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Dispatches from the Atlantic: And Away We Go

Distance traveled thus far: 202.18 nautical miles.

November 23, 2009

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26° 02.512 N 17° 25.783 W Boat Speed: 8.5 knots Wind Speed: 20-25 knots Magnetic Direction: 225° Distance Traveled Thus Far: 202.18 nautical miles

Sunday morning I woke up like I was six and it was Christmas day. Except, instead of racing downstairs to the tree to see what kind of bounty Mr. Claus left me, I raced through the Plaza Gran Canaria, down the boardwalk along the harbor of Las Palmas, to the Snark. Today, we were setting sail.

The marina was bustling with crowds of boats and people, sailors and spectators, marching bands and singers, and horn players; the Italian classic Volaré rang out over huge loudspeakers and could be heard throughout every inch of the marina. The anticipation and excitement was palpable.

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I got to the Snark and stowed away my gear, which, surprisingly, fit into the one locker I had been allotted. We got the sails ready and made some last minute adjustments, and laid the spinnaker out on deck and got her ready to fly, on the chance the urge would strike (it did). Then we turned on the motor, loosed the lines, and just like that, I was on my way across the Atlantic.

The harbor was a traffic nightmare. In addition to the 209 yachts competing in the event, there were hundreds of dinghies, small fishing boats, and ribs zigzagging back and forth between the boats, and two vessels from the Gran Canaria Fire Department spraying massive arches of water from their hoses. But we managed to jockey our way to the starting line, and after a short stretch of dodging boats and getting our wind stolen, we set a course, flew the kite, and-to quote Ben “cut through the fleet like a knife through butter.” Before we knew it, we were with only a handful of the other cruisers, and a glance astern showed a fleet of more than a hundred yachts under full sail, their colorful kites flying full in 18 knots of breeze, framed by the beautiful hills of Gran Canaria and the colorful buildings of Las Palmas. The wind grew over the next hour and when it hit 20 knots we dropped the kite and unfurled the Genoa, still making a pleasant clip that averaged 8.6 knots and hitting a high of 12.6 knots (which is equal to or perhaps a little better than the cruising speed of the Trumpy motoryacht I used to work aboard). Before I knew it, we were talking about the night shifts, Ben was downstairs making up the chicken curry and rice, and the sun was setting off our starboard. I took the helm while Ben and Dugald ate dinner, then Dugald took over for the start of the first night shift, I washed the salt and sun block off my face, and bedded down for a little bit of sleep (key words: a little bit).

Running with only the three of us, we’ve set up a routine of three, four-hour solo shifts. Dugald would take the first shift, from 1600-0000, at which point in time I would take over, and steer the boat until 0400, when it was Ben’s turn to take the helm. The first night, this plan didn’t go so smoothly. The wind and seas built all day, and by 2200 there were sporadic 15-foot swells and winds of 25+ knots. I finally managed to doze off around 2130 but about a half hour later was awakened by a giant bang and then crashing noises, the sounds of feet scrambling, muffled shouting, and the sound of lines winched to full load. We had jibed. Nothing out of the ordinary, but when you’re sleeping almost directly beneath the mast and your sky-lights go to the foredeck directly beneath the Genoa, these small, ordinary maneuvers can sound like all hell is breaking loose and you’re on your way to Davy Jones’s locker. After that, I slept sporadically-a few minutes here, a few minutes there-until it was time for me to get dressed and head on deck to take the helm. The wind was gusting almost to 30 and the seas were rough. Dugald suggested I wake Ben and that we put a reef in the main. We did both. After that, she behaved like a proper lady, and held her course without much fuss and Ben returned to his berth. At 0400 I woke him for his watch, put the log entry into his computer (we file a log every four hours), and went to bed. This time, I slept quite well. A sunrise jibe brought me out of my bunk briefly, but it was well managed by Ben, and I went back to sleep until morning. When the sun rose, there was no land in sight. None. All I could see was the sky, the clouds, and the deep, dark, beautiful and foreboding blue of the ocean. No doubt about it, we were now crossing the Atlantic.

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