For blog entries from this amazing journey click here.
The wind howled out of the pitch-black night as I watched the anemometer climb to nearly 30 knots. The sea was running 8 to 12 feet, slapping against our starboard quarter and making for an uncomfortable ride. I clung to the wheel before me as we pounded through the waves. It was 0100, November 23, and the previous morning I had set sail from Las Palmas, on the island of Gran Canaria. I was on a Hanse 461 with two Brits I’d met a few days before, and the next time I would set foot on land would be in St. Lucia, more than 2,700 nautical miles away.
It's All About the Prep
Five days earlier I was standing on the balcony of my hotel room, looking out over Puerto de la Luz and thinking, “Am I really sailing home?” Ever since I was a kid aboard my uncle’s Beetle Cat, I’ve been obsessed with sailing, and after my first offshore sail, a transatlantic crossing beckoned. But the idea of sailing across the Atlantic, or any ocean, was something that always seemed too big to happen, too much of a dream to become a reality. In the weeks leading up to my departure, with all the preparation that had to be done before boarding my flight, I had pushed the fact that I was finally about to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to the back of my mind. I was embarking on an adventure that I’d never forget (and I had no idea what a great icebreaker—“Oh, the tan? I just finished sailing transatlantic,” would be when I returned to New York).
Las Palmas is an ideal location for a transatlantic sendoff. A city that once called Christopher Columbus its mayor, Las Palmas sits on the northeastern shore of Gran Canaria, about 250 nautical miles west of the Sahara. I was taking part in the World Cruising Club’s Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). With help from my YACHTING colleagues and World Cruising Club organizers Jeremy Wyatt and Andrew Bishop, I had found a berth aboard Snark with her crew, Ben Little, the owner and skipper, and his friend Dugald Moore.
At the Muelle Deportivo marina, the masts of the fleet stretched above the piers like the top of a forest. The types of boats participating in the ARC, and the nationalities signaled by their flags, seemed to run the gamut: From Zahara, a Sadler 29 hailing from Great Britain, the smallest entry, to the Swan 112 Highland Breeze, one of the seven vessels flying the U.S. flag and the largest in the fleet, to the sleek Wally 80 Bagheera, the lone Turkish entry. There were vessels hailing from Malaysia, Slovenia, Croatia, Israel— in all 31 nations were represented in the fleet, sailing on an array of yachts, from production boats like Jeanneau, Oyster, and Beneteau, to one-off and custom designs, and high-performance racers.
I found Snark and rapped on the hull. A man with a dishtowel wrapped around his head and a patch on one eye popped up from below. Okay, I thought, second-guessing my choice of vessel, they’re pirates. I’ve signed on to sail across the ocean with two men who think they’re pirates. Great. Ben and Dugald, both 40 and longtime friends from England, welcomed me aboard and handed me an eye patch and dishtowel of my own. Once I learned the inspiration for their attire (the off-color British cartoon The Adventures of Captain Pugwash), I knew we’d probably get along just fine.
After a night of carousing, we set about getting the boat ready for the crossing. We needed to make sure everything was working properly: So we checked the lifelines, the EPIRB, the life jackets and harnesses, the liferaft, the fire extinguishers, the engine, the generator, the watermaker, all of the electronics, the rig, sails, and lines—everything from the keel to the top of the mast. Thanks to Snark’s sound condition and with the help of “Jerry the Rigger,” we were ready to go after a few minor tweaks.