Location: MIDDLE of the Atlantic, past halfway.
Total to Date: 1541nm
24 Hour Run: 136nm (another good run under reefed mainsail only)
HALFWAY! What even is half way? Half of the total estimated distance? The mid-point of the Atlantic Ocean? Half of the time we think it might take to cross? None is perfect, but Gill did some calculations early on and drew a pencil line down the middle of the chart on the navigation table – longitude 37 degrees, 15 minutes became the halfway point we were aiming for. We placed bets on the date and time we thought we’d cross it on day 2 – JD, G and I all picked times on Sunday 23rd, and IJ on Monday 24th Feb – JD was closest at almost exactly 24 hours out, and has chosen a bag of dried mango and the rest of the bag of figs we were given by a shopkeeper in La Palma as his prize.
Half way is a funny thing. Something we have been aiming for for what seems like a long time, but it passed in the early hours of this morning, with no ribbon to cut through or horns to blow, just G and J quietly celebrating on deck as I stirred in my sleep (or, actually, hearing Gill berating John for missing the photo of the precise longitude – IJ and I are enjoying these light-hearted domestics)
This morning when my alarm went off at 6.40am for my first watch of the day, I was momentarily surprised that I still had to get up for watches – surely we were done now?! But no, life aboard continues with watches, flying fish and looking out for the elusive whales (JnG heard some unusual splashes accompanied by a very strong smell of fish last night, so we think they must be nearby).
This morning did feel special though – the first properly pink sky to enjoy by myself as the sun rose, then I took the second reef out of the mainsail by myself (while JnG looked on), and spotted a couple of dolphins just off the bow as I stood at the mast. As I crept back up the starboard deck, I found a large and rather stiff flying fish that had leapt aboard during the night and flapped itself to death. We briefly debated whether it became breakfast or a hopefully more tempting piece of bait at the end of John’s line and quickly opted for the latter.
Gill made us all a tropical punch to celebrate the half way point with breakfast, and we shared a tot of rum with Neptune. For lunch, we opened the second pack of special ham given to us as part of our leaving present from Marina Lanzarote by JJ – thank you 🙂
Anyway, this was supposed to be a post reflecting on the first half, so here goes…
Gill asked me a couple of days ago if this journey had been everything I had expected so far. I had had very few expectations, so really, nothing is as expected, but there have been a few surprises.
EIGHT THINGS I DID NOT EXPECT FROM THE FIRST HALF OF AN ATLANTIC CROSSING
1) The damned queasiness.
I mean, really?! I haven’t ever felt seasick before, but I guess I haven’t spent much time below deck in the past, or in these big rolling seas. Anyway, despite the reassurances that it would pass after a couple of days, or that spending more time below deck doing short jobs would help, the constant low-level queasiness does not seem to be abating. Last night, having managed to prepare dhal, rice and roasted vegetables (one or two ingredients at a time with ever-shortening lie downs in between), I got up on deck, took a couple of mouthfuls and had to pass my bowl to Irish John to hold onto and stare forward at the horizon swallowing furiously while Gill tried to unfasten the bucket I had tied to the guard rail after my shower earlier in the morning. Back to square one (although I still have yet to actually be sick, and soon recovered enough to be able to almost finish my food).
2) Enhanced sense of smell.
No one told me that suddenly everything would smell so strongly. Is this how a dog feels? I’m assuming this is because there are actually so few smells out here in the middle of the ocean, that our sense of smell is heightened. But it certainly doesn’t help the queasiness. The smell of gas below deck when the kettle goes on. The eucalyptus hand wash. Raw onion as I chop it up on deck to pass down to Gill. Taking deep breaths of fresh air has its hazards out here.
3) Change of taste.
Now I love my food. Some have suggested that my spirit animal might be a gannet. But all the foods I usually love have lost their appeal – bread, tea, the chocolate digestives discovered in Spain with Ben, even marmite for goodness sake!! All I really want to eat is oranges, crackers and hard boiled eggs, but before I set off I was advised that seasickness is usually due to being hungry, tired or cold, so I keep eating as much as I can(and take a lot of naps).
4) How long it takes to do the simplest thing (including writing about the simplest things).
Tasks that take mere minutes on dry land now take so much longer. For this, I will use the example of taking a shower. Yesterday, the seas had calmed sufficiently for me (but no one else) to risk a shower on the aft deck (only the second of the voyage, and boy did I need it). In truth, we could argue that this task has actually taken days, because most mornings I have woken up and felt the motion of the boat whilst considering if it felt smooth enough to manage a shower yet. You know those dreams you have when you need a wee but can’t find an appropriate place or get no relief? (Pretty sure that’s not just me…?!) Well a couple of days ago I had a ‘needing a swim’ dream, in which I walked to a beautiful beach with crystal clear, calm water and desperately wanted to get in for a swim and to be immersed in water, but kept getting distracted by people on the beach or couldn’t find my way to the water and never made it in.
Anyway, yesterday morning seemed promising. I had eaten breakfast on deck, and then lain in the sun at the back of the cockpit feeling the motion of the boat for a while. The sun was warm and the breeze not too strong. I didn’t need to hold on to anything – a good sign. After 20 minutes or so, I sat up and watched the waves, practising sitting with no hands. Still ok. I asked the rest of the crew what they thought. Irish John said he probably wouldn’t try. Hmm. Gill asked where I would safely sit/stand. I assessed my options. She was right that last time’s seat in the corner was less stable, but maybe I could wedge myself between the hatch and the lazarette? I clipped on and crawled out over the deck, sat myself in the proposed position and mimed washing my hair. Seemed stable enough. Now to prepare myself. Go below deck. Ask John to pass down the solar shower (unfortunately not full, after too many days of 3m waves). Fill it from the tap and pass it back up. Stumble back to my berth and dig out my bikini and sarong. Bounce down into the heads and try to change whilst bracing myself with as many limbs as possible. Delve into the cupboard for the long forgotten soap. Locate the non-life jacket harness in the locker in the forepeak (don’t want a life jacket exploding when you throw the bucket of water over yourself) and work out how to put it on over a sarong. Clamber back up on deck, past the helm and clip on to the line at the back. Ask for the solar shower to be passed back. Figure out where to hang it. Bring back the end of the main sheet, tie a bowline in it to hang the solar shower from, then tie it to the back stay. Move to the starboard corner seat. Wedge myself in between the dam buoy and the fishing rod. Untie the bucket, loop the line around my wrist and consider whether to drop it forward or aft of the fishing line. Opt for aft. Pull up the first bucket of water. Test the temperature – not too cold. Throw it over my head. It barely seems to touch my sides, and I haul up another bucket, and this time pour it slowly down my front and back. Notice that the shampoo is sliding down the deck. Clamber down off the seat and crawl up up stow the bottle between some rigging. Back to the seat for another bucket. Notice that the box of soap is now sliding towards me too. Repeat to stow. Dowse myself in another couple of buckets. Time for soap, shampoo and fresh water. Tie the bucket back on to the rail. Move into previously tested wedged seated position. Reach for the swinging solar shower and test it. So far so good. Attempt to lather up in soap mixed with salt water. Run fresh water through my hair to try to make the shampoo more effective. Rub it into my itching scalp. Rinse off time. The solar shower is swinging all over the place, and as I hold the shower attachment over my head the bag swings away and the nozzle comes off. Argh! Precious fresh water flowing freely over the deck, and not over me! Catch the bag and turn off the tap. Reattach the hose. Turn on the tap. Tube comes off again, and I resort to holding the bag with one hand and trying to rinse my hair and body furiously with the other. Shuffle back up the deck to reach for my sarong to start drying off. Manage to half wrap myself in it around the harness whilst falling back into the cockpit. Unclip myself and drip back below deck. Locate the last pair of clean pants and attempt to dry myself and get dressed in the heads without accumulating too many new bruises. Unfortunately, I have no clean clothes to put on, and now that I am clean, can smell how they are not. But washing myself has already taken 45 minutes and I am due on watch in 15, so laundry will have to wait for another day. Climb back on deck and take 5 minutes to recover lying in the sun and warming up again. When I open my eyes again, the aft deck is dry and I clip on to climb out again to bring back the solar shower, recoil the main sheet around the winch, and report to Irish John to take over watch duty. And there we go. What at home would take me 10 minutes has taken a full hour, plus significant planning time. So no, we don’t ever get bored.
5) If anything is going to go wrong, it will happen at night time.
My science brain is struggling with this. There must be a reason. Perhaps we don’t notice the early warning signs in the darkness? Perhaps the weather is more unpredictable at night? But neither explains with the shaft brake would go in the middle of the night, sending the vibrations of the turning propeller through the boat til morning, or why Paul would fall to pieces only in darkness. A hypothesis requiring more observation.
6) How little I’ve wanted external noise or stimulation.
Ben asked a few days ago how I was getting on with the Desert Island Discs I chose before we left, but in truth, I only listened to them for the first time yesterday. On watch, I want to have my ears open to the noises of the sea, the wind and the sails, especially at night. In the day time, listening to music feels a little like turning on a boom box in a library, or having headphones in whilst walking through a forest full of bird song. The seascape is so devoid of human activity that I don’t want to interrupt it any more than we already are. But I listened to them yesterday, and again this afternoon while I’ve been writing this post, and so far I’m happy with my choices.
7) The stars.
I was eagerly anticipating night watches in awe of the night sky, but to be honest, I have realised how fortunate I am to have grown up where I did. Yes, the night sky out here is amazing, and on dark moonless nights there are hundreds of thousands of stars. But not really more than I have seen from our back door at home. Maybe the context of trees around makes the night sky more impressive there, whereas here, everything is epicly vast already.
8) There’s still wildlife!
I wasn’t sure that we would still be seeing dolphins or birds this far from land, but sure enough, two dolphins this morning, and large white birds (flying like shearwaters but we’re not sure if they are white?) this afternoon. We haven’t seen petrels for two or three days now, but they have been replaced fluttering close over the water with flying fish in abundance. If there are this many flying fish, how many other fish must be down there just visible below the surface? (Unfortunately, not interested in the fishing line).
In truth, this is probably harder than I anticipated it being. And all my usual techniques to make life easier are not possible here – going for a walk, a swim in the sea, cooking, eating, talking to friends or family. But every night watch I pinch myself and am amazed that I am here, on a boat bobbing around in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, and marvel at how I got here from a fairly ordinary life.
At this half way point, we’d all like to send out huge thanks to our brilliant shore support:
Jenny and Emma (JnG’s daughters) for their daily updates, and spirit raising poems and quizzes from Jenny
Jack (and Fizzy) for the daily weather reports and routing advice (and sailing trivia questions)
Wendy, Robert and Terri for being on standby as our ship’s doctors – we are pleased to report nothing other than queasiness, bruises and a stubbed toe so far. All of our families for supporting and encouraging us on these wild adventures.
And to you, our readers! Sharing our journey gives us reason to reflect each day and helps to prevent them all blurring into one big blue mass. Thank you everyone who has commented – Jenny relays them to us in her emails each day.
So off we go for another half the Atlantic, which may or may not take longer than the first half. The wind is dropping, but we can finally take the reefs out and maybe even use more than just the main sail!
G, IJ, M and J
Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.