December 9th Noon position (St. Lucia time) Marina, Rodney Bay, St Lucia.
Day’s run: 90 nautical miles
Fresh fish for dinner is what you’d expect on a sea-going boat and the crew had great expectations of fish feasts but we actually had very little luck fishing during the Atlantic crossing. We listened to daily reports on the SSB radio of enormous fish caught and bans on fishing being imposed by other captains due to crew’s fishing success. ‘There are two different sports, one is fishing and the other is catching.’’ Bones had intoned, attempting to alleviate the crew’s disappointment. Preparations for fishing should be a third sport. No ready-made fish trace was up to Bones’s standard. Specific lures had to be hand crafted. The box of fishing tackle bits had been produced early in the voyage and an afternoon spent connecting lurid plastic squids and hooks and sinkers to fluorescent green line. The lures were kissed (yuck! not by me) for good luck, named Bertha, Brenda and Beryl and the trolling line paid out for 50 metres behind the stern. Aside from the days when it was too stormy to fish, the line had been religiously paid out each morning with little success. The speed of the boat meant that it had to be a fairly fast fish to keep up with us. The first major catch was the Wahoo yesterday. Today, the crew’s fishing credential honour was saved. There was a whine from the line in mid-afternoon. Clare reeled it in but it was just a bunch of Sargasso weed. She cleaned it off, gave it a pat, paid it out again and, given our past record, reckoned another catch was unlikely so she and Todd entered the realm of galley hell to begin the hot and sweaty task of dinner preparation in the tropics on board a bouncing boat. After the last recalcitrant cabbage had been hunted down and dinner was underway, an extended high pitched whine signalled a possible catch. Alex leaped to the stern for his first ever attempt to reel in the line. A tussle ensued and slowly a fighting Barracuda was wound in. Too late for a fish feast but good for the freezer. We gathered in the cockpit for our final meal together. It was pork with polenta and cabbage, winner of best vegetable for a long voyage. The bowls were handed up from the galley, nothing stays on a plate when you’re rolling downwind. Afterwards, double chocolate rations were issued by the chocolate monitor. We sat companionably watching for the elusive green flash of the setting sun. The realisation descended that our all-absorbing eat-sleep-sail routine, detached from the concerns of our other lives was coming to an end. Yes, we would enjoy the things we missed. Fruit. Salad. Pizza. Crisp bed linen. Showers on demand. Copious amounts of water when required. But we would miss this aloofness from general concerns, from work and from world events, born of the knowledge that little can be done from mid-Atlantic without easy access to communication.
Night falls early at this latitude. By 6.45 (ship’s clock) it was dark but was still warm enough for shorts and t-shirts. Except for the two people on watch who were helming and looking out for other boats, people drifted below for the last night on board.
‘Appellez-tous, appellez-tous!’ abruptly erupted the VHF. ‘We’re in the Caribbean! That’s the French coastguard, based in Martinique,’ Bones informed us. And we were. Looking westwards towards the horizon, the loom of lights could be seen. Slowly, smoothly, over the next three hours, trying to keep to the course, we crept closer to land.
Soft shadows emerged from the water, transforming into elevated dark forms dotted with pinpricks of lights. Gradually, the islands separated into a discrete landmasses and the channel between Martinique and St Lucia became distinct. Steep sided hills, trees and the scattered lights of settlements materialised out of the darkness. Everyone came up on deck preparing for landfall. In a tangible atmosphere of anticipation and excitement we dropped our genoa pole, removed the boom preventers, furled the staysail and hoisted the mizzen sail. Land loomed above us, close on our port side blotting out the starlight. Then we altered course to pass close to the corner of Pigeon Island and onto our final approach into the broad, wide sweep of Rodney Bay. A semicircle of dark, tree-clad hills, protected the bay from the swells of the Atlantic. Far ahead on the water in the velvet darkness, the deck lights of the ARC rally control boat and a strobe lit buoy pinpointed the end of the voyage. We hauled in our mainsail and genoa tight, headed up into the wind, heeled over and raced towards the finishing line. Emily Morgan lifted and rose to meet the wind. The water swished by the hull and we felt the cool night air blow past in an enlivening rush. Under the stars, we sailed into the sheltering haven of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. A loud long blast of a horn split the quiet of the night. We crossed the line. We had made it! Our journey of 2995 nautical miles was over. We had sailed across the Atlantic!