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Atlantic 2: Into the West

Day X (7 to 9)

Days slide seamlessly into one another: stirred together by the passing of the sun from dawn till dusk and dusk till dawn. Date and time mean less and less until the question of air tickets and departure dates crop up.

Rumour has it, there is a zen-like quality after a week at sea. It’s not here yet, although I am finding more time for myself for reading and sleeping. The consistency of the weather helps wind speed, direction and sea state. Any change necessitates a change in sail configuration and trimming thereafter. We had set course for the Caribbean way before the intended arrival at our intended latitude but still, the 20-knot winds are in our favour.

The weather is noticeably warmer as we follow the wind to the west, which necessitates longer running of the fridge, and therefore, the engine for charging the batteries if we want to maintain our food stores for the next 2 weeks. Provisioning is an art I have not yet mastered and still have little interest in until I’m hungry.

We found another broken sail slider even though we haven’t had hard winds. All seem to be the same old type. The new ones seem OK. We dropped the mainsail anyway as Pantelisa is more stable under headsail only in winds over 15 knots. More importantly, the autopilot can’t handle sailing with the mainsail in a following wind.

Herbert was keen to get the fishing line out and so the old rusty hooks were removed and the line restored with fancy new hook and lure. As we let out the line, Thomas was telling us it could be days before we catch anything. Moments later, flapping on the surface at the end of our line; a beautiful young Dorado, less than a kilo. Summarily filleted and prepared for soup, sushi and risotto.

The next day, within half an hour another Dorado, twice the size, soup sushi and curry. We were sick of fish by then. No more until the vegetables run out.

Fate appears to have drawn us together, we all have an interest in the depth of life and the search for its meaning. Herbert’s thesis for his PhD is self-actualisation. Thomas, a medical doctor who has explored meditation and psychedelics. My life has become an unstructured experiment of self-discovery and quest for freedom. 3 different backgrounds converged into the same boat. Our conversation is rich, yet we are comfortable with long periods of silence in each other’s space. We are one third the distance.

There’s a feeling that the ripples of life are calming down even if the sea isn’t. I’m a frequent user of the internet, especially Facebook. Do I miss it? I’m not sure that I do. I hardly give it a thought until I come to write this blog or want to Google whether a fish is called a Mahi Mahi, Dorade or Dorado. Meanwhile, no internet connection will be enjoyed until landfall. I know the first thing I will do ashore will be to get online. The blog will take some time, as will catching up with messages.

These last nights, the light of the moon had disappeared as it renews its lunar cycle. The only lights are from the navigation instruments and the stars shimmering overhead. We could be astronauts orbiting the earth, be it at sea level. The feeling of solitude distorts the passage of time: speeding it up when the mood is high and slowing it down when fatigue sets in. Four hours, every night. It’s the hardest part of the day and constantly checking the time doesn’t help.

The green bananas hanging in the cockpit turned yellow and then to black, faster than we were eating them. The last three flambéed after tonight’s dinner on the 9th day.

Day Y (10th to 14th)

Found two flying fish on deck. Herbert cooked flying fish burritos with them. We were past half way so cracked open the Lanzarote wine for celebration.

We’ve been lucky with rain but today looks decidedly grey and showery. The motor went on early and woke me at 7.30. Looking out from the stern, I could see a grey haze on the horizon: rain. I went below and re-emerged with my wash-bag and towel, kicked off my clothes and had a cool refreshing shower. There’s a primal rejuvenating feeling associated with showering from heaven rather than a tap. Refreshment of the soul as well as the body.

Fasting day for Thomas, and Herbert and I join him in the fast. I was awoken early to help deploy the Gennaker. The wind was light but gusty as we rolled around. We hoisted the sail into it’s flowing beauty into the sky and it sagged briefly into a shapeless curtain and popped open by a sudden gust, tearing the sail along the foot. Thomas was upset by it…

We put its remains away and adjusted sails for spinnaker boom to port, main to starboard. Sea easing, winds down to 10 knots. Nice night shift.. the wind eased to an ancient sea gods breath and the sails banged a little in the breeze as Pantelisa swayed danced with the ocean swell.

I had a restful sleep, rocked by the easy waves. I was awakened as the motor started up at 7.30 but still, I Laid in until 9.50. Showered on deck using a bucket of seawater then a freshwater rinse. Trimmed sails and spinnaker boom back to starboard and main to port. Small waves gently rocked us along, the sea a deep royal blue. the weather now warm, wearing swimming trunks with no shirt now. Broke the fast with eggs and bread. Felt tired after. Long siesta t shake off the lethargy of the food. Lentil and Sweet Potato soup went down really well and enjoyed a chilled out evening in the cockpit with Thomas and Herbert.

So tired coming out on shift. Not conscious enough to switch the light on in my cabin, I grope for the door to let the light in from the navigation desk and I stagger up into the cockpit. Sitting near the helm, Thomas’s voice has a distant echo like the ears of a fighter hearing a referee assessing whether the fight should continue. 3am and I’m on my feet, hands on the bimini frame looking windward.

The wind suddenly increased from a light breeze puffing us along at 4 knots. I looked at the instruments, 9 knots. Still standing on the stern, a shadow catches my eye and gives me a start. Thomas, unheard and awakened by the torrent rushing past the hull, has come up to join me. “See anything unusual?” “No.” If it was a squall it was an invisible one with no rain and the wind veered. south pushing us northwesterly.

Day Z (15th onwards)
There are days which just happen which are sheer bliss and it’s hard to say why. Today is one such day. Bright sun warm and dry, calm sea although the sails bang in the lulls. Reading and napping in the sun, I can feel the warm tingle of today’s sunburn on my shoulder blades. Herbert interviewed me for his thesis on self-actualisation which stimulated my mindscape and brought consciousness to my own existence. The sun leaving indigo and magenta skies as it descended into its peach and pink horizons.

A Royal blue seascape capped by snow white crests, Pantelisa swaying and creaking in the breeze. We are still doing 5 knots courtesy of the light breeze at the Atlantic current. Skipper’s not entirely happy. His flight is out of Martinique on the 28th. ETA for us is 26th PM with still above 600 miles to go. Wind was promised for today but failed to be delivered. Patience… but I have no pressure of a deadline. The gentle breeze steady from the east meant we didn’t have to touch the sails. I tightened the two preventer lines to confine the banging to the sail instead of the boom when the wind deserted the sails.

A flash of green astern indicates activity on the line. “Fish!” I shout and Thomas and Herbert emerge from the saloon. Three times, three Dorado within an hour of casting the lure. Today it will be my turn for the Pantelisa rite of passage. This beautiful green fish is the biggest so far, maybe 2Kg: enough easily for two meals. Thomas stuns the fish by pouring rum through it’s gills. The fish freezes and I give silent thanks before cutting the spine behind the head as fast as possible. I’m wearing my last clean Tshirt but it’s too late for me to change now with blood on my hands. I have the benefit of the first two masterclasses of filleting and opt to retain the tail to use as a handle while I descale, gut and fillet on the stern of the cockpit. I take my time and the skeleton comes away complete. With so much meat we opt to forgo the Fish soup and dispose of the head and carcass over the stern. We are now equal hunter-gatherers in the Pantelisa tribe.

Arrival 26th December
Midnight. As usual, I surface bleary-eyed for the night watch. Lights in the west. Martinique glimmers on the western horizon and I settle down to admire the unfamiliar sight of land. 30 Minutes in, I realise the Genoa is poled out to the port side which means I have limited manoeuvrability southward. I check the plotter and we are projected to clip the southern shore so I take an early deviation of course to give us plenty of leeway.

Thomas appears at 2am ready for anchoring in St Annes bay near La Marin. Rounding the cape, the sea becomes flat and we get respite from the relentless roll of the Atlantic swell. We are in the lee, downwind from civilisation and its characteristic aroma: drains.

4am and the anchor is deployed and the chain becomes like a steel rod as Pantelisa reverses to test the holding. Herbert remains unconscious in his bunk while Thomas and I toast our arrival with a Rum laced Ginger infusion.
The calm is unfamiliar as I lay back on my bunk and the unfamiliarity, the lack of motion, creaking and banging bleeds into my dream world and I experience a restless sleep…

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