Atlantic Crossing – Day 2

Blogger: Mariel and John
Time: 15.50, 12-Feb-2020
Location: West of El Hierro

You may be wondering why yesterday’s post was written at 5pm but not sent until midnight? Yesterday night was, shall we say, eventful. However all issues were subsequently resolved with no casualties other than Paul the steering vane and one small cuttlefish. Paul stopped working. His counterweight was hanging by a thread and needed attention. Attention effected by me hanging out the back with a size 10 spanner and a bit of thin rope. 90 minutes later, all sorted as we sped up to 8 knots, reefed and watched the last ship pass behind our stern. Now a dolphin leapt 1m clear of the water in the moonlight.

Wind dropped. Gybed. All good. Much more comfortable as we increased speed. Eventually up to over 8 knots again in 20+ knots of breeze and two reefs. What felt like minutes of sleep later M and JD were woken to assist with the yankee that was wrapped around the forestay. Not good. Not good at all. Half an hour later all was fixed again. This time the casualties were a stranded squid and Gill’s soaked trousers.

In the distance we watched as the lights of El Hierro finally disappeared from sight. The last land for three weeks.

Finally as the sun came up we could see that the reefed main was caught in the lazyjacks. Drop the lazyjacks and that’s sorted too.

In other news we have a wildlife count of 1 pigeon(did not land), two shearwaters, no fish, one plastic bag and a drifting clutch of three floating fishing floats.

Sleep is grabbed whenever possible at present. We’ve still not settled into a routine. All things considered though the consensus is that morale is high. We have already covered over 150 of the 2600 miles to Martinique.

Orange consumption is on target at one per person per day. The bag of free figs from the friendly greengrocer is delicious and last night’s chilli and rice was well up to scratch (thanks ladies).

Let’s hope for a quieter night tonight.

Adios amigos! M, J, G and IJ.

Use with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 1

Blogger: Mariel and John
Time: 17.13
Location: Passing El Hierro

We just saw a turtle a few metres off the port beam looking like a log – but no, it really was a turtle! Great view for around a minute. Probably a young green or hawksbill. No dolphins or whales yet but the turtle more than makes up for it.

Mariel’s had one seasickness near miss after nobly offering to test her sea legs and make lunch. Lunch did appear on the deck but luckily still inside her. Counting houses on La Palma’s receding coastline proved an almost immediate and effective cure.

All awake this morning by 7.30. Everyone prepared for the forthcoming trip in their own way. By 10.00 we left our very snatchy berth and motored to the fuel pontoon. 30 minutes later, full of fuel, we called Traffic Control who let us out of the marina to play with the big ships.

With sails up before leaving the harbour we sailed out into a nasty short 2m swell. Since then we’ve been tanking along at around 6 knots on a very broad port beam reach. Current speed record held by Mariel at 7.5 knots (though this was when Paul the wind steering was in control). La Palma has disappeared, El Hierro has yet to appear on the horizon.

This evening we will place our arrival date and time bets along with any other significant “landmarks”. No vessels for the past few hours and nothing on AIS.

Thanks to Jenny for stalking us on AIS, gMail etc. Jen is Gill and John’s elder daughter and she and other daughter Emma are our communication link back to the UK. She crossed with us in 2015 and spookily seemed to know exactly what we were up to for the first few hours. So much so that we expected her to pop out of the lazarette at any moment!

Time to get ready for our first night.

Adios amigos! J, G, IJ and M

Use with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

All set and ready to sail

80 oranges, 20 mangoes, 30 avocados, 3 loads of laundry, 2 sets of chilli prepared, 1 soup for lunch tomorrow, a tray of flapjack baked, and 4 passports stamped out of the EU (actually, the friendly policeman refused to stamp my passport with the exit stamp – he said he would if I came back next year when Brexit has actually happened, and instead gave me a stamp for the police of Santa Cruz de La Palma…)

Only a fraction of the supplies now hanging in nets from every hook we can find
A very early morning visit to the market hall
And to the bakery – yum yum yum
I’m improving my laundry drying efficiency tactics – this time with three items per peg (it’s the little things…!)
Leaving the police office with our papers stamped and signed

Today has been a busy one, starting at 6.30am for Gill and me with a trip to the market, then to the bakery, the laundrette, the police station, the supermarket and so on. But finally everything is ready, we have had our final meal of delicious pizza from the takeaway in the marina, and plan to depart around 10am tomorrow morning. I think we are all ready to go now – we have been building up to this for some time, there are always more jobs to do but we have prepared as best we can, and now we all want to be underway.

The forecast is for a few days of light winds, so we will probably have a slow start, but the opportunity to ease in to everything.

We’ll try to send a blog post each day, but even satellite phones struggle mid-Atlantic, so don’t worry if you don’t hear anything for a couple of days. You can track our progress here:

Thank you to everyone who has sent messages wishing us well – please continue to do so even though we won’t be able to read any comments until we reach Martinique. Big love X

Exploring La Isla Bonita

Wow – what a place. La Palma has blown our minds and we have all been lost for words, just pointing and making indecipherable noises to each other at yet another stunning landscape, ravine, plant or creature. We had never planned to come to La Palma; we had planned our last stop off to be in La Gomera, the neighbouring island, but the marina there said they were full, and Marina Lanzarote suggested we try their sister marina here in La Palma. We have been incredibly grateful for the suggestion as we have enjoyed a weekend off from sailing and boat duties, winding our way up roads with hundreds of hairpin-bends one after the other, through multiple habitats, to the top of volcanoes and through primeval forests.

It is hard to find the words to describe the places we have been and sights we have seen, and no photos do this landscape justice, but here are a few attempts.

The water is so clear and full of life

Firstly, the water in the marina is SO CLEAR and full of fish, not just the usual marina mullet, but parrot fish, reef fish, sea urchins and bright blue, red and yellow crabs.
And this morning, an Atlantic Trumpetfish, which had us all up on the pontoon in our pyjamas trying to figure out what it could be.

The roads are like rollercoaster rides

This isn’t called the steepest island in the world for nothing. Our hire car rapidly gained height, taking us from sea level to over 2500m over only 10km horizontal distance as the crow flies. This involved hundreds of hairpin bends and awestruck gasps at the drop off to the side of the road.

Rally driver John takes us up and down the hills (actually very safely – thank you John)

At one point (actually, on multiple occasions), we took wrong turns and found ourselves on even tinier roads winding their way along the side of steep gorges, through tunnels carved through the rock with seemingly no additional engineering – just bare rock with water dripping through the roof.

On one of the accidental detour roads
Approaching one of the rudimentary tunnels (complete with vine curtain)


We got out of the car to admire the view and birds were singing! I hadn’t realised that the soundscape in Lanzarote had been so empty of birdsong, but of course there are almost no trees and very little songbird habitat.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to hear birdsong as in this pine forest by the side of the road

I have started writing a ‘20 things to do in 2020’ list, inspired by my friend Sam’s ‘35 things to do before turning 35’ list and partly to give my journey a little more direction. A list to be shared in another post, but one of the things is to see and identify 20 endemic birds, and La Palma has got me off to great start!

Not a great selfie, but this is a Canarian Raven, endemic to the Canary Islands – very bold and interested in our lunch!
Showing off his best side up above the clouds
And this is the endemic La Palma chaffinch, only found on this island, but even bolder than our friendly robins at home.

Back with my beloved trees

After three weeks in volcanic rocky Lanzarote, and in advance of three weeks out on the big blue sea, I was feeling in need of some serious tree time, and La Palma delivered. At sea level, the farms are full of avocado, lemon, orange and papaya trees. As we travelled higher, the steep mountain sides were covered in cacti, and then pine forests, then lush jungle-like vegetation, then sparser pines as we reached the tree line and emerged way above the clouds as we approached the rim of one of the massive volcanoes that created the island.

Green and blues for days
Everywhere is so steep that many are clinging on to barely anything with their roots

A majestical landscape …

… As Uncle Hec would say to Ricky Baker (if you haven’t seen it already, watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople and you will get so much more than just that reference).

Sometimes there are just no words. Majestical is as close as it gets.

Just wow.

A high altitude hike into a volcanic crater

La Palma has one of the first Starlight Reserves, and a whole collection of international telescopes, perched on the edge of a volcano. They are worth going to visit, just for their design – mirrors, huge spheres, eggs… but with a crew containing two geologists we were more interested in the volcano.

Another location that no words or photos can do justice to
A narrow path follows a ridge out into the crater, then down inside it. Not for anyone with a fear of heights, or susceptible to altitude sickness.
No safety rails here
We were pleased to find that the board showed exactly the same image as we could see in front of us – trade winds to carry us south then west across the Atlantic
Perched on the edge, with Tenerife floating on a cloud on the horizon
Fruit cake for lunch on the edge of the crater
Roque de los Muchachos in the background – the highest point in La Palma

Exploring up a ravine under a waterfall

After our visit to the highest point, we headed towards a walk to a waterfall recommended by the marina manager. Not content with simply finding a waterfall, we ducked underneath it and explored up the ravine behind. With little evidence of any human activity, it felt like we had been dropped into the Lost World or Jumanji.

Before the quick dash underneath
Another location that photos do no justice to. The scale is just too massive. And my phone died.

A primeval forest

Cubo de la Galga is an ancient forest, pretty much undisturbed by human activity and thousands of years old. A perfect location for some pre-ocean-crossing forest bathing. The rest of the crew indulged me in my wish to explore this primeval forest, and this morning we spent a few hours trekking through ferns, laurel and mahogany forest, up another gorge. Dreamy.

A moment to think back to when surrounded by blue.
Mahogany hugging
Following the white and yellow stripes through the forest
Enjoying a great view from the mirador at the top of the trail…!
I don’t know what these were, but they covered the walls of the gorge

The many colours of Santa Cruz de La Palma

The main town here is still very traditional – there are none of the modern high rises or holiday apartments covering the rest of the Canaries. Many of the streets are cobbled, the houses have traditional balconies full of flowers (and the original privys which emptied straight onto the street below), and are painted every colour combination imaginable. This evening we slept a couple of hours wandering through the streets, enjoying the peace of late Sunday afternoon.

A traditional house along the seafront, with privy on the right hand side of the balcony
The mint choc chip house
Sunday afternoon on the main street in Santa Cruz

So there we go. Two days and a bunch of photos are not enough to explore or appreciate La Palma – one day, when I have my own boat, I will definitely be sailing back here for much longer.

Tomorrow is final provisioning and preparing day. Gill and I are getting up early to get to the market for 7am, then it’s laundry, baking, filling up with water, fuel, checking lines, stowing everything away, and getting an early night before Tuesday morning’s departure. It is all starting to feel rather real…

Arriving in La Palma, La Isla Bonita

Well we made it! 48 hours after leaving Lanzarote, we motored in to Marina La Palma, in front of a huge green caldera with rather risky looking houses built in the middle…

It was very exciting to see a GREEN island emerge through the clouds

La Palma is apparently the steepest island in the world, rising to almost 2,400 metres above sea level in just 10km… We have already hired a car for the weekend to explore the winding roads and take us up to the top of the mountain, the volcano’s crater and the cloud forest.

Being at sea already feels like another world, after an arrival lunch, long afternoon naps, excellent hot showers and a feast for supper (we have tucked into the leg of Spanish ham that has been hanging in the heads). But let’s see what we remember…

Halfway through my evening watch when Gill and John swapped over, we had another choir practice, and after John went to bed Gill taught me both parts to the Mingulay boat song and we sang quietly across the sea for a while.

Just before my early morning watch (5.30am), we had another close call with an ocean liner that clearly hadn’t seen us directly ahead of them in the moonbeam. John D radioed them and Tenerife Traffic promptly told them to turn immediately to starboard and pass us astern.

The wind dropped off again soon after and the engine came on again – it was a passage of wind coming and going and changing direction. La Palma was just about in sight behind the clouds when I came off watch at 8.30am, but hidden again when I re-emerged for breakfast at 10am.

It appears that there is some concern for my ‘mal de mer’ – fear not, no actual sickness yet and I felt much better today.

Gill looking ahead towards La Palma emerging from the clouds
Preparing for our arrival
Moored up in Marina La Palma after long naps and showers

Anyway, a few photos from our passage:

One of many dolphins sending us off as we left Lanzarote on Wednesday evening
Risso’s dolphin saying hello!
Gill at our first sunrise
Sunrise celebration apple
Sunset over Tenerife

Looking at the weather forecast, we are currently planning to set off from here on Tuesday morning, heading towards the Caribbean… For now, more sleep.

Arrecife to La Palma – Day 2

Blogger: Mariel
Time: 17:35
Location: A sunny cockpit, approaching Tenerife

Blogging in the cockpit is not the usual approach, but I have been excused as we are once again in calm seas with not too much wind (although still under sail), and because I had my first quick dash up into the cockpit this morning after a minute too long down below having a wash, getting changed into day clothes and trying to make myself breakfast. I got as far as two cups of tea before the cereal was abandoned in the bowl in the galley and I was sitting on the edge of the cockpit, gulping in the sea air and focusing on the horizon… The cup of tea helped, and I’ve been fine for the rest of the day thanks to Gill’s sea bands on my wrists, plenty of time at the helm, and lots of sleep between watches, but have been excused from below deck duties until tomorrow when my sea legs should be stronger!

Today has otherwise been a fairly quiet one after yesterday’s departure excitement. We put the sails up as the sun started to sink yesterday, and were rewarded with dolphins in every direction who came to send us on our way. Multiple pods came past the boat, and four swam right along the bow as I sat out at the front, watching them weave through the water and listening to their clicks. We were even treated to a visit from a usually shy Risso’s dolphin – we had seen a single, larger and slowly moving fin in the distance for a while and had wondered what it could be – a fat dolphin? A whale? Maybe even a shark?! But when it came up along side us it was unmistakable – at least twice the size of the other dolphins, with a blunt nose and mostly white and covered in scars from other Risso’s teeth (according to our cetaceans guide). Luckily, a German family had told us about a mysterious whale/dolphin that they didn’t recognise on their cruise into Marina Lanzarote at the weekend, and they had borrowed our guidebook to identify it as a Risso’s, so we knew it immediately.

As the sun set, the dolphins left us, and not long after, so did the wind. To begin with, we used the wind as much as we could, but it took us off course down the coast of Fuerteventura. When Gill and I were on watch in the evening, we lost the wind completely, furled the foresails and started the engine again to avoid an unintentional stop in Fuerteventura… The sails were back up again a couple of hours later, and have been ever since. My 11.30pm-2.30am watch was fairly uneventful. John and Gill put a reef in the mainsail at 1am when they swapped watches as the wind rose (briefly) to 17 knots. By the start of my 5.30am-8.30am watch, the moon had set and all the other lights were showing – a sky full of stars, phosphorescence as waves broke down the beam, and the glow of Gran Canaria to the south. The stars in the east slowly disappeared as the sky grew lighter, and Gill and I watched the first sunrise of our voyage.

Everything is easier in the daylight. We soon noticed that Paul-the-wind-steering’s strings were not as tight as they had been, and as we attempted to tighten them, realised that one was no longer attached at all… We’re not sure how, but Paul had maintained our course for an unknown period of time despite being partially disabled – what a superstar! The problem was soon diagnosed and resolved by Gill with a handy piece of rope, and I retired to bed.

Today’s main excitement has been the regular updates from the Canary Islands radio, with a lovely coastguard who practically sings out the channels to listen to the latest weather reports on each hour. And a close call with a tanker who didn’t answer our radio calls despite being on an exact collision course in less than 30 minutes… We eventually got through once we could almost read their name off their bow, and a very casual reply came that they would turn to starboard and pass us port-to-port… Difficult as we were both heading west, so we suspect they had not seen we were there and only glanced at their AIS when our radio call was finally picked up. The last half hour of that watch went very quickly in all the excitement.

Now it is time for me to change into warmer night gear and join my watch with John D. HOpefully we’ll have time for another choir practice before it gets too late. Last night we had an introductory session that nearly brought Irish John up from his bed to join us, so we are starting well!

The wind has dropped off again, but we are hoping to make La Palma before nightfall tomorrow. All in good spirits and (relatively) well rested for a first 24 hours plus at sea (Irish John has enjoyed a few trampoline bounces in the forepeak).

Use with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Arrecife to La Palma – Day 1

Blogger: John D

Here we go!
We woke up this morning with that excited feeling you get in your stomach when an adventure is about to begin. Sailbag off, sheets on and all those myriad tasks that soon will become automatic. By 10.30 we were at the new “Marina Lanzarote” sign where the marina owner (yup, you read that right) turned up to take our photos dressed in our Mehalah shirts courtesy of Jackie, Mehalah’s previous owner. Mariel had a contact who knew JJ the owner. He gave her a private tour of the island earlier in the week! Now that’s what I call a handy crew and to crown it all he brought us a bag of Lanzarote goodies to speed us on our way to his other marina in La Palma.
It’s now 15.05 and we are motoring in zero wind down the eastern side of Lanzarote. In the distance we can see Fuertaventura and the gap we must pass through. The dolphin count is currently zero which is good because that is my prediction. A floating log gave a little excitement but my prediction is still holding good. The fishing rod is out. Guess what? No fish.
My watch starts in another hour.
La Palma for Friday afternoon? It’s 220 miles in total.

It’s now 19.00. We’re sailing. Slowly. In the wrong direction though the wind is due to veer and bring us back on a better course. Time to send this first sat phone blog off and see if it works.

Good night from Mehalah.

Use with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Leaving Lanzarote!

Team Mehalah leaving Marina Lanzarote, in front of the new sign at the end of our pontoon, completed just in time! José Juan came to wave us off – my friend Katie from Trill Farm used to work with JJ here at Marina Lanzarote and put us in touch – very good tour guide, thank you Katie!

We’re off! We set sail from Marina Lanzarote at 1pm this afternoon, into calm seas and bright sunshine. Three hours in and no significant wind yet (still motoring), or dolphins, or fish on John’s line, but we remain hopeful.

We are heading for La Palma first, and aim to arrive on Friday (two days time).

Joe came to slip our lines and wave us off – bye Joe!

We are doing split watches for this first passage. Each watch is three hours long, and we overlap with each other by an hour and a half, so we share each watch with two other people, one after the other. Gill and I took the first watch, and I took the helm on a course of 241 degrees, down the south east coast of Lanzarote.

Passing Puerto Calero

I’ve since had a nap, and woken up to see the beach I slept on at Papagayo from a new angle. We have just passed between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, and changed course to 268 degrees, which should take us past Tenerife at some point tomorrow and on to La Palma.

Looking back at the beach I slept on a couple of weeks ago

Gill is preparing an early supper of ratatouille that I made yesterday, ready for our first night at sea. At the moment, we are still close enough to the islands to get 4G, but will soon leave it behind and rely on the satellite phone until we reach La Palma. John and I will both be writing blog posts, which will be posted to here and to Mehalah’s blog simultaneously – we’ll try to remember to say who is writing each time!

We won’t be able to read any comments, but please comment anyway so that we can read them when we arrive 🙂

Thank you for all the messages of good luck – we are all feeling very loved and fortunate to be on such an adventure.

If you want to see where we are, you can use this link and click on ‘Show Journey’. Catch ya later alligators!

My Sailing-to-a-Desert-Island Discs

EDIT: Little did I realise when I compiled my list that 6 weeks later I would find myself castaway on a desert island… But here I am, stranded on St Lucia, with no boats able to leave for the foreseeable future. Granted, it’s a fairly luxurious desert island, and there is (so far) no lack of company (although gatherings of more than 10 people are banned and non-essential services must close by Monday).

If you’re stuck at home in isolation, I can highly recommend taking some time to choose your Desert Island Discs – I would love to know what they are (and why).

Today, our fourth crew member, Irish John, arrived. We spent the afternoon going through all the safety procedures for the boat, showing him where we had stowed everything and then going out for a welcome drink. With a full crew and having checked the weather forecast, we now plan to set sail from Marina Lanzarote tomorrow (Wednesday) after lunch…! We will have a two day passage to La Palma, one of the most westerly islands in the Canaries, where we will review the boat and how we work together as a crew (and take a couple of days to explore what is supposed to be a really beautiful island) before setting sail for Martinique.

So we have a busy evening and morning ahead of us making final preparations, and one of mine is confirming my Desert Island Discs collection. I have long been a fan of the Radio 4 programme, and have often thought about what my choices would be or how I would actually fare with only eight songs to listen to, so I thought a 3 week crossing of the Atlantic might be a good time to try it!

For anyone not familiar with the format of Desert Island Discs, I urge you to go and listen to any episode from the archives. It is BBC radio’s longest running programme, and the basic premise is that people are cast away to a desert island with the eight discs that they would like to listen to, all alone. As the songs are played, they share the story of their lives and the memories associated with the songs. They are also given three books: the Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare, and a book of their choice, and a luxury item – not something that would be useful to survive, but something that would make life on the island more enjoyable. Finally, they have to choose which disc they would save should they be washed away by the sea.

When I started making my selection for this voyage, I quickly realised that my Desert Island Discs (DIDs) would actually be different from my Sailing-to-a-Desert Island Discs. My DIDs include songs that I would want to sing along to at the top of my voice, which I probably shouldn’t do when listening to them through headphones on a small boat with three other people… Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky was soon crossed off the list.

Anyway, here goes. First up, Van the Man. Van Morrison was a major part of the soundtrack to my childhood – quite literally, in some cases, with home videos of us playing in the garden with Van playing loudly through the open doors. My parents went to a Van Morrison concert on one of their first dates, and when I asked my mum for suggestions for tracks, she immediately said Crazy Love. There’s been many an evening washing up after supper with music playing and dancing between dish drying. In truth, there could have been any number of Van tracks on this list, but I’ve gone for Days Like This (it was very nearly These Are The Days – similar sentiment but less upbeat). I’ve felt in a great place in my life for the last year or so, surrounded by wonderful friends and pursuing all the things that bring me joy, with everything seeming to fall into place. It hasn’t always felt that way, far from it, but mama always told me there’d be days like this.

Next is Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra – another part of the soundtrack of my childhood, and some of my first experiences of live music (for contrast, along with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on their Stadium Arcadium tour with friends at sixth form, and Lady Winwood’s Maggot at Swanage carnival and beyond!). Jools used to play at the Larmer Tree Festival every summer, and a couple of years we got day tickets and went in the evening. We also went to see him at the BIC a couple of Christmases. I used to think about having this song as the first dance at my wedding… Who knows if I’ll ever get married, but I can’t listen to it and not smile and start dancing along.

A lot of the songs I’ve chosen played at home when I was growing up, and were imprinted in my memory without me being aware of it. When I was at university, my boyfriend at the time was studying music and got into story songs and concept albums. Dad compiled three CDs of his favourite story songs for Callum’s musical education, and I copied them on to my computer and listened to them as I wrote up my thesis. So many of them were familiar, and this was one of them. Not only is it a great song, but it seems even more relevant to me now:

They’ll ask me how I got her, I’ll say “I saved my money”, they’ll say “isn’t she pretty, that ship called Dignity.”

In the two years following university, I worked in Mozambique, Ghana, Madagascar and Egypt on various conservation projects. I visited beautiful places, met wonderful people, many of whom became friends for life, even if we don’t see each other very often, and I felt invincible.

However, one evening in Egypt, I was sexually assaulted walking home and for the first time in my life I became aware of the disadvantages I faced being a woman. Until then, I’d never had reason even to consider that I might be at any kind of disadvantage; I had always been treated equally in all my relationships, schools, and work places, and was proud of being strong and able to carry as many heavy jerry cans of water to and from camp in Madagascar as any man. That night changed everything for me, and suddenly I saw inequality everywhere. The catcalls were harder to ignore, and for the last month or two that I was there, Egypt lost its sheen for me.

I wrote more about my experience and how it influenced me not long afterwards on a friend’s blog here, so I wont repeat it all now. Ultimately, I wasn’t physically hurt and got away before anything too bad could happen. I’d like to reiterate that I still believe that the same thing could have happened to me anywhere in the world, and that, taking positives where I can, I am grateful for the naivety it washed away and world that my eyes were opened to.

In the last month that I was living in Egypt, I discovered this next song, and listened to it on repeat, very ready to go home, Over the Hill. The artists playing together would all be on my list individually if I was allowed more than eight discs; Michael Kiwanuka, The Staves and Ben Howard in particular all spent much of the following two or three years on loop. I love the beautiful harmonies, and watching them all clearing taking so much joy from playing together.

Soon after I got back from Egypt, I met C, and began a relationship of the highest highs and the lowest lows, that ran, on and off for the next six and a half years. His job took him away a lot, sometimes to war zones where communication was rarely possible and my fear for his safety and wellbeing was all-consuming. Our already unstable relationship broke down during one of his long trips away. In the weeks and months that followed, I rediscovered Paul Simon’s Graceland, another album familiar from childhood, and played it over and over. The lyrics from Graceland struck a chord:

Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart, everybody sees the wind blow.

Friends came to stay with me during that time and said afterwards that I had been a shell. They could see how much I hurt behind the smile. They could see I was blown apart.

Graceland is still a great song, but so is the whole album, and I don’t think I need to be reminded of being blown apart on my desert island, so I’m choosing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes instead, which also includes the wonderful Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir.

A couple of months after my relationship with C ended for good last year, I took myself off to Malta to spend a week cycling and wild camping around the island. I wanted to do something that was entirely for me, and to prove to myself that I could do anything I wanted by myself. It was a magical week of reconnecting with myself, rediscovering what I wanted out of life, and once again feeling powerful and invincible. I didn’t have any music with me, but cycling through a village one morning in the sunshine, a car overtook me playing this song loud through open windows and I pedalled fast to keep listening as long as I could, feeling like a giant. Whenever I hear it, it reminds me of that elation, strength and joy.

I later heard an interview with Rag’n’Bone Man about the song in which he explained that becoming a parent himself had made him realise how much his parents had done to lift him up and always support him, and that he wanted to do the same for his child. I know that I almost certainly couldn’t be on this journey without the security of knowing that whatever happens, my parents will be there for me if I need them, and what a privilege that is. They have always encouraged me in everything I do, even if it terrifies them (and frustrates them when they have to store all my belongings in boxes in their house…) I know you won’t much like the song, but this one’s for you. I love you.

I am also very fortunate to have two very talented brothers. I had piano lessons for 10 years, but could only ever play from manuscript. When Tim was small, he asked me to teach him how to play chopsticks. Our great uncle Dario then taught him a couple of blues sequences, and he was off. Maddeningly, he can play anything he hears almost immediately, and on multiple instruments. I gave up the piano soon after. For one thing, I could never practice because he played from morning til night (or so it seemed, as we heard Carmen for the millionth time).

Alec taught himself to play the guitar and created beautiful music on a piccolo bass with a loop pedal. One of those songs was one of my first choices, but in a moment of madness a few years ago he deleted all trace of them from the internet. Instead, I’ve chosen a song from his most recent album, which also features Tim playing the Hammond organ. Alec is full of wisdom and has taught me a lot over the years about what is really important in life. His Instructions For When Feeling Crap will, I’m sure, come in useful in the moments when all is not quite plain sailing over the next few weeks. And I get to take both my brothers with me.

My final disc… I got to seven quite easily once I got into it, but choosing a final disc was really hard. I suddenly realised how much brilliant music is out there, and how much of my life has different tracks associated with it. Was there enough variety? Should I go for something completely different (Jurassic Five)? Did I need any classical music in there (Andrea Bocelli, Nessun Dorma)? What about Oh Happy Days to remind me of the gospel choir I joined in Oxford and discovering the joy of singing together? The more I listened to, the longer the list of other potential tracks grew. I asked friends and family for recommendations – maybe I should take a song with no prior associations, so that I can have a song that comes to represent this journey? Then, to my dismay, I realised that there were no female artists on my list (other than The Staves on disc 4). Dad recommended Aretha Franklin’s version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. I listened to it, and it was followed by this. Two women of immense talent, bigging each other up, with the Obama’s thrown in for good measure. There is still hope.

So there are my eight discs. I don’t have any other music saved on my phone, so that will be it for three weeks (or however long it takes us to reach Martinique). I am not limiting the books I can read (or the podcasts I can listen to), as I am already breaking the rules by having human company…! The only physical book that I have brought with me though is Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which I always find something relevant in, regardless of my situation.

As for a luxury, I think it will have to be a good bar of soap. My various adventures, travels and wild camping trips have taught me that everything feels better when you are clean, even if you can only wash with soap in the sea. I sometimes helped to make the soap at Trill Farm when I worked there, so I might be biased, but it is excellent and I now use no other.

I can highly recommend taking the time to choose your own Desert Island Discs, for the trips down musical memory lanes, the lyrics you didn’t know you knew (hello Spice Girls) and the challenge of getting down to eight… Good luck if you try it!

Now it’s definitely time to sleep… we sail in 12 hours…

The First Test Sail!

Today was a big day; after a lot of hard work and preparations, it was time to take the boat out and test if the autopilot and wind steering really worked.

We woke up to a blue sky and barely a breath of wind, but started stowing the tools, food supplies, toothbrushes and anything else that might go flying once underway. At 10.15am, we slipped off the pontoon and headed out of the marina, along with a few other boats and training vessels.

Once out of the marina, we hoisted the mainsail and the two foresails, switched off the engine and were sailing! Yippeeee! The wind picked up just outside the harbour and we set off on a beam reach at a respectable 5.5 knots.

Sailing at last!

First to test was the autopilot, which held our course when we switched it on. Next was Paul, fondly known as our fifth crew member, the Aries wind steering. This was the more critical test, as we hope to use Paul for a lot of the crossing. (The autopilot is power hungry and might mean having to use the generator en route if we needed to rely on it, whereas Paul requires no power at all, not even Gill’s excellent fruit cake).

Paul getting slapped in the face by the Royal Ensign. He didn’t complain and worked like a dream.

To our great delight, Paul did his job sailing both up and down wind, close hauled through to a broad reach. What a star (and even more so, John, who has got him working again).

I don’t have John’s talent for technical explanations, so I’m really hoping that this video works and you can see Paul in action.

Once we had confirmed that both the critical repairs had been successful, and enjoyed celebratory tea and fruitcake, we each took it in turns to practice man over board procedures. We threw in Fred the Fender, and Gill and John both executed excellent recoveries under sail, and when it was my turn I rescued him under motor.

John relaxing up at the bow – all the hard work has paid off

All in all, a great day out in fine weather, deserving of ice cream, sea swims and a G&T (tick tick tick). We were even treated to John’s signature dish this evening, cheese omelette, which was met with 5 star reviews all round.

One very happy and very tired crew member, signing off