Sailing across the Atlantic...or not...yet?!
It is Saturday and it is hard to believe I only arrived on this boat called Osprey a mere 5 days ago. We are docked in a floating marina of waiting boats. Hundreds of yachts of all shapes and sizes, with crews from around the world, inhabit this pool of protected water. There are French and Americans, Germans and Swedes, and even a friendly face from Bequia to make me feel at home in this transient world of strangers. I last saw Harvey 5 months ago in the Eastern Seaport of Manhattan and here we are now crossing paths again, if only to reinforce what a small familiar circle I am travelling around on this great adventure of mine.
We are all here waiting; for the day, the weather, the boat, the crew, for the moment to be right to leave and cross that great gulf of 3000 miles of Atlantic Ocean to the glistening isles of the Caribbean. We are all playing the same game, the difference being that we had found our day, we took the moment and we left, on Wednesday, but now we are back after 2 days and nights at sea and we are no further on from where we started.
A dripping salt water pump was the cause of this return. It was discovered on the first day at sea but for another 12 hours we carried on. The wind, which had been forecast as non-existent, was pushing us along gently from behind. With our foresail poled out we were surfing down the following seas at a happy 10 knots, a state of affairs which would have landed us in our first port of call in a mere 4 and a half days time. We didn’t want to stop, to turn back and fight our way into the wind and the swell, to bash our way through the night back to the place from where I had yelled at Harvey ‘See you in Bequia!’ as we quietly slipped out of our cramped little berth. So we spent the night gathering more information to enable us to decide if it was foolhardy to carry on. Calls to New Zealand on the satellite phone, part numbers and Volvo dealers located across the world. What if we just DHL it to the Cape Verdes? No turning back, it will be there by the time we get there, a plan to keep the crew happy and motivated, but on further examination not necessarily safe. What if the pump blew before we got there? No pump, no power, who aboard could navigate by the starts? What if that angry looking low we had seen lingering to the north west didn’t get swallowed up by the spiralling Azores high? What if, instead, it was pushed down to the south gaining momentum as it headed our way? What if we couldn’t fight into it, had to head further south and missed the Cape Verdes all together. ‘What if?’, What if ?’ rumbled through the night until at 4am it became to much. The pole was brought in, the main was gybed over and back to Tenerife we went. Back in a longer, bouncier more tortuous way; zig zagging towards our destination, jumping over waves. What had previously felt like a gentle rolling wind, by the change in angle to our little vessel, suddenly felt like a gale. Even my, usually hardy stomach, was beginning to feel green. I started to wonder if I had taken on more than I could swallow, if I wasn’t actually cut out for this crossing of oceans. 18 knots of wind, granted on the nose, but still it was only 18 knots and I was already feeling sick! But then Craig appeared, rapidly through the companionway; he knelt over the leeward rail and threw up whatever he had eaten last over the side. Instantly I relaxed. He had endured worse seas than this for 10 days on the trot when Osprey crossed the north Atlantic, beating their way into the lows, yet he was throwing up and I was (barely, but still I contained it) managing to keep it in. There was hope for me on this ocean crossing after all!
12 hours later, weary and hungry, we arrived back into the unfathomably peaceful Marina del Atlantico. A different berth gave us a different view, hey, we could almost be somewhere else. Thankfully my already rehearsed explanations went unused, a new boat was nestled against the concrete wall where Harvey had stood and waved us off. Sea Hawk had left, taken the same window as us, but they were still on their way, and we were not, we were back here searching for a part.
A stationary 4 hours sleep and we awoke to the day, hardly believing that the previous 2 days had occurred at all. Emails had been answered whilst we slept in our bunks and phone calls were made over cereal and tea. Parts were located in New Zealand and Belgium and eventually to our surprise in Tenerife itself. We hired a car and drove to the side of the island where package holidays are contained. We found our man on the first floor of a shopping centre inhabited by aimlessly wandering tourists who seemed unsure as to what they were supposed to be doing on this much anticipated break in the sun. Young and German and fluent in our lingo he produced our part like the trophy it was. He explained how to fit it, what had worn and how the leak had meant it had been sucking in air. We shuddered at the thought of our engine overheating and seizing itself up into a lump of motionless metal without the steady flow of sea water to cool it. Coming back had been the right thing to do after all.
He wished us luck and added as what seemed like an after thought ‘I’m going across the Atlantic too’. We nodded in acknowledgment; another person crossing from here was hardly an occurrence to stop us in our steps. We were nearly out through the door when he casually added ‘but I’m rowing across’. It took a few seconds to absorb what he had said, then we turned on our heels and stared at him in disbelief. He showed us a picture of a vulnerable looking little open boat with 2 people sitting and pulling on oars. Twenty five or so boats, it appears, do this race of madness every year. They row across the Atlantic. The record, held by Kiwis, is forty three days. Our friendly German was proud to explain that they were the first ever team from Tenerife and they were hoping to do it in fifty. Fifty days, rowing across the ocean?! We exchanged satellite phone numbers and promised to keep in touch whilst we were out there. We left that shop suddenly feeling the scale of our insanity for attempting to sail across one of the world’s great oceans diminishing rapidly beneath our feet. He was the nutter, not us!
Last night we celebrated our success with Spanish steak and beers and I survived my third cigarette-free night. (The boat is a smoke free zone so I stopped once we set sail. Now we are back it seems pointless to pick up the habit for a token few days, it will only make the proceeding days at sea harder to bear.) We may have not come far geographically over the last few days but now we are a team who have been coerced together by the shared goal of wanting to get the hell back out of this joint. Everyone, it seems is getting ready to go. The industrious sounds of tapping on metal fill the marina from every corner, last minute checks and double checks and repairs. We have found another hitch, but this newly formed team is unperturbed. The adjacent part to this one is worn as well. In hindsight we should have removed it before. But Peter, the German, is on the case, we will have to wait until Monday to find out whether one exists on the island, if not then the wait will be longer again. But eventually we will leave and perhaps the wind will come with us, perhaps our new window will have been worth waiting for in the end.
Sooty, for one, is happy that we returned. His owners are expected back any day now after a hurried return to France. When they left here, their cat with a strange French name was missing. They put a notice on their boat, the cat was found, renamed and Osprey became his home. Yesterday he was lounging on the deck of a mega-yacht looking down at us snootily pretending he had never known us. But today he is back, curled up happily in the cockpit, waiting with us for the part that, hopefully, will be our long awaited ticket out of here!