Every Thursday I share a little bit (in sequence) about a wonderful year I spent back in 2010/2011 sailing across the Atlantic (twice) and up through the Caribbean. All the posts are tagged together here if you want to read back! Last week we were exploring the Azores, Jilli flew home, and a new crew of my boyfriend and cousin joined us for the last ocean crossing back to the UK…
We set off from the Azores to home at about 10am on the 7th June 2011. The forecasts were for very light winds but it didn’t actually work out that way – after we had left the protected area in the shade of the islands the winds picked up to 15+ knots and stayed that way all day. It was gorgeous weather in the morning and early afternoon but clouded over in the afternoon and became quite grey – no stars at all overnight and lots of drizzle.
The grey weather continued, as did the good winds. For most of our trip, we had done very little helping (actually steering the boat) whilst at sea. Triple D had a very good autopilot which we could set either to steer to the wind or to GPS coordinates – the autopilot was actually better than us at steering straight through heavy seas (meaning with lots of huge waves). It takes a lot of strength which we just didn’t really have! Plus using the autopilot allowed us to do the important things like read books, nap….. Etc etc! But with the boys on board, my cousin Andy particularly was quite keen to helm, especially as he was experiencing some seasickness. He had us surfing down some huge waves which was great fun and meant we went pretty quickly!
The wind continued to increase over the next few days and the waves got bigger – we spent most of our time wrapped up outside chatting as Andy tried desperately to beat the autopilot’s speed record. By our fifth day out, we were seeing constant winds at Force 7 (about 35mph), gusting gale force 8. It rained all day, mostly drizzle, occasionally torrentially. I didn’t go outside at all!
The waves were immense, towering up above the boat, and then lifting us up onto the crest. We were fully reefed, meaning we were using as little sail as possible to make the boat more stable against the power of the wind but it was the huge waves that were the real problem. The odd one kept catching on the side and rolling us right over, sparking off a conversation about what we would do if Triple D actually broached – fell over onto her side into the water – and we couldn’t right her. The scary thing here was that we actually had a conversation about it, rather than mum just saying “well it would never happen for these reasons”. I wrote in my diary that it was really the first time I’d been scared all year (forgetting about the huge lightning storm in the Bermuda triangle!) thinking about the boat tipping over on my night shift when I was in charge!
As James had only really spent one day on a boat before, let alone done any kind of rough weather sailing, we had given him a seasickness patch which you wear behind your ear and lasts for a few days. However, the main thing it did for James was to put him to sleep! He slept at least 15 hours a day for the first few days, with very vivid dreams. Jilli had had hallucinations on the patch and, strangely, James had a few of the exact same hallucinations, such as lying in bed, holding a book and reading it, seeing the words on the page of this book that didn’t exist very clearly. After the patch wore off, James still felt no seasickness despite the gale force winds.
Seasickness is such a strange thing. Jilli never got over hers. She got better at putting up with it, and was in fact very rarely actually sick, but just felt awful most of the time – even after being on the boat for a year. Andy had done so much sailing, including really rough stuff off the coast of Scotland, and probably had more bad weather experience than we had, and yet he ended up feeling queasy quite often when he was down below. And James had done no sailing at all and also wasn’t seasick at all!
After a pretty sleepless night due to the wind and the waves, we woke up to a slightly calmer morning and were able to put our full sail up. The visibility closed down dramatically overnight as the lack of wind allowed a thick fog to roll in. I saw a ship on the radar but with no sign of any lights, contacted it by radio to make sure they were aware of us. The radio operator confirmed that they had seen us on their radar and that they expected to pass us about a km to our port side (the left). Normally, you should be able to see lights about 5km away but the visibility was so bad that we never saw a single light from this huge tanker and, if it wasn’t for our radar, would never have known it was there. The fog then got even worse so by the time my night shift ended, we couldn’t even see the front of our boat!!
After the excitement of the storm and the fog, we finally had a few days of nice, sunny weather, with dolphins playing alongside us. One of the reasons I had managed to persuade James to come along was by telling him about the stunning sunsets and the fantastic stars at night, the milky way, the planets you could see. But of course, even when it had been a nice day, it clouded over every night before dark and we didn’t get one perfect sunset, nor clear night!
We had started to discuss arriving home and had decided that we would make our first landfall in the UK at Salcombe – where we could treat ourselves to incredible fish and chips and wonderful chocolate crepes. By Tuesday, we were trying not to go too fast so we could time our arrival into Salcombe for first light on Thursday morning. There were gale force winds forecast but luckily they weren’t meant to reach the English Channel until we would be safely back in Portsmouth.
By Wednesday evening we could see the lights of the Lizard – the most southerly point of the UK – just as the sun was setting, and we started seeing so many ships, more than we’d seen in months! James and I had a non-eventful night watch, with lots of boats but we were motoring slowly in very little wind. It was a lovely, clear night, and we could even see the stars!
Then at 4am, on Andy’s shift, everything changed. A huge squall came over and the wind went from 6 to 35 knots in a matter of seconds! Poor Andy put all three reefs in by himself, in the pouring rain, reducing the sail size as much as possible. This wind and the noise of the reefing woke all of us up, plus the boat started to heel over to one side so my nice flat double bed became a hill that I rolled down, landing on top of James! Mum and I got up to see what was happening.
The wind stayed high even after the squall had passed so we were worried that the gale that was forecast had come in early. We weighed up crepes v safety for quite a long time as we used our satellite Internet to download an updated forecast. When we turned the Internet on, we also received emails from several of our friends who had sailed across the Atlantic the first time at the same time as us, knew our plans, and had more experience of sailing in the English channel than us. They warned us not to go to Salcombe as it was not going to be a good anchorage for winds coming in the direction this gale was forecast to come from. It wouldn’t be protected, a huge swell would build, and we might not be able to leave the anchorage for several days even after the storm passed. It seemed a lot to go through for some fish and chips! Eventually we therefore decided to divert to Yarmouth.
The next day at sea, our last full day, was amazing, such a brilliant day. We had constant 25-30 knots of wind from dead behind (the most comfortable wind direction), blue skies and sun, and huge waves and white horses. It was such good fun!
We arrived in Yarmouth just before 9pm, still light as it was almost the longest day of the year. We felt very superior to all the other boats in the marina who had maybe come from Portsmouth.. We had just crossed an ocean! Annoyingly nobody asked us where we had come from… We very quickly headed to a pub for some dinner.
James and Andy had been arguing previously over ‘land sickness’ with James saying he didn’t think it existed and not understanding how it happened. Then as soon as he got off the boat he was falling all over the place – land sickness is a real thing that happens when your body gets used to the constant movement of a boat. As soon as you get off the boat and onto still land, your body still thinks the ground beneath you is moving and so it can be quite hard to keep your balance for the first few minutes!
Our very last sail was a 3-hour sail the morning of 17th June 2011, ten days after we left the Azores. It was very strange and sad sailing past the familiar skyline of Portsmouth. I had felt really sad on my last night shift and even had a little cry, thinking that I hadn’t made enough of the starry skies and full moon, hadn’t appreciated it all enough.
Jilli, Shelly, and Mum’s friend Sarah were all there at the marina waiting for us, wearing party hats and holding a huge banner saying ‘Yay Triple D’. We were home!
The next day everything felt very strange, and I felt that I didn’t really like being off the boat in ‘civilization’. We went into Chichester, a small cathedral city on the south coast, and I found it really overwhelming, there were more people than I had seen all year all walking around, so many fat people, so many teenagers, so many fashionably-dressed people. I wrote in my diary:
It all seems a bit silly! Topshop was all too much – too much stuff, too loud, too many people looking at you, all perfectly made up with perfect hair. I found it very intimidating!
Its funny, you can tell that Jilli has been home for longer than we have. She does everything faster, talks faster, louder, more brashly.
But there was still time for one last Triple D Disaster… Jilli was to drive me to London in her car and I had packed it up with everything I owned. I said goodbye to mum and to the boat, and went to climb off Triple D to go to the car, to drive away. When I dropped the car keys, the only ones we had, into the muddy waters of Chichester Harbour. So my last swim of our year away was not in the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean, but rather, in the dark, muddy, freezing cold waters of Hayling Island in my underwear, where I dug my toes in the mud, feeling around for the keys. I found them, tried to bring them to the surface between my toes, dropped them, found them again and eventually managed to rescue them without having to put my head under the disgusting brown water. Our trip was finally over and I was on my way to start something new in London.
We had a fantastic year, ending on a complete high note with some really exciting sailing. It was just an incredible year and thank you for reading along and indulging me in my nostalgia!!
Where are we now?
Well, I still live in (and love) London, where I work in the middle of the city as a corporate lawyer, trying to go on as many holidays as I possibly can (I’m currently in Colombia!).
Similarly, mum went back to work as a vet and also tries to have as many adventures as possible, including volunteering in Botswana and now joining me in Colombia.
Jilli perhaps is the most shocking of all – after all her seasickness she now actually works on yachts and motorboats and spent last summer travelling through the Mediterranean doing just that!!!