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Still Smiling...

Looking a little worse for the wear, but still smiling when we cross the finish line nine days later and 1577 miles from the start at 1:40 in the morning, whopee! (and did I say this wasn't a race? Little did I know that whenever there are two or more sailboats in the water at the same time it is a race. We spent countless hours tracking boats on AIS, charting their locations and seeing where we stood.). Can't begin to explain just how great it was to conclude this journey. The lights guiding us into the harbor were still not working due to Hurricane Irma so we had to pick up a mooring ball for the night and wait until morning to actually pull into the dock and step onto land. Delayed gratification, but still a good feeling to be handed that rum punch!

But I’m getting ahead of myself, sorry to give you the ending first, but it was the most exciting part of this story. Now that we are safely in port I can finally admit to the family and friends that were worried about, I was pretty worried about us too. There is nothing to prepare you for living in a confined, rolling space for days on end. I really had no idea how we would all deal with our time at sea.

Crossing over the start, with plenty of boats around us was pretty exciting, everyone was anticipating the trip ahead. Soon the distance between the boats grew and we settled into our shifts of four hours on and four hours off. I suddenly came to the realization that this was my life for the next 10 days (that’s the amount of time I had mentally prepared for and cooked meals for, bonus that we arrived one day early!). The challenge was going to be providing the basic necessities for the next week and a half, keeping clean, fed and well rested.

The keeping clean part proved to be the most difficult. We were covered with salt almost immediately when going on deck, and the quick boat showers (rinse with water, turn it off, soap up, turn it on and rinse off, nothing like the relaxing showers on land) did nothing to deter the salt, this was going to be a crusty voyage. We got into a routine pretty early on to cover the eating and resting. My day mostly consisted of thinking about meals, making meals, cleaning up from meals, repeated 3x a day, with a mix of naps and reading in between. Amazing how full the days can seem. I thought boredom would be the toughest hurdle, but there was really no time to get bored. Everything takes longer to do on a boat and doing anything at a 20 degree slant only adds to the challenge.

And of course our days were filled with sailing. We got off to a slow start in light winds, making us motor sail for a majority of the first two days. By the second morning we had entered the dreaded gulf stream, but we were fortunate to have calm seas and light winds, a few squalls and lightening mixed in, but all in all not a bad experience. We exited by dinner and continued on our way east. The winds picked up and we were able to sail most of the rest of the trip.

Night watches were much more enjoyable than I imagined. It is awesome to sail under the stars, surrounded by nothing but water. Much more comforting than you would imagine, when ships came into sight or showed up on our radar it only added stress. They were usually cargo ships and we would start watching them at about 12 miles out. If two vessels bearing relative to each other doesn’t change over time it means that eventually they will collide. At night it always seemed that we were on a collision course with ships and there was no relaxing until we had safely passed. It seems unlikely when you have the whole ocean to navigate but you’d be surprised how often that happens.

Sunrises were always a welcome change, easy to be optimistic about what the day would bring. One morning we were welcomed with dolphins playing in the wake and there were always flying fish above the waves that would occasionally crash on deck. Since it was daunting to think about the whole 1500 miles at once we broke up the trip to make it seem more manageable, and give us something to celebrate occasionally. At 64 degrees longitude we made the turn to head south, celebration! From there it was just 700 more miles to go. Then we pretty much celebrated every 100 miles, and started placing bets on what time we would arrive (winner buys the rum punch). Around the middle of the journey it suddenly hit me that we could do this, and that I could even enjoy my time on board. Sailing ability is definitely helpful, but it’s amazing how big a part your frame of mind plays in handling the trip. It also helps to have a great crew. That’s not all about sailing experience either, don’t get me wrong they were all good sailors, but I found it was even more important to be dependable, good natured and especially entertaining. Those four hour shifts in the middle of the night can be pretty long.

To make things interesting, something always decides to break on board and usually at the most inopportune times. Four days out we had a broken head (reference boat terms) which is an awful job to fix at dock, even worse in choppy seas. After working all day, they threw in the towel (literally, they threw it in the ocean) and we were down to one head for the rest of the trip. After cleaning up on deck with buckets of sea water over their heads, we all went back to the business of sailing. A few days later the jib furling line decided to break in 20 knots of wind, which was just a long, wet job on the bow of the boat for Tony. 50% success rate with our repairs at sea.

Trust me, there were moments of frustration, monotony and exhaustion, but the laughs, comraderie, and the knowledge gained that you can really do anything you set your mind to way outweighed the bad. Glad that trip is behind us, but would be happy to do it all again.

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