The nights were dark. Very dark, mostly clouded, almost black. It was hard to distinguish between the sea and the sky. The only source of light was an occasional glimpse of the new moon coming out of the clouds and fluorescent algae in the stern wave. It looked like a starry sky on the water surface. From time to time, a cargo ship crossed our way, some of them somewhere far away with their steaming lights on the blurry horizon, some of them quite close and engine noise joined the permanent sound of wind and waves.
Three of the four nights were covered in dark clouds. On the first night we encountered a fleet of Morrocan fishing boats which did not show any clearly visible navigational lights, looking like moving Christmas trees instead. Slowly moving, but moving, and in directions difficult to figure out. They caused our adrenalin level to rise regularly. At least it will never get boring at night.
We started from Gibraltar on a Friday at noon, knowing that the weather window would definitely not the best to go on this passage. As we didn’t want to be stuck for another week or even longer at La Línea, we accepted the challenge and left. Westerly winds with 20 knots expected us in the Strait of Gibraltar. The wind had blewn from western directions for the entire week and had built up lots of swell against us. We tried to make way on a close reach but failed miserably. We underestimated the current in the tidal waters and after some hours struggling we made maybe two miles west. We finally switched on the engine and maneuvered Johanna very close to the coastline. And it worked! After fighting 3 knots of current against our course, we smiled when racing along with the stream. It is really worth studying the tidal stream charts! A large catamaran which has passed us shortly before must have been surprised when we passed him this time, in full speed.
With joy in our faces, we passed Tarifa and left mainland Spain behind. With the sunset on starboard, we watched the Moroccan mountains on portside in the fading daylight. We prepare ourselves for the first night watches. Three hours Stephan, three hours Berni. All over again. It takes some time to get used to this rhythm. The first two nights are always the hardest.
Speaking of hard… yes, the whole passage was hard. After battling wind, waves and current in the Strait, we enjoyed a great night sailing, but then the winds died completely. Still lots of swell from a low pressure zone far away north made the boat roll like crazy. Checking the weather with our new satellite phone made us realize that the wind won’t pick up again so quickly, so we decided to switch on the engine again. This time for 24 hours. It was painful. We felt sorry for the diesel that we burned – we are a sailboat on purpose! Additionally, the boat is less stable in the waves with the sails down. It was a challenge for our patience and Berni’s stomach.
The wind picked up again but not very steady. Multidirectional and generally too weak, we tried to sail again, always in alert mode to change course or sail trim to keep the speed acceptable. The Atlantic swell picked up and we soon experienced high and very long waves from behind. It was fascinating to be on the top of a wave, kind of “looking down” on the rest of the sea. JoJo, the autopilot, didn’t find it that fascinating, which made us forced to steer by hand for long hours. After studying some more hours of manuals about the mystery of how JoJo works, we found out a single setting hidden deeply in the dealer calibration setup that made us solve the steering problem. If it always were that easy… Celebrating Stephan’s brilliant ability for problem solving we decided to have a toast on Jojo with some rum. Jojo did a really brilliant job steering in the waves but the bottle didn’t make it. Leaving it 3 seconds unattended in an actually quite safe and horizontal position, it dropped on the floor with a loud bang. We found the galley full of broken pieces and about half a liter of Caribbean rum dropping underneath the floorboards and into the bilge. Mourning about the loss, we decided to be more careful with alcohol whilst at sea (open to any interpretation). We just know that this was the first time that a really nice smell came out of our bilge. The poor rum…
On the last day at sea, we were accompanied by about 30 dolphins doing their daily acrobatic exercise, this time right next to Johanna’s bow. The lack of sleep seemed forgotten when watching them play.
Some hours later we spotted the first elevation of the Canary Islands. It was a feeling of excitement, joy, relieve and pride. All the struggle was worth it. That really hard moment when the alarm rings at 2am and you have to get out of bed to take your turn into the night watch duty schedule, crawling out of three sheets of warm blankets to get out in the dark and cold night for the next three hours doing basically nothing but watch. But there is beauty in it. Lots if beauty. The beauty of dark nights, stars coming out, light of the fluorescent algae, shooting stars, even the massive cargo ships, sunrises, dolphins, flying fish, and the time you have contemplating life and the world. There is always beauty in the dark. And some scent of rum in a pile of dirty socks. Welcome to the Canaries four days and 12 hours after departure!