*Thanks to Bruce for sharing his experience of crossing the Atlantic Ocean aboard Detour.
What is it like to make a passage? I remember as a kid visiting a “fun house,” a room with a floor that rocked around in random directions. Imagine living in that room for almost three weeks night and day. On the plus side, there are things to hang onto, on the minus side, if you don’t (as I was painfully reminded on the third day) there are things to fall against that will hurt you. In that environment everything is a challenge walking, cooking, reading and even just sitting. Dishes can never be left unattended lest they wind up in your lap.
We stood watches so that someone was always awake to watch for passing ships or changes in the wind. Cargo ships and cruise liners would show up on the AIS (Automatic Identification System) many miles away and we could see exactly where they were going and how close they would pass but smaller boats don’t always transmit on AIS so we had to frequently scan the horizon for them. This could seem pointless as there were multiple day stretches when we saw no ships at all.
Sailing from the Canaries to Martinique meant that we sailed downwind the whole time. Normally, when you sail both the main sail and the head sail are on the same side of the boat but if you are sailing directly downwind (dead downwind) you can set the sails on opposite sides of the boat in order to catch more wind (sailing “wing on”). This is nice because the boat sits flatter, not tilted to one side, but requires more vigilance with the sails because a change in wind direction can cause one of the sails to switch to the other side (jibe) unexpectedly. This can have a number of consequences, none of them good, so we would steer to avoid it. Watches alternated between long periods of inactivity and bursts of action if we needed to adjust sails in a squall. [Winds during the entire passage were east-northeast 20-25 knots apparent; our “calm” day wind speed ranged from 15-18 knots apparent. During squalls, our highest wind speed observed was 40 knots true. The main sail was triple-reefed nearly the entire duration of the passage.]
Brian and I stood watch together from 8 to 2 at night and 8 to 2 in the morning. Stephanie and Bmac did the alternate shifts so we always had an experienced sailor on watch. As the voyage progressed Brian and I would take turns napping if everything was quiet. I found my mood varying with the time of day. At two in the morning I would be asking myself “what made me think this was a good idea” but the next morning, better rested, the sun would come out, sometimes we would catch a fish and I would find myself with almost unlimited time for conversation and reading.
The sea was constantly rolling up behind us, sometimes the waves were only 2 or 3 feet high and sometimes 10 or 12 feet but the motion was much the same as the stern of the boat would be lifted first then we would flatten out then tilt up as the wave passed in front. It was hypnotic to just sit there and watch the waves. There were also waves from the side the helped create that “fun house” effect.
I kept a small journal and sometimes it was challenging to find an event that distinguished one day from the next as the routines and unchanging scenery caused the days to blur together. Catching fish, passing dolphins, little gifts that Stephanie bought us leading up to Christmas, Christmas and New Years all helped to identify a day.
One of the downsides of a voyage this long is that it meant being separated from my wife Kathy for, by far, the longest time in our 38 years of marriage. Her unwavering support was vital. Mark, our blog administrator, helped ease our minds about our family at home by posting our progress and location on a map with twice daily updates. In addition, he helped us work out issues communicating by email over single side band radio.
By the numbers we had a very successful passage. We completed in 19 days, several days faster than Brian expected and two days faster than Columbus. Our total distance was 2768 nautical miles, somewhat shorter than typical transatlantic passages because by watching the weather carefully we were able to follow a course closer to a great circle. Our final fish tally was 4 tuna and 7 mahi-mahi.