In 2007, Nick Ward and his young family emigrated from England to Canada, by way of a two year cruise from England to the Caribbean and the Eastern Seaboard of the USA. Nick’s wife, Gesa, didn’t relish the idea of an Atlantic Crossing with two young and active toddlers, so Nick, his father Dave and two friends made the passage to Antigua. This is the second of two articles describing a day at sea, mid Atlantic. You can read the first one here.
Now that we are set up for the tradewinds that seem to be firmly established, we can leave the boat and autopilot to sail on and get on with the simple chores of daily life. We have a strict rota for the four of us. Day 1, you’re making Breakfast and Lunch, day 2, Dinner and snacks, day 3, the nasty day, you do all the washing up, sweep the boat and clean the heads (toilet). Day 4, you are rewarded by having the difficult duties of inventing the evening cocktail and choosing music. Today, I’m making dinner.
Now though, I turn to a little job I’ve been meaning to do for a while, and permanently wire in the navigation lights. Up to this point, lighting up at night has been done by joining two bits of wire together. Effective but inelegant. All I have to do is lead a wire under the floor and up to the switch panel, but doing anything in this rocking, rolling world takes a long time. After an hour, I’ve done it and the lights can go on at a flick of a switch.
I lie down and read. The current book is ‘Ninety Degrees North’, a well written and entertaining history of the quest for the North Pole. Those guys were mad.
After another couple of chapters, I get up, check the radar – still no ships – and revise our course slightly. The weather analysis suggests that we want to be positioned a bit further south by Friday, so I set a course that will take us 60 miles south and about 100 west over the next day. Playing this game is always a bit tricky, sailing extra miles takes longer, but falling into a calmer patch does too. Of course, the light winds might not materialise or might be somewhere else but we go on the information we have and if we can optimise our route, we do.
I realise that the past couple of hours have been solitary. This happens quite a lot, we have a burst of communal activity – sail handling, meals or just a meeting up in the cockpit – then everyone finds some time and space to themselves. It’s good, a nice mix and avoids the pressure of being sociable all the time.
Soon enough, it’s time for lunch. Ian consults our little menu page, a laminated card for each day listing what is needed for breakfast, lunch and snacks, plus a recipe for dinner. Today, up from the galley comes crackers, ryvita, paté, cheese, pickled onions and olives, plus another litre bottle of beer from the fridge. Despite the boat’s constant attempts to tip these things over, we’ve got quite good at balancing our food, so we sit in the cockpit and enjoy our lunch, chatting away. After a while, the cleaning wallah – it’s Ed today – gathers everything up and washes, dries and puts away to leave the galley nice and clean.
At this point, I look again at the dinner menu for which I am responsible. A little warning light goes on in my head when I read ‘chocolate pudding – from mix’. Hmm, I dig out the pack and sure enough, it says make then chill for a couple of hours. Lucky that I read that one, so I get on with it, boiling some milk and making a passable imitation of a chocolate pudding to be put in the fridge. If I say ‘Angel Delight’ the Brits will probably know what I mean.
I lie down again with my book and then try to catch up on some sleep. Once more, the boat, or rather the seas, are against me. With every roll, something clatters from one side of a cupboard to another. We have a variety of chopping boards, and I’ve almost thrown the round one overboard as it was stored on edge, rolling nicely from one side to another. I saw reason and stuffed it, flat, in a locker somewhere. The biggest annoyance is that, after a meal, we’ve used some tins from the cupboard and there is now space for the remainder to slide around, which they do with the delight of kids having finally been released into the playground. I shut them up by digging more tins out of the storage boxes, and wedging them in with the bags of dried fruit. I wedge other things by using almost our entire collection of tea towels to jam in the gaps between bottles, plates and anything else that disturbs me. But you never get them all.
Eventually, I sleep for an hour or so. I wake from my snooze at about half past four and realise that it’s time to send the blog entry, position report and an email home. I sit and write the messages at the chart table, which is gently rocking back and forth but still a comfortable place to work. The position report is automatic, I click a button in the email software and it reads from the boat instruments to get time, position, speed and heading, then formats that and puts it in my outbox ready to go.
It’s now time to send email. The procedure is the same as the morning, although I have a little more trouble finding a frequency – it seems that this is a busier time and radio conditions aren’t great around now, they get much better after dark but I’ve promised to send updates before six each day so off we go.
As I finish, Dad’s completing his cocktail creation. There seems to be a bit of a generation gap where cocktails are concerned, us younger ones having a bit more experience of mixing odd combinations of ingredients to form bizarre drinks, but Dave and Ed are catching up quick and getting more inventive with each turn. We gather in the cockpit to toast the day and chat whilst we sip – gin and orange today.
It’s my turn for dinner, so I disappear pretty quickly to start preparation. This one is a greek salad omelette, according to the recipe. I chop red onion finely, making sure to time the slicing of the knife with the roll of the boat and avoid adding any fingers to the mix. Once the onion is sizzling in the olive oil, I break open ten eggs into a bowl which I’ve placed in the sink to be low down and immune form the rolling. Or so I think. As I open a tin of tomatoes and chop up some cheese, the boat puts in an extra big roll that doesn’t tip the bowl, but causes the eggs to slosh and two yolks make a bid for freedom. I’m too quick for them; swearing heavily to slow them in their tracks, I sweep them up with a large spoon that I’d already placed nearby. Back into the bowl and the whole lot goes into the big pan with the onions, tomatoes, cheese and some dried parsley. It sets nicely into a thick eggy cake, and I amaze the team by successfully placing a large plate over the pan and flipping it upside down, depositing a perfect circular cake onto the plate. It is cut into quarters and handed around. We open a bottle of red wine to accompany it and it’s another good meal. Thanks Gesa, recipe goddess.
After dinner, Ed clears up and washes whilst Dad reads below. Ian and I sit in the cockpit and chat about a wide range of stuff, covering a lot of ground as usual and watching the waves roll by in their endless variety. We comment on how the waves are so mesmerising, we can watch for ages as the shapes morph and change yet stay essentially the same.
By 8pm it’s almost dark and time for my watch. I get my lifejacket, it’s still too warm for a sweater or long trousers, and stand on deck looking around. The sails are set well, the boat’s going as fast as she will in this breeze, and the horizon is clear of lights or dark shapes. I go below and flick the switch to turn on our navigation light at the top of the mast so that other boats can, hopefully, see us and know which way we are heading. The light is in three sections – seen from behind it’s white, from the left, or port side it is red, and the right, or starboard side is green.
Whilst I am at the switch panel, I put on the compass lights and make sure all our other lights are out, apart from anyone staying up to read. At night, we use red lights inside the boat for writing the log or looking at the chart, the red colour preserves our night vision for once we go back on deck.
I check the radar, and see that we have nothing within its twenty four mile range. That’s good, I can relax a bit and sit at the chart table and write on the computer.
After half an hour writing, I take a break to go up on deck. Before going, I check the radar. No contacts. Up on deck, I stand and watch the waves, enjoying the power as the boat surges forward. It’s not quite right though, a little slow perhaps, so I reach for the furling winch, carefully unwind a loop of the line and ease it out, allowing the sails to unroll a little more. Securing the line again, I watch the instruments as the boat speed leaps up from 5.5 to 6.1 knots. I do the usual mathematical games in my head – half a knot more is twelve miles a day, is two hours of sailing, is a day earlier at Antigua. Satisfied, I stand and watch again and even in the dark I can see the flying fish leap from the waves and escape this bizarre predator. Five minutes later I return to the computer and write this.
By nine pm I am decidedly sleepy. As Ian noted, you get to that point where if you were driving, you’d have to pull over and nap. I check the radar, go back to the cockpit and lie back, watching the stars roll above us. I doze lightly, standing to check the horizon every five or ten minutes until ten pm comes round, not a moment too soon. I go below, write up the log and nudge Ed. ‘Your watch’.