Saturday, December 03, 2011

Rum-soaked greeting from the Caribbean! The Story So Far...

Well, we bloody did it!  We got across the Atlantic on a yacht. Here's how...

Day 23:  On the road again

Back out on the open ocean. A constant slow speed roller coaster powered by the wind through 360 degrees of ocean and sky and perpetual motion. It’s a man’s prerogative, especially in outdoor adventure-type situations such as this, to find awesome places to have a piss. I have noticed the view standing on the bottom step of the stern (men’s outdoor toilet) staring at the middle of the Atlantic from sea level as we hurtle through the sea is pretty impressive, particularly with member in hand.
A different kind of exhilaration than stepping on to a new island, out here it’s more a passive experience.  You just have to sit on deck and you can’t help but be mesmerised by the massive energy and different forces at work, of which we happen to be skimming the mere surface. As your body gradually learns the location of anything grab-holdable (members aside) and to readjust itself at a second’s notice on a whole variety of angles coming one after the other, so your brain attunes itself to the more primeval concept of time measured in terms of light/dark/light/dark /sleepy/hungry/sleepy/hungry etc. etc. Your conscious brain, freed from the lack of interruptions and distractions that make up every day, uses the respite to catch up on thinking. Contemplation. A timeout. If the Atlantic I’ve experienced so far was music, it’d be stoner rock – powerful rhythms you can chill out to. It’s a much simpler way to live. I feel like I’m disposing of a decade of Tokyo Lifestyle Fatigue (TLF), generally brought on by way Too Much Fun (TMF). I find it easier to snooze in the bucking cockpit under the tropical sun, 3 feet from the surging ocean, than I do on a Sunday afternoon at home. Is that weird?

From Mindelo harbor, just next to all the old dudes playing rummy and gambling. The boat in the center is Adagio.

We were basically ejected westward out the other side of the gap between Sao Vicente and Sao Antao, the winds squeezing through the passage and shooting us out the bottom at 8 to 10 knots, getting us 175 miles from Mindelo in 24 hours of wind spraying water and, at night, flying fish everywhere in the dark.  Dusty swears that on another voyage he had a flying fish fly in the window, hit him in the head and land in the bloody frying pan (Yes!!) Flying fish fly like they’ve been shot out of an underwater cannon, oversized wings seem to be tried out for the first time like a new toy, rather than evolved. The take off (getting the hell away from whatever is swimming up behind it) is obviously of a way higher priority than the landing.
The fact that I just dedicated whole paragraph to flying (frying?) fish demonstrates how much free time I have on my hands, and it’s made me realize that it’s been a long time since I’ve slowed down enough (have I ever in Tokyo?) to really look at something in detail. There is life going on all over this blue expanse, if you just let yourself become aware of it.

Day 25: Kamikaze Fish

One sure-fire way to become aware of the nature out here is if it hits you in the head, as it did Herve last night. A 30 cm flying fish came out of nowhere and divebombed him straight in the side of the head in the middle of his night watch. Classic! I TOLD you flying fish were crazy.
A waylaid flying fish. Note the crazed expression.
In the evening I had the lines out even though we were going too fast to fish. That didn’t stop some monster of the deep (OK, I exaggerate, but a big bloody fish) giving the line a good yank for a while before pissing off. The next one will be mine!

A late night drop in. Note the crazed expression...

G'day. Where's your frypan?
Awesome wings for a fish!

Got me a barra! Went down fantastic with another little mahi mahi on the bbq.  La petit jesu!

Gday, where's your wasabi? 
Starting to get the hang of catching decent fish now...

Did I mention how fantastic our time was in the town of Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente in the Cape Verdes? It’s in the middle of nowhere, which is why I firmly recommend it to anyone. Interesting episode just before departure when we decided to get rid of the left over escudos (Portugese currency) by giving cash to random people in the street. The lady selling bananas on the corner, the old dude in the dark and musty bar near the street market, Sydney from the fish market and the dude who sold me a sharktooth necklace the day before. It was a bit weird , but big smiles were made bigger with cash. Many a “Bon Voyage!” and “God Bless You My Friend!” later, the 20 hours we spent in Mindelo are already in line to be filed in the did that really happen? box of wicked experiences.

Mindelo street market. Got some napalm chillies here.

Sharktooth necklace dude. Solid people for the most part. I like.

Vive la revolucion! Back of a potato truck. The Verdes.

Day 28: Escalator Across the Pond
We are now sailing under spinnaker, a sail made for these trade winds. Big, handsome and fast even in light winds. Basically it just tows us down wind in the direction of Guadaloupe, which is due west. Makes for tough sailor photos too.

That glorious sail the spinnaker. Silently towed us downwind for three days and nights. 

Sailors come in all shapes and sizes. Guess which one is the chef...

Day 30: Fisherman’s Tales
An important prerequisite for qualifying this voyage a success was fulfilled last night. I got a fish. A fish bigger than most of the kids I teach. It took an hour and a half, about half a kilometre of line and a can of beer, fed to me at intervals by the fantastic support staff. 25-30 kgs of Spanish mackerel. Several times larger than all the other fish I’ve caught on the trip so far put together and the biggest fish I’ve ever seen pulled on to a boat. I feel more relaxed now that my alcohol-fueled promises to friends back in Japan (who love a good fish!) have been kept. Massive f**kin’ fish – check!
Mackerel steaks as thick as your calf for lunch… gotta hurry up and eat it so we can bag a BIGGER one! Firmly from the Mary O’Doherty school of fishing.

One of the highlights of the day is finding out how much distance we’ve come in the previous 24 hours from noon to noon, and how much distance/time remains until tropical paradise in the Caribbean. All this is worked out using the log, which we make an entry into every two hours, and the onboard navigation system. Our record is 188 miles in a day. We average about 165. Not too shabby! As of writing this we are pretty much exactly half way between The Verdes and The Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. 1047 sun-drenched miles to go. I’m running out of body parts to sunburn.

The log

Day35: Converging on the Caribbean
A few hundred miles off the Leeward islands of the Caribbean, the northern trades run into the southern trades sometimes forming what’s called a convergence zone. The air is forced upwards as the winds collide, taking heaps of water with it, which is then dumped in short sharp bursts of rain-filled bedlam, known as squalls. 

Squalls. The grandkids of cyclones (or typhoons for all you in Japan)

These little bundles of blackness, can create their own little weather systems which means the wind can go through 360 degrees in not long at all, as I found out when Dusty woke me to help change sails, while we went in the opposite direction back towards Africa (bugger that!). We were playing bumper cars without about three at once at one stage, sometimes dodging between them, sometimes running straight into them. It reminded me of the time I went to see the Japan national schoolboys team play the All Blacks retired allstars. It was even more fun and games as night settled into one big sideways-rain infused blow, which we later learned over the radio was a tropical depression (can I call it a storm? Storm sounds much tougher, but I'd be lying). I had an amazing time steering on my watch that night, to save wear and tear on the autopilot. Belting through the blackness, thinking about getting the snorkel out while copping the odd wave in the face, the whole wild wavescape briefly illuminated every few seconds with a lightning lightshow to rival a Muse concert. All the while the idea was to keep the wind behind us while still aiming as close the palm trees and rum as possible. Even the flying fish were getting amongst the action, getting blown way up in the air and dropping straight out of the friggin sky! As they plummeted back toward the earth, I wonder if they knew what was waiting as they leapt out of the water.
Nature, mother to us all, giving us a little to think about after the gifts she’s given us so far on the trip.

Fancy dress party

Japanese goodluck charms. All the protection we need. Worked a treat!

Occasionally a little bird would drop in and hang out for a few hours, no doubt catching it's breath for a while during a journey that is no doubt much much longer than ours. We guess that this little sparrow was on his way south from Russia for the summer...respect little guy.
The Iles de Saintes (The Saints), a tiny group of islands off the coast of Guadaloupe have been chosen as the first landfall.  I’m told they have great snorkelling and cold beer. I’m in!

Dolphins often appeared after a blow. Checking we're OK perhaps?

Day 36: Last Day at Sea

The sun rises for the final time during our crossing, over the tropical depression that provided the fun and games over the last two days.

I’m sitting outside in the cockpit typing, as the final sunrise of our Atlantic crossing explodes in yet another indescribable display.  As kids we get told that the sky is blue and the ocean is blue and clouds are white. That just doesn’t cut it. Almost every hour there is a subtle shift in tone or color or shadow that casts a different ambience on everything. Barring major catastrophe we will reach The Saints tonight, and the crossing will be over. There is not quite enough wind to sail, in complete opposition to yesterday. Hang on a sec, what’s this!!? A pod of whales just went past! Seriously, while I sit here and type these words I just saw some whales for the first time! Much larger and slower, cruising more majestically along the surface than the jumping and twisting dolphins, and blowing air; three of them including a baby. Herve will be pissed. His only gripe of the trip was that he hadn’t seen any. The sun’s been up for ten minutes and it’s already getting warm. It’s 7:00 in the morning.
13 hours later…
Whiskeys on deck under the moonlight at the mo…to a soundtrack of that wicked and suitably Caribbean dub group Mute Beat. Heading past Guapeloupe now, the lights of The Saintes shining in the distance. This is the best thing I’ve ever done…

Sitting in one of the most beautiful anchorages I've ever seen right now. To be continued...


  1. Ohhh mate, absolutely awesome. Enjoy the Carribean R&R and terra firma. A job bloody well done to all 3 of you.

  2. Yeessss.....great report Luke! Amazing adventure you're having.

  3. awesome read! can't wait to see more photos and some videos! don't forget to shave that beard before you try to board a plane in the US matey. it'll be squeaky bum time for you.

  4. Luke,how's everything?
    Beautiful Panoramas!!