Sailing across Atlantic Ocean, from Canary Islands to Caribbean

Canary Islands - rather far to anything
After sailing from Sweden to the Canary Islands, the next part of the circumnavigation for me was to cross the Atlantic. I had found an opportunity to crew on a large catamaran for the Atlantic crossing from Canary Islands (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) to the Caribbean. The skipper took on 6 crew to make the trip comfortable enough. 

The 73 ft catamaran (over 20 meters long) was larger than most sailing boats I’ve seen around, and quite impressive. The mast was 100 ft high, with aerodynamically shaped spreaders for the best performance. The cat has proven to be able to do over 20 knots in the right conditions. It was equipped as a luxury hotel. The skipper and his wife do charter in the Med during the summer, and in the Caribbean during the winter. They have hosted some royalties and celebrities, among others the Prince and Princess of the Arab Emirates.

This is a real luxury charter cruiser. In most of the cabins there is a luxury double bed, several storage drawers, and an adjacent toilet with a big shower cabin. It has a huge social space between the two hulls, a sort of a living room, with a flat screen and a large dinner table. At the aft, there are beautiful bathing steps, the last one being so large, and so frequently overswept by small waves, that it has been nicknamed "The Beach". LED lights underneath the hull add on to the luxury. There is also a full-size bar counter with bar chairs, full-height fridge and freezer – everything for the fancy of luxury charter guests.

The beauty of Canary Islands. This is Corralejo, at the island of Fuerteventura.
As I arrived to the Canary Islands, I said a warm good-bye to Paloma, finished up the practical tasks, like getting the last of my stuff from the old Vega, and started preparing for the trip together with the skipper and the rest of the crew. There was no more time of enjoying the city of Las Palmas. The Sailor's Bay pub on the pier near the marina is a focal point for sailors, crew and crew candidates to meet, eat, drink, and rotate. The marina was now bustling with the ARC partakers, and many were the ones who came there to partake, seek a boat to crew on, or just celebrate along. The marina was overfull so we had to drop anchor in the bay. Of course it's nice to participate in the parties and the cheering, but we were not one of the boats that like to sail off at the same time as the ARC in order to get the company and some extra safety. We would not wait until the rally start (21/11), and go off already ten days earlier. That was almost too early, risking to encounter a hurricane, but we were ready to take that risk. There was a satellite weather station on board, which allowed us to plan for 7-10 days ahead, and we had enough sail and steam capacity to be able to dodge most situations. We would not head for Cape Verde, first, as many sailors do in order to reach the trade winds faster. We'd rely on the "steel spinnaker" (for landcrabs: that would be the engine).

Provisioning for 7 people for 2-3 weeks, without a chance to fill up anything during the trip, is a big responsibility. If you forget something important, like salt or oil or spices, you won't be able to cook as planned. We had four shopping trolleys filled up to the brim, and some cardboard boxes in addition. And that's not counting bread, milk, and water - we would get that in the morning before departure. Getting all the food into the fridge, freezer and drawers was like a crazy game of Tetris, but some blocks were soft, some very brittle, some round and some were frozen but already melting and dripping in the heat...

Seeing Scandinavian food on store shelves, for the first time in a half a year - it definitely triggered some happy reactions! No, I did not get any of these, but rather the local delicacies.
As that was done, I was looking forward to a couple of weeks of Swedish, Czech, Russian, Italian, and Asian cuisine. The cap found some last-minute crew, a young couple from Italy, who seemed to take very big pride in their cooking. A lot of Italian pasta was bought... and a lot of discussions were had about ham, cheese and wine! The Italian guy was the loudest voice in all of this, making claims about his excellent cooking, and taking lead in choosing a lot of food in detail (basically complaining that the quality in Canary Islands is not like in Italy). The Italian girl told that she was a pro photographer so I was also looking forward to some nice photographs as well as great food. None of us knew that something completely opposite was awaiting.

Anyway, back to the provisioning. Getting back the stuff from the dock was not that easy, especially in a dinghy that has 50 horse powers engine (it's mentally hard, and usually also unnecessary, to go slowly with it...) One box was lost to the water, so there was a minor man-over-board maneuver trying to pick up all the pasta and flour packaging floating around. The wet flour turned into dough, and got messy so we threw it away. Not much to do about that. The rest of the food was washed, packaging was discarded in order to avoid bugs aboard.

It was a day full of hard work. That evening, as I was getting some well-needed rest, the fire alarm went off! Seems that there was too little oxygen in the cabin at the moment so it triggered the CO2 sensor. So that was the last time I slept with a close door for the rest of the trip.

Beautiful blue skies came the next day, and we were off to the city to buy some cigars (they cost 1 euro each or so) and some stuff that we did not find at the first store. The Czech couple, eager to work, were cleaning the boat underneath to increase the performance. Everyone was longing to depart. However, we still needed to wait. The captain's passport was being delivered to the harbor, and the Spanish delivery system seems to be building on the famous Mañana-principle. There was a public holiday yesterday (again...) so it would be arriving today or tomorrow, or later, nobody knows.

The captain and the Czech couple spent the last day visiting the Christopher Columbus museum, the Italians hang around somewhere in the harbor, and I was staying at the sailors pub for the last of Internet. Finally, the passport arrived and we cast off.

The beautiful Atlantic Ocean, still and warm day before reaching the Trades.
The trip was pleasant, despite being very early in the season, with a risk of storms. It took two weeks in total. The weather was good, windless at first so we had to motor quite a bit, but then the trade winds picked up, as well as the current (this is why boats typically go southwards towards Cap Verde prior to turning West). The last days, the wind was a steady N Force 6, so we were flying along beautifully at a minimum of 10 knots, peaking at over 14 or 15 at times! It was very warm (around 30 C) with some rain showers and beautiful rainbows. We had full moon that shone so brightly you could read a book just in the moonlight, and also a lot of stars - the software from my astronomy course did come in very handy. We were seven people on the boat, taking watches in couples, three hours on - six hours off, the captain being standby all the time but not taking watches as such. Also, the cooking days were managed in teams, so we had Czech and Italian cuisine every third day, and Swedish cuisine that me and one more person were responsible for. The captain took some cooking shifts too, with very nice Asian and Finnish kitchen. We ate a lot of fresh newly caught fish of course, and made sushi and sashimi on two occasions.

Fishing en route was quite good - we got several Mahi-Mahi, at least three of them being over a meter long. There were also flying-fish landing on the deck, but we threw them away - they get foul very fast in the sun. We had seen a lot of flying fish out in the sea too, also dolphins and whales. 

Apart from fishing, we often bathed - tied with a rope behind the boat that was going in 7 knots and more, so it was like being a human water-ski. I had sunbathed a bit, studied a couple of courses, read a lot of yachting magazines, went through a great classic fact book on ocean passages, and a couple of other books - in Swedish and in Russian. Also, I had been working out, playing games, sewing clothes... so yes, I had a lot of free time, apart from the actual navigation and the work on the boat!

Upon passing exactly half of the Atlantic, we had a masquerade party, that we arranged ad a surprise for the captain. There were pirates, mummies, divers, and a jungle soldier. Then, we had some birds visiting; they stayed on the boat for several days, probably wanting a free ride instead of flying to wherever they wanted to migrate. Or maybe they just got seriously lost... At first they looked very tired, and were very shy, but later they got cocky and were getting closer and closer until we almost stepped on them when we went to the aft deck. They even got inside the boat at the end, so we had to help them out.

Another fun thing to do aboard was making new haircuts. One of the crew girls got from long hair, through some kind of in-the-middle-hairstyle, to very short. Another guy shaved off his moustache and was suddenly impossible to recognize.

Of though the boat is very big, it's challenging to be isolated together with several other people for a long time, especially when you did not pick the company yourself. Unfortunately, one of the crew turned up to be trouble both for the captain and for the rest of people on board - to different extents, of course. It was a serious lesson in self-discipline and social competence. It was the Italian guy, who had the loudest voice in all questions before the departure, and claimed his highest competence at most things. It turned out that he had amazingly managed to fake his entire sailing CV, and possessed no knowledge whatsoever about offshore sailing. That was not the largest problem though – he also refused to follow rules and Cap’s orders. As a consequence, he managed to flood the showers, get the luxury beds permanently wet with salt water, messed up the sails, and was about to cause even more serious trouble. At the end, a lot of time and energy went to “babysitting” him so no more trouble would be caused. Ironically, the guy was no good in making food either, and had made some very incorrect decisions while provisioning. He also managed to be extremely unpleasant to all of the crew and the Cap. Concerning his partner, the girl was nice although very quiet, but everyone is yet to see those professional photographs that she was going to be taking. She did not have a great experience in sailing, but at least she did not lie about it. Upon arrival, the couple was asked to leave the ship immediately. They wanted to go to other boats looking for a charter job, and I could not wish them anything else than the very best of luck. Later on, I saw their names on an announcement board in the Caribbean, looking for a job on board, or for deliveries. Their great offshore experience was mentioned, as well as possible references from the Cap. This is a reminder to always check references when employing people, or getting new crew.

All together, the crew issues aside, the trip was very pleasant and calm - a lot of sea, a lot of stars, and quite a thing to sail over a time difference of four hours, the sun going up later and later every day... A very special experience, and really happy to have made it!

We arrived to St Martin in Caribbean on November 28, at 06 am Las Palmas time. Arriving to the fast land was very strange - after being isolated in a boat, you get a mild culture chock - but in a good way. The hand-painted signs, the cozy restaurants in wooden houses all painted in bright colors, the palms and the warm water and the green mountains, the lovely Caribbean accent, the fact that you can pay in the bar with soggy dollars, the huge pterodactyl-like birds and the spice heat, everything was much more magical than I ever thought it to be.

The boat was anchored at a lagoon in the South of Saint Martin (actually Sint Maarten, on the Dutch side). We arrived at night, the lights from the land being quite unreal after 16 days at the Atlantic with nothing but the horizon to watch. We celebrated with some bottles of bubbly (that the restaurant KGB had sponsored me with), a Cohiba cigar, and watched the sun rise. The day after, we went to island to clear in, and to get some internet, a cold beer, and a lunch (in that order).

Here, I was going to buy my own boat, equip her, and start cruising across Caribbean and further around the world.