For the past week we have been preparing to sail our Oyster yacht across the Atlantic.
Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean is a huge adventure, and quite scary if you have never done it before. How do we know you are ready? Preparation is key.
Provisions, safety drills, stowage, passage plans, weather considerations are all vital. All this, along with crew selection and bonding has been kept us busy and helped us feel prepared while we soak up the last of the Caribbean sunsets. We have been putting in long hours to get our beautiful sailing yacht in peak condition to ensure a smooth trip as we depart Saint Martin, sailing the 3,500 miles across the Atlantic to Falmouth, UK. Some people might have done the journey before, but for others, like two of our excited crew members, it is their first time. Whether it is your first time or just another ocean crossing, it is important to do be thorough in your preparation in case you miss something. There is no room onboard for complacency!
Now we are all prepped and ready to cast off, we are looking forward to seeing beautiful sunrises and sunsets, a variety of ocean wildlife and enjoying the star-filled clear night skies horizon to horizon. It will be challenging not seeing land for days, and the crew are sure to take a while to find their sea legs again when we set off. But we have loads of tea and chocolate (and dry crackers) to help us through queasy moments. That said, it is sure to be an incredible sailing experience and we are all looking forward to the adventure!
We leave Saint Martin at the 9am bridge and set sail to Falmouth, UK. Fenders and lines are stowed and the first day of sailing gets under way. With plenty of food, water, chocolate, books, audio-books and downloaded series, we are mentally prepared for over 2 weeks at sea.
With seven crew onboard we have a rotating watch system of 3 hours on and 6 hours off, with 2 people on deck at all times. We are blessed with an amazing chef dedicated to feeding us and keeping us going!
A few miles out, we have some unexpected visitors – an unidentified speedboat appears and starts to follow us. The captain orders all below decks but it turns out to be the coastguards checking our destination before wishing us fair winds. With a worldwide pandemic and lock down in progress, I guess we should have expected some visitors!
The weather is warm, but the water is a bit rocky. A few of the crew laugh off the fact that they have lost their sea legs having been on land for a while, but some of us don't find feeling seasick funny. A couple of the crew feel nothing at all and some of the others celebrate this is their first Atlantic crossing!
We are all avoiding the crew mess and cabins up in the bow as we can feel our stomachs lurching. So we decide to soak up the sun astern while we wait for calmer waters.
It is always tough to get back into the swing of things on the first day, but wow, how lucky are we to be on this adventure. For some it's even more exciting to know they are going home. We are treated to a beautiful sunset this evening, followed by a shooting star on our night watch.
We are up and on deck at 3am just in time to be welcomed by an amazing green light as a meteor falls through the sky!
Let's be honest, seasickness is a huge part of sailing. It is all a bit hit and miss at the moment when you head down to the crew mess, going to the bathroom or having a shower. You have to get your balance and timing right with the movement of the boat. It can be rather frustrating but hilarious at the same time.
Still feeling rather seasick, dried crackers and toast are my staple diet. The best thing to do when you feel like this is to be outside on the aft deck, watching the horizon and getting some fresh air or sleeping, while making sure we have something in our stomachs. This too will pass.
As the morning progresses, the wind picks up to 15 knots and we hoist the staysail. Wildlife is already joining in – we found two flying fish tucked under the sail! A little later, we are visited by a school of dolphins swimming alongside us.
The evening sky is a riot of shades of pink and blue as the sun goes down. We all sit in the cockpit in the dark and have dinner together, it's so peaceful and relaxing.
We are all chatty while we settle into our watch cycles and get to know the new delivery crew, sharing the excitement of being on the move again!
As the night sky comes down, we saw thousands of bright stars and some of us spotted multiple shooting stars.
It's safe to say by day three we were all starting to feel much better, more lively and energetic! I could definitely move on from the dry crackers onto something tastier and could stay in the crew mess for more than a minute! It takes a few days for your body to adjust to the movement if you are not used to it but don’t let it put you off going on an adventure like this.
It is sunny, but the wind is cold. We put the staysail away, got the genoa out and had a good day sailing at around 12 knots. Making graceful progress, we were on a direct line to our destination, with our nose pointed straight to Falmouth.
Walking into the galley on a starboard tack, it was hilarious seeing the chef sliding around whilst trying to butter her toast!
A cargo ship passed in the distance and four white seagulls flew alongside us. With no land in sight, where on earth do they come from?!
There was some lovely team bonding when everyone was on deck after lunch. Some of the girls decided to catch a tan and we all cooled off with some watermelon.
Tonight, the moon is really bright. It's incredible how some nights it can be pitch black and other nights the moon lights up the sky.
The late hours of night watch have me staring up at the sky, counting shooting stars. I am always amazed when I think about how we are being held above water by a boat. Nothing around us and nothing above or below for a few thousand metres. Nothing but trust in a beautiful boat. It's a rush.
Sunrise watch from 4.30am to 7.30am. It’s beautiful to watch the sky change from dark to light while the stars fade and the sun peeks above the horizon. After making buckets of tea, the first part of our morning routine is recording our temperatures to show we are all healthy so we can land in the UK during lockdown.
The wind has calmed down, so the sails have been lowered and we’ve motored for a few miles. The boat started rolling but wasn't too uncomfortable – fortunately we are all used to the movement now, so no one feels seasick.
There is a lovely atmosphere on the aft deck. It’s warm, there is some laid-back rock music playing through the speakers and we are enjoying some fresh pineapple. Some of the crew are trying to get a stretch in, the girls are trying to balance in yoga poses and others are trying to top up their tans!
Inside, we like to keep the shared areas shipshape, giving surfaces a wipe and the floor a good vacuum. Rolling around with a vacuum cleaner on a yacht can be quite entertaining… We also do daily restock checks to ensure snacks, water and drinks are available.
We jumped an hour ahead on the clocks today so we can slowly adjust our body clocks and avoid ‘jetlag’. We are now 4 hours behind the UK as we continue with our Atlantic Ocean crossing adventure.
We are currently between two weather systems, chasing up a low pressure system, which means the wind is coming in clockwise. Swells are high at around 4 or 5 metres and the wind is strong with a top speed of 30 knots. It’s not just windy though, a few of us have been soaked in the rain too. The sails are trimmed in tightly as we sail close hauled, which is as close to the wind we can sail. This will keep us on our course towards the Azores. We’ll refuel there before we head out on the home stretch to Falmouth.
We were on a starboard tack for some time but the wind has changed direction; everyone is happy to be on port tack for a change. The only concern now is whether the knots in my Lee cloths are strong enough to keep me from rolling out of my bunk in the middle of the night.
Halfway through every watch, one watchkeeper clips themselves onto the helm station to avoid any man overboard incidents when solo on deck. The lead watchkeeper can then go down to the engine room to check everything is in order. It’s always lovely when they come back up with a hot cup of tea!
One of our crew members says she keeps seeing a white bird flying around the yacht. But whenever she tries to point it out to the lead watchkeeper, it dives behind the swell – he thinks she’s going crazy… She has named the bird Jim – maybe we’ll all meet him soon!
Sometimes on a trip nothing exciting or worth reporting happens; the days can feel very similar now everyone is in a solid routine. So the log simply says “NTR” – nothing to report. That said, we are all loving this voyage across the Atlantic, the friendships that are forming and all the yummy food.
The graveyard watch (1am to 4am) isn't so bad when you are listening to "bad guy" by Billie Eilish, sailing at 12 knots with 20 knots of true wind. It was such an adrenaline rush, like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean. The wind is getting a lot colder – we are all wearing our oilies (foul weather gear) and the heat of the Caribbean seems like a distant memory.
We had contact with an American gentleman via the VHS. He’s sailing solo across the Atlantic on a 30ft sailing yacht called Sola. He was a few miles out and we could see his sails up in the distance, but they often disappeared behind the swell. I guess it’s one way to isolate yourself during lockdown!
The British crew loved this one! Home-made sausage rolls for lunch (veggie ones for me) and home-made cottage pie with HP sauce for dinner. It gave them a real sense they are heading home. We’re lucky enough to have Internet access, so we’ve all been catching up with friends and family – can’t wait to see them properly. We’re counting down the miles to the Azores. Today there was lots of cheering when we hit the under-1000-miles-to-go mark today.
We’ve all settled into the rhythm of our watches now. It’s hard to talk with the wind blowing so hard, so some of us dance to the music on our headphones – it’s one way to communicate everything is okay. We jumped another hour in time today. We are now 3 hours behind the UK. Which means we are a little closer to our destination. Our body clocks have been thrown out completely – no-one is sure what day it is. That said, no-one pays too much attention to the time, only the alarms before their own watch. And mealtimes, of course ;).
The cockpit gets a good wash down every morning. It's amazing how much salt crystallizes on everything overnight and there will be a lot of polishing to do when we reach land. Later in the day, some more dolphins paid us a visit and this evening we spotted bioluminescence in the breaking waves. Nature is absolutely beautiful out here.
The skies have been cloudy and grey so there wasn't much of a sunset with the overcast skies. The moon and stars are hidden and it is cold but I have been warned to toughen up as the UK will be even colder! Those not on deck are keeping warm inside, watching movies, reading or catching up on sleep.
The journey has become a lot calmer but we are still on port tack, so we still slide from one side to another when a big wave sneaks up and catches us off guard. As a result, I have become a pro at making tea for my lead watchkeeper. Mainly because when I left the mug on the side to fetch milk, the boat heeled over and sent it flying into the sink and I had to start over…
We are now less than 500 miles from the Azores! There are a lot of happy faces today as the wind died down and we could actually enjoy the warmth of the sun on our faces. The chef brought out some warm banana bread. I’m loving the delicious smells that come from the galley, not to mention the homemade pizza we had for lunch.
Today, I kept seeing purple, plastic-looking things floating in the water. It turns out they were sailing jellyfish, also known as "by-the-wind-sailor". They are half-moon shaped and they sit perfectly on the surface of the water. They were everywhere, like little sparkles in the water and I can’t believe I’ve never seen them before.
The sky started off cloudy tonight with a small rain shower. It cleared up beautifully (perfect timing, just before my watch) and I got to see a blood orange moon appear from behind the clouds. It’s all quiet now. I’ve just made hot chocolate for the lead watchkeeper and I’ve got one earphone in so I can start listening to a new audio-book.
Today’s post is a bit of a "NTR": the weather is isn’t up to much for sailing, so we are making way under engine. During the previous days under sail we covered a fair bit of ground, so we are keeping at a steady 8/9 knots to make sure we don't get to the Azores earlier than expected.
None of us enjoyed a good night’s sleep - the waves were big and we were tossed from side to side. We have been lucky avoiding the rain and lack of wind so far. Some of us may have been caught by a little drizzle here and there, but not enough to get completely soaked.
On cold, cloudy days like this the crew like to get comfortable watching movies below deck, drinking copious amounts of tea or catching up on a few hours sleep.
The chef is on a mission in the galley – she likes to prep food in large quantities for later. I take my hat off to her as she is still working while the boat is rolling like mad. You never know when the weather is going to be so bad that you can't use the galley. Preparation is key!
The night watch is cold and the sky is cloudy. Yet the moon is almost full and when it does show it’s face, it's so bright it lights up the whole deck.
Another beautiful sunrise; we’ve witnessed the sky painting so many different pictures just in one day. It can go from bright and sunny to grey with heavy cloud in a matter of minutes.
Still motoring but in calmer waters, which is a relief. The boys set up the fishing rods, while the Captain pretended not to notice – catching a fish means we have to stop for a few minutes and landing them can be quite messy! There was a lot of excitement about what they might catch. They were putting their money on tuna and we were all dreaming of sesame crusted tuna for lunch. Mmmm.
More dolphins! These were extremely playful and showing off. They came up close to the boat, probably a metre away and we watched them show jump and then swim underneath the boat while we ran to the other side hoping they would jump again.
The whole team is on deck this afternoon, patiently waiting to get a bite on one of the fishing lines, or catching a breath of fresh air. Now the wind has died completely, it's pleasantly warm. One of the crew members is all cosy sitting in the cockpit reading her book and the Captain is sipping tea, of course! Others are sitting around the aft deck, eyes closed and taking in some vitamin D!
We’ve spotted land!!! We are a few miles out from the Azores, which means we are in sight of a lot of other vessels, which makes watches more interesting as you have something to keep your eye on and to gauge distance. It is mainly fishing vessels. We can see the lights on land clearly at night and it's exciting to know that we will be there soon. Sadly we won’t be able to set foot on solid ground due to Coronavirus, not even to empty our rubbish bins.
We arrived in the Azores at 3am. Everyone on deck, we got the fenders and lines out and tied up to the dock, then headed to bed. The Captain and lead watchkeeper were having a cup of tea on deck when they noticed a car approaching the boat. They were told we needed to anchor away from port. Everyone out of bed again and we anchored just outside the harbour, then came back to the dock around 8am.
There was a smell of hot croissants through the boat while the boys were refuelling and washing down the boat. The girls were tidying the interior and getting some laundry done as fast as possible. Just after 11am we were on our way again, next stop: Falmouth!
The water is unbelievably calm today, there is no wind and the sun is warming us all up.
Today we have a special birthday onboard – mine! Who gets to say they spent their birthday crossing the Atlantic? There are amazing smells of baking and other lovely aromas coming from the galley. Chef is taking complete advantage of flat waters and cooking up a storm!
It was such a lovely day. We ate burgers in the cockpit for dinner, then hung out on the aft deck with music playing, taking photos, waiting for the sunset – all followed by the most delicious homemade chocolate cake! It was real home from home.
There were lots of alarms going off this evening. The engineer rushed out to find that the lead watchkeeper had accidentally pressed the generator emergency stop button (with his bottom!) while doing engine checks…
In the meantime, we are making the most of these calm waters – according to the GRIB files it is about to get very windy and uncomfortable!
Just as my early morning watch ended, the rain clouds gathered. Unfortunately my fellow crew member, who was taking over from me, got drenched. Getting below at 1.30 am, I was cold and desperate for a hot shower and bed! I don’t think our bodies will know what has hit us when we get back on dry land. Working and sleeping normal hours will be a challenge. We are expecting wobbly legs and the need to catch up on sleep (not to mention the occasional glass of wine!).
Another cloudy day with calmer waters. So it was comfortable to sit in the crew mess and have lunch without our food sliding off the plate or bottoms sliding off the seats. Everyone was excited for leftover birthday cake, which didn't last very long.
There are lots of cake lovers on board and our chef spoils us. Although she prepped a lot of banana bread and froze it before we left, she still comes out with freshly-baked pastries now and then, all very welcome. The Captain has insisted banana bread is a staple part of our diet for future crossings.
Everyone took up their usual positions when they weren’t on watch. Some snuggled up with a book, others relaxed in their cabins, and one crew member phoned home. Speaking to your family while at sea is a massive privilege, being able to let them know we are safe and how our day is going is amazing. The boys were out on deck again with the fishing rods, patiently waiting for their tuna. So far there’s not been so much as a nibble on the line!
We make a lot of hot chocolate and tea in the early hours of the morning. As well as warming the crew up, it also keeps us awake. We’ve been experimenting with balancing mugs of hot chocolate in the microwave. After many failed attempts (followed by yet another a clean-up) we found warming the milk in a plastic container then pouring it in the mug works best!
The beautiful sunrise didn't last very long due to another cloud invasion. When we see rain clouds in the distance, we all raise our eyebrows and say "damn". At the same time, we’re all secretly planning ahead when we will make tea so we can get out of the rain for a bit.
At 07:45 we hit the 1,000 nm-to-go mark – next stop, Falmouth. Yay! The sea is already changing colour – from a clean, clear turquoise of the Caribbean to the deep inky blue of the open ocean and now, finally, to a deep jade green. It’s another NTR day, with lots of visits to the snack cupboard to pass the time. We hijacked one of the lockers in the cockpit to store snacks and water, which is easy to get to and avoids having anyone to go into the mess in bumpy weather. We have a mix of Pringles, M&M's, nuts, breakfast bars, home-baked cookies and, of course, banana bread!
Although it was late, we decided to have a girls’ evening in the snug. More tea (I don't think I’ve written, heard or said the word "tea" so much in my life as on this crossing). Someone bought the chocolate in and we had a lovely chat and laugh. These bonding moments are lovely and you can feel strong friendships forming.
A fresh but sunny morning – amazing how cheery everyone gets when the sun is out. The music kicks in and the dance moves come out.
Today we spotted an Orca! We all jumped up and left our lunches to celebrate the moment. A few hours later a pod of playful dolphins surrounded the yacht. Could it get better? Oh yes! A little later, one of our crew members spotted a shark.
The rest of the day was fairly dull, with flat seas and more tea and digestive biscuits. The crew have been trying to sneak in workouts here and there. Push-ups, squats and planking are safest, especially while trying to balance on the boat. Some of the others distracted themselves with the fishing rods. And no, we still haven't caught anything!
We had another incredible sunset tonight. The sun sets later and later as we get closer to the UK and the sky was a rainbow of beautiful colours. During the late watch last night, one of our crew was fascinated by the amount of bioluminescence. At one point she was terrified by what looked like a blue torpedo heading towards the boat. After a small panic, she realised it was one of pod of dolphins covered in bioluminescence. What a magical day for wild sea life!
In the quieter moments, we reflect on how strange is sailing back to this little island some of us call home. At the same time, we all feel so at home while we bob about on this beautiful boat out in the middle of the ocean.
Despite an overcast sky, our day started with beautifully calm waters. We saw dolphins swimming in the distance and a rainbow sprung up behind us. That said, it is really cold, so when the dolphins disappeared, the crew did too, seeking warmth.
The boys are still waiting for a fish (any fish!) to bite. But with the weather coming in they’ve had to stow the rods without a single fish caught this trip!
We keep checking the GRIB files for the weather and we are getting a little nervous. We are expecting 35 to 45 knots of wind this evening, which means an uncomfortable night ahead. It will be blowing too hard to put the sails up, which means we will have to motor through it.
The day closes with a beautiful sunset but the sea gets progressively rough, with waves coming up right over the bow and falling on the aft. The watchkeepers are covered in salt and our oilies have gone from being black to white. The salt is even sticking to our eyebrows.
In anticipation of the weather, we all relocated to the crew mess and saloon to sleep. We also made sure we’d all eaten in the case we get seasick. Everything was rattling throughout the boat, and we prayed the guest glasses wouldn’t get smashed!
2 am. As we dozed off, we would get thrown around by the movement of the boat in swells of up to 8 metres with 45 knots blowing upwind. The was an ongoing challenge of keeping our hands in our pockets to keep warm or to hold on to avoid being thrown over. At one point the yacht was heeling at 45 degrees, leaving the engineer and first officer hanging onto a handle for dear life while their feet were lifted a metre off the ground. There was no way anyone was going to sleep through this.
With minimum rest, this has been the hardest day of the entire trip. No sleep and shorter rest periods saw to that. No-one had much of an appetite, not even for the normally ubiquitous cups of tea. We didn't see much of each other either, huddled below to keep warm between watches. Unimpressed hardly describes a day of 45 knots of freezing cold wind.
When I came up on deck for my next watch, I could see land in the distance. Today, in these conditions, it was even more exciting than usual. As we got closer the water got calmer and we were finally able to have a reviving cup of tea while planning how we were going to drop anchor.
Just before midnight, we slowly made our way into the Falmouth Marina Channel where we dropped the anchor just outside the Marina.
What a day! Red eyes and hands so numb with cold we couldn't feel the zippers on our jackets. We changed the clocks so we are on UK time, then crawled into our warm beds, grateful to be near land. No surprise, everyone slept soundly!
9.30 am: we raised the anchor and made our way into the Marina. We have arrived:tied up to the dock and happy to see land. We received a warm welcome from the marina with lovely cream teas – we definitely know we are home.
We did a quick tidy inside the boat and gave the deck a wash down, rinsing the salt off our oilies at the same time. Once the boat was sorted out, we went ashore to stretch our legs and feel solid ground land under our feet for the first time in more than two weeks.
Falmouth is a cute town with beautiful painted houses in lots of different colours. Everything is closed and social distance is very evident. Being at sea for so long, you forget how much this virus is affecting everything and everyone. Despite all that, there are still a few people out and about who are happy to give you a warm smile!
Looking back, it's hard to believe we are here – the time went so fast. (It didn't feel that way in the middle of a long cold watch in the dark!) Everyone did so well and we worked well together as a team. Later in the evening, we sat around the table with hot soup, laughing about the fact that we didn't think we were going to make it through the rough weather over the last 48 hours. But we did and tonight we sat with a few beers, wine and fish and chips, to celebrate while we reminisced about all the good memories we made!