Saoirse - Saoirse Diaries-17- Reflections from the cockpit

I was surprised at how little life we saw during the crossing. For the better part of the journey we were alone on this vast ocean, no other boats on the horizon. We had one small school of dolphins come play beside us, and another two enormous dolphins, the likes of which none of us had ever before seen, jump up once right beside the boat just to say hello as they passed and then dive never to be seen by us again. No idea what kind they were but they were huge. We also had a bird that circled us for a few hours one day totally sending Óisin into an excited frenzy. Ah birdie, birdie mama, birdie!! Cúisle named it Brave because it was so far out at sea alone. Sometimes when I was on watch sitting at the wheel and would look to the horizon, nothing but sea in all directions, I had the feeling we were living in a snow globe, and given all the breakages, a snow globe that the Gods just kept shaking for their own amusement. Although admittedly we saw loads and loads of flying fish and I just love those little guys.

It always made me a little sad in the mornings when I would walk the deck and find another lying lifeless. How we interfere with nature, just this one small boat on this vast ocean. As we are sailing and not using the engine you would think we would have little impact but the number of dead flying fish on our deck every morning told a different story. I wondered how many of the little guys had come to their end thanks to the 100 Arc plus boats passing through their world.

We were able to save two, one big one that landed so hard we heard him and could toss him back into the ocean immediately. The other managed to fly through our open side window and land on my leg whilst I lay on the sofa in semi sleep. Nearly frightened the life out of me I can tell you but once I realised what the slimy feeling on my leg was I was able to get him back in the water in the nick of time.

As we entered the last few days of the trip the weather began to change. On the one hand the Trades were more stable on the other we were hit by more and more squalls. Spotting them during the day is easy enough, those long dark clouds, climbing like the ominous beasts they are and a distinct change in water colour underneath. You can’t always avoid them, but at least when you see them coming you can prepare, reduce sail. It is more difficult for us at night because we don’t have a radar and the nights had been so dark with the moon waxing from a dark moon over the course of the trip. We usually err on the side of caution for night passages in squally conditions and reduce sail before the night shift pattern kicks in. We had difficulty doing that on this crossing for two reasons. Firstly the jib furl was destroyed on day one by our anchor arm which bent perpendicular to the deck and stuck itself in the furl. This meant we could no longer furl the jib. In addition, our kicking strap popped at some point resulting not only in a skying boom but an inability to reef the main past the first reefing position. This left us feeling anxious and over powered during some of the squalls. Very much at the mercy of nature. It’s not a pleasant feeling, especially when you have your babies on board.

The last couple of nights of the crossing saw Heiko, Wolf and I getting very little sleep as a result. After all the breakages the rig seemed fragile. We just didn’t have the same faith in it that we usually had. Some of the noises coming from it were frightening. We were all very ready to just get there and praying we would do so in one piece. On the final day just when we thought we had come through the worst of the weather we got slammed by a vicious squall that hit 35 knots, accompanied by a phenomenal amount of rain, forcing us into a number of unintentional gybes and generally doing a number on us. We had just altered course to avoid a fishing boat that was pottering around in front of us and each unintentional gybe appeared to put us back directly into it’s path. It was no fun at all and we were all so tired it took every last ounce of energy we had to sail through it.

By the time we finally saw St Lucia come into view Wolf was punch drunk and slightly delirious. As we came close to pigeon point, in just 30 metres of water he was convinced he saw a Whale. Oh my God he says, a whale, a whale, unbelievable that we have sailed the whole Atlantic and now just when we are about to cross the finish line we see a whale. We all looked out of the cockpit a little skeptically, and Wolf says ‘there do you see it?’. We follow the line of this finger only to see the photographer in his dinghy heading towards Saoirse. ‘There’ Wolf says again and sure enough he was pointing at the photographer. Yup thought Heiko and I, you were right the first time, it is unbelievable!!

It was Óisin’s reaction to seeing land that most intrigued however. I hadn’t really ever stopped to think what might have been going through his mind as he woke to day after day at sea. Unlike with Cúisle who knew the adventure upon which we had embarked and was fully aware we would spend at least two weeks at sea, he was clueless. Had he just thought, oh wow, life is different now. He really flipped out when he saw land. Mama, land, mama land, mama house, mama tree, mama boat he said as he jumped up and down enthusiastically almost hysterically excited, joyfully pointing out all he saw. His reaction to his first run along the pontoon with feet finally on terra Firma was equally exuberant.

After limping across the finish line, winds around 20 knots, unable to furl the jib we had to drop it whilst trying to avoid all the myriad boats anchored just the other side of the line. After all we had experienced on the crossing, all the difficulties, all the jury rigs, all Óisin’s tantrums when we were already beyond exhausted, the lack of sleep and general anxiety over the rig that kept our bodies in permanent tension we had finally made it and what a sight for sore eyes the yellow shirts standing on the pontoon to greet us were.

Once alongside, sunshine on our faces, rum punch in hand it was hard to really compute what we had just achieved. It will take a few days to digest it all I think. One thing I can say however, it was, as we knew it would be, an EPIC adventure.
Now it’s time to relax and enjoy paradise. That’s the Saoirse Crew out until the next time. Stay tuned.