We have been waiting for this day for a very long time – the day to start our passage across the Atlantic ocean. Whilst Stephan already did it back in 2010, it was Berni’s first time to cross an ocean and the first time experiencing so many days at sea without any land in reach – so this is Berni’s view of this very special 3000 nautical miles experience.
I felt fear and was worried. Not so much about the sailing part and the weather, but mostly because of the fact that you are completely on your own in case of an emergency and that you simply can’t get out. Ripped sails beyond repair, losing the mast, losing the rudder, or medical emergencies such as appendicitis or sepsis. The weather conditions don’t allow you to sail back, you can just hope to make your way until the Caribbean somehow in time (in case of no sails and with our rough 200 liters of fuel we could have made around 500 nautical miles only…)
Nevertheless, I wanted it. I felt the excitement to leave Las Palmas, I was even more excited when my phone complained about no signal and when the lights of Gran Canaria slowly faded away in the light of the moon. About 2700 nautical miles in front of us straight on the map. Stephan and I and two of our friends and experienced sailors, four people on a 12 meter sailboat, for approximately three weeks. The boat stuffed full of water, fuel and food. Fruits, vegetables, rice, pasta, cans, milk, juice, chocolate in every single corner. Even small empty spaces between my clothes in my lockers were filled with cous-cous, bread mix, instant muffins and last but not least three bars of emergency chocolate with almonds nobody knew about (there are some pictures of the provistioning action on my Instagram.
One of my worries came true in the first few days. I got seasick. After leaving the protection of the Canary islands the swell picked up and let the boat roll from one side to the other. All the time. Without a break. No escape. I soon felt extreme tiredness and nausea. I usually treat these symptoms with Vitamin C and slices of ginger but this time it didn’t help so I decided to go for the hard drug – a patch of Scopolamine behind my ear. After some hours I felt better and I recovered. Until I accidently got Scopolamine into my right eye, probably touched the patch and then the eye… This was when I felt like being one of the emergency cases at sea. Blurry eyesight and a huge pupil made the situation quite scary. I phoned a doctor and I phoned another boat – beyond thankful for the satellite phone. Found some help and advice I was incredibly thankful for. My fantastic crew took me off duty for night watches and I managed to sleep 14 hours. The eye got better. I recovered. TO ALL SAILORS OUT THERE – BE AWARE OF SCOPOLAMINE SIDE EFFECTS AND PAY ATTENTION WHEN TOUCHING YOUR EYES!
Days went by and the number of miles got smaller. We celebrated 2000 miles to go. We celebrated halfway-done. We celebrated three figures. We celebrated Advent Sundays. We found routine. Like the trade winds, constantly blowing from northeastern directions with force 3-6. Reef in, reef out. Being together during the day, everyone of us found some alone-time during solitary 2-hour night watches. Two hours of doing nothing but watch. Stars, moon, the rise of the venus, shooting stars, moving clouds, observing wind speed and direction and making sure that JoJo the autopilot does a good job. We never sailed without constantly being on watch, even during the day.
Even if getting out of bed for the watches in the middle of a dark new moon night is pretty hard, night watches are simply beautiful, not only the view, but especially for the mind. Like as if every star would cause a random memory, a billion of thoughts flew through my mind, sometimes just passing by like the waves, sometimes they went deeper, let me think about my existence and my life, create lots of emotions and some salty tears on salty cheeks. These are the magic moments that make up for all the seasickness, moments of exhaustion and the tiring rolling swell 24/7. I felt incredibly thankful, strong and happy. I showed my feelings to the sky and felt like getting a hug from the universe.
Bang. This is when magic moments were interrupted by a flying fish on deck. Like our 2-week loneliness was interrupted by seeing another sailboat on the AIS. After a round of chats on the VHF we changed course to sail next to each other to take turns in photo shoot sessions at sea. Shortly after, I had a nice radio talk with an Indian guy from a big tanker passing by on the way to Africa, chatting about fuel tank size and radar signals. How exciting it is to cross path and get in contact with other ships on the lonely ocean after not having seen any sign of human existence outside of our 4-person-floating world. We seemed to live in our own universe with our own time-zone which was perfectly adapted for dinner time at sunset and coffee at sunrise. No idea what was happening outside our little nutshell. And listening to some piano tunes at sea from time to time.
The last days before arriving at St. Lucia the Atlantic decided to provide some final adventure programme for advanced sailors to avoid any boredom. Suddenly, a gigantic carpet of seaweed slowed us down to 2 knots speed! After having processed this bizarre scenario, nature decided to show its real force, winds picked up to 30 knots persistent for two full days and the swell let us feel like in a permanent washing machine. Demanding night watches, all different types of noise from items moving in every locker and even simple tasks like brushing teeth or preparing easy meals made us feel exhausted quickly. It wasn’t necessary, but we also managed it. It definitely increased our anticipation to finally make landfall in the Caribbean!
The arrival! On my last night watch it was rainy but I felt like dancing in the rain when the first lights of St. Lucia came into sight. I called my brother at around 3am local time (8am German time) with the satellite phone to tell him that we’ve almost arrived. With tears in my eyes and a lot of emotions we maneuvered around the northern cape and then took course to Rodney Bay. We crossed the finish line at 3:53 am. To sum it up… it was fantastic, demanding, challenging, enriching!
WE CROSSED THE ATLANTIC OCEAN 100% UNDER SAILS!!!!
Miles traveled: 2995 nautical miles (ca. 5500 km)
Time overall: 18 days, 9 hours, 53 minutes
Average speed: 6,7 knots (12-13 km/h)
Engine hours for battery charging: 16
Fishing results: 1 decent-sized mahi-mahi for three meals
Waste for three weeks and four persons: 1×20 liters (bags) of cans, 9 items of glass, 5×40 liters (bags) of plastic (!!!), 1×20 liters (bag) of residual waste. All organic stuff went overboard according to the regulations far enough from the coast.
Liters of fresh water used: 300 liters of water in tanks and 3 liters/person/day bottled drinking water
Damages: lost windex, broken cooking pot lid, small rip in main sail on the last day, four lost forks (still no idea where they are) and I am sure some other things we still don’t know about – but all in all the boat is fine and did a great job!!!!
How we spent the day: sailing, sleeping, cooking, eating, gaining weight, doing dishes, retrieving weather/emails via satellite phone, studying weather, planning route, writing logbook, washing body/hair with a bucket of seawater from time to time, literally “taking a shower” during squalls, trying out the gennaker, reading, counting sore spots (mostly from sleeping!!), talking on the VHF radio with other boats (quite rare), cleaning (quite rare too), fishing (once), watching sunrises/sunsets, stargazing, playing piano (yes it was real fun), asking each other which day we currently have, talking, thinking, studying French or simply doing nothing.
First thing we did when arriving at Rodney Bay, St. Lucia: Dropping the anchor, gin tonic, jumping into the water
First thing we did in the marina: Having a proper rum punch