Throwback Thursdays – getting ready to cross the Atlantic

Last week I continued telling the story of Triple D’s trip across the Atlantic and through the Caribbean by outlining some of the many things that went wrong. I left off as we were in Gran Canaria, Triple D having been hoisted out of the water to have a leak fixed. I promised to tell you about the sail across the Atlantic and some actual dangerous disasters…..

But that will have to take a break for this week as I decided now would be a good point to describe our preparations before we set off to cross the Atlantic!

As I said in my first post about this trip, we were constantly asked the same questions throughout. “Just women?” “Just three women?” “Nobody else on board for the ocean crossings?” and often “you must have a lot of sailing experience!” Well – yes, yes, nope, and no-ish.

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Experience:

My parents had met dinghy sailing and had a small yacht while I was growing up. We spent summers on leisurely two week cruises across the Channel and sailing down the coast of France. However, my dad was always the skipper on these cruises and Jilli and I were much too young to do anything but get in the way. Then when I was ten, we moved from London to the south coast of the UK, sold the yacht and started dinghy sailing. Both Jilli and I were pretty experienced at dinghy sailing, representing the UK in world championships, travelling to Ireland, Sweden and even South Africa to do so (Jilli, not me, annoyingly!) But dinghy sailing is VERY different from yacht sailing. And cruising down the coast of France with two kids is VERY different from crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

boat babeA few years before we set off on our trip, we joined a flotilla holiday in Croatia and had a wonderful week with mum enjoying her first time as skipper. The year before we set off, our own boat, the wonderful Triple D, was ready and we had a summer cruise to the Scilly Isles. That was the sum total of our yachting experience.

Courses:

We all suffered through night school to get the theory part of our “RYA Day Skipper course” – all hating it. Three hours a night, every Monday, after hard days at work, school and university – and all three of us separate. Nobody spoke to Jilli, the youngest in the class by a long way (at 17) and people were very patronising towards her, even when she had the right answer. The patronising continued when we all went on an RYA Offshore Safety and Sea Survival Course. This course had recently become compulsory for a lot of big ocean races, and so our fellow students were mainly old “sea dogs” who very much resented being made to sit in a classroom and study what they already knew. We couldn’t quite believe the sexism and condescension we were subjected to, to be told we were wrong every time we volunteered an answer (obviously the satisfaction was HUGE when we were quite often right), to being outright ignored, to one particular man getting a pencil and writing the word “ASSUME” on mum’s bit of paper, and then saying, very pointedly, underlining the relevant parts of the word “when you ASSUME you make an ASS out of U and ME”. Firstly, mum’s “assumption” led to the correct answer. Secondly, she’s a woman in her mid-50s, not a child! Other than the other students, the course was great fun, if terrifying, and we all came away thinking that abandoning ship for the liferaft, or setting a broken bone, or popping an eyeball back in, or stitching a wound, or… or… or… was definitely going to form part of our trip! At least we now knew (kind of) what to do.

Provisioning and final training:

The final part of preparing to cross an ocean for the first time happened in Gran Canaria itself. We had decided to sail as part of the Arc, a rally of 250 yachts of all different sizes that set off to cross the Atlantic from the same point, on the same day, and all arrive into St Lucia (eventually). Training, support and parties are provided in Gran Canaria, and the boats are met with a rum punch and more parties upon arrival into St Lucia.

17th - ARC fancy dress 20

We were moored in the marina in Las Palmas at the northern end of Gran Canaria, surrounded by other boats also preparing for the long trip across the ocean. Our days were absolutely full of preparing the boat, and our nights were absolutely full of drinking and meeting new people. My and Jilli’s main task was to provision the boat – to make sure we had enough food that wouldn’t go off to last us over a month (we were hoping to cross in much less time than that, but obviously needed to prepare for all eventualities!) Here are some of the things we took with us:

  • tinned food. Lots and lots and lots of tinned food. There was a tiny M&S food store in Las Palmas, and we were so excited when we found it. We stocked up on chilli con carne, chicken in white sauce, chicken curry etc etc etc. These were for the end of our time at sea, and rough days when anything more than heating up a tin would have been too much. We also had an entire cupboard filled with tuna, sweetcorn and mayonaise.SONY DSC
  • Dried goods – lots of pasta. We also bought baguettes that you eat up in the oven and wraps as they had quite long sell-by dates, much longer than normal bread, and so we knew they would last. As you can probably tell, we had a lot of tuna mayonaise sandwiches!
  • Fruit and veg. Lots and lots of it, and all different types, from really hard avocados to green peppers (which kind of turn into red peppers as they get older). The fruit and veg all had to be extremely carefully washed before taking it on board and was strung up in hammocks made out of netting above my bed. This means they can sway with the motion of the boat and so don’t get bashed around and bruised. It meant my cabin smelt absolutely delicious for the first few days then gradually started smelling worse….. and one night I woke up when a very soft tomato squished its way through the netting and landed on my face!SONY DSCSONY DSC
  • Meat. We didn’t have a freezer on board so the amount of fresh meat we could take was limited. The majority of the meat we took was vacuum packed. This is really not common in the UK and was the first time I had ever seen vacuum packed meat! But it meant it lasted a lot longer.SONY DSC
  • “Ready meals” – the day before we left the kitchen in the boat (the galley, in sailing terms) was a hive of activity as I cooked up several meals that we could store in tupperware and easily re-heat when sailing.
  • Snacks. Lots and lots of chocolate. At least 20 packs of twiglets. Nutella jars. Cookies. Brownie mix. All the snacks. One boat was crewed by a husband and wife and their three grown up children. The mum had prepared a little snack bag for each crew member for every one of their night shifts! That is organisation to the max.SONY DSC

Among the other (non-food) items were:

  • lots and lots of books. I read 17 books in the three weeks it took us to sail across the ocean.
  • Dvds. Jilli became addicted to Ally McBeal and, when seasick, would lie in the saloon all day watching endless episodes of Ally McBeal and then Sex and the City. Later in the trip we started watching Homeland, and then Prison Break, and it became a bit of a routine on long crossings to watch one episode before the night shifts started.
  • Music and audiobooks. This was in the days before iPhones … or at least before I had an iPhone… and all I had was my mum’s music to listen to. I downloaded audiobooks to listen to on nightwatches but found it all too easy to switch off and not listen to them entirely!
  • Safety equipment. We had ALL the safety equipment. A large lifeboat, a “grab bag” (filled with everything you will need on the liferaft, so if short on time you can just grab the grab bag), knives and hacksaws (in case, for example, the mast fell down and we had to cut it free of the boat) and THE MOST stocked first aid kit you have ever seen. Actually, it was so well equipped that when we reached the US we had to hide some of the drugs under my bed as they were drugs you need a prescription for in the US…….

So there you have it. Everything* you need to sail across the Atlantic.

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*Not quite everything …. I wouldn’t even know where to start to describe EVERYTHING we had on board!

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