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Friday, January 6, 2012

Our Atlantic Crossing

 
Barbados is a blur.
An amazingly colourful blur of coal black faces wearing wide smiles with ultra-white teeth; happy women and men with dreadlocked and cornrowed hair dressed in brightly coloured Caribbean clothes.  Sadly, we’re seeing this through a hazy blur of tiredness having just arrived after a 14 day Atlantic crossing punctuated by rough conditions and broken sleep.
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On December 21, we left Mindelo in the Cape Verde islands with four other yachts including friends Carol and Steve on Innamorata and Richard and Alex on Moonshadow. Within hours their sails had disappeared over the horizon as we took different routes with us opting to head south to about 12 degrees where, in previous years, trade winds had been more consistent.
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We’d like to say it was a breeze, but at times conditions tested us to our limits. Systems in the north Atlantic pushed up confused swells that made life difficult – it was not the typical trade wind sailing we had anticipated.  
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Doing simple everyday chores such as cleaning teeth, washing dishes and showering became an exercise in stamina and athleticism. Sleeping in a rolling berth was a mission, but knowing how vital it was we willed ourselves into it using ear plugs and eye masks to snatch a few hours.
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Deck work was challenging in heavy seas so we kept our sail plan simple with twin headsails, one poled to windward or a heavily reefed mainsail and a poled headsail. Preparing food resulted in much swearing from the galley – I just didn’t have enough hands to hold on to everything and several times food and crockery went flying went an awkward wave hit.
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Christmas Day was one we won’t forget. Deteriorating conditions forced us to stay down below doing watches by instrument. I lost my sense of humour completely when a wave sent supper all over the saloon floor and I had to scramble on hands and knees to clear up the mess!
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As we edged closer to the Caribbean night time squalls kept us on our toes; the black clouds seemed to come out of nowhere accompanied by winds gusting up to 40 knots and torrential rain, which at least gave us a sparkling clean boat.
But let’s not forget those perfect trade wind days where the sky was deep blue with puffy white clouds, the normally grey Atlantic took on an azure tinge and we had dolphins alongside – magic! The few calm and clear nights were a delight and we never tired of gazing at the southern cross – it’s a long time since we’ve seen that!
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Our only real hiccup came five days out of Barbados, when Zak, our autopilot, died choosing one of the darkest and windiest nights to do so. Cruising sailors rely almost entirely on their autopilots on long passages so the thought of doing without Zak all the way to Barbados was a nightmare.
It was bad enough hand steering for 12 hours while trying to find and fix the problem. After a few hours of snatched sleep and a very strong coffee, David’s brain began to function normally and he soon found the problem – a loose wire in the switchboard. The relief was enormous.
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 Skipper sleeping on saloon floor during really rough day!!!!
  Highlight of our day was getting email through the satellite phone – a huge boost. It was wonderful to get so many supportive emails from family and friends tracking our progress. Daily contact also came with our morning and evening SSB (single side band radio) check ins with fellow cruisers.   It was great to chat, plot everyone’s position on the chart and know someone was keeping an eye on ours.
As Barbados came into sight excitement levels rose, tinged with relief; we’d done it, we’d crossed the Atlantic dual-handed, on our own boat and in good time – 13 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes at an average speed of 6.3 knots. We beat the other boats we left with by a day, confirmation that our southern route was the right one.
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We anchored just on dusk and poured ourselves a huge rum punch then fell into bed but, wouldn’t you know it, we continued to wake at our appointed watch times!  Anchored in the startling turquoise water of Carlisle Bay, Barbados, the spilt food, broken crockery, bruised bodies and broken sleep are fading into the background – sailors have short memories for a reason.

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