The day before we left to sail back across the Atlantic was a busy, busy day, the boat buzzing with activity as we prepared to leave – buying food, tidying up, discussing the weather forecast with anybody and everybody. We bought lots of extra cans to store extra fuel, and had to buy planks of wood to fix the fuel cans all along the side of the boat. We now had the capacity to carry 610 litres of fuel on board! I then went right up the mast to pad out the upper spreaders with noodles – those foam things that children play on in swimming pools. This was to stop the sail rubbing against the spreaders and causing rips in the sail as it had done on our way over the Atlantic.
I had to find some internet so we could send updates to our family back home before leaving and, after an unfruitful search for functioning internet, was invited onto a huge 100ft plus custom-made superyacht called William Tai (I think she’s on sale for €7 million if you’re interested). We had a beer and chatted while I sent my emails – I was quite amused when the crew member said that it must be strange to sail with just three women as he thought the conversations would be very different – less conversations about farting and poo for example! I laughed and thought back to the last Triple D disaster (involving a lot of poo) and the number of jokes we had all had about that.
And then it was time for one final dinner before setting off back to our side of the Atlantic ocean. When we woke up in the morning, the water in the harbour was mirror-flat, there was not a breath of wind, and the flags hung limply, preparing themselves for a scorcher of a day. But we had over 600 litres of fuel on board, we had a plan and we were going to stick to it, so despite the lack of wind, we were off! We said goodbye to our friends, and as we motored out of the harbour, passed another boat we had sailed across the Atlantic with, just arriving in Bermuda. Then a voice came out over a tannoy from the marina saying goodbye to “the Triple Ds” and wishing us all luck on our crossing – a wonderful moment and I felt I was really going to miss being a “Triple D” once I was back into normal life and was just plain old Alice.
It was a gorgeous day, if better for sunbathing than sailing. We had very little wind, no seasickness and lots of lovely food. It was also the most beautiful of nights, the sail glowing in the moonlight, so bright you almost needed sunglasses to look at it, the water glassy-calm and our ship,our lovely, solid, reliable Triple D steaming on through the night. Nothing is as beautiful as the silvery track of the moon across the flat, undulating sea. The sky around the full moon looked light blue still, the wispy white clouds clearly visible, a strange alternative version of a gorgeous summers’ day.
We had a few more days of perfect sunbathing, with barely a hint of ripples on the ocean. We kept seeing what I thought were plastic bags floating on the water, until one came very close to the boat and we realised they were Portuguese man-o-war jellyfish! There were so many of them – we must have seen about one every 5 – 10 minutes even in our little patch of the ocean.
We had some wonderful wildlife moments in the flat calm ocean, including a day with three whales, two just lazily sunning themselves in the same way we were and another putting on a performance of waving its tail around for us. We did try some actual sailing without the engine but the direction of the wind meant that we could only go very,very slowly in the wrong direction so soon gave up and turned the engine back on.
We settled quickly into our routine of naps, lunches, games of scrabble and sunset glasses of wine, an episode of Prison Break and then the start of the night watches. As we were so much further north than any of our previous sails, it didn’t get dark until quite late, which meant we could eat dinner outside, and the lack of wind meant a lack of seasickness for Jilli, which meant higher morale all round.
I was getting really, really excited about seeing James again – it had been three months since I’d seen him and technology back then was not as good as it was now and wifi was not as prevalent everywhere. I wrote in my diary:
I can’t wait to see James. Over three months is a very long time. It feels a little as if – and this is hard to describe – as if the James I have in my head could be entirely different than the real James. That my James is composed of the things he says in emails and texts, and brief, ocassional phone calls. This James could be completely removed from the real one, really just a figment of my imagination. Its impossible not to read too much into emails when emails are all I have.
I’ll spare you all the details I went into – long days at sea with little winds creates a lot of introspection and incredibly long diary entries! But this made me smile because it is still true, five years on:
He always does the right thing – says the right thing. Obviously not always, we do argue, but he always seems to know when I’m worrying about something, and how to solve it.
After 3 days of motoring, the wind swung round and we had a full 7 hours of sailing before the wind died just before sunset. The slightly increased wind was the perfect environment for dolphins, and two huge pods visited us. For about five minutes we were surrounded by dolphins in all directions, over fifty playing around, jumping completely out of the water. Then the second time, the majority of the dolphins continued on their way as we sailed past them, but around a quarter, 8-10 dolphins, stayed with us and played with the waves on our bow. Once they had all gone, two came back, very fast, swam right up the front of the boat then turned around very quickly and swam back, as if they were checking nobody had been left behind!
It was a dark night, the horizon black with clouds. On my night shift, one minute I looked up and the sky was full of thousands of stars, the next, nothing – just blackness. But if I turned around I could still see the stars behind me. With the water completely, eerily flat, I felt like I was sailing into a scene from the ‘Dawn Treader’ – the Narnia stories.
Later on that night, while Jilli was on watch, mum and I were woken up by a huge bang as if something had crashed into us. We couldn’t figure out what had happened in the dark, but the boat didn’t seem to be sinking, so we went back to sleep … and then the next day, in the light, still couldn’t seem to work out what it had been as nothing was damaged! There are always strange things in the sea, strange noises and strange shadows. We had a depth gauge, which didn’t work once the water was past a certain depth. However, sometimes it would click on again, and the depth would start to click down, meaning that something would be swimming under the boat right that second. We found it incredible how much wildlife we saw, even when we weren’t really looking for it, and were just a tiny dot in the huge ocean.
We had a few more wonderful days of perfect wind and sailing, saw more dolphins and something that we thought might have been a marlin.
I do love sitting on shift and looking up at the stars – so many memories come into my head from this year. It has been so amazing and I can’t believe it is going to be over so soon, that soon we’ll have done it! I will treasure it – the memories – forever.