28 January 2012 | somewhere mid Atlantic Ocean
We rounded pelican point on the evening of January 18th and passed the ringing fog bell that marked the outer limits of Walvis Bay, letting us know we were now in open waters. We looked back at continental Africa knowing it would be sometime before seeing such a mass of land again. St. Helena, our intended destination in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, lie 1250 nautical miles to our northwest, but with no wind in the forecast we set a course of due west hoping to get into the peripheries of the southeasterly trade wind belt before adjusting course towards the island.
On our first morning out I awoke to much commotion in the cockpit to find that Jack and Diego had caught 7 barracuda, each around 40 inches in length. Joining in the fun I caught one with our bright orange lure before deciding 8 was enough (two days later we lost our lucky lure to an unseen monster whose giant splash was all we saw as he broke the line of 250 lb test in a single pull). We filleted three of the cuda, releasing the rest, which fed us with a delicious flakey white meat for the next days.
That night as we motored on a sea of glass I spent my watch on the bow. The bioluminescence (little creatures in the water that glow a bright neon greenish yellow when disturbed) were especially bright, with Bubbles making a magical wake of glowing embers as she skated across the ocean’s surface. Entire schools of fish, numbering in the hundreds, could be seen escaping our path but only when their sudden zig zag movements stirred the bioluminescence into a fireworks display revealing their tracks through the otherwise dark water.
On the following night out, still less than 200 miles from land, Diego woke me to find ourselves on a collision course with a trolling fishing vessel about 5 times our size. We were able to radio him on the VHF and despite his African English, he seemed to understand that we were under sail and had the right of way. As we neared though, he came on to tell us he was turning to ‘starboard’ which was right into us! We quickly hailed him again to be sure when he told us he had meant to say ‘port’. He then offered to pull alongside and give us some fish but we already had plenty.
With the following morning came light southerly winds and having full main hoisted and spinnaker flying, excitement grew as we neared the trade winds we were looking for that would carry us across the Atlantic. Each day the temperatures rose and for the first time since the Indian Ocean we were able to swim without our breath being taken away from the cold. With a line (rope, for all you landlubbers out there) cleated to the stern of the boat we took turns dragging ourselves (snorkel mask on) through the crystal clear deep ocean water with Jack expressing ‘how blue’ the water was. Open ocean water is a blue as blue can be with visibility ranging from as far as you can see to forever. Even though we were in 14,000 feet of water it would be easy for one to swear that there was no bottom. On first jumping in, the blue is overwhelming and it takes a minute or so to realize that the ocean is far from the initial empty blue seen. Everywhere around is life forms, going by at the three knots the boats is dragging you, ranging from recognizable (though non stinging) jellyfish to alien looking transparent creatures that radiate all colors of the rainbow in what appears to be electric pulses. A few minutes floating through open ocean can make you realize both how insignificant and lucky we are to be on this earth.
The trade winds continued to fill in, reaching a steady 15 knot southeasterly. Taking the spinnaker down we sailed for the next two days on a broad reach using the main and jib. Our days were filled with many a boat project including repairing the dingy (appropriately named ‘holes’), taking apart and greasing wenches, sealing hatches, rewiring corroded electrical connections, ect. However, there was still plenty of downtime as our new autopilot steered the boat and Deigo and I took to practicing our monkey’s fist, while Jack, having never been at sea before, started to become homesick. His homesickness grew, until by Day 5 all he could do was ask about airports. St. Helena and the next two island stops afterwards don’t have airports and so with our closest one being a month’s sail away on the other side of the Atlantic, Jack began counting the days until Brazil.
With a new moon (no moon) to keep our night sky uninterrupted and Jack working in Georgia at a Planetarium there was no shortage of entertainment with the heavens so accessible. Using a green laser pointer Jack would show us his stuff pointing out constellations, clusters, galaxies and even where stars were born, all visible to the naked eye. A few nights later, after some northing had been done and we were at 18 degrees south, I was able to find the big dipper, using two of its stars to find north, on our starboard side; and simultaneously the southern cross, using two of its stars to find south, on our port side. This confirmed our heading to the west and our intended course. There is an amazing sense of wonder in being able to navigate across an ocean using the stars of the sky and seeing both of each the northern and southern hemispheres’ major guiding beacons (at the same time) that had steered sailors of the past to new lands intensified that sense.
By day 7 the wind had freshened to a 25 knot breeze from directly behind us and with it brought waves and swell. We adjusted our sail configuration to wing on wing with a poled out jib to starboard and lashed down mainsail to port. Our speed quickened to around 8 knots and swell caused us to rock violently with each passing wave. At one point we had quite the mess below as the eggs came free and flew across the entire beam of the boat to splatter on the opposite wall. Sleeping became difficult if not impossible with the only remedy to wedge oneself atop the rum jerry jugs between the table and the settee. With the good time we were making towards our destination I didn’t mind.
By day 9 the winds had calmed a little and the spinnaker was once again flying. Diego and I were now accustomed to our daily chess tournament and Jack was getting over his homesickness as he read some Jimmy Buffet. To add some excitement to the day we got the surf board out, rigged up the whisker pole to leeward, and with spinnaker still flying, Diego surfed the waves of the mid Atlantic while holding a line attached the end of the pole. An eventful day at sea, we also crossed the Prime Meridian, zero degrees longitude, leaving the eastern hemisphere behind and entering the western. To celebrate we made a corn bread cake topped with nutella and peanut butter offering a slice to the sea to appease Neptune.
On day 10 we saw our fist boat in over a week. I spoke with the Russian captain over the radio. He had 800 passengers on board en route to Africa. The winds were even lighter and so we poled out the jib to port leaving the spinnaker to starboard trying to catch every drop of wind we could. Also on this fateful day, Diego ate the remainder of our cookie supply that was to last us to Brazil. He must have been eating two or three packages a day, during his nightwatch I am guessing, while we slept. I made the mistake of allowing him to stow them away when we brought them on board. Never again will I allow to Diego to know where the cookies are kept.
Day 11, Land Ho!! I sounded the horn this day at noon. The day is clear and we can see the twin peaks of St. Helena on the western horizon, even though we are still 54 nm away. With the current light winds coming over our port quarter we should make landfall early tomorrow morning. St. Helena here we come.