side of the ship, we felt that these lights were not helping us at all. We tried to call them on radio and no answer. What was it? I picked up the spotlight flashlight which is strong (by the way – always aim first and then turn on a flash light – this way no one gets blinded) and I aim for the green blinking light and sure as it was, there it was a painted wooden fishing boat! It was red and blue and there were 2 men aboard. They had to have been 200 meters away.
The blinking lights are confusing as well; some of them are also lobster pods, which we learned after thinking we were avoiding a boat.
After a very exciting last few hours of the morning the sun finally rose. It took longer than we wanted. Had the sun been up just 30 minutes earlier – we could have seen better what and who was in our sights. We don’t expect any more fishermen as we are moving further out to the Atlantic while the Moroccan coastline revert back and away from us. Our boat named “Argo” has a set course and is now B lining us to the Canary Islands. Still hundreds of miles away.
I was put on watch early in the morning and after 2 hours I passed out. The sun was strong and I could not really stay up much longer. The skipper woke me after he had a good 2-hour rest and were back up and running.
Sailing is work; it works your body and your brain, especially this kind of sailing, oceanic crossings. Something I have never done before.
… The hours and minutes move at real time. It is so strange to actually soak in time. Something the skipper told me about but did not understand until being on the boat. After the most delicious cup of coffee we all talk about our plans for the day. It is about 10AM since there is NO RUSH to actually do anything, you pace yourself, something I have had a better time doing. I washed bathrooms, cleaned the kitchen, cleaned up last night’s blankets, opened windows and started dreaming of the shower I am due to take today. I can’t wait. As I am washing the rest of breakfast dishes and setting up lunch I hear a scream!
Oh my god the most amazing school of dolphins paid us a visit frolicking off the wake of our boat.
The skipper got me to the nose of the boat where I can really get a good look and as the he blew a whistle and I yelled at them off the bow, they were all there. Jumping up and blowing water at my feet! After tapping on the side of the boat by the skipper and I clapping and saying hello the most extraordinary thing happened. One of the dolphins cruised right in front of us, surfaced and actually “clapped back” with his flipper while to others next to him, jumped out of the water and flipping in the air before falling back into the water…
I kept yelling Bravo Bravo! Give us more, and they did! They played with us for a good 25 minutes.
They were TOTALLY SHOWING OFF! I swear one of the winked at me under the water just under my toes. It was an amazing sight! I kept calling to them and some I started to recognize. The water is so clean here and I noticed 3 dolphins with scratches on their back, they were distinct. They keep under my toes a few times.
I promised that I would not eat seafood anymore. I made a packed with the ocean and with the dolphins. I am also going to get active again to keep our oceans clean. These dolphins are the ambassadors of the ocean and I totally got it. They can literally change your life in that moment.
After the invigoration of the dolphins we finished cleaning and prepared a hot lunch. Cheddar cheese and bread sticks to start. Pasta for lunch and all was just delicious.
After lunch and another clean up, charging started. We threw on the genny and put all our electronics on charge, which is why now I write to you! I stopped half way through to take a shower and put on clean clothes. We all did actually and we all feel like a million dollars.
It is 5pm and I ask myself, where has this day even gone? Off in the distance having my glass of wine the dolphins are back. There must have been 100 of them, jumping out of the water one came right to the boat as if he was saying one last goodbye… then they left without a trace… I hoped to see them again, but I did not.
Be careful for what you wish for. It might come true! I am referring to the wind from the north we wanted…
At about 7pm, things started to change… the skipper was getting excited about the new wind on our backs, it was getting stronger… I could not have been happier actually, I could live with this! This is an amazing way to spend time! The wind began to blow and we were cruising, at this rate, our time at sea will most certainly shorten as we head closer and closer… for me, the faster we were going, the less time on the boat! We were moving and grooving and making our way due south for the Canaries!
One thing you forget is how big the ocean is. The other thing is how strong the wind is. When you combine the two? These next 48 challenging hours happen…
Dinner was quick, the waves and current were in our favor as we are sailing.
The northern wind we were waiting for was in full affect. The good news is, we were headed in the perfect directions for all these elements to add up. The bad news? 1000 of miles of momentum and you have Sea conditions force 6- 7.
After a few adjustments to the sails we buckled down for what seemed would be another rocky night.
I woke up at 4AM that always seems to be the witching hour, to a big crash. Everything was flying everywhere. I grabbed my life vest and went to the cockpit. At 4 am it is 4 hours before sunrise and 30 minutes after moonset, it is usually very dark. The winds were howling, the sea was high and we had to get through the rest of the night. I looked up to see what was going on, and all I heard out of the skippers mouth to the mate was… “They are getting bigger.”
What is getting bigger? The waves? oh my god, this is like when Roy Schieder says in Jaws “we are going to need a bigger boat!” or when the footsteps of the dinosaurs in Jurrasic Park get closer and closer and louder and louder. Frankly, the tone it was said in was the tone I did not want to hear and frankly I panicked. The skipper was all business as we all put on our life vests and I tied myself to the boat. “You never leave the boat unless it is 100% sinking. It is much easier to find a 50 foot boat, than a life raft.” Which is what I was told earlier on in the day… (That was not too comforting, p.s.) I came down to the living area and for the first time in a long time or maybe even ever, I was afraid shaking like a leaf. I sat quietly and waited… for something… Then my name was called.
The skipper needed to soften the sails. We were going too fast. Almost 9 knots! The first mate was steering the boat and we were all rocking around.
“Stephy, hold this rope, not too tight, not too loose. Listen to what I tell you and don’t let go.” was the direction the skipper gave me as he adjusted the front sail. Oddly this was the most calm I was that morning. Having something to do always calmed me down.
After adjustments of both sails on a very rocky boat and while he was tied to it, we watched to speedometer decrease… he has slowed the boat down.
The physics is amazing as is the rigging of the boat. The skipper has had this boat for 20 years and knows every nook and cranny – to watch him maneuver around at night in high seas with this balancing act that he does is incredible. There is very little light, there are waves splashing around, the wind is howling, sails need to be moved… it is all very intense… and very scary.
The first mate and I stayed up the last few hours while the skipper tried to catch some sleep and the boat was rocking. The first mate rocked out working the steering and the autopilot. We were both exhausted but kept each other up and going. I called out times every 10 minutes waiting for that dam sun to rise. While we were sailing, everything flew around down below. When I went down, it looked like 10 people had ransacked the place. Every room toppled over with stuff, it was a mess…. I could not really see what was around us on the ocean; we had very little light and in the end proved to be much better than for me that I thought. All I wanted was for that sun to come up and the mate and I were waiting and waiting but when the first light came out, we did not like what we saw.
After about 2 hours of darkness to light, I went to wake up the skipper, I said, “you are not going to like what you see.”
“Sunrise is always a reveal, one way or the other, it reveals what is around you, whether you like it or not.” sjb
The ocean was roaring and galloping southward in a way that I had never seen water move before. For miles and miles around us, we had white caps and wind and waves. It was overwhelming for me to see. Luckily our boat was sailing right along with it. I sat in the cockpit as I was explained how you really measure a wave. We determined that the swells that were hitting us from behind were anywhere from 15-20 feet tall. 35-100 feet wide. This was the real deal; we were in the North Atlantic Ocean.
I sat up on deck in awe. I had never seen an ocean like this. It was so strong and our boat “Argo” cruised it with grace. As walls of waves once behind us picked us up along the way and then ahead of us. The boat rolled with it at about 9.2 knots. There is tempo about the whole thing. The ocean has a rhythm and it is usually in threes. It was 3 swells, 1 rock left 1 rock right and a whimper to the bottom of the swell… then quiet for a moment and it would do it all over again. Then every 12 swells there would be 3 big ones. I had never been in seas like this. There were walls of water behind us that were higher than our stern. There were crashing waves next to us and rolls of water ahead. It was scary. Our radio went off and there was a ship with in 10 miles. I picked up the walkie and got the information on the name of the boat and called it.
defintion of force: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaufort_scale
Volendaro Volendaro, can you read me? Over.
With accent ”who is calling volendaro”
“This is sail boat Argo, due south for the Canary Islands. We are on your starboard. We were curious if you had a weather report.”
Then there was silence. I asked again and he responds…
“Force 7, Winds from the north, but decreasing.”
“Thank you very much” I respond, have a safe journey.” His response is, “Bon Voyage” This news made me very happy, I just need to sit it out a little longer and the winds will die and the waves too and all will be well.. but wait, did he just say FORCE 7 ?????
As that ship passed up about a mile on our starboard going the opposite direction I dream of being on it! There were moving against the current, something the skipper told me, if we were doing, we would be in much worse condition. The thing was, we were in high seas and the wind was strong but that is really it. No storms or anything just big big water.
The boat rocked and rolled, I was told that this is what we needed and that the wind should not die down too much, we need it for the sails to keep up with the swells. I also that learned even though the wind would decrease, it could take hours for the ocean to respond, maybe even up to 2 days depending on the momentum. This I did not like.
About 2 hours later another ship in our sights. I check the GPS get the ships name and call it. I needed another weather report.
“This is Argo sailboat sailing off your starboard to you read me westwind?”
“Yes, hear you.” (Thick Russian accent)
“We were wondering if you had a weather/wind report for us.”
Then silence. We lost them….
“The skipper gave it a try, hello, do you have a weather report for us?” and nothing again….
It killed me to see this ship coming toward us and he was not answering, so took the radio again and said.
“Hello, Westwind can you see us? We are headed south toward the Canary Islands and wanted to know if you can give us a wind report.”
We all wait in hopes for a response.
“Yes I see you, you are off my starboard,” he answers with his thick accent.
“Oh great, yes hello we are waving to you guys! We are getting killed here with these winds and waves, do you have any news for us?“ I respond.
“Winds are from the north west, up to 30 knots but are decreasing,” he says.
I respond with “thank you has a safe journey”
He responds “OK”
Then I give it a chance! And say
“spaceeba!” Which is thank you in Russian
Ha ha ha, hello, where are you from!
“New York City baby!”
The mate and skipper and I all break out into laughter….
“Where are you from and where are you going?” says the Russian captain
“We are on our way to the Canary islands! These winds and these waves are killing me. I got to get back to New York!”
The captain responds, “ok, good, well, maybe I see you in New York!”
Watching that ship pass by, after having contact, all I wanted to do was get on it. It was great news that the winds were decreasing but it would take time. When we hit about 24 hours and we figures we have about 30 hours left of the trip, it took every bone in my body and every morsel of strength to just deal with it.
After asking a million questions about water, waves, wind, boats, life rafts, helicopter rescues, emergency response and the like, the skipper looked at me and said,
There is no turning back, we are in it and we are going to ride it out on board. We are going to be ok.
That is when I looked at the second mate who put his hand on my shoulder and said, “it’s going to be a little annoying and uncomfortable, but it is going to be ok”.. My response was, “well we have been doing it for the last 24 hours and we are here, so we will have to ride it out till the end… right?”
I can’t really recall the next 24 hours but it went something like this.
The skipper told me the plan – “there is nothing we can do but drive the boat in the right direction and go with the flow and ride the waves.”
Well I went into a Stephanie Mode, and for those of you who know me, like a tazmanian devil, I decided to somehow try to clean up the place and keep myself busy. I did dishes and got somehow organized al little. We made a sat phone call to our friend in Madrid who gave us a very promising weather report. That in fact there were no storms, not weather patterns, and that the winds were dying down and so were the waves… it just all needed time.
We had a very small and short dinner. We had to eat, it is important to eat. We then plotted out where we were going, and thought that we had to re-plot to another marina that was further away so that we would show up there at the right time. We set our course and it was about 9pm. We had 160 nautical miles to go and I started the countdown.
We all put on our weatherproof gear, set up on our posts. Turned on the engine and literally battened down the hatches. The skipper put the boat on autopilot and rode the shit out of these waves. Last night every hour I gave updates to the boys who were sleeping in between reports and both got thrown off their cots that night. I lay on the couch thinking I am climbing a mountain and realized that I am living the most challenging day of my life.
“There is nothing to fear but fear itself” fdr
After a very very long night, we woke to a much calmer sea… not calm but calmer. The swells had diminished to 10 feet, the wind had died down to 15 knots, and the galloping waves seem to be at a fast trot…. And we woke up to the promise of seeing land for the first time in 4 days. At 9AM we had sailed for 96 hours and had another 10 hours to do. Our first sight of the Volcanic Mountains of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, was a relief.
We had the most beautiful approach and sailed our way into the most beautiful marina in calm seas. We made it.
Gibraltar to Puerto Calero, Lanzarote, Canary Islands. 108 hours portal to portal
Give me a drink…
I want to thank the skipper who is fearless and knows wind and water better than anyone on this planet and always made me feel better with a simple “wink” 😉 and I want to also thank my first mate – a great sailor and was always concerned about our safety.