Life on passage is quite different than normal life. With a full boat, it’s a bit like sharing an apartment with strangers. Except no one ever leaves for work (work is onboard), and there’s no escaping one another. We do three hour watch shifts around the clock, to ensure we’re on course, the sails are still performing well, checking the weather, and to make sure we don’t hit anything.When it was just Bob, Pietro, and I, we only had six hours off between watch shifts. That’s really not a lot of time to decompress, eat, and try to get some sleep. Once Chris and Amanda joined us, time between watches doubled to 12 hours. This was great! That left us a lot more time to relax, read, cook, and sleep.
Initially, we had hoped to be able to stop in Morocco and spend a couple days in Casablanca. Who wouldn’t want to?!? Then I could say I’ve been to Africa!! Since Las Palmas is technically part of Spain, and therefore part of the European Union, we would have to check out of the EU, check into Africa, then check out of Africa and back into the EU. We would likely have spent a half day or more just getting through customs and border patrol each time. With all that paperwork and standing in line, we determined we just didn’t have the time. We needed to arrive in Las Palmas before 11/8 to be on time for the ARC events. Another bummer to miss Morocco, but hey, that’s sailing life. Hard to plan on anything, since you’re really at the mercy of the weather. The trip from Cascais to Las Palmas was fairly smooth sailing with no major storms! Yay! Experiences like this help to erase the bad memories from the major storm we encountered and are slowly rebuilding my confidence in my ability to adapt to the cruising lifestyle. 🙂 It’s approximately 850 miles from Cascais to Las Palmas and we anticipated it would take about five days.
As we ventured further south towards the coast of Africa, the weather warmed and we were able to start spending more time outside on deck! Amanda and I quickly found that the warmest spot on the boat was often just in front of the saloon windows next to the nets. We spent a lot of time reading out there and soaking up as much sun as we can.
Night watches are the most challenging – being up in the dark alone, trying to stay warm and stay awake. Watching for ships that don’t have AIS trackers – typically we turn on the radar, but we also keep lookout around the boat to ensure there’s nothing else we could hit (fallen containers or anything else weird). When on deck alone at night, we all wear life jackets with a harness that is tethered and clipped onto some permanent fixture on board. Although we do have water activated man overboard sensors that set off alarms inside, if someone went overboard during a night shift, it may be difficult to find them again! Either way, going overboard would be a very traumatic experience for all that we’d like to avoid. Safety first!! Since we’re strapped in, we can’t stray very far from the helm station. We are allowed to unclip and go back to the galley for snacks, beverages, bathroom, etc. but we try to keep it limited to make sure others are able to sleep and so we don’t leave the helm unattended too long.
4-7am is by far the most challenging shift. Your alarm goes off and you shut it off as soon as possible so you don’t wake anyone else. Fumbling in the dark to try to find all your layers and put them on while the boat sways, sending you careening into the bed, the cupboards, the walls. Trying to be quiet and keep lights off to preserve the current watchman’s night vision as well as your own. As you’re still waking, you’re not fully in control of all your faculties yet; steadying yourself takes more concentration than the waking mind has to offer. More bruises. Trying to concentrate and remember everything you’re supposed to as you’re briefed by the current watchman. Then all of a sudden, you’re alone in the dark.
On a cloudless night, it’s completely dark, you see nothing save the occasional white foam from waves directly abeam of the helm station. The roar of waves and wind around you become a constant white noise. It doesn’t take long sitting in a moving black box with white noise surrounding and dulling your senses for one to start to drift off to sleep again. You fight sleep any way you can: listening to music, reading on kindle, video games on your phone, playing with the chart plotter. You stand up at the helm awhile, careful not to touch the wheel, being silently driven by the autopilot. Don’t get your hands, feet, or harness straps caught in it or it tear your limbs right off. Standing, then sitting from sheer exhaustion, having woken in the middle of a sleep cycle. You move around back and forth as far as the harness lines will permit, partially to try to generate some heat and stay warm, and of course to stay awake. Bracing yourself and holding onto handrails you try squats, flexing muscles to keep them alive and stimulated, but as soon you release them you’re even more exhausted. You check the clock, and it’s 4:10. Still 2 hours and 50 minutes to go…
The chart plotter says the depth here is 3410 meters. The depth finder installed in the boat never works when it’s that deep just displays a grim “—-“, meaning don’t go overboard or you’re screwed. In the middle of true night, around 4:40am, the depth find pops on saying 11.9 meters… then nothing… then 11.8… then nothing. After a while, 9.3 and then nothing. The mind wonders – is there something down there triggering the depth finder? It must be something quite large! Is it a giant whale or shark. Maybe it’s a shipwreck or a submarine, the imagination goes wild and naturally to the scariest possible explanation. Eyes glued to the navigation screen as seconds tick by waiting desperately for the next depth measurement. 9.9. It’s slowly getting closer, whatever it is. Depth finder shows 2m and a shallow water alarm goes off. Visions of Moby Dick flash through your mind. All of a sudden, it’s quiet and the depth finder shows “–” again. Mysterious.
During the daytime, we have a lot of fun, and daytime watches are a lot more relaxed since most of the crew is awake and within sight. You don’t need to be clipped in, or even wear a life jacket most of the time, so you’re not stuck at the helm station. Our past crew member had brought a German version of our boat manual on board in a binder and had left it for us when he departed. Since none of us speak German, it became unnecessary weight and storage. Instead of just flinging it overboard, Bob came up with a more fun approach to ridding ourselves of the bad memories and extra weight – a paper airplane contest!! Quite a lot of fun was had and despite our multiple rounds, we barely made a dent in the paper! Looks like we’ll have a few more rounds and maybe a final championship!
We were able to spot Gran Canaria about 120 miles away. It may have been the longest 120 miles yet! After our longest passage so far, we were anxious to get back on land, to take marina showers again, and have some freedom to move beyond our four walls. Our ARC instructions indicated that we should hook up at the marina’s reception dock upon arrival in Las Palmas, but the dock was full. We spotted an open spot near some other catamarans with ARC flags, so we just went for it. Docking with five was SO much easier than docking with three, especially with our new lines! Bob and I went to the marina office to check in and we’re definitely on island time now! Europe has been a bit of a challenging culture shock for us. We’re so used to prompt service, or at least an acknowledgement of a customer’s presence. Here, it’s much more relaxed, and by relaxed, I mean slow… The staff speak amongst themselves and confer with one another a lot, often letting large lines of customers stack up. I wish I had retained more of that high school and college Spanish, but if you don’t use it, you lose it! And unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of Spanish speaking in central Wisconsin. We are so fortunate that Pietro speaks fluent Spanish; he has done so much translation for us! We’d certainly be lost without him! While we were still waiting to be checked in, he went up to the counter and interrupted them to confirm that we were in the right spot (this is apparently a very normal European thing to do) and apparently we were not where we were supposed to be… I heard a lot of “lo siento”, but he eventually sorted us out and we moved into the correct spot. After getting settled, it was time to get some drinks, dinner, and start exploring Las Palmas! More updates to come!