Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We crossed the Atlantic!

We finally made it; we crossed the big ‘O following the wake of Christopher Columbus on that crossing of 2111M (3926 km). Two weeks at sea were necessary for that achievement and it was with relief that we shouted “Land ‘O!” when Antigua showed up on the horizon. Two weeks at sea and being tossed in every direction by the waves takes a drain on two unfit sailors like us. We should really stop drinking and start exercising instead! In the mind of most people, crossing the Atlantic is a huge life milestone and it showed up by the sheer number of boats we saw jumping in that adventure while we were in the Canaries where they were preparing for the crossing. We estimated that about 300 other boats crossed the Atlantic at the same time than we did, at one point we were wondering whether we needed to take a number to get in line or what. With the advent of the GPS (Global Positioning System) and autopilots such a journey is now made affordable to a larger portion of the population but still remains a serious undertaking. Therefore, soon after dropping the hook, the cork of the bottle of wine popped and it was time for us to celebrate. An important point to notice is that even though we are now back to the Caribbean we haven’t completed the circumnavigation part of our trip. To complete a circumnavigation of the earth it is necessary to cross all the meridians and to sail over our own wake. We did cross all the meridians of the earth but we are still 35M (65 km) from the closest point of our wake when we sailed in Montserrat in 2009. Therefore, we are not yet to the point of celebrating THAT achievement, which will makes the Atlantic crossing look like a weekend trip, and since we want to stay in Antigua and Barbuda for at least until after Christmas the celebration for the big loop will have to wait a bit more.

The crossing itself went relatively eventless. On two occasions dolphins came to play at the bow of Chocobo and on a sunny day of the first week we had the rare privilege of the company of an 18ft (6m) whale who travelled with us for over an hour and half. This was more than what we asked for since sighting a whale is quite a rare event but having her to swim with us for 90 minutes is the treat of a lifetime! On the fourth day we had the surprise of passing another sailboat. Note that even if 300 other sailboats are crossing doesn’t mean we would see them. We can barely see more than 5 miles around us and the ocean is immense. I called them and they appear to be “Moin”, a German boat, who left Mindelo, the same port we left from, but the day before us. In four days we had caught up with them as we were flying with the strong steady wind prevailing in the eastern part of the Atlantic. That was probably only the second time in our trip that we found a boat slower than us and with our boosted ego we wish them good luck and fair wind as they disappeared behind us. We saw another sailboat on the horizon about a week later but we didn’t bother calling them. They didn’t call us either so they were probably not inclined to chat although usually when one spends two weeks at sea without seeing another boat it is usually tempting to talk to another human being other than his or her own spouse!

But beside these few “events” an ocean crossing is quite a boring adventure in itself. We stay on watch 24/7 alternating on 4 hour shifts during the night and a less rigid schedule during the day. In the morning when the night has been wavy I had to go and throw overboard the flying fishes that jumped on the boat in a suicidal leap for survival but end up flapping on the front trampolines. This time we caught a weird fish that I’m holding here on the picture. Danielle cooks pretty much all the meals since I am usually quite incapacitated by the continuous movement of the waves. I appear not to be much of a sailor on long passages although I jump right up when something breaks to fix it in a timely fashion. However, to our great surprise and satisfaction, we didn’t encounter any breakups worth mentioning during that very long passage. Normally, we would have expected to have a long list of repairs along the way or to be done as soon as we touch land but it seems that all the precautionary work we did and the fact that we now know Chocobo like the back of our hand really paid off. Exchanging emails with two of our boat friends, who are also crossing, we learned that one had a flaky autopilot looking for a reason to die and the other had his main sail ripped apart. On Chocobo we had only the spring of a deck block that snapped under fatigue with basically no consequences other than the fact that this block, which is under constant pressure of over many hundreds of pounds anyway would not stand straight up by itself! Chocobo might be a high maintenance chick but she’s a good boat.