Im afraid this post is over quota for sunsets and photos of me. There’s just not that much else out there.
It’s a strange thing, a first Atlantic crossing. An experience different from anything done before. Heralded by those who have yet to do it as the ultimate trip, the big one, the final test – and yet, to those that have crossed this large pond before, once or several times, it becomes less impressive – the milk run, being blown by the trades to the amusement park which is the Caribbean.
The scary thing about any ocean crossing is how far away from help you are, how far from a pontoon, a shop or a hospital, or even from a shallow bay where you can anchor and rest easy for a night. And on a singlehanded crossing, how far you are from a second opinion, a third hand, or even just some casual conversation.
My own trip has been, so far, unlike anything I have done before. Of course, I have spent many hours watching the sun rise and set, the moon and the stars, marvelling at the scale of the universe and the size of this ocean, and thinking about my tiny boat in the middle of it. I have also spent hours playing games on my phone – but less about that. There have been difficulties, though – as the first days passed, I saw more and more seaweed passing by the boat, and as it got denser it started to get caught on the self steering gear blade. What at first was a minor nuisance became quite serious when it started to happen every 5 minutes or so, sending the boat off course (sometimes into an attempted crash jibe – thank god for preventers), and requiring me to lean perilously over the stern with a boat hook and try and get it off, which isn’t as easy as it sounds – especially with lots of wind and waves. Eventually I took the damn thing off and rigged up a jib-sheet to tiller steering system, which worked very well after some experimentation and is very satisfying in its simplicity, though it means you can’t always go exactly the direction that you want to.
My main worry now (I am writing this on day 11 – half way across) is an infection I seem to have in my knee. Unprovoked by any kind of cut, it started to swell after a couple of days at sea, and has become very painful and hard to walk on. Visions of DIY amputation run through my head, though I have been able to look on the bright side and I think I might look quite fetching with a peg leg… I could carve skulls and roses into it and have a good selection of shark and bear stories. Still, I wish I had some antibiotics or a nurse with me… a nice pretty nurse.. not that I am missing anything else, of course… aah well.
Now that I have arrived in Martinique I can reveal that I did not in fact have to amputate my leg – the infection did start to get better, though it made life difficult for a week or so.
I don’t know what else to write about the crossing. There were other minor issues – a jammed halyard, some heavy squalls, large seas, but nothing unmanageable. I spent hours dreaming up plans, wallowing in memories and possibilities. At times the movement of the boat would drive me almost to madness – when you are trying to do something as simple as make a cup of tea or move around in the boat, and the waves insist on violently throwing you to the other side of the cabin, spilling your boiling tea, throwing your food around, propelling knees and elbows and heads into sharp corners, it seems sometimes like a personal insult, like the sea has a relentless and pointless grudge against small boats and will never tire of trying to bruise their inhabitants. But in time you learn to move in a different way and make do with less tea. Sleeping can also be hard when the seas are big – every unusual wave wakes you and provokes you to check outside for anything unusual, and look for an approaching squall. These Atlantic squalls sometimes come through many times in a day, sometimes not at all. Sometimes they bring howling wind, sometimes just a short but torrential shower, but you can’t tell, and so it’s necessary to reef the sails before they arrive each time. The fierce ones can be very fierce, and would have no pity on the fool flying a full main.
The navigation was the cornerstone of the day and provided some structure. Three sun sights around noon would give a position, provided it wasn’t cloudy. Plotting this on the chart, seeing the days run, the advancing pencil marks, was a pleasant ritual. On clear evenings I would take sights of stars, planets, and the moon, for a more accurate fix. It’s very satisfying indeed – and occasionally you even know where you are!
I found Martinique in the dark, and as I rounded the island the sun rose. The land looked fake – like a backdrop, where flat boards depicting landscapes are layered behind each other to give the illusion of perspective. The colours were lurid, ridiculously vivid, and the smell of the land was muddy, woody and wholesome, almost thick enough to see. I found my way to a port, feeling thoroughly bizarre, dropped the anchor and rowed ashore. Bearded and sunburnt and salty and tired, I ended up wobbling into macdonalds of all places, eager to find wifi to let my parents know I had made it. It was cold with the air conditioning on and I nearly laughed out loud with the irony – I had sailed thousands of miles to be somewhere hot and beautiful and here I was in the Carribean – freezing cold in macdonalds!