Atlantic Crossing

Part I:

As I type this we are in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, it is Friday, November 30, 2018. We left 5 days ago on Sunday the 25thwith a 2,103 nautical mile journey ahead of us on our second and last leg of the Atlantic crossing. We have 1,340 nautical miles to go and expect to make land fall in 9 days. I’m going to write this today and not go back to edit thoughts hoping to capture a little bit of the ups and downs that I’ve noticed happen on a crossing such as this.

I previously talked about the ambitiousness of our plan to buy a boat, sail South from France to begin the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers crossing. Several people I talked to about this plan, who have crossed before, thought I was crazy. Rightfully so, probably. Who would do this without a little pinch of crazy bouncing around in them?

The last 5 days have been a rollercoaster of good, bad and everything in between. During dinner the first night we all sat down and discussed our plan for the long journey. This included our navigational plan, which was to stick as close to the great circle path as we could. This is the curved plan that is the shortest distance between our two points. We decided that rather than chase wind, we would go straight, hope for good winds and take advantage of the shorter distance. It was clear within a couple hours of leaving that some boats had the same plan as we had about 4 other boats near us. On the flip side, there was a group heading farther south hoping to find better trade winds. Who was right? Only time and 1,340 more miles will tell us that. After the navigational plan, we talked about our sail plan. This means what sails will we use and when. As we only have 3 sails, it wasn’t a huge discussion, but we agreed that we would sail ‘white sails’ at night. This entails only using the standard sails that came on our boat, not the colorful Code 0 previously talked about. The reason for this is purely safety. At night making sail changes is much more difficult than in daylight, so it makes sense to sail conservatively at night. Unfortunately, I was awoken in the middle of that same night to the engines turned on. As our bed is right near the starboard engine, it’s impossible to not hear it. Megan got up to see what was going on as I worked to fall back asleep figuring whoever was on watch knew what they were doing. Upon reaching the door that separates the inside galley/saloon from the outside patio, she was told to get back inside it wasn’t safe for her outside. She immediately came down and told me. It took me a second or two to come out of my sleepy haze to understand what’s going on. At the same time, the RPM’s on the engines increase to a point I’ve never heard before… “What the hell is going on!?” I look towards our bathroom and see light shining down through the portholes. That’s weird… there’s never light coming through there at night. I hurriedly throw pants and a shirt on. I stumble upstairs and peer to the foredeck where the nets are. I see our Code 0 sail flapping in the winds with one of the crew members sitting down trying to wrestle it down. I walk outside, put on a lifejacket and clip in. Another crew member is at the helm trying to hand-steer while the captain is running around the deck. From the helm station I assist by lowering the Code 0 halyard as the fore crew member and captain stuff the sail into the bow locker and secure lines. Once everyone gets to the helm I ask what the hell is going on. I am told that the decision was made to fly the Code 0 at night. This was completely against the agreed upon plan from a mere 6 hours earlier. I am then told the story of how the sail was doing well, then the wind picked up, and when they went to furl it in (laymans terms: roll it up for storage), it wouldn’t furl and the wind kept picking up. Apparently, one of the sheets (laymans terms: controlling and trimming rope) was stuck preventing the furl. They decided to motor forward to depower the sail (laymans terms: get air/wind out of it to make it slack). At this point, the sail was pinned against either the forward seagull striker (metal rigging) or the upper spreader (metal rigging). I’m not sure which one it was, but this is when they tell me the sail is torn…. Beyond repair. If you read one of my earlier posts you’ll remember the shit-show it took to get this sail in time and the additional cost. Additionally, please remember that I bought this sail essentially just for this crossing. Now, I’m told it’s torn… on the first night of a 2,103 nm trip. You have got to be *$%&#@* kidding me! I return to bed pissed.

The next morning, we convene to discuss what happened and why the decision was made to fly it. Unfortunately, all I get was a “sorry… it was my call.” That’s about it. In business there were many times that I was presented with a scenario where an employee made a call that cost me thousands of dollars. Very similar to this scenario. Through the years and many instances where this has happened, I guess I’ve become used to people not accepting responsibility as it isn’t/wasn’t their money or property. So, here we are, the next morning, down our most important sail. I have two experienced sailors telling me the sail can’t be fixed. I spend the rest of that day and the next morning in a complete funk when I think back to all of the things that had to happen to get us here, let alone the individual stress and expense of getting the sail and now we can’t even use it.

The next morning, after my two days in a crappy mood, Megan and I are on the 0300-0600 watch. We had a great conversation about the sail issue and many other issues that have arisen over the first several days. This back and forth complain session sparked in both of us a new mantra. The best way I could explain it was “Enough of this shit. This is our boat. These people are guests in our house. Enough is enough, it’s time to take back our boat.” I’ll get back to the sail in a minute, but I need to segway a bit to add more context.

Over the first several days, several things happened on the boat that were really bothering us. Several items on the boat were damaged with no one claiming responsibility. No one came to us and said “Hey guys, so I accidentally broke this…. Totally my bad.”. Instead we would just find that people took liberties with our property or merely damaged them without acknowledging them. Now these aren’t expensive things like the sail but it’s respect. I would never damage someone’s property without owning up to it and likely offering to pay to repair or replace it. But, we were never approached about these items. It is unfortunate because it’s definitely changing the mood and how we all interact. Unfortunately, they are oblivious to this and their surrounding so I’m sure it just comes across as us being assholes. Joyous.

Back to the sail. After our 0300-0600 watch where we decided to take action, we took a brief nap. After an hour or two, we woke up and immediately went to the forward locker and began taking the sail out. Once out, we hauled it to the back seating area to survey the damage. The sail was torn all of the way across about 1/3 of the way down from the top. Basically, it was torn to shreds. Over the years of owning, operating, and starting businesses, I challenged my teams and myself to look at things differently and dare to do what hadn’t been done. When I was told from two experienced sailors (the same that were there when it was ruined) that the sail was beyond repair, it made me even more determined to fix it. We grabbed our hodge-podge of sail repair items and started working on the sail. To be clear, I have no, absolutely no experience or knowledge in fixing a sail. But that didn’t matter, being told it couldn’t be done was enough to push ahead. All of our crew looked on as Megan and I organized and taped the whole sail. As we were using the outdoor seating area as our repair area, I think we caused more frustration to our crew as they were displaced from reading outside compared to instilling a motivational spirit as I thought our repair work would do. Back in the day, my mom taught me how to cross-stitch. I can honestly say I never thought it would be useful sans mending a pair of shorts or something, but it sure came in handy with this! After taping, we began cross-stitching the crap out of the sail. Eventually, after about six hours, either out of pity or of motivation, the two Italian brothers jumped in to help with the sail. After two full days, the four of us managed to fix the sail to a point where we were ready to fly it. Collectively, the four of us hand stitched 1,236 cross-stitches to fix it. The time to fly it came as we were all (even the other two crew that didn’t help) anxious to see if it would work. We carried it out, connected the halyard and sheets and began hoisting. Once up, it was time for the true test, would it hold air without blowing out again? We unfurled and the sail quickly filled. It held. Sure as shit, the whole sail filled and flew. Holy shit. I can’t explain the feeling that Megan and I experienced other than pure “I told you so” enjoyment. After taking it down from a successful test, I grabbed a bottle of Crown Royal and poured everyone a shot of celebratory whiskey. We did it! Thank you to Pietro and Arturo for your help in this project!

Here is a picture of the repaired sail flying, notice the distinct tear from left to right and then the other part going done.

I’m not sure what the sail maker is gonna say when we take it in for a proper fix… either “you guys are geniuses” or “wow… this is ugly! Did this actually fly?!”. Either way, he can’t take the wind out of our sails (see what I did there) for fixing something what people said couldn’t be fixed.

Part II:

Today is Tuesday, December 4th, we are nearing our objective with a mere 736 nm to go. Unfortunately the winds haven’t been conducive to flying the Code 0 since our test. But, on the other hand, the winds have been good and we are making good time. We are still on track for an arrival around the 9th. Only 5 more days… and then tomorrow, I get to say “only 4 more days”. I’m ready for this to be done.

As you can imagine, fresh water is a scarce resource when in the middle of the ocean. We have enough bottled water to sustain drinking for 6 people for 16 days. This was a safety thing in case our watermaker broke. Our watermaker is a reverse-osmosis system that desalinates the ocean water. It will produce 105 liters per hour. However, it loves using energy! Everyday, I wait until the sun is high so the solar panels are working and make water. Everyday evening, it’s nearly gone. What I realized was happening was that people would randomly take showers without saying anything to anyone or checking to see if we had enough water in the tank. No concern for whether or not there was actually water in the tank, nor whether or not there was power to make water without using the generator and consuming diesel. It honestly astonished me that people would not give this a thought and just assumed they were good to use water. We had to sit down and set showering times of 1100-1400 during the peak of solar making and subsequently water making time. None of the other crew has bothered to assist with monitoring the water levels or ensuring we have water.

Another thing no one has felt the need to assist with is making bread.  We have four very heavy carb eaters on board, so we provisioned enough supplies to make bread every day in the bread maker. Everyone is happy to consume the bread, but not once has anyone asked if they can assist in making it. It has unofficially become Megan’s duty to ensure the heavy eaters have bread. A 1.5 pound loaf rarely lasts a day and neither of us usually ever has any.

Alongside the recent water issue our topping lift (laymans terms: the line that holds the boom up when the mail sail is down) snapped the night before last. It was determined that chafe was the culprit. The reason this is such a big issue is that without a topping lift, if we were to lower the mail sail, the boom would come crashing down to the roof and on top of the solar panels. Effectively, we couldn’t move the main sail until we fixed this. As a sidebar, in a situation of a MOB (Man-overboard) one of the first things you do is head into to wind and dump the mainsail to depower the boat. So, if someone had gone overboard, it would have also meant severe damage to the boat in the event the main was dumped. We eventually got a workable solution to the problem by using the jib-sheet, but mark up one more thing to get fixed when we make landfall.

As if that weren’t enough, we found saltwater in our port engine compartment. This is the second time this has happened. After cleaning the engine room we had Pietro sit in there while we closed the door looking for any daylight that might indicate a hole. He found one. Yup, brand new boat, big gaping hole the size of a lemon in our hull. So, we surmise that as waves would hit the back of the boat (not uncommon), water would push through the hole and drain into the engine compartment. Four of us assisted in the fix as Pietro put half a tube of sikaflex around the hole. It was not a full boat project as two crew decided that was the perfect time for lunch and decided to sit and eat while everyone else plugged holes in the boat. Classy.

Here’s a picture of the hole. Big shout out to the Lagoon Catamaran quality control dudes. Maybe a little less wine at lunch, eh?

Part III: (The End)

Today is the 11thand we are in St. Vincent, we got here 2 days ago. I was going to write this earlier but I felt the need to relax a bit after the crossing and chill out. So, we did it. Wow! It’s hard to put into words the feeling of accomplishment on such an event. Looking back at the crossing, I have to admit that it was fun but also extremely tiring. It’s not physically demanding, especially since we have electric winches and many conveniences, but it surely is mentally trying. I would often find myself sitting and staring out at the ocean thinking about how little everything is compared to an ocean. For example, anyone who has driven through Illinois north/south knows how long and boring that is. I don’t remember exactly, but it’s something like 10 hours to get across that state going 75 mph. There’s always a car or building or sign to look at, but it’s plain boring. Now, imagine sitting on a boat, going 6.5 knots, for 14 days. No billboards, no passing cars, no trees or hills, just water. Wave after wave of water. From a scenery standpoint, there were only three things to look at besides waves. Sunrise, sunset and stars, all of which were amazing. A three hour night-shift flies by when you’re staring up a perfectly clear view of the stars with no light pollution. Amazing. But, with all of that, it’s still a long darn time… it’s a marathon. As we were heading due West, the sun would rise behind us…. It’d be above us as noon… then settle in front of us at dusk. The next day, repeat. It felt like we were in a race against the sun and got lapped everyday.

It took months, to plan, coordinate, provision, etc and now it’s done. I wouldn’t say there’s a void, but there’s a sense of “Wow, now what?!”. I’ve realized that the ‘now what’, is to simply relax. That’s all we have to do… which, will take a bit of getting used to. Over the last two months all of our sailing was 24/7 round the clock, get there as soon as possible, sailing. Now, it’s a sense of, why hurry? Would I do it again? I don’t know… I think the Atlantic might be a once and done for me and opt to fly over it from here on out. The Pacific? Maybe… time will tell.

We finished the first leg from Canary Islands to Cape Verde, first in our class. We finished the second leg third in our class. Sounds impressive right? Key item to note here is that there were only three boats in our class. J

We will leave here tomorrow and work out way north ending up in Sint Maarten before we fly home for Christmas. Blue Infinity will be left at a marina where the warranty work will be completed as well as other general repairs and upgrades. When we return to the Caribbean we will spend several months bouncing around the British, US and Spanish Virgin Islands chains. We’re looking forward to it.

Bob