By Daryl K Moistner
January 20, 2008
I just happenstanced on a you tube video showing some amateurs involved in a round the world sailboat race in the southern oceans…..Now there are many sailboat excursions in the world and across its oceans but the thing that impressed on me with this small video clip is that the people involved had zero experience for such an undertaking.
Now I have always wanted to sail across an Ocean having read many adventurous accounts from Dougal Robertson’s Survive the Savage Sea to Steve Callahan’s Adrift, to Jonathan Neale’s Lost at Sea., but because of the time and expense involved in acquiring the necessary skills to get myself lost at sea, I pretty much figured my relationship with sailing would be confined to books and occasional walks along the piers of various marinas. But this small video has now busted open this world of blue water sailing …in a matter of 5 minutes I have realized it is not only possible for me to sail across an ocean, but that it is possible for me to sail across an ocean now with absolutely no experience what so ever.
I just have to overcome 3 small problems… 1.) I had never been on a sailboat before. 2.) I have to convince my wife who has told me she would never sail out of sight of land and who will probably think I am having a padded room moment and 3.) Overcome the seasickness I expect to endure from my experience upchucking in the heads of Washington State Ferries.
January 21, 2008
Well…it’s a done deal. I’ve solved problem number 1 and problem number 2 and have both of us signed up as working crew on a transatlantic sailing venture in the November event known as The ARC, or The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.
The ARC is the largest oceanic sailing event in the World. A Regatta limited to 230 yachts of varying size. All setting sail from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, 60 miles off the west coast of Africa and sailing across the Atlantic to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia in the French West Indies of the Caribbean.
November 12 - 22, 2008
Well, the time sure has flown and so have we. We have landed in Las Palmas after a 3 day break in Dublin, Ireland so as to get our time and jetlag sorted out. I had heard the Guinness helps. We wanted to be fresh for our arrival to our new temporary home, The Big Spirit.
Las Palmas is a cosmopolitan port city on the beautiful island of Grand Canaria, a Spanish enclave. It is 60 miles off the coast of the Western Sahara. It was this city that Christopher Columbus began his epic voyage to discover the New World. There is the old city where little has changed but the ARC and its headquarters’ are located in a large marina on the south side of a prominent isthmus.
We find the Marina bustling with activity. About 1000 participants of varying nationalities from 230 registered yachts gearing up their boats for the voyage. Food orders being placed, deliveries being made. There are daily Seminars on weather, safety, Marine wildlife being given. Crew members crowd the Sailors bar on the promenade with their laptops connecting to WiFi to download latest weather reports and strategizing their routes across the Sea.. Other crews are out on the water practicing man overboard drills and other sailing techniques.
After getting directions from the Australian guy at the ARC HQ…we head to Pier number 9 to find our boat. The friggen gate is locked to the ramp so we climb over and around like everyone else. And their she is, on the other side of two Other Challenger boats at the end of the pier. The yacht is 52 tons of stainless steel designed for sailing in the southern ocean. A Challenge 72, A racing sailboat. Only 12 were ever built. It's big and so is everything on it. No line is under 1 in. diameter. Everything is manual, there are no electric winches. It takes 7 people to tack the boat. It’s spinnaker is the size of 1 ˝ tennis courts. The pole that holds it out is 10 in. in diam. carbon fiber and there are two of them. Her hull is Bright Candy Apple Red with large gaudy black lettering along her sides. She appears somewhere between stunningly beautiful and butt ugly. She is The Big Spirit.
We board the first two challenger boats that are tied side to side, in what is known as rafting, and scramble across the stanchions and through the middle of the people mingling about. “Excuse me, Pardon, Excuse me, Hi How ya doin? Sorry ‘bout that, Coming through…..”
Scramble over one last Stanchion and onto her deck where we find Our Skipper and first mate tinkering around with some rigging. Handshakes around, cups of tea thrust into our hands and the tour given of the inside of this impressive yacht.
The sleeping quarters are two open rooms with 9 racks stacked three high. Our personal storage space is a yellow milk carton size crate. Mary takes the bottom rack which is two inches above the floor, I take the middle rack whish is two inches above Mary, and a stranger will take the rack that is 3 inches above my nose. There will be no kicking back watching TV, there will be no reading books in bed, and there will be no hanky panky.
The dining room is large and comfy and does have a 40 in. flat screen TV mounted on the wall on the left side of the boat….oh excuse me, I’m a sailor now, I mean on the port side of the boat. And on the starboard side is the galley. The navigation station is between the dining room and the sleeping quarters and is awash in so many switches, gauges, and monitors I would think this thing could fly. And because the Captain is the Captain he has his own small cabin next to “the racks”. There is a first mates cabin amidships, two heads forward, and a sail room in the bow where the sails are stored.
Over the course of the next few days we meet the strangers who we will team up with on the voyage. One of my biggest concerns was maybe some of them wouldn’t be cool and that we wouldn’t gel or get along. Scenarios are passing through my mind of bobbing out in the ocean with a crew of maybe religious evangelicals trying to convert me, or having too listen to the repetitive chants of a Hare Krishna devotee, or a stressed out ex navy drill sergeant screaming expletives and directions to me in a storm. But everybody gets aboard and seems to be a pretty good crew.
During the next few days there are parades, small racing events with dinghies, and model sailboats. The evenings are filled with parties at several marina night clubs There is a masquerade ball with lively bands of Soca music, Steel drum players and fireworks galore. An all out frenzy of unabashed ARC participants celebrating in A true circus atmosphere for a full week in advance of the day they will Christopher Columbus themselves across the Ocean Sea.
November 23, 2008
Having survived the initial week of festivities the day was upon us to move into the harbor in anticipation of the Start. Now within the ARC there are several divisions organized by boat size and type. Our division is division 7, the Racing division. It is run under the auspices of England’s Royal Ocean Racing Club. The racing division starts ˝ hour before the other divisions at precisely 1:00 o’clock pm. We jockey and maneuver the sailboat among all the other entries in a tightly confined area…I wonder that I have not yet seen a collision but some boats are prepared having tied numerous floats to their bows just in case. As the time approaches an official countdown is made over the Marine VHF radio. We maneuver so as to get as close to the starting line as possible without crossing it which would penalize us 6 hours on the crossing. We are fully under power of the wind and our diesel engine is turned off. If we were to start up the diesel at anytime during the crossing we would immediately be disqualified.
Kurt Our British skipper is good…shouting out commands and instructions and we are well prepared having practiced due diligently, well sort of, not a well oiled machine yet but one that works. A yellow buoy lies at one end of the starting line and a Spanish naval vessel anchored at the other lets loose with a blast from its cannon and within seconds we cross the line into the open sea The race has begun, and so has the swells, and so has the level of my nausea.
There are four ways to beat getting seasick.
1.) Don’t go to sea,
2.) Lie flat on your back and keep your eyes closed no matter what.
Works good but slightly inconvenient.
3.) Dramamine pills. I call it the placebo effect, sometimes works,
Most of the time it doesn’t. Try not to eat them like Tic Tacs.
4.) My favorite. The Scopomine Patch. A small prescribed patch the size
of a quarter one wears on there skin behind their ear. It slowly
releases the Scopomine drug through your pores over 3 days. It
works good. It also works good at drying out your sinus’s, your
throat, and your eyeballs. But after about 3 to 4 days ones mental
state adjusts to the movements of the boat and seasickness ceases
to be a concern.
It’s Sunset now and Mary and I start our first 4 hour watch rotation with Tory, a British gal. We are wearing full foul weather gear, Personal Flotation Devices with Emergency locator beacon and safety harness with a safety line attached to the boat. It’s dark only the lights from the gauges and the stars above light up the deck.
There are pin points of white lights from the masts of other boats around us in the distance. One of the lights is red…and green…and close together at our 10 O’clock position. They slowly appear to get closer and closer to us but begin to spread apart. Kurt goes down below to get a radar fix. Suddenly we see the bow of a large fishing vessel coming out of the darkness and bearing down on us on a collision course and it’s hauling ass. It’s diesel engines getting louder and louder as we realize the inevitability of what is about to occur. “Holy Mackerel!, our first night and we are doomed” was my first thought. There is a fear like no other when facing death. I call it White fear…it is all encompassing and it’s about encompassed me to jump into the sea. Tory suddenly steers the Big Spirit away from the point of impact, Kurt yells out “What’s going on up there!” as he braces himself against the sudden motion. At the last second the Fishing boat diverts his course avoiding the collision. A sick game of chicken. As Kurt scrambles to the topside, Big Spirit is oriented such that an accidental jibe occurs. 2000lbs of boom and main sail swing wildly across the cockpit and just miss knocking him into the sea. He grabs the wheel from the front and eases her back on course. Never trust a Spanish fishing boat.
Daytime, it’s all about shorts, sun tan lotion and sail changes. Every four days two people get to be on Mother Watch which includes baking bread and a cake each morning. Preparing the meals and hot drinks and cleaning the boat. Ya gotta love our British/Irish mates. They insist on tea and cake in the afternoon, regardless of sea conditions.
The winds are light so we have flown the spinnaker all day. Two people constantly adjusting it’s trim. When we take this down for the night, we send a man to the end of the pole, 20 ft. above the water, to release the end of the kite. Every two days we send someone up to inspect the mast head, some 100 ft. above the deck.
All the boats are diverging away from each other and we only see 3 or 4 now.
Today is Thanksgiving. Mary and I are on Mother Watch for the first time. I get to clean the heads and basically walk around with a mop in my hand trying to look busy. And because we are the only Americans on board we decide a Thanksgiving dinner is in order. No turkey but a concoction of chicken and items from the boats stores will have to do. We did sneak on 3 bottles of wine for the occasion. We are having a dry Atlantic crossing but as our skipper says, “It’s not an Alcoholics
Anonymous crossing” and one glass of wine with dinner is permitted.
Everybody loves the meal and sips wine on deck while searching for the green flash of the sun setting below the horizon. I stick messages in the empty wine bottles and toss them into the sea. They may make landfall in the Caribbean in 4 months time.
As this is a downwind run, we are
sailing a “wing an a huge wing.” We pole out the Yankee head sail (massive pole) and run a staysail in the gap to ensure we catch every bit of wind coming from aft. The preventer is an absolute life saver. This ensures that the boom does not do what it did the first night.
I brought a small shortwave radio on board with me. I figured I could keep up to date with current events through the BBC’s World Service which has a transmitter on Ascension Island in the mid Atlantic. But the steel of the boat hull must have a dampening effect for all I get is static. Oh well…I’m starting to realize the outside world with all its global politics, wars, and human misery is becoming quite irrelevant in this new watery world. Even the days of the week become irrelevant and are soon forgotten.
Day 8 or 9 or 10
The wind really has died down. Kurt rigged up an unconventional sail configuration for the night watch. It worked and kept us going ever so slow making helming a bit of a chore for myself on keeping the boat on course. The rigging and boat creaked as it rocked back and forth and the main sail slapped at itself every couple minutes making me think that these were the same creaking sounds heard on a teak deck in the old tall ships of yesteryear when caught in the same weather conditions.
At night without a moon there is still a plenty of light here....the stars and milky way are particularly bright. Two stars of the little dipper also known as Ursae Minor, help keep me pointed in the right direction. I have never seen so many meteors night after night.
As the boat surfs along it disturbs microscopic plankton in the sea and leaves behind a trail of brilliant flashing green phosphorescence. As dolphins approach the boat in the wee hours to play with the bow wave they also create a trail of phosphorescence right from their dolphin nose, around and behind them appearing like brilliant glowing green torpedoes rocketing from the black sea.
Day 11 - 12
We are now in an area of the Atlantic where hurricanes are seeded and we can sure tell. The last couple of nights the little seedlings have hatched into proper thunderstorm and monsoon type cells and boy are they hungry. The cells move this way and that way trying to devour each other and some are obviously successful as they are twice as big as others. They pass to our left and to our right, near and far.
Night before last we had the misfortune of sailing right into the belly of the beast of one of these monsters and it must have had a bad case of indigestion. It was the night watch....midnight to four in the morning....bad things happen at midnight to four in the morning.....
.....It was very dark and only the deck of the boat was barely visible from the reflected green and red lights of the navigation gauges. Mary was on the helm...Em was in the snake pit and me and Kenny on the bow dropping the Yankee and stay sail for the second time in as many hours. The wind had suddenly increased from 6 knots to 15 knots from every direction at the same time. Now I have never heard anybody curse in a thick Irish accent before, but I felt I had partnered up with one pissed off Leprechaun as I attached, detached, and reattached my lifeline while fighting the wind and two out of control sails. Em's winching in the snake pit finally brought them under control and with a couple of tie downs we got them secured to the deck....made our way aft as the first deluge of rain hit closing hatches as we went.
The thick heavy downpour turned the sea to a white froth around us with
winds whipping in one direction and literally seconds later 180 degrees in the other direction. Mary's helming becomes disoriented and we find
Ourselves on course for England instead of the Caribbean. As the wind and rain has its way with us we count down the minutes before
the next watch comes on deck. It was too late to get into our foul weather gear so we just hung on trying not to move around too much as the wet cold fabric of our clothes would sting on our skin.
We could hear the metal buckles jangling of the life vests of the next watch as they suited up below deck. That jangling seemed to go on for far too longer than normal. I think they were shaking their vests purposefully down there to delay their arrival of the on deck misery and prevent our potential protests...The buggers. Anyway...two night watches in a row...two deluges in a row.
It is daytime now...all is relatively calm and gray. the wind and rain has gone leaving large sweeping swells that cross our beam...and we sail onwards...westwards.
We hear on the radio this morning that Jewel, one of our division VII
Competitors, accidentally dropped its spinnaker into the sea and running it over destroying the kite and the Volvo 60, another competitor had an accidental jibe during the night squall that caused the back stay to fail ripping out a portion of its deck. Except for the Storm vader way in the lead the entire division VII racers have been effectively wiped out. But the ARC continues and the latest ETA for our arrival in St. Lucia is 7 days from present. All is good except our rum stock has run dry with good cause.
Others in the fleet are now starting to experience water and food rationing. You see, the trade winds have not shown up like they were expected. Therefore, the fast boats, have travelled further south to stay in some kind of wind pattern. Even with this, we have all entered the calm weather.
Good news followed by bad news as the sun rises this morning. Challenger 1 and Challenger 4, 2 of our competitors have had to “retire”. That’s the British word for withdrawing from the race by starting their diesels to get them across a calm area of sea and effectively disqualifying them from the race. They realized they were too far behind with no hope of a respectable finish and no real wind forecast for at least three days. Also a possibility of missing the Arc festivities at the finish in St. Lucia, or Christmas for that matter.
Me and Mary laughed at the word "retire”, We prefer the lingo quitters!, losers!, done fers!, and high fiving at the good fortune of only 5 boats left within the division
Day 12 - 13
Me and Mary had mother watch today or as I call it..."Mutha" watch...She is baking breads while I am cleaning the heads....after
making pizza for the crew for lunch the captain gathered us around and gave us the pseudo grim news that yes we had to retire from the race.
Now "retire" and "keeping ones chin up" are the more amicable terms of our predicament.
At least we are still running to place in the ARC itself and the 30's are looking great right now. The crew isn’t too disappointed as we know the rhumb line leads to the rum and we only will have to motor for
approx. a day and a half until we find big winds again on the other side of the doldrums.
Me and Mary have secretly froze ourselves a tray of ice cubes and are now going to have a private cocktail party in the sail room at the bow of the boat with some of our contraband rum that only the skipper knows about while everyone else is sunning themselves on deck , reading books or listening to ipods.
Living with the sexes
Just a note about the asexual lifestyle onboard. It took me about two days to get used to it on this Atlantic crossing. In the real world people of both sex's hanging around in their skivvies or less would rise eyebrows in some or most but in the real world of 3 weeks aboard a 72 ft. lifeboat...well....it becomes such that you don’t even notice anymore.
It is hot (oppressively so) inside the cabin so we spend most of the time on deck during the day, rain or shine. I am currently on the graveyard watch (1-5 am) so I eat dinner, go directly to bed, get 4 hours, watch 4 hours, and repeat. We all stagger around in the dark like drunken zombies at one point or another throughout the night but by about noon we are all up and functioning.
Mary is on the helm when a loud noise and fountain of water rocket upwards off the starboard side 100 feet. Whales. 3 of them in a pod. Cant be sure of the species but likely Right Whales. Sure don’t want to hit on of those in the darkness of night. That happened to New Yorker Steve Callahan when he was doing a solo across the Atlantic. Sank his boat and he ended up drifting to the Windward Islands over 78 days in a life raft.
Lot’s of flying fish here. Silver darts with large fins that break the ocean surface and fly 1 to 5 feet above for up to 300 ft in some cases. In the morning we scan the deck to toss of the fishy smelling critters who inadvertently and unfortunately flew on deck during the night. One made a good job of aiming through a vent into the head and falling straight down into the toilet bowl. But there was no freestanding water there to keep him alive.
Yesterday we celebrated the crossing over the top of the mid-Atlantic ridge with a glass of wine that the Skipper had stashed. We have not seen another boat for 8 days now.
GPS estimates we have 4 days and 6 hours to get to St. Lucia. Everyone is cautiously thinking about that first cold beer, rum and a meal cooked by someone else.
I helmed for 4 hours straight through three squalls and non stop
Rain When the squall hits, it's like a freight train, okay… okay...that’s a slight embellishment, its more like a 747 with gatling guns and nuclear bombs. The sail dips way over and you can hear bodies of the sleeping crew below falling out of their bunks onto the floor or rolling up the walls to impact on the ceiling, but I'm strapped in good on the wheel. Its hard to hear Em screaming at me "Turn Away! Turn away!" because the wind is screaming louder, but she no need to scream because I'm all ready turning away....spinning that wheel as fast as I can, but 50 tons of lead and steel don’t turn on no dime....I can make it think about turning in one third the length of a football field though because the Kirk Douglas inside takes over.
The squalls can last from 5 minutes or an hour long as they did this morning. An intense struggle between man and raw nature but the Errol Flynn within persevered.
We do make the best of it. Yesterday, we had an all crew shower on deck in the rain. As you can imagine, after 11 days at sea, the first daytime opportunity to soap up and rinse off was much appreciated.
629 Nautical miles from Landfall now and one very bedraggled snowy egret circles the boat a couple times before making his landing on the stern. He scopes us out and after ˝ hour or so gains enough confidence to to preen himself and go too sleep with his head tucked under a wing. It’s quite Interesting to see his internal bird gyros at work as he adjusts his stance on the rolling boat. I don’t know if he swept in from Africa or the Windward islands but he sure isn’t from around here.
As our food stocks get low so does our culinary imagination....lately
it's been pasta, pasta, pasta, pasta, rice, pasta ,pasta, pasta, and desalinated water to keep body and soul together. I don’t care if I ever see an Italian restaurant again in my life.
I successfully cleaned the galley and dining room by accidentally kicking over the bucket and dumping its entire contents of dirty detergent water, but I found all you need is the strong smell of Mr. Clean to permeate throughout the living quarters for people to actually perceive you actually did a good cleaning job.
I also mopped out the bilges and cleaned the heads, my specialty. Then I decided to make bread for Paul to go with his pasta because everybody compliments the cook and not the guy who cleans the heads.
Currently cracking along with 20 knots of wind and making 10+ knots over the ground and possibly the best sailing conditions we have had over the entire trip.
Day 16 - 17 and lost at sea?
Boy...last night’s watch was killer......20+ knots of wind and 11 knots of boat speed. I'm surprised after my time at the helm that the wheel is still attached....or the rudder for that matter. I certainly admire our own Captain Kurt's helming ability....but it is to be expected when one gets their captains rank at age 2. He says the sea seems to be confused but I interpret that to mean the sea has become very chaotic. But its all good...our ETA into St. Lucia is now 1 day or around 24 hours...or this time tomorrow.....saw a frigate bird, a tern, and many flying fish, a regular safari, I wonder if these are signs of land. I am beginning to doubt that there is an island in front of us as
the evidence is quite lacking. We haven’t seen another boat in over a week now. I tried to pick up a radio station from any of the windward islands last night but could only tune into static. Only the GPS and compass instruments tell us the island is out there, but what if there was some onboard magnetic anomaly? Mega flares from the sun or a fundamental change in the gravitational constant of the universe? I mean there is nothing out there but endless horizon that’s endless...horizon...endless...endless and endless
Boy am I hungry!...have been for two weeks and have probably lost 10 to 15 lbs. I especially notice it when I'm lying down in my rack and my front stomach is resting on my spine.....it was pasta again last night, without the sauce, but at least we still have some granules of black pepper left to spice it up....
Daryl’s wish list for hitting land:
steak, salad, grilled fish of any kind including Irish lords, fries, bacon and eggs, bacon cheeseburger, bacon lettuce tomatoe and fries...and beer, bacon and beans and toast and marmite....and beer...chimichanga, enchilada...YES...and a Margarita too!,
Grande...rocks...salt, Fried Chicken!...Lays Potato Chips!...and beer.... orange juice...grapefruit juice...coconut juice...any kinda juice...even beer juice...
Day 18 Landfall
6:00 am and possibly the roughest seas last nice right after my watch ended at midnight. Kurt ended up pulling 3 watches in a row to oversee a number of sail changes. I laid exhausted in the rack with the straps tight around my body to stop me from moving too much with the rough and sudden movements of the boat. I didn’t get but a few minutes of sleep at best. The gale has us pushed 22 miles off course
It is morning now and one by one people make it top side. Land Ho is shouted out a few times as the mountains of Martinique come into sight. We have been pushed North 22 miles off course throughout the night. The waves are big and confusing about 20 ft. with short baselines, the wind is at 20 knots. Big Spirit is cracking right along across the straight towards St. Lucia.
Everyone is tired, shell shocked, with 1000 mile stares into the distance but looking at nothing. A couple is laughing uncontrollably at nothing in particular and 1 or 2 are babbling incoherently. We go through the motions of infusing ourselves with coffee and tea without tasting it. Then we put on our orange shirts, our uniform, to be presentable as a team at the finish. Consciousness slowly leaks back into the heads of this band of characters.
We spot our first sailboat in 11 days off the stern and about a mile away. We past the North end of St. Lucia, We glide past Pigeon Island and there it is, the finish line. A yacht at anchor with a large orange flag and about 100 feet away, a buoy, we aim for the center, collectively holding our breath as if somehow we might hit a submerged reef or something denying our goal. As we cross the line a loud report comes from the anchored boat signifying the end of the race, We all clap and cheer in unison. We have crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The end of 3800 nautical miles, the end of sleep deprivation, the end of pasta dinners.
We hastily work as a team, a well oiled machine dropping our sails and preparing the boat for docking at Rodney Bay Marina. People along the shore cheer and clap as we make our way to berth.
Sea legs and Land legs
We have been warned about our sea legs by the Captain. Once we jump on
shore....it can be quite disorienting to walk about without the motion of the boat under ones legs. He suggests to people to not immediately book into a hotel but spend at least a night or two on the boat yet to ease into it....Dramamine can be taken to help the process of walking on land....Jonty says drink more rum...that helps too....Skipper says when you get on land...lay on your back and close your eyes and experience the hell
The Yellow flag is hoisted to indicate we are in quarantine. Nobody can leave the boat except the Captain to sort out the immigration and custom formalities. Rum and fresh fruits are waiting for us at the dock and in no time at all we are well under the influence and to hell with the formalities as we take turns diving into the Toxic Marina Water with complete abandonment. The voyage is over but our Sailing appetites have only been whetted.
For More Still Photos from this voyage go to The ARC Gallery
For the IReport Exlusive of this Voyage go to CNN International
To Contact Daryl Moistner
Copyright 2009 Daryl K. Moistner