Since this post covers a span of nearly one week in time, we’ll leave the days in there as a sort of timeline. Enjoy! Tuesday October 23, 2018– We have been sailing for about 5 hours now. The wind is cold, but the sun is still warm. I’ve found that the fresh air is good for me and I prefer to sit outside, but it’s quite chilly unless directly in the sun. Since we’re heading SSW and the wind is on our starboard, the warmest spot on deck is the port side, right next to the saloon windows. Between coming inside to do things, and discussing sailing with Pietro, I’ve been taking breaks sitting out there. The saloon shelters me from most of the wind and it’s wonderful. First few times I did some seated yoga stretches, being careful not to get too close to the edge so I don’t go overboard. The last time, I laid down completely to stay out of the wind – head to fore and feet to aft. I stare up at the sails and the sky… the sun up behind my head to the right. From this vantage point, I can watch the sails for luffing, and make sure the telltales are flying. I know Pietro is at the helm also watching, but it’s good to practice as well. The guys have managed to rig the jib in a modified way that is allowing us to travel along quite nicely! A jet flies over, heading west. I wonder who’s on it and where they’re headed. I think about how much faster they’re traveling than we are. We haven’t seen many boats out here. We’re already completely out of sight of land in the Bay of Biscay. The gravity of what we’ve done weighs on me and keeps me staring up at the sails a long time. We’ve literally just sailed away from humanity, and are out in the middle of the water. No walking to the store, no visiting marina friends, it’s just the three of us and what’s on the boat. Since this is the first time I’ve ever sailed, this all feels very serious and heavy, and a bit scary. I have to choke down my desire to run back to safety – even though being in Les Sables d’Olonne was driving us nuts, we were still surrounded by people, amenities, and wifi. This is a good test to see how I’ll do crossing the Atlantic. I look forward to acclimating and getting my sea legs so I can read and spend more time inside. In the meantime, back out to stare at the sails and the clouds while there’s still sun to warm me and before I have to come in and make dinner. Made pork chop casserole from cookbook – pretty successful, but wrote a few modifications into the book. Hitchhiking bird on deck! Cool!
Couldn’t sleep before first watch – moving a lot, very noisy, still a bit seasick. Wearing Sea Band bracelets from Tracy, which she picked up at Boots while in UK for cooking school. Also took 1 meclizine. Drinking some ginger tea hoping that will help too! 1am-4am watch shift: Not bad – very dark and quiet. Very, very cold. My cold gear brought along and purchased in France are not sufficient. Thankfully I am clipped in to the helm station, and I was able to move around freely to try to generate additional warmth (not very effective, but better than nothing). Three hour shifts rotating around the clock across Biscay. This means usually 3 shifts per day – once finished with one three-hour shift, 6 hours off until next shift. Doesn’t leave a lot of time for good sleep.
Wednesday October 24, 2018– not much wind. Spent most of day motoring or motor sailing. Pietro tried to feed bird, but it didn’t really eat. Daytime shift of 10-1 was warm and sunny. Was able to read on kindle – yay!! Excited to continue Jane Eyre – had no idea how long this book is! It’s really getting interesting! This cold fall weather makes me want to read more fall-ish and scary stuff – I wish I had purchased and the Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Outlander books liked I’d planned. I’ve already read some, but I’m not opposed to re-reading a good story a few years later. The sun is out and it’s quite warm during my mid-day shift; I don’t even need my offshore jacket! Yay! The hitchhiking bird starts to act really strange; I think it’s seasick! It’s trying to fly but it’s basically just doing cartwheels. After a few attempts, it’s just lying on it’s side on deck and from 10 feet away I can see it’s little heart pumping wildly in its chest. I hope he will be ok!! An hour later, our bird is dead… so sad! Seems like a bad omen, but I’m trying not to think that way. While Bob was asleep, Pietro called me on deck to check out some dolphins swimming and playing around the hulls! Our first dolphins!! Rested as much as I could during the day, as tonight I have two shifts: 7-10pm and 4-7am. Spent a couple hours looking at cookbook and evaluating the food on board – started making a list of foods/spices to purchase when we stop next, as some things are generally lacking. We have plenty of easy-to-make food, but now that I know I can cook some without being seasick, I’d like to cook more! Since I spent so much time thinking about this and researching, and had a shift coming up, I threw in a frozen lasagna for dinner. It wasn’t bad for the 4 Euro or whatever it cost. The 7-10pm shift wasn’t bad, it was easy since the guys were up and about, setting sails, etc. I was able to rest quite a bit between shifts, despite all the noise. The sea has gotten very choppy with bigger waves. Bob said it was like WW3 while sleeping, but to me, it’s more like a very violent thunderstorm. Loud bangs every minute or so when waves crash into the hulls – this is worse when the tide is moving against our sailing direction. Sometimes it sounds like we’re crashing into rocks, it’s so loud and the whole boat shakes! Clinking and clanking of items in storage lockers, or on deck. Creaking of the boat as it sways back and forth with the waves. I’m amazed at how well I slept on day 2, but I suppose that’s in part because I didn’t sleep well the few nights before. The 4-7am shift was awful – super cold, very windy, and pretty boring. The guys had left the code 0 out to try to capture the low winds and move us along our path quicker. But during my shift, the winds were picking up quite a bit! Winds that are too strong can take a code 0 right off the boat! About 20 minutes before my shift ended, we were sustaining 16 knot winds with gusts up to 20, and that was just too risky. I went down to the cabin to get Bob who was getting ready to take over watch, and we decided to bring down the sail. Since I have minimal experience, he woke Pietro to assist. We set up a three man operation and my job was to hold tension on a line holding the code 0, then wait for Pietro’s signal to unravel from the winch and let it run free – he and Bob would take it down in front. Since it was still completely dark out, and very windy, we all had life jackets on and were clipped onto lifelines. It was very difficult to see or hear signals or instructions from the others onboard. When signaled, I let the line off the winch and run free as directed, but shortly after, the sail came flying loose! It was tangling in the spreader above, and flying all over the boat, one end whipped back toward me, which I caught so it wouldn’t go down into the water and into the prop of the engine (which was running!). We narrowly avoided disaster in the back – I have no idea what was happening in front. Bob switched with me and had me go back to the helm station to watch the radar and keep lookout for boats or other obstructions. We managed to get the sail put away in a bow locker with damage or any other major incident – phew! What a chaotic end to my shift! I was relieved when Bob told me they no longer needed me and I could head to bed. I was exhausted from being so cold and from the excitement of the sail craziness. Later in the day, I found out that there was some issue with the furling line and that is what caused the sail to spring loose. I was grateful that it wasn’t something I had done, given my inexperience. I told Bob that hopefully I could be taught some more soon and maybe I could be of better help during these times. Given difficulty hearing on board, I also suggested we develop a hand signal system for communicating across the boat during times like this so we don’t have misunderstandings that could cause damage or accidents.
Thursday October 25, 2018– Although the day really started with my 4-7am shift, I see that more of part of the previous night since it’s before a reasonable hour of waking! I was able to sleep intermittently a couple hours after shift, but was wide awake by 11. I know I’m so tired, and I wish I could sleep more, but I am unable. I get out of bed so Bob can continue sleeping, as he had the 7-10am shift after me. I had intended to bake bread and vacuum seal some of the meat in the refrigerator today, but when I get up to the saloon, I see the batteries are only at 62%! Somehow overnight we’ve used about 38% of our batteries… And it’s completely overcast outside, so we’re not making any solar power. WTF?!? This is not good. How did we use so much battery overnight?!? Pietro is on watch and comes in saying the B&G navigation systems gave him a low batter power/voltage alarm, so we need to get more power ASAP. I can only imagine it’s from the autopilot and the electric winches which were used a lot. If the sun was out this morning, this wouldn’t be an issue. Pietro has temporarily turned off the fridge and freezer power, but we have a lot of food in there so that can’t be off for long. Pietro and I attempt to turn on the generator several times, but it won’t turn on. He is heading out to turn on the engines to motor sail a bit to charge the batteries when Bob wakes up. Thankfully, Bob is able to get the generator to turn on – it’s been off for a couple days so it just needed some priming. But for some reason, the batteries aren’t charging, we’re still using more power than we’re gaining. Puzzled and alarmed at the prospect of a malfunctioning generator, the guys go open the generator hatch to check it out – seems to be running fine. We are resolved to turn on the engines when an idea strikes Bob… the last time we had the generator on was Tuesday morning, so we could shower before we left. Before we left, we were also on shore power, 220V to charge the batteries. Since we are wired for both 110V and 220V, but the generator won’t charge the batteries when the switch is on for 220V shore power! Duh! As soon as we change that switch, we are making power! Cha-ching! Celebration time! We might as well take advantage of the generator being on, so we all use our nice hot water to take some quick showers. Since we’re low on electricity, and it’s super cloudy, I don’t wash my hair since I won’t be able to dry it. Two day unwashed hair feels so gross… thank goodness for dry shampoo!! I head out on watch from 1-4pm. Bob joins me a while and he helps me practice what the lines are in the helm station (we really should label the clutches so we don’t have to waste time thinking or second-guessing in an emergency!), and we practice some knot tying. He goes in to rest before his upcoming shift. The sunshine comes out just for me! Yay!! At least now we have a little solar boost to our generator refilled batteries. When he comes back out, I suggest we shift our trajectory a bit more so we are on more of a beam reach and able to capture more wind power. Wind power is free!! Also, selfishly, I am eager to head toward warmer climates (though I know I am NOT alone in that!). While I’m on watch Pietro had cooked some food for lunches/dinners. I had no idea what kind of stew he was making as I sat outside but it smelled great! After my shift ended, I headed inside to warm up and eat – he had made a tomato based stew with pork loin, onion, peas, chorizo, lemon, and spices to be served over rice. It was amazingly warming after hours sitting outside in the windy cold. I am so thankful to have a crew member that cooks well. The guys discuss our sail plan and decide that if the weather looks ok tomorrow morning and through the next few days, we may stop in Spain! Yess!! Having never been there, I think that would be awesome! The only risk is that if we stop tomorrow and the weather turns, we could get stuck for four or five days, which is not idea. Fingers crossed for cooperative weather so we can take a day off sailing and see Spain! Tonight I have the 10pm-1am shift, so I better try to get a little rest.
Friday October 26, 2018 – I have the 7-10am sunrise shift. This is my first one so I’m excited to see it! I have to go get Bob twice for help at the helm since I have turned us a little too far towards land and am unsure it’s ok to turn starboard; I don’t want to cause an accidental jibe. Around 8am the dolphins appear – there are so many!! They play around the hulls – it’s amazing!! I love dolphins! These aren’t the typical bottle-nose gray dolphins you’d see at Sea World – they are grayish blue on top and have white bellies. What a beautiful way to start the day!
We end up motoring most of the day as there isn’t much for wind. We seem to be staying ahead of some bad weather that’s predicted in a day or so. We had planned to stop in Baiona but since we’re doing so well, we decide to keep sailing and see how far we can get down the coast. We’d like to make some stops in Lisbon and maybe Casablanca, so if we can keep going, that will allow us more time to make fun stops later. We also don’t want to get stuck somewhere for 3-4 days in the crappy weather, so we push forward. We might as well, since we’ve acclimated to our shift schedules and gotten our sea legs! Sometime during my afternoon shift, Bob quips “so much for those 30 knot winds!” I am thankful we’ve had such good weather across the Bay of Biscay and upon rounding the corner of the Spanish coast. I fear he’s just jinxed us. We pause shifts for dinner – I’ve managed a jerk chicken that’s pretty fantastic! I think the key was letting it marinade all day. Now that I’m off shift, I’m looking forward to some macaroons and reading – I’m nearing the end of Jane Eyre.
And all of a sudden, everything goes to shit… Bob comes in to tell us we need to reef, as winds are now sustained 25 knots. Pietro and I go out to assist and things get worse. As soon as we got the first reef in, we need another! The strong north wind is steadily climbing and it’s getting really scary! Winds grow to a steady 35 knots sustained, gusting up to 51 knots!! Although we checked the weather multiple times, these winds are definitely not what was prevented or we would’ve stopped in Baiona, Spain. Now we’re way out in deep water just past a shipping lane, trying to make it back to land in the middle of the night. Part of the preventer system broke and things are going wild. The jib is flying back and forth on the traveler and jibing every time the wind shifts. The boat is swaying like we’re in a tornado. Even with Sea Band bracelets and taking meclizine, I end up super sea sick and have to go lie down. I end up down for hours. When I finally get up in the middle of the night, it’s still a disaster. The boat is creaking like it’s going to fall apart at any second. Howling gale force winds sound like an angry giant. The waves crashing into the hulls sounds like we’re hitting rocks. Imagine the worst airplane turbulence and multiply it by at least 10 – it’s terrifying!! I start to wonder if we will make it back to land, and question whether we will have to abandon ship. There are cargo ships nearby so hopefully we wouldn’t have to be in the life raft long. I contemplate calling my parents but don’t want to worry them since the guys seem confident we will be fine. Why did we do this?!? Why didn’t we stop in Baiona?!? I wish we could go back. My mind runs all the worst-case scenarios possible and I start to pray that none of them come true. Every time the wind speed decreases, I am grateful, but it always goes back up and I pray some more. Although we were already doing round-the-clock shifts to cross the Bay of Biscay, Bob and Pietro are basically double-teaming shifts, Pietro taking endless shifts and Bob checking on him every 30 minutes. Several times they were both inside with Bob monitoring on our inside nav system while Pietro slept on the couch. I’m too inexperienced and honestly too terrified to be outside. The helm station can only accommodate three people in good weather – in bad weather, there just isn’t enough space for more people to clip in on tethers and stand there with good footing. So I stay inside the cabin, and although we had quite a bit stowed away safely for sailing, things are flying around everywhere! A loud crashing rouses my from my half-sleep state in the saloon… our French press has fallen to the floor and shattered during the boat’s tilting. Noooooo!!!! How will we make coffee?!? I guess it’s good I got us some instant coffee. Thankfully it falls on the kitchen rug so the glass spray is contained and easily cleaned during the rocking motion. The guys take breaks to rest and set alarms for every hour to relieve one another at the helm. I help by sitting on wind speed and auto pilot watch on the inside navigation monitor. We’re all drained and running on fumes. It feels like the night will never end. Eventually dawn arrives and we all feel a little more energized.
I am feeling well enough despite the boat’s constant movement to attempt to make oatmeal for everyone – we are all in desperate need of refueling, since it’s been more than 12 hours since we had anything substantial and we’ve been up all night. Successful oatmeal and the sunrise give us more confidence in our ability to ride this out, but we’re all in desperate need of rest so we search the books for a marina with shelter from this awful north wind and head that way. There’s a peninsula just south of us with a little marina in Peniche. Lisbon is at least a few more hours and we’re all too exhausted so we decide to make it work. It was hell getting in under 30 knot sustained winds!
It’s a tiny fishing marina that doesn’t seem to have many visiting boats so there are no open spots for us. We find a dock that appears to be for fishing and we decide we have to make it work. The dock is super low for a catamaran and Bob has to jump off the boat and onto it to try to get us secured. And there are no cleats! WTF?!? There’s just these round things and there covered in tattered, knotted lines! How the hell are we supposed to tie up?? Are we going to have to leave for Lisbon? I’m not sure if we can take anymore knocking around on the seas after our 18 hours in hell. Trust me, you do NOT want the play-by-play, but tempers flared and a few tears were shed during three failed attempts to dock. Finally, we made it happen! Thank god!! Unfortunately, since this isn’t really a marina dock, there is no shore power to hook up to and no fresh water to use, but we have to make this work – there’s nowhere else to dock and we wouldn’t attempt it in this weather anyways. We take a little time to get everything secured and go explore this tiny town in search of beers. Beers and egg, cheese, and bacon sandwiches located, we all started to feel a lot better. Weather forecasts show these terrible winds sticking around until mid-day Monday, so we decide we’ll just stay here and try to do some boat maintenance and rest up for our next sail. The cabin is a disaster – two days of dirty dishes and things wedged in weird places from all the commotion. As we start to relax and come out of survival mode, the exhaustion really kicks in. We head back to the boat for some relaxing. Bob and I attempt to watch a movie, but he only makes it about 30 minutes. He goes to bed and I decide to read to let my brain decompress. Flipping through my library of downloaded kindle books, I have a lot of classics, so I choose Treasure Island. It feels fitting since we’re sailing, haha!