A Sailor-Girl’s Diary of an Atlantic Ocean Crossing
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
After covering 3,000 miles cruising through the Med, enjoying castles, fortresses, fine food and well manicured moorings along the way, then another 3,000 out in the Atlantic, tasting the spices of Morocco and the surf and raw volcanic beauty of the Canary Islands; we were ready to take on that bad boy. 2,800 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to Rodney Bay, St Lucia.
We chose to cross this ocean as part of the ARC Atlantic Rally - for reasons of making it a bit more exciting, (Jackson’s background in sailing is mostly tied to racing) and for a bit of added safety on our first big ocean crossing.
I’m Xanthe, First Mate on Finding Avalon; and here’s my version of events…
Day 1 - D-Day
Today is the day we have been working towards for the last six months - we are embarking on a 2,800 nautical mile sailing rally across the Atlantic Ocean. An approximated 21 days at sea; no land in sight; no real shower to speak of; no access to the outside world. Just myself, Jackson -The Captain (both of my heart and of my ship), our friend Luke and my marvellous dad.
We steered to the start line, circled by the other 279 boats in the fleet, prancing across our bow like show ponies and all flying rainbows of assorted spinnakers. The air was pregnant with excitement and celebration and the magnitude of what we were about to do dawned on me.
The whole crew jolted in surprise as the klaxon sounded, and we made a bold start. Heading wide to avoid the wind shadow of the island. Momentarily second guessing ourselves when other ships in the fleet chose different courses - Some stayed tight to the island and others headed wider than us even. Unaffected by the curiosity of ‘I wonder if they know something we don’t.’ We held our line.
We were flanked by dozens of ships, which within an hour became a handful, and by the evening became one or two.
Day 2 - Off to a Strong Start
The day swung round after a smooth night with consistent breeze of 15-20 knots dead downwind. To both our shock and delight, we saw a familiar boat pop up behind us on our navigation computer. Wight Spirit, a Contest 55 belonging to my friend Charlie and his family, who were also taking part in the rally. A boat theoretically much faster than ours. After a little banter back and forth on the radio, we discovered that all the boats who took the inshore route got stuck in the wind shadow of the island and endured an uncomfortable and slow night of becalment. Finding Avalon had a head start! It was comforting to see the emerald glow of Wight Spirit’s starboard navigation light float past our bow on my second night watch.
Day 3 - Fish on!
Perhaps it was an uneventful day, or the excitement of the fish makes me forget anything else happened today. He was so beautiful. A blue mahimahi who looked just like a watercolour painting and the perfect size for the four of us to wrangle and eat. Truly a gift. Sadly this gorgeous creation of nature became a taco, but the taco was pretty much a work of art if I don’t say so myself.
Day 4 - Less of a Joy
If the high seas and bumpy swell weren’t enough to disappoint; our dear fishing rod, Rodrigo got busted. All the fish recipes circling my head vanished in a puff of smoke. I still have a feeling Jackson might save the day. I’m blessed with a very resourceful and supremely handy man in my life.
Stop. Wait. I drew the line under day 4 way too early. It turned out to be the best day ever. DOLPHINS AT SUNSET! Plus, Jackson made a sumptuous spag bol for dinner and said that we can have our first fresh water shower rations tomorrow.
Day 5 - After the Butter Melts; Head West
9am: Shattered; flattened; sore in the throat and eyeballs. I watch through the hatch window above my bed, Jackson is on deck changing the sails. I watch his hands on the whisker pole very much wishing they were wrapped around me. Opportunities for intimacy are scarce in between sailing/ boat duties and pure tiredness. The boom slides into view; the mainsail is hoisted.
We’ve chosen a conservative sail plan to weather us through the ferocious winds and high seas that have graced us with their presence over the past few days. They are not due to wane for another four. We sail with just the jib at night, then hoist the main at dawn to flow into a regular goose-wing set-up from sunrise to sunset.
Excited that the moving sails signify Jackson’s watch nearing an end, I lie in eager anticipation. To my delight, we are entangled in each other’s arms within minutes. I’ve been waiting for this moment all week.
Well We’ve Made it to Day 7
…And we haven’t eaten each other (yet) or abandoned ship; but I’m having an off day. The pressures of scarce sleep, hours at the helm and the emotional exhaustion brought on from living on a 38 foot boat with three boys has made me buckle. I involuntarily burst into tears at random times in the day, only feel like eating bland food and feel like I could sleep for a million years (except if only I could actually sleep for one minute).
I fade throughout the day and without question, the boys muddle together to cover my daytime watch. I feel carried and thankful for my crew.
Day 8 - A Miracle
I had been doubting the hand line Jackson had rigged up off the back of the boat in lieu of the late Rodrigo. I emerged from my pit for some ginger tea and fresh air. Luke was at the helm and looked my way through the companionway hatch with a face like a cat who got the cream… Or should I say the sailor that caught TWO mahimahi.
It’s all kinds of emotional landing a fish on the boat. Not least because such a magnificent creature has sacrificed its life to feed us. On a small boat, feelings are so infectious, so the buzz of triumph and excitement from all four of us ripples through us and multiplies.
Day 9 - Half Way Day Baby
9 days in; 9 days to go (should absolutely everything go to plan). The chart plotter shows we have travelled more than 1,400 miles - we can call this half way day!
Jackson and I had stashed away Luke and Neil’s respective favourite European beers as a surprise for this day. We clinked the bottles together in celebration of our amazing progress. Some people don’t even cover this distance in a season; that’s pretty huge.
Days 10, 11, 12 and 13 Flow On
This is my world now. I’ve adapted to it and it’s becoming hard to remember what life was like before we became residents of Neptune’s garden. We are in a rhythm, life is cruisy; this is the new normal. I start to fear that I’ve developed a case of Stockholm Syndrome and that once we hit land I’ll want to turn the boat right around and return to my ‘home’ out on the open ocean. To continue to the normality of my breakfast cereal dancing in my bowl every morning, my ‘uniform’ of a lifejacket and orange wet weather overalls and my daily view of an endless expanse of blue.
We’ve been assigned permanent watch slots so that we can get into a routine. Mine is 5am to 8am (good), but as the time zones change, that will shift to 3am to 6am by the time we arrive in St. Lucia (headfuck). I strive to maintain as consistent of a routine as possible; allowing grace for days the sailing conditions dictate a different schedule, or indeed, days I feel out of sorts. Out of sorts days mostly entail sleeping and sobbing into my pillow.
8am: Put the fishing line out. Jackson takes over from my watch and we share breakfast together.
8.30am: Walk around the deck and inspect the rigging for any loose screws or signs of wear.
9am: Yoga - How, you ask? Well it involves many modifications and holding onto things.
11am: Probably passed out from feeling gooey after yoga and meditation.
Noon: Salt water bucket shower on the transom deck.
12:30pm: Dry off by sun baking on the deck with a good book.
1pm: Lunch (cooking if it’s my day; washing up if it’s not)
2pm: Video editing for our YouTube channel, ‘Finding Avalon’
4pm: Snack, get changed for my watch then hang out in the cockpit with dad for the last few minutes of his watch. I’ll usually play my ukulele during this time, which dad will readily critique.
5pm: On watch.
7pm: Autopilot goes on and we all sit down together to eat dinner.
8pm: Jackson takes over from my watch. I stay up with him for 20 minutes to stargaze. On average we see 12 shooting stars between us during this time.
8.30pm: Write in my journal
9pm: (Try to) Sleep
Day 15 - Mermaid Once More
Luke is not happy; Jackson is not overjoyed either. The wind has dropped off and we are becalmed. The sails come down and the engine hums in their stead. I am secretly in bliss about the situation as it means we finally get to go SWIMMING BABY.
I can’t remember the last time I spent 15 days without a full dunk in the sea. I was becoming a hollow husk of the woman I once was without my daily medicine. I jumped off the bow of Finding Avalon into the deep blue; the deepest blue I’ve ever been in to that point. The water metaphorically, or perhaps literally, washes away every bad thought, every grain of dirt and source of anxiety that had accumulated on the passage. Pure alchemy.
Everything feels better today, I’m 10 x more productive and am giving out smiles like free candy.
Day 14 - Baked Goods
I baked bread - success! …But it got devoured by the crew in 5 minutes flat - Less desired.
Day 16 - (Night actually)
I wake up in the night to an orchestra of clanging and snapping noises. No inkling of the hour, no time to check; besides, time doesn’t really exist at sea so it’s relevance wasn’t strong anyhow. Rushing out into the cockpit in my pyjamas; everyone is out there. The weather came back and made quite the announcement.
A gust had come out of nowhere and Finding Avalon accidentally gybed (this is when the wind gets caught on the wrong side of the mainsail and causes the boom to uncontrollably crash to the other side of the boat - it’s very dangerous and can have catastrophic consequences). The boat was overpowered and the gybe couldn’t be reversed, so as a team we set to reviving her back to her course, and put three reefs in the mainsail for god measure.
Adrenaline was coursing through my veins when I returned to my cabin, and minimal kip was had before my own watch. Dread filled my entire being when my alarm sounded. My body and eyelids much like lead, lay heavy in the bed as I contemplated how the hell I was to muster energy to spring into action.
Day 17 - All The Feels
I looked at the chart plotter and saw we only had 400 miles to go. I felt something at last. The end was finally in sight and what was left of the trip was a piece of cake. 400 miles is a normal passage for Jackson and I - Greece to Malta, Gibraltar to Morocco for example. I gave myself permission to feel excited about reaching our destination.
We were still eating like kings (and queen) by this point. I was proud of myself for the killer job I had done on provisioning for the trip. Onions, pumpkin, cabbage, sweet potatoes, oranges, limes, halloumi cheese and beef patties still going strong. Mealtimes are our saviour out on the ocean. The one constant of the day and a time for communion. Even if it did need to be served in a jar half the time to prevent unintentional food fights with the floor.
Dad whipped up burritos for lunch and I topped the day off with gourmet burgers for dinner.
Day 19 - The Day We Had Begun To Forget Was Coming
The excitement of seeing land came before the actual sighting of land. Each of us were individually excited about different things - Luke about going to the rum bar and getting hold of some clean clothes. Jackson about finally getting to relax and enjoy a destination without the burden of preparing to skipper a boat across an ocean. Dad about seeing mum; and myself about moving my body in all the ways I’ve missed - swimming, yoga, running, dancing.
Our first encounter with St Lucia could not have been more romantic. As we turned round the headland to the leeward side of the island, the sun was sinking into the sea against a canvas of ochre and unicorn pink. Captain Jackson commandeered the boat into a gybe and for the first time in 20 days she was on a lean. I dare say very few monohull sailors would disagree that there is an inexplicable thrill that bubbles up inside when you feel her power up and tip to a heal.
Passing through the finish line, every emotion raced through me. On top of the list was a feeling of accomplishment. I was proud of my crew and proud of my boat.
After a klaxon-filled warm welcome from all the boats in the harbour as we coasted through, my bare feet descended to land. It felt like a hug from an old friend; sweetly comforting and belonging. We took our jelly legs and discombobulated heads to the shower block and the rum bar respectively and celebrated our little accolade.
Don’t ask me to try and remember the rest of the night; but the crossing I will never forget.
You can follow the journey of Finding Avalon from the day Xanthe and Jackson set off to buy the boat up until wherever they find themselves today via their YouTube channel. Here they post weekly videos of their adventures. if you would like to support their production why not become a member of their Patreon crew.