Monday, 25 June 2007

Atlantic Crossing or Llama at Sea

Flew out to the Azores on 12th June. Arrived in cold, windy and wet conditions. "I want to go home" I thought, as I crossed to the airport terminal at Ponta Delgarda.

In theory, the Azores are beautiful. I know that because I saw some postcards of the views. In reality, they are covered with low cloud, rain and wind most of the year. On average there are 25 days of rain out of 30, except in July, August and amazingly January.

A view of one of the crater lakes during a short interval when the cloud lifted a few centimetres.

We met up with our boat Mistral 48, with Roger the Cap'n and Dave, a Scot who was also crewing with us. His yacht had lost it's mast during the crossing from Bermuda and he was hitching a lift back to Britain. We left Ponta Delgarda at Mid-day on Saturday 16th June.

'Mistral 48'.

Dave the Scot, our 1st Mate.

Cap'n Roger, the boat owner.

Peter, aka The Old Man of the Sea.

Leaving Ponta Delgarda in a north easterly direction.

I have never, ever been sea-sick in my life, but I broke my duck, as it were, within an hour of setting sail. For the next thirty-six hours I had my head firmly wedged in a bucket. Walking around below deck was nigh on impossible with the general heaving and straining of the boat under Atlantic waves. The waves were massive. Quite awe inspiring. I tried taking photos of them but in fact they did not even nearly convey the size and strength of the water. It was what sailors call a 'confused' sea. The waves were coming from one direction, but currents and wind were making them move in another direction, so instead of having just a big rolling sea, the waves were coming at you in all directions. Quite good fun, actually.

What really got to me was the absolute lonliness of the ocean. At times I was full of despair, being really home sick, missing my family and wondering whether indeed I would ever see them again. The stories my father used to tell us about being on the Atlantic convoys during the war really hit home. I just couldn't get used to the vastness of the place. I spent many lonely hours glumly staring at my GPS, and watching the inevitable slow crawl forwards, towards each new latitude with the miles from Ponta Delgarda getting larger, and the miles to Ireland getting smaller. Being bored out of my mind, wondering what to think about next. I know, I'll think about my brother, that's always good for a laugh!

I plotted and schemed an escape plan should we touch down in Ireland. I had it all worked out. First jump ship then the Cork ferry to Swansea, then train to Macclesfield, or alternatively Cork to Dublin and then fly to Manchester airport. In the event, we did it non-stop so my cunning plan didn't come to fruition. I missed everyone so much. I thought about Ann drinking Berky's industrial strength coffee in the deli. I thought about Badger staying with Joe and Kerry, about Scaredy being looked after by Natascha, Peter's daughter. Wondered how Plumpy was doing.

How Dave and Peter coped with the boredom.

Boredom was actually one of the great trials. Reading was difficult in such a swaying environment as after a little while you just became dizzy. Soduko was out of the question as it was so unstable that everytime I tried to put a number down, there would be a great jolt and the pencil would go to the wrong square and I would have to give up.

The low-grade inconviences were:
bodily functions; there was a small, smelly cupboard that seaman like to refer to as 'the heads'. This cupboard was really not at all pleasant, so one trained oneself to use it as little as possible.
showering; definitely not allowed. We had to conserve all fresh water as we didn't know how long we would be at sea. Even washing up was done in sea water, which meant there was always a slight greasy smear to the galley work-tops. Peter got keel-hauled one night for using fresh water to wash up in.
damp; clothes never really dried out. Each morning damp clothes were put on. I remembered my mother used to tell us when we were children, to put clothes under our pillow to 'air' off. I found this did help, and at least I would have a warm woolly jumper to put on, before that too got wet again.

Sunset at Summer Solstice.

Summer Solstice came and went. Maalie was in the Arctic Circle last year. I wondered where he was this year. I'm in the middle of the bleeding Atlantic, I wanted to cry out.

Every day the three men would start squabbling about the position of the sun in relation to the yardarm. I think the earliest they got it to was just after mid-day. I must put in here, that not one drop of alchohol passed my lips during the whole trip. For the first thirty-six hours it would have just ended up in the bucket, and for the rest of the journey I had to use all my powers of concentration and balance just to remain upright below deck. One whiff of gin and I would have fallen over.

We took it in turns to do the various night watches, but I never had to do the actual 'dead of night' ones, as I hadn't the experience to deal with any emergencies. I took to doing the 6.00 am watch, which I quite enjoyed. Dave very kindly made me cheese toasties and cups of tea while I shivered in the cockpit. The main purpose of these watches was to look out for shipping. Not a good thing apparently and had to be avoided at all costs. I took it on myself to also watch for U-boats and icebergs.

One day we had a bit of an emergency when the boom parted company with the mast, while at the same time funny things were going on at the top of the sail, and something called a 'topping lift' unattached itself from the sail, all at the same time. This made for an interesting diversion from boredom while I watched the three men valiently struggle with booms, masts, sails and ropes, all the while nonchalantly eating a bowl of meusli and giving out appropriate words of encouragement.

Men struggling with nautical equipment.

The really exciting bit came when Dave had to go up the mast, to free a little doeysole that was jamming up the track which meant the sail could not be fully raised.

Dave up the mast.

The highlight of the crossing was just after we entered the Irish Sea. Four dolphins swam up to the boat and they were soon joined by a school of about twenty. These creatures swam around the boat, played in the bow wave and generally showed off to us for over an hour. I hung low over the side of the boat and got within a foot or so of them when they jumped through the water. They were so beautiful and clearly were having as much fun as we were. It was magical. I didn't take any photos as they were just too quick to focus on.

At about 3.45 am on Sunday 24th June, Dave came and woke me up to say we would be arriving at Pwllheli within the hour. Went up on deck to sunrise and the site of the marina in the distance.

So, thankfully, it was all over. There were times when I had suffered every emotion from low grade panic to all out terror, especially when the wind reached Force 8. Most of the time it was Force 6 to 7. My constant companions on the journey were shearwaters and petrels, but not too sure which brand they were. Gannets appeared when we got within striking distance of land. Two of them kept us close company for quite a while. We had travelled over 1,600 miles in eight days which was really good going. On two days we did more than 190 miles. Overall, I can honestly say I didn't enjoy it, but I can also honestly say that I don't regret a moment. It was an experience (albeit never willingly repeated) that I will never forget. And what else did I come away with? Two cold sores and a cut lip!

And finally, some birdies for Maalie.


Ann said...

Blimey, just reading that was exhilarating! I think you should go in for travel writing.

Having just had coffee with you, I can testify to the cold sores, scurvy, frostbite and legionnaire's disease (not a pretty sight) and the force 8 winds (even less pretty).

How did a Dover Sole manage to get up into the mast?

lorenzothellama said...

Not a Dover Sole, but a doeysole you great numpty. A doeysole is the same as a piecost.

Maalie said...

Very nice account - Ellen MacArthur eat your heart out! But how could you possibly be bored? There must have been so much wildlife to see out there! Any flying fish?

lorenzothellama said...

No flying fish, alas. I did see a gull of some description swoop down and pick a tidler out of the sea.
Re Ellen McArthur. In my hour of need I made many mental apologies to her for accusing her of being melodramatic for crying, JUST because she had to go up the mast yet again. Our mast was 60 foot high, but I think her's was 90 foot!

Ann said...

OK Llama breath, if I must. Pray, what's a piecost?

A doeysole is obviously a flying fish, or perhaps a shoe made out of pastry?

Ann said...

...or perhaps a departed person in a state of limbo?

ann ony mouse said... do you pronounce it? I'm saying doh eee soul.

Better be anonymous this time, or you'll think it's me again

lorenzothellama said...

What's a piecost? About 50 pence.

It's pronounced do ee sole.

Are you up for a big frothy one tomorrow?

Ann said...


Merisi said...

If I didn't know it before, I know it now: Never ever cross the Atlantic by boat. I love your account, though. Truly gripping and entertaining (sorry for your sufferings, really!). Looking at your great photos (how on earth did you manage to keep your camera still long enough?) makes me seasick already, but I do enjoy the beauty in them. Thank you for sharing this adventure with us.

ParisBreakfasts said...

Amazing experience!!!
I prefer to read about it 2nd hand I think...

L.L. Barkat said...

Over here from Craver's. I just had to see why you needed an angel. Um. I think you needed 10!

Great story.

Ming_the_Merciless said...

OMG, what a fabulous tale and journey. I think I will put 'Atlantic Cross' under 'Things that sound fun but not really' category.

Your description of the slight inconveniences made me laugh. I don't think I will survive a two-day trip like you did....not without a lot of medication.

Barbara said...

Saw that you had been sailing from Merisi's blog. What an experience. I just loved reading every word. You certianly got it all down quick. Having spent the first 9 months of married life at sea I can empathise with some. Nevr been on a small sailing boat but have been stuck for 3 weeks in the North Atlantic trying to get to Nova Scotia in the worst weather my husband had known in 8 years. This was on a small (empty hold) cargo ship. Just hove too for days. Got there in the end. I love sea stories and photos.

Clara said...

What a wonderful adventure! I have done some kayaking, but not in the sea. I have never been sea sick on a ferry, but that's not saying much!

But how did you find me? There's hardly much on my blog yet that would turn up in Google! LOL!

Stacy said...

Here from Craver's. Just had to see who commented on my comment! ha!

I'm with LL. I think you needed 10 angels. What an adventure! You just may get a few swift kicks from your guardian angel as well!

I thought we've had some cool adventures, but the Atlantic...I don't think I'm brave enough. Kudos.

Craver Vii said...

Okay, it’s my turn… now I’M here from Craver’s. ;-)

I wanted to respond sooner, but there’s this whole “work” thing that held me up. Anyway, congratulations! You win the prize for making me go to the dictionary more than anyone else today. I think I have solved every vocabulary puzzle except, “I broke my duck.”

And I thought “keel-hauled” was the same thing as a reprimand. I looked it up… ouch!!!

Thanks for illuminating this land lubber on some of those rarely-mentioned aspects of sailing. I’d still like to try it… once.

Able seawomen Jemima said...

I get a bit billious when the wind gets up on Drumbeat, and she is moored on a river! Very glad to hear you safe and just about sound of mind still. Enjoyed reading your account, I´ll try and email something good soon. But might be going on a trip tomorrow. xxx

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Rather you than me! I agree with Paris on this one..... I would rather read about it second hand!

Raelha said...

Quite an adventure. Although you haven't put me off wanting to do it myself. I guess I'll have to learn the hard way.

How's Scaredy? Did he sulk when you got back? I was only away for the weekend last week and our three made it known that they weren't happy about it.

Anonymous said...

That's the best blog you've written yet! Very glad you got home safely. Miki was also impressed with the pictures.

Love Jack

Martin Stickland said...

U Boats and Icebergs! Teeh hee, that made me laugh out loud!

I have always wanted to do a trip like that but now I am not so sure!

Glad to see you back me old shipmate and the poem ended with the word TITS but I would not mention this on a ladies blog!

Oh Poo, I just did!

Tina said...

Over here from your brother's blog. The pictures were wonderful and your story was very entertaining, especially this part : thinking about my brother is always good for a laugh.

Stacy said...

I think I got your message and posted it. I just have moderation on, so that I don't have to deal with spam. :)

Still love the pictures. What an adventurer you are.

Cream said...

That is an amazing epic and so fast, too.
At least you were honest about not enjoying the weather. I was on cargo ships and didn't enjoy bad weather at sea, so I can understand you.
But you did it and that's all that matters.
Thanks for visiting!

somepinkflowers said...

someone over HERE
left a thoughtful
and interesting comment on my blog...

so i popped over
and have been snooping around,
making myself at home,
loving the tales & photos
& the "wide-world-of-travel"
to be found here...

at first i got seasick from all the wave action
and had to take a break for tea...

now i am back to ask this:

how did you manage
to paint your toenails
with all that HIgh Sea Adventure???

i was just wondering...

very nice blog, this,
and i have made myself turn green...
not with seasickness,
but with envy from all the travel...

carry on...


OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

What an amazing, exciting deeply frightening but exhilerating trip! You are a very very brave women!
And as you said...a trip you will never forget! WONDERFUL pictures, too!

Thanks so much for your Birthday Wishes....They are much appreciated!

Melody said...

I feel dizzy just reading about your trip!! How wonderful but also bloody scarey eh? The sunrises and sunsets would have been magical and the greeting of the lovely Irish Dolphins! How lucky are you?...

Ju's little sister said...

By Crikey Lorenzo! Do you realise, that for Maalie to get his comments score over 50, we all abducted it for a private chatroom, and you - YOU! - have nearly 30 with hardly the beginnings of a conversation?


And also WOW is your journey. I am so sorry we didn't visit earlier. Plumps was visiting three times a day until I forbade him from checking until I was sure you were home. Whoops - we missed your arrival!

I am impressed with your ability to keep going, and think of things to make you smile even if it was the last thing you thought you could do. Just - WOW!

Plumpy said...

HA! I know the truth. You just put all that in so that I would forgive you for not bringing any fish home.

Secretly though, I was thinking about you and Scaredy too. Don't tell Mum.
I'm glad you're back safe. You'd never catch me out on the water like that. I don't even like to go out in the rain.

simon said...

Well, what can I say? Incredible? amazing? fantastic?

nope! nothing really! I am so grateful to have met you guys in Spain! I truely wish I could have been there!

TCA said...

Sounds magnificent. Can't understand boredom though... did you try fishing? What about wittling, you could probably have made a whole chess set by the time you got back!

Get an iPod.

Very jealous.