If you ever wondered what it was like to cross the Atlantic in a 37′ catamaran, here you go, courtesy of Julia. If you haven’t frozen to death take a few minutes and enjoy a life’s dream by someone who had the fortitude to say, “Screw the corporate world.” and went off on an adventure.
The Atlantic Crossing — Through a Rookie’s Eyes
Several months back, I promised Captain Fritter two guest posts — one before the Atlantic Crossing and one after. The post before the crossing was a bit easier for me to put together, but I have to say that I’ve struggled with the post after the crossing. For me, the Atlantic Crossing was such a huge dream that had once seemed so far out of reach. For that dream to finally be completed and over seems surreal. Something so monumental and completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced has been quite difficult to put into words. However, I’ve given it my best try…
As we weighed anchor in Mindelo and left the town we had become so familiar with over the past several weeks, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement of the adventure before us. It seemed like it had taken forever for this day to arrive — the start of Snowflake’s Atlantic crossing!
Sailing through the passage between São Vicente and Santo Antão, watching as the islands got further and further away, I smiled. Snowflake happily raced the white horses with gusto, bravely surfing the waves.
Ever since we had started planning for the crossing, I had wondered what it would feel like on that first day, saying goodbye to land and facing several weeks of nothing but the wide blue yonder. Some might think they would be nervous or uneasy, but I experienced none of those feelings.
An unusually calm and peaceful feeling took over my body and mind. Hand steering, I was at one with Snowflake and completely prepared — mentally and physically — for what awaited us. Weeks without internet, markets, media, and just the general noise from life ashore sounded like a wonderful, tranquil heaven. And it was.
Each day held its own challenges (check out all the lessons we learned here), but all in all the passage was a pleasant one aboard Snowflake. We had good weather, fair seas, and light to moderate winds. Our average speed for the entire voyage was 4.55 knots and even when Snowflake would surf down waves at around eight or nine knots, we were very comfortable onboard.
We did not see any dolphins or whales, but we sure did see plenty of flying fish! Each morning, I would sit in the cockpit with my coffee and watch as hundreds of flying fish flew out of the water and soared through the air before diving back into a wave. Many flying fish had the misfortune to land on Snowflake’s decks overnight; each day we found them and threw them back into the ocean. I had read of sailors cooking and eating these small fish, but I couldn’t imagine them being anything but a mess of tiny bones.
For days we continued on, wave after wave, meal after meal, sail change after sail change, and watch after watch. There is something so simple and easy about life at sea and it’s really hard to describe.
When sailing, the boat is like your own little universe. The only dictator is Mother Nature — the wind, the swell, the sun and clouds, the moon and stars — and as the captain of your universe, you are completely in charge of how you and your vessel reacts and deals with Nature’s changing attitude.
Our days revolved around basic tasks onboard Snowflake — checking for other ships, monitoring our course, checking the sail trim and make adjustments as needed, checking for chafe on the lines, staying on the lookout for squalls, checking the bilges and just making sure all was in good working order. Neglecting any of these tasks could result in serious problems with our sails, lines, or systems — all of which could prevent us from having a safe voyage. In between these jobs, we spent time cooking, eating, reading, listening to podcasts or music, writing, and just thinking about life. Each day seemed to run into the next and if not for the countdown we maintained on our small calendar, we would not have known how many days we had been at sea.
At night, one person was always standing watch and looking for other ships and making sure that Snowflake was sailing well. The nights went quickly. Our television was the endless number of stars in the sky and the spectacular bioluminescence in the water behind Snowflake’s wake. At sea, the stars are unbelievably bright and stretch from one horizon to the next. It was not uncommon to see multiple shooting stars during a night watch. I never knew that shooting stars are so common — you just can’t see them from land because of all the shore lights!
For many days on the crossing, there were no ships in sight. When we did see a ship on our A.I.S. system (a marine tracking system that allows us to see other ships that are transmitting an A.I.S. signal), the ship was often so far away that we could not visually see it. However, a few times, we did visually see ships and were able to hail them on the VHF radio for a brief conversation.
One thing that was unexpected was the route that we took. In preparation for the crossing, one of the smartest things we did was to go with Chris Parker’s weather routing service. Every five or seven days we would send Chris an email through our satellite phone with our coordinates and other details and he would reply back with a personalized routing plan. This plan not only factored in the wind and waves but it was also personalized to our sail plan, Snowflake’s speed, and the fact that we needed to sail rather than motor. Because of these factors Chris routed us further south, which altered our country of landfall from Barbados to Grenada.
Typically, the tendency is to set a direct course and follow that course, which is probably what we would’ve done without the weather routing from Chris. This could have caused our crossing to go much longer or become uncomfortable. Because of Chris’s guidance we were able to sail the entire twenty-two days, only using the engine for twenty-one total hours. Most of that engine time was spent running our water maker or charging our batteries on cloudy days.
Arriving in Prickly Bay, Grenada and setting the anchor just before sunset was an incredible feeling. It felt strange to be going through the motion of anchoring after weeks of leaving Mindelo. The crossing was a huge accomplishment for Snowflake and her crew — something we had worked very hard to prepare for and completed successfully. Falling asleep that night, realizing that I would not have to wake up in four hours to go on watch was a special feeling.
At the moment, Snowflake is making her temporary home in the Caribbean before venturing on to distant shores. Experiencing nights in the 70s and days in the mid-to-upper 80s (Fahrenheit) is not so bad in the month of January!
Would I do this again? That isn’t the question — the real question is when? After all, the Atlantic is only one of five oceans in the world. There is so much left to explore and experience!
Interested in changing your life and chasing your dreams? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Congratulations again to Julia and her crew and the good ship Snowflake. Well done. I was hoping you would have run into a few sea serpents or mermaids out there, but mayhaps next time.
How about you? Will this be the year you go sail the oceans, move to an island, or do something more better than sit in a cubicle making some fat cat wealthy? Your call.