We made it to the Caribbean but the boat sunk...
Trip Start Nov 04, 2009
65Trip End Jan 05, 2015
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The first leg of the crossing was from Las Palmas to Cabo Verde. I did it on a german catamaran but got off together with another three members of crew (I think I started a riot : ) as the captain was mad (not a safe choice to cross the Atlantic with).
If you see the pictures you will see him hanging upside down on the boat in the middle of the ocean....he is the white haired Batman!
Off the boat in Cabo Verde it took me two weeks to find another passage but it finally happened. I was very happy and I got rewarded by the fact that the boat was beautiful, the captain was very experienced and the crew lovely.
(Bearing in mind that I have written and published the tale already but lost it as the internet connection was bad here in Bolivia, some of the events and dates might be mismatched, but it shouldn't be a problem since you were not there : )
The crossing between Cabo Verde and Saint Martin took us 14 days. Here is how it went:
Day 1: The first day at sea was quite rocky, waves got big as soon as the boat hit the ocean once out of the island's cover.
Each person takes a different amount of time to adjust to the rocking of the boat. It could happen immediately, it could take a few hours or for the average person up to 12 hours.
Everything moves, and with it all your muscles.
Yes you do get seasick, no doubt about it. Even the most experienced sailors do, it's natural and rare for someone not to feel funny when your bowels included rock with the boat.
I would say the first day was busy, because of the adjusting to the sea and because the night before we had had a drink on the boat, a shot of caribbean rum (Varadero) with cane sugar and local lime. Local lime means from Cabo Verde, Africa. That I think is where I got food poisoning from, else called explosive diarrhea. We squeezed the lime in the cups, and I do not know if it had been washed, or even if I got ED from that.
The only certainty is that I would be stuck to the toilet at sea while rocking from side to side. Great!
Not the most practical thing to have when the next day prospect is to be getting sea sick too.
So in between the two I was caught between a rock and a hard place.
In the toilet it was difficult to avoid being banged from side to side, what a show!
At night, during the first shift I saw a cargo ship, one of those container carriers that travel at up to 30 knots per hour (very fast at sea) and not always have guards on duty checking out for small boats.
Especially dangerous a situation as small boats (ours was 15 meters), compared to the 200 meters cargo boats, not always use navigation lights in order to save energy.
At night, in the dark and in the distance it is not so easy to understand the direction of other boats and their speed. You need to have an idea of how to understand them, i.e. a little of experience.
Individual guard shifts would last two hours. so after the others had done theirs, my next one would be every six hours: 2-4am, 10-12am,18-20 and then 2-4am again...
Day 2: My travel companion, explosive diarrhea was still there, so together with my other friend Imodium we were having a party at sea!
At night, again, during my guard, very little was happening until I saw a small green light in the distance. At first I thought it was a boat, then, as we were traveling at an average speed of 7 knots, as we were getting close to it, I thought it was only a small boat.
Suddenly the object was next to the boat, to the left side, at some 10 meters, and I panicked. I saw two green lights one on top of the other and it just went past the boat's left side very fast. This is definitely dangerous as if it had been a net, or an object, you could suddenly hit it for miscalculating the speed of mutual approach and be in serious trouble.
The next day I asked the captain, a canadian guy called Jules, who has almost 40 years sailing experience, what could it have been, and he produced a book with all the types of possible navigation lights. It looked like it was the lights of the tower of a submarine.
In the past a few times submarines have accidentally hit and sunk boats . Whatever it was, we got lucky.
Day 3: The spanish guy, Gitan, cooked a potato and pepper tortilla.
On the boat we were on, you could have cooked anything, it was a beautiful 15 meters cruising boat with a fully equipped kitchen.
Everyday we would take turns in cooking. The crew was made up of Jules (51), the canadian captain, Anne a french girl from Normandy (24) and Gitan (31) a spanish guy from Ibiza (originally form the Basque country).
We had two teams, me and Anne, and Gitan and Jules. One guy would cook and the other clean up, and the next day it would be the other team's turn.
The tortilla was amazing, Gitan would prove over time to be a very good cook, same as Jules, who would cook pies (so he would be like a grandma to us) and I did my best to represent at sea the country of the sea and the sun (do' mare e do' sole!).
The other highlight of the third day was that we finally took a shower. We would not use clean water, so we would tie a line out of the boat's stern, get in the water and either hold the line or tie the line around our waist to secure ourselves. Up to when the boat travels at below 6 knots you can attach yourself to the line; after that it gets difficult whether you are tied or holding the line simply. The friction of your body in the water is too great. So you get in and out of the water to get wet, to apply soap and then to rinse yourself. Finally you get on the poop of the boat and rinse yourself with as little clean water as possible.
Day 4: The wind grew stronger so we decided to try out the spinnaker, a beautiful, light and technical sail that literally pulls the boat from the bow in a perpendicular way compared to the main sails, which are set parallel to the boat's axis. The result is usually a faster pace, even thought that really depends on the weight of the boat. Our boat was 10,000 kilos plus 4,000 kgs of provisions (water, food) and appliances. Not a lightweight.
Still the spi always does a good job, as it gets full of air with the lightest blow of wind. The only problem with the spi is that it is irascible, similar to a stallion. You never know when something might excite it so you need to monitor it constantly and be ready to react swiftly and firmly.
The worst than can happen is that a sudden rush of wind will blow into the spi and the latter will pull the boat towards the water surface on one side or another and cause the boat to capsize. So, guess what? It did happened to us of course. Within an hour of having it out, a rush of wind came and tilted the boat by 80 degrees. Fortunately Jules is a very experienced and most of all calm sailor. So he gave us the order to release a particular line which caused the spi to relax and so the boat went back to the normal cruising inclination.
As a consequence of the sudden rush of wind the spi actually ripped by 20-30 cm. So we took it down. This operation is not a walk in the park. It requires quite a few arms. If the spi is a new generation one it will have a condom-like "jacket" that you will pull down on it in order to reduce its surface and cause it to collapse in an orderly way. If your spi is older, then you will have to pull it in by hand, meaning one person releases the lines, the other steers the wheel and at least two people pull in the sail. Our sail had a 175 sqm surface.
You have to be fast in pulling it in as if it gets in the water it could get caught in the propeller, whether the engine is on or not.
After the scare we had we were glad to pull it down as it would mean...calm...
Just bear in mind that if you are not quick in pulling it down and a rush of wind blows it opened again you ll be jumping up in the air by meters....
Jules and Gitan fixed the spi for the next day.
This night it was my turn to cook. I prepared an amatriciana, a typical roman pasta dish, dressed with a sauce made of: canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, garlic, (a lot of) pepper and pancetta.
Considering the constant movement of the boat it was a great success.
It came out well and everybody loved it. It very quickly disappeared from the plates....
Jules baked a chocolate cake that went the same direction and at equal speed...
Day 5: Next day's reading of the map said we had covered a third of the distance to the Caribbean, 720 miles, so we were doing well.
Sharp as a swiss watch we put out the spi again and this time it did not break, though the same scenario as the previous day occurred. The boat almost capsized once again but on the other side.
Though, Captain Jules was in control and fixed it again: " release that line", and that was it! Taking the spi down, this time we struggled in 3. We didn't have any issue, but the strength of the wind was felt greatly. Gitan and Anne almost flew up in the air at least once because of sudden wind rushes.
Around lunch time Gitan was on the deck looking at the horizon. Nothing but water and sun and wind. Next thing, we heard him shout.
He was calling us up to the deck to see a herd of 20-30 dolphins. We all had the same thought. Do we go down to get the cameras or do we stay out here and enjoy the show?
You never know how long they will spend swimming and jumping around the boat. So you don't want to risk it.
Though, we all went for it, so we all got footage of it. I have a 5 minutes long video, but it is not ready yet, I need to trim it, as in parts of it I was moving the camera too much. Trying to maintain the balance as the boat was moving (fast) and following with a small camera the very fast and irregular movements of the mammals proved very difficult.
Still, what a joy. It is one of those natural shows you would never get tired of. So much strength and elegance combined!
Today it was Gitan's turn to cook and he prepared a lentil and chorizo soup.
As much as I have never been very keen on warm drinks and foods, this trip of mine commands mental elasticity. Sometimes it is the only available option, whether on a boat or out in the world. And it actually works out perfectly to drink or eat liquids when you need it the most....................
His soup was amazing. Over time Gitan would prove to be a very good cook indeed.
Before the sunset we had an atlantic shower. Always a pleasure to feel clean but especially fun, to risk loosing the grip and finding yourself in the middle of the Atlantic when rinsing your hair : )
The shower of death!!
Day 6: Today's highlight must be the discovery of a ham's leg. The kind that you see in spanish tapas bars where they carve ham slices in front of you and serve you a portion of jamon serrano. I found it in the compartment that supposedly stored the wind jackets for the night guards. It was hanging in there.
Jules had started the journey a month earlier with Anne and a french couple and sailed past the Lion's Gulf (in between the spanish border and the french city of Tolone) where they endured a few days of 54 knots storms!! They had gone past Gibraltar where they had bought it.
As I took it out and up to the deck and started cleaning it, Anne nicknamed it Ramon (the jamon).
As part of the superficial meat had gone off due to the high level of humidity out at sea (when you are surrounded by water at 360 degrees it is humid, yes!)
I had to brush it and rinse it in order for it to be edible. I then hanged it out to dry in the sun. We said to ourselves we would have it the next day. After 5 hours we were having a tapas aperitivo in the middle of the Atlantic!!! What an impulsive crew!!
Day 7: Looking at the provisions to decide on what to cook I found 6 bottles of Prosecco and one of red wine.
Jules had bought the boat a year and a half earlier only from an italian lady who had left onboard a lot of canned tomatoes and these bottles of wine. Great woman!! Great present!!!!! So we started having Prosecco, olives and pate' based aperitivos in the Atlantic.
One of the empty bottles I actually used to write a message in the bottle. Hopefully wherever it gets to, people will speak english!!
The weather this day was bad, it had started raining and we were going towards a storm. The boat was rocking a lot.
There were two swells coming from opposite directions at us.
The boat was at bay of the waves and on top of that there was the movement of the direction of the boat. Two is better than one, and three is better than two, as we would say in Italy : )
Since everybody was feeling seasick and it was my turn (lucky me!) to cook, I decided to warm up the left overs of Gitan's soup and cook some rice to go with it.
But, there is always a but. Eduard, a proper evil genius, decided to take initiative.
Instead of following the advice to use 1 third of sea water and two thirds of sweet water to boil the rice, I went for two thirds of sea water and one of sweet water. The result was a not edible rice. Being a capricorn though, I could not bring myself to admit that it was terrible, I ate it for the next 2 meals. Everybody else had a spoon and a half of it and threw the rest at sea.
Before dinner we had a shower. Ahhhh. Drying ourselves we would think what a cool shower. No water spilling out of the shower, no tent sticking to our bodies, no steamy mirrors, only the sunset to frame the moment...
Day 8: On this day the sun was out again and we were traveling at around 5 knots, so not very fast. Jules was in his cabin and the three of us were sitting by the stern enjoying the light breeze. It was late afternoon and we suddenly smelt something that reminded us of marijuana.
It couldn't be, we thought to ourselves. Then we realized it actually was the case that our cool captain had retreated to his cabin to enjoy a joint. At that point, Anne, who had traveled with him for longer and had more confidence with him started making fun of him about it. So I took my chance and told him as a joke that he should share! And so he did, after the sunset he rolled a pure one (no tobacco in it) and we smoked it before dinner.
The air was warm, the sky was clear, you could see million of stars as usual, but this time you "understood" them!!
What a trip I had! A joint is a joint, but a joint in the middle of the ocean is the best of all times! The boat was tilted by some 60 degrees, so I felt like I was falling off the seat.
The wind was blowing on my head and Jules had put on a nepalese style chillout cd. I have had a lot of joints in my life (between 14 and 19 yrs). Call me bad or call the police, nothing takes away the fact that this time I had the best ever, and yet deep inside I wished my friends were there, especially Gianluca and Dudi who were meant to come on the trip with me.
How true that the best sensations are best if shared!
It was Gitan's turn again to cook. He prepared a salad with potatoes, carrots, onions and pickles.
If you have a toxic past you will know that a joint gives you a cosmic hunger.
You would eat the leafs of your living room plant and think they taste amazing. So I had this salad for dinner and almost touched the sky. In truth the salad was not made better by the purest marijuana of the Atlantic, it was indeed a very good salad!
Day 9: Another cake come out of the oven at Jules hands. This time a lemon cake.
For lunch I cooked another roman pasta dish, a carbonara (egg, pancetta, pepper and parmesan cheese). We had it in the sun with some Prosecco. Another point for Italy : )
At night me and Gitan would supposedly share a cabin.
In truth we did not love the idea as the cabin was a rear one, meaning a narrow one, it could have fitted a couple sleeping the "spoon" way.
Gitan and me decided upon departure that we would rather leave the spoons in the kitchen....so we devised a system whereby we would sleep in turns in the cabin (on the bed) and in the dinette (on the sofa).
Sleeping on the sofa meant fresh air coming in down the staircase, but a lot of noises: the provisions would move and bang inside the wooden compartments. The pots, cutlery and the food and bottles in the fridge would connive with the noise of the waves crushing on the side of the boat, the boat entering the waves, the lines and metal strings banging against the mast and boom, the sails slapping because of the changing wind, the boom and the wooden interior design squeaking.
It all felt like a Stomp concert. Stomp is a NY based group I believe, who makes music by playing random objects such as dust bins, match boxes, brooms and so on. Very cool, But for a theatre, not to fall asleep with : )
On the other hand, in the cabin you would have the same noises, but to a reduced extent, as you could close the door. Still, if the engine was on, because of a lack of wind you would hear it right in your ears (it was placed underneath our bed) and the cabin would get really hot. So the best option really was the dinette!
Day 10: Bad weather again, the sky looked menacing, towers of clouds 2-3 km high on the horizon were sign of trouble. Luckily we moved along with them and did not get caught in any storm.
Another lemon cake came out of the oven, thanks to grandma Jules!
In the meantime Gitan was trying his best to fish. For a few days he had been unlucky but he would not give up. Great attitude!
Back home he was a fireman, so fishing was just a hobby.
Before dinner we showered in the ocean as usual.
Day 11: On this day Anne brought out of some remote place a big jar of Nutella. We all indulged like kids and the whole jar lasted a few breakfasts only.
After the proximity of the storm the clouds moved away along the sky and the wind followed suit. We had to run the engine for most of the day as we reached 0.4 knots of speed, not an option!
Due to the lack of wind the sun felt very hot. At sunset time we swam in the ocean and then showered.
At night we were about to watch James Bond's Doctor No, the one set in Jamaica with Ursula Andress.....please take your time in imagining the appearance of a hot swede on tv in the middle of the ocean......werevolves on the Atlantic : )
Right before we started the movie, Gitan caught a fish. We pulled it in, he killed it, in fact the fish drawned, believe it or not!!
As he had been caught he had opened its mouth to resist being pulled in on the boat and in the struggle he kept its mouth opened and drawned. That is when I learnt that fishes can drawn too.
They "breath" through the gills, but if they open their mouth they too can drink and drawn.
So Gitan pulled it in and cut it to pieces, placed it in a plastic bag and in the fridge for the next day to cook.
During the night guard the brightest stars would be reflected in the water.
Together with the plancton which is fluorescent at night, the lights all around would blend.
A myriad of lights would surround us. On top of it, the moon's reflection on the flat water looked like a fire anaconda making it's way on a liquid desert. Amazing effects.
Day 12: No wind again, engine on again, the sun was blazing hot and punishing us for having eaten so much Nutella probably.
So we decided to put up a curtain to create some shadow.
The sea at this point resembled an oil flat.
I assume very few people had the luck or misfortune to see the ocean so calm. It was surreal. It looked like a lake. Not a wave, almost no crisps on it.
We decided to put a curtain to create some shadow.
With the curtain on, the boat looked like a chill out lounge.
At sunset we swam in the ocean and then showered. The colors of the sunset reflected on the flat water looked like a chill out album cover.
Even though it was not his turn, Gitan cooked a tomato fish soup.
He told us it was a typical Basque dish. It was amazing.
And it was crowned by Jules' oven cooked bread, similar to a tuscan bread, with a crunchy thick crust. Wow, what a lunch!!
For dinner, Jules cooked a french dish, a tartiflette, an oven cooked mix of potatoes, onions, pancetta and cheese.
Definitely not the lightest dinner at sea, in fact a winter dish, still, it was amazing, we accompanied it with red wine and devoured it!
Day 13: Very little wind again, once again we were boiling in the sun. We put up the curtain again and the relazed in the shadow.
It felt like being in Ibiza (although I have not been yet).
We swam with gusto in the ocean and then took a shower in that mystically flat Atlantic ocean.
Day 14: the wind came back slowly and painfully as the provisions were running out, especially sweet water, so we were by then very keen to get to destination.
At night, during my 2-4am guard I thought I was seeing a very large boat on the horizon. As we moved along and got closer it became clear that the lights I was seeing were actually those of the islands of the Caribbean.
We could make out St Barthelemy to our left, Anguilla to our right, and Saint Martin in front of us.
Saint Martin is half french (capital Marigot), half dutch (capital Philipsburg), east of Cuba and Puerto Rico.
By 7 am the sun came up and we could see very clearly everything in details. As we got closer to the islands the boats passing us by, grew in size. This area of the Caribbean in particular sees very wealthy tourism.
As we got to the harbor in Marigot around 9am, we went straight to the patrol station to fuel up the boat as Gitan and me would get off here, whereas Jules and Anne would continue to Cuba.
We set foot on land for the first time in fourteen days. The effect was the inverse one to that of getting seasick when setting foot on the boat for the first time. We were wobbling like drunk men. It all went away after a few beers...
The funniest and yet saddest part of the story, as the title suggests is that the boat went on to sail to Cuba, and there it recently hit a reef and sunk. I spoke to the captain a few days ago and he told me that it all happened in one minute. Gone. He is now hoping the insurance will give him money so he can buy a new one. Fingers crosses. It is like getting back on a horse after falling. So we were the one and only crew to cross the Atlantic with Raison d' eraison!