Dispatches from the Atlantic: Straight to the Top

Associate Editor Christopher White checks in with another update from the Atlantic.

November 25, 2009

Transatlantic, baby!

24°55.209N 20°45.465W Boat Speed: 7.5 knots Wind Speed: 15-17 knots Magnetic Direction: 255° Distance Traveled Thus Far: 402.35 nautical miles When I was 18 years old I lived out of a Volkswagen Jetta with my brother Andy for a couple of months while we drove cross-country. One night in Texas, I remember looking up at the stars, and thinking that I’d never seen such a stunning nightsky. In New Mexico, I saw a sunrise over the desert that I thought was as perfect as they come. This morning, as I sat at the helm for my 0400-0800 watch and gazed at the stars, then watched a sunrise so untouched and perfect it was like the wing of a butterfly, I felt a tinge of sorrow, because those old moments had been absolutely dwarfed by what I’d just seen on watch. Our second night at sea was much better than our first. The winds and seas lay down and everyone got a better night’s sleep. Ben awoke around 0730 and joined me on deck, cheerful and rested. The weather was gorgeous, and, with the winds calmed, our autopilot (which is named George) could better manage the helm. “Well,” Ben said, after a quick call to the wife back in England with the Iridium 9555, “how about some fishing?” Ben rigged the rod and dropped a line into the water off the stern. We put the kettle on and I had a bowl of cereal and some tea and sat at the helm reading Catch-22, keeping an eye out to make sure George wasn’t getting fussy, and basking in the early morning sun of the southern Atlantic. (To my colleagues back in the New York office, I swear this day contained hard work!) Dugald got up and joined us on deck for some breakfast and tea, and once we were all fed and awake, we assessed out situation and made some decisions. We had been working on a southerly route almost since we began, jibing once and heading west briefly the first night when we were clear of Las Palmas and its wind shadow. Now, we decided that we would jibe again and set a westerly course, and with the drop in the wind, take a reef out of the main and unfurl the Genoa completely. After we set our course, we got to work. We had put a second reef in the main on Monday, and the weight of the sail had unfortunately snapped a tiny plastic ring at the top spreader that held our starboard lazy-jacks up. Ben had tied the main with some spare line, and decided we’d wait for a calmer day when one of us (me) could go up the mast and fix it. Well, today it was calmer. For those of you who have never been to the top of a mast, let me try and describe it. Every inch the boat pitches when you are on deck is about six-inches more of pitch higher up the mast-at the top, that increases to nearly a foot. So even in the calm waters of a marina, a gentle wake can feel like a typhoon-in an ocean swell, well, it is not for those afraid of heights, a tendency toward motion sickness, or enough smarts to talk their way out of it. Stupidly, I volunteered. Ben and I went over the plan. I would strap on the harness, tie into the spinnaker halyard, and head up the mast to the top spreader (about 23 meters off the deck). On my way up, I would un-jam the line from where it had tangled around the radar and become wedged between a spreader, continue to the top, hook the new line to the old line using the bowline tied there, and come back down, pausing to put some sail tape on the main where it had rubbed against the spreader-mere child’s play for a man of Rambo-like masculinity like myself. I strapped in and gave the thumbs up and before I knew it I was hanging on with both arms and legs, trying to grip the mast and keep myself on it as the boat pitched back in forth in the swells. After a few snags and catches (the halyard got jammed in the radar, the lazy-jack line got stuck) I was at the top, staring out around me for as far as I could see at the vast Atlantic Ocean. It stretched on, seemingly without end, fading gently to a fine hazy line where the blues of the sea met the blues of the sky. It was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. When I came down, like a child after a roller coaster, I begged “You need anything else up there fixed? Let’s do it again!” There are yachts in the ARC that aren’t having as good a time as we are. A vessel lost its rudder the first night and had to be abandoned; apparently it had been slowly sinking. The crew was picked up by a rescue vessel and would be back in Las Palmas by morning. A Mayday call had been placed around 0630 this morning, though it broke into static before identifying itself or giving coordinates. There were steady radio announcements all day from a rescue helicopter, in English and Spanish, stating the last known coordinates and asking for vessels in the area to lend assistance. A conversation between several boats began in the afternoon as one yacht asked if anyone out there had an impeller for their generator. But on the Snark, we were lucky, with good seas, fair winds, sunshine, and plenty of laughs. But for the sake of a fellow mariner, does anyone out there have an impeller for a generator (and a really good Fed-Ex account)?


How do you take your tea?Here on the Snark, there’s a name for everything. ** ****Black with no sugar, or a black-none:** Whoopi Goldberg ******Black with sugar, or black and sweet:** Beyoncé ******White with no sugar, or a white-none:** Julie Andrews

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