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crossing oceans

True confessions, I told Tony years ago I would never sail across the ocean. His dream at the time was to sail around the world, I was all for supporting that dream, happy to join him in the exotic locations but not at sea. So how did I get here? Baby steps. I got more comfortable on the boat and gained confidence in myself, the captain and Spindrift. And I hate to admit, I got older. A funny thing happened with age, I wanted to experience all I could while I was still capable. When you're young you think you have all the time in the world, now I suddenly feel that life is finite and I need to make wise choices with how I spend that time, days are precious. I did not want to look back and regret the things I didn't do, especially if the decisions were made out of fear. So here we are, no regrets. We did the nine day off shore passage from Virginia to the Caribbean, but some how in my mind a sail across the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean seemed so much bigger, and let's face it, scarier. No matter how much you try to prepare for this you never really know what you are getting into until you push off from shore. There is no changing your mind and jumping ship, you are committed to see it through.

As we got further from shore the need to stay connected with those back home got stronger, it was like there was this magnetic pull drawing us back. We never felt that far away in the Caribbean, we still shared the same time zone. But now we were crossing time zones which only increased the distance in our minds, we were no longer on EST but UTC. The boat clock was still set on Youngstown NY time and I couldn't help but check it to get my bearings. I knew I needed to give that up, but wasn't sure how to determine meal times any other way. My midnight to 3 a.m. shift was actually 0300 to 0600 UTC, it seemed like higher math some days to figure out when breakfast, lunch and dinner should be. We succumbed to following our stomachs instead of the clock.

A lot of time goes into discussing what route to take across the ocean, there is no Route 66 to follow. There are a couple of schools of thought, you either sail the wind you have to get where you want to go or sail to the wind you want to get you across. We chose to sail the wind we have, while checking the weather reports to see where the wind will be in the days to come and what direction it will be coming from. It's always kind of a crap shoot, you hope the weather forecast is correct and you have chosen the right course. One boat is so far out in front early on, they chose to sail to the stronger winds up north. But we stick to our plan and remind ourselves that it's not always how fast you get there but how comfortable you are in the meantime.

One of the high points of our day, aside from the times the fishing line goes crazy and we think we caught a fish only to lose it, was the twice daily radio contact. We all sat around much as families must have done before the days of TV to listen to the radio shows. What is supposed to be a position report morphs into a daily competition. Boats have to mention if they clocked 14 knots while surfing down a wave, that they have no reefs in their sails and the wind is blowing 30 knots, that they were flying a parasail all night and going 13 knots or that they have traveled 230 miles that day, so much for a friendly conversation. It even becomes a competition between boats on who has found the most wind. Often there is a question asked in the morning to be answered at the night broadcast. One day it was to name, sing or play the sailing song for your boat. That boat that was way in the lead chose "We are the champions", seemed a little cocky at the time but when they arrived in Horta a full day ahead of everyone else they earned bragging rights. Sometimes there is some entertainment included, a poem written by a crew member about their experience, a song someone signs or a joke they tell, kind of goofy but it fills the time and gives us something to talk about long after we have signed off.

I would be lying if I said it was always sunshine and cribbage games, there are difficult days on board that truly test your resolve. For us it's the grey, dismal days with rough seas and the wind on our nose. Everything is so hard to do, and it's a challenge to stay motivated. With rolly seas and the boat heeling at a 35 degree angle just walking down below is a struggle. Eating is a true test of your coordination, we're lucky we haven't taken an eye out with forks that fly off the table, you need quick reflexes to capture food falling out of the refrigerator when you open it on a starboard tack and all our meals have to be something that can be eaten out of a bowl. Sleeping is only possible with the lee cloths up, otherwise we would end up on the floor. The weather seems to sense when we are at the end of our rope. The wind begins to shift, the seas flatten out and we are greeted with a school of dolphins playing off the bow of our boat to remind us that we are not alone in this expanse of water. The tough days do have their place, they make us appreciate the good days just that much more.

It seems there is always something that breaks on a passage, the boat takes quite a beating in the wind and waves. So while I was fixing meals, Tony and Richard were busy fixing everything else. The spinnaker halyard broke one evening just as the sun was setting. It meant hoisting Richard up the mast the next morning, in thankfully calm seas to rerun the halyard, then the spinnaker was raised again and we were on our way. Being self sufficient means being able to fix anything in the middle of the sea. Making repairs to a faulty autopilot, multiple water leaks and a broken freezer filled their days. As things got fixed the wind diminished, with 200 miles still to go and wind blowing a mere 4 knots, we had no choice but to turn on the engine. No one likes to interrupt the peaceful days with the sound of the diesel engine, but there is always an up side. With the seas flat and the motor running, we could make water to do the laundry, hose down the boat and shower. It was great to end the trip ready to step off the boat with the salt washed off of us and Spindrift.

There are just as many day light hours as night, but for some reason we always seem to sneak into port after these long sails under the cover of night and in light winds. Arriving in Horta was no exception, we once again drifted over the finish line at a slow 3 knots, determined to end the passage under sail. Pulling up to the dock at 3am in no way took away from the excitement of reaching land after 12 days at sea, and the mini local beers we were handed when we stepped foot on land were pretty welcome after being on a dry boat for two weeks. I expected it to be pretty thrilling to arrive in the Azores, and it was. What I hadn't expected was to also feel a sadness to see the passage come to an end. When we set out I didn't really get what Tony loved about these long sails, for me it was a test of my endurance. But now I understand the appeal of the journey. To be totally self contained as you look out on a vast sea and endless sky, the only noise being the wind in the sails and boat sliding through the water, with random wildlife to keep us company, has given me a new appreciation of our place in the bigger world around us. I feel so fortunate to have taken this great leap of faith and to have ventured out on this journey.

It seems that arriving in Horta is the end of our trip, but we keep reminding ourselves that we still have the 6 day passage to Lagos, Portugal, our final destination before we sail onto the Mediterrean. We have learned on this crossing though that everything we really need fits into a space 53 feet long, well, maybe not everything. We wish there was room for all the family and friends we miss back home, but believe me, you were all in our thoughts and have traveled this ocean with us.

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