It’s the morning of 16th December when, after 16 days from the start in Last Palmas, Nina and us are finally entering the port of Antigua!
Even if we had far less wind than we hoped, living on board a sailing boat in the middle of the ocean under an unpolluted sky of stars every night has been a unique and unforgettable experience!
With everyone hoping to beat last year’s time to reach Antigua, I must admit I’m happy that this long dreamed adventure lasted a couple of days more.
But let’s start from the beginning…
Our two days “technical” stopover in Las palmas has been the minimum time necessary to do provisioning, fuel tank filling and to recover from a good night out partying, our last for the following 2/3 weeks at sea.
It’s 3 pm of November 29th when we finally untie the bow lines and sail off from Las Palmas dock in direction of the Caribbean island of Antigua. Our route will first head South in search of Alisei, the trade winds that each year blow East to West and typically around the 20th-22nd parallel North. We are currently are on the 28th parallel North and indeed there is no wind and also the weather forecast are not giving good news for the coming days. So for the moment we have to keep the sails down and to get any progress with the engine.
Motoring with a sailing boat means to renounce to the power and stabilising effect given by the sails. The boat is slower and we’re at the mercy of the ocean waves pitching and rolling in all directions. On the other hand it means we can rely on the autopilot to safely steer the boat and have some additional free time to cook, read, watch movies and teach each other new things.
After three and a half days rolling on the waves and few miles after crossing Southward the Tropic of Cancer the wind finally increases enough to open the Jib (front sail).
Even it is not enough to move the boat without the engine, it give us an additional know and even more important reduces a lot the rolling of Nina. Few hours more and we’re blessed by a steady 20-25 knots of wind blowing from 80° North, the perfect direction to blow us across the Ocean!
The Sun is shining and even Dolphins come at sunset to celebrate with us with jumps right in front of Nina!
What a Great day!
Together with the wind the watch shifts behind the heel are back in place day and night and are now based on 1 person per shift. I got the 7.00 to 9.30 GMT time, both in the morning and in the evening. They look perfect, both in the complete darkness for now, but moving west and keeping greenwich time as reference on board we’ll gain 1 hour of light every 15° of longitude and by the arrival in Antigua I’ll end my shift with the sunrise in the morning and the sunset and relative aperitif in the evening. Moreover the shifts allow enough time for a good rest between shifts.
3rd December 2015, 22.00. Lat 21° 42’.123N, Long 25° 58’.678W
I am just back from my evening shift in the dark. For the last 2 and half hours, while the others were relaxing inside watching a movie, I closed myself outside to steer the boat while enjoying the dark night in the Ocean lighted up only by the Milky way and the other stars and planets around us. The absence of the moon, that will raise only later at night, enables to appreciate the stars in their full beauty, but on the other hand leaves us completely blind on the waves and sea state: we can only trust our feeling of Nina movement on the waves and her reaction to the winds.
The waves that I find most difficult to manage are indeed the ones that will be with us for the whole crossing: waves blowing almost in our same direction and reaching Nina from the giardinetto. They first lift her stern and while passing below her they tend to “turn” the fore of the boat on the side while accelerating and inclining her. The trick is to “feel the movement” of the boat and anticipate her reaction in order to keep the route and avoid to head up or in the worst case make an error and unintentional jibe (that would drive to big damages!)
Since the human eye has also some capability to adapt to the dark, while sailing at night is good to avoid any white light and so I shut myself outside while in the back a soft piano music is accompanying the boat heading to 265° with the milky way to our starboard and the plankton lighting up the water all around us at the passage of the boat.
As if it was not good enough yet, the longest falling star of my life cross half of the sky almost connecting the milky way with the horizon: an unforgettable moment!
Albi comes to relieve me and after sharing as every evening a glass of good Rum with I get in my bunk to have some rest before the next shift at the helm of Nina to enjoy another Oceanic sunrise!
It’s 4th of December when we tack for the first time after more than two days without even touching the sails. We will head more South to fish for some more wind that has now shifted and coming from East pushing us a bit too North on the previous tack. And by the way we’ll have to go more South sooner or later to reach the latitude of Antigua.
11th December – 785 miles to Antigua: One after the other 13 days have already passed and we’re few days from our destination! The winds unfortunately haven’t been so steady as we trusted once crossed the Tropic of Cancer and we alternated some days behind the helm steering the boat under the power of sails and wind to many days motoring slowly ahead while dedicating our time to other activities. One of these is trying to learn the basics of navigation with the stars. Albi has a Sextant and all the book and tables necessary to calculate the boat position and even if I didn’t succeed yet to do a position all on my own I aim to achieve it before reaching Antigua!
We repair a sail and lear how to impiombare a sail, exchange cooking receipts, cook Pizza and Aperitif at sunset, play cards and ices and we even fish out three excellent dinner that Andrea clean and cook magnificently. A fourth fish reach on board but fight so hard than escape miraculously saving its life at the last second!
We get a couple of days of 15-20 knots with small waves and we succeed to fly the Jennaker for some hours showing a completely red Jenny with a big Che Guevara face on top of it.
But the wind drops again and the last 3/4 days are a back to the initial rolling while the boat is moved only by the engine push.
Our independent crossing gives us the opportunity to have the Ocean all for us and we get radio contact with only three sailing boat and few carrier on the whole period. One of the sailing boat is named Venga and is being sailed by a German couple on a gap year with their 8 years old child. They make radio contact with us and being on our same route we reach them and take each others’ photos that we’ll exchange by email. We have some extra ice-cream and we gain a Big Smile of the kid when we succeed somehow to pass it on Venga.
Despite being on board since a month, out of which over 20 sailing, I’m not tired and the life routine on board is addictive and even if I’m willing to have a good night out I’m not craving so much to be back on land.
A special thanks to Nina and to the friends I shared this experience with:
Edo – The Captain: after giving a try to the office life, some years ago he jumped on an airplane to Dubai to built his profession in the yachting world and becoming then skipper of various boat. Last year he sailed a twin boat of Nina across the ocean twice, one in each direction. Thanks to get me on board and make this dream reality and for being always up for a Nutella bite!
Albi – The first mate: when he’s not working he’s sailing. Thanks for teaching the astronomic navigation and all the sailing tricks, but especially thanks for all the Diplomacy rum we sipped together in the Mediterranean and in the Ocean!
Andre – he grow up around the sea and sailing boats. After spending a couple of years working in design of subsea robots, he started following the dream and working on sailing boats he’s travelling the world seas. He already crossed the Atlantic westward with Edo last year and back on another boat. Thanks for all the fish and to show how to properly cut a fish!
Ele – she will be working on board with Edo for the rest of the season, after the arrival in Antigua. After a past as master diver around the World, she decided to move on board a year ago and already worked already on various boats. Thank for taking care of the boat and us after the days working around the boat.
Bere – the youngest of us all, French and the only not Italian speaking (by half of the crossing she already started cursing in perfect Italian!). She started young sailing with her parents and carried on introducing then new friends to this amazing world. She’s the chocolate expert and after the crossing she’ll go to Bolivia to apply her studies in the Cocoa production. Like me, she’s the only one at her first Ocean crossing and very excited by that. Thanks Bere for sharing with me amazing sunrises and for your great attitude! And for the great video
The Video of the Crossing: Thanks to Bere!
Alternative video link:
Where to go next?
It’s not decided yet.. maybe will be a Northern island of Caribbean to follow a falling star that few nights ago crossed the sky in front of me.. Let’s see which Wave will come to me !