Atlantic crossing

Transatlantic - Posted On

04/12/08: we are now ready for the greatest sea adventure: the Great Crossing of the Atlantic on a sailboat.

The boat: The Selya again, (instead of the Brise du Sud as previously planned) 50 feet’s long (15m), catamaran made for speed in 2006, not really designed for being very comfortable but still is under my traveler point of view: 1 room and 1 bathroom in every side, a large living room and a nice terrace (also said cockpit) with the most astonishing view of the world : the large and empty ocean everywhere around.

I share my room with Luis, also ‘boat-hitchhiker’ and so crew on board. 36yo, French and Portuguese, he is on his way back to his favorite destination abroad : Brazil. He wants to learn about sailing and so create a music band on the sea (for the dolphins, they love music!) going from harbor to harbor all around the world. Looking quite similar to me (long brown hair and fat wild beard) people of the rally were often mixing up between the 2 of us asking me to play saxophone and him to ride his bicycle.

Captain Jacques, alias « Sparrow » and his wife Maryvonne, both Swiss are the landlors of the boat.

When we leave the harbor, wind taking us firmly, there’s quite a bit of an emotion here, like we are doing something none of us have done before : 15 days on water. Luis and I talking at the front of the boat, looking at the nearby coast. Suddenly, a big CLAC and Pfffuuuuiit, the wing has fallen down from the mat! Those things are quite made for being kept up usually, which make us all nervous : It is NOT normal. So we just decide to go back to the harbor. Easy, no? Problem solved at night, climbing up there, I fix the (bloody) hook, strongly enough that time for having the all ocean falling on it and not moving any inch out of it !

So the REAL depart happens to be the next day, Friday. It’s known in the marine world for being a bad day to depart. Like never say « rabbit » on sea, you would be thrown out on the sea. Tradition. We say « never mind » and 2nd problem solved. Easy, no?

OK that’s it we are on, wind are re-taking us into the wild, towards south, with a little bit of west on it.

The route: Cabo Verde is above the 10th degree of latitude north. Salvador de Bahia is under the 10th degree of latitude south.

Between: the equator line and what we call the « Intertropical convergence zone » (or ITCZ). It is the region that circles the Earth, near the equator, where the trade winds of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres come together. The intense sun and warm water of the equator heats the air in the ITCZ, raising its humidity and causing it to rise. As the air rises it cools, releasing the accumulated moisture in an almost perpetual series of thunderstorms, but also with period of really calm air with no wind at all: you throw your banana skin out in the sea, next morning it’s still there!

So we start with trade wind taking us south-west, and we face for a few days of no wind with sudden thunderstorms driving your boat crazy, (and you as well), to grab back the southern trade wind going North West. Easy, no ?

Life on board is driven by the watch standings, defined from the start by Maryvonne, organized woman used with having people working around. We have 3 hours of continuous watch, 1 during the day, the other during night. That one is quite special as everyone else is sleeping. It seems to be alone in the great sea, just noise of the wind, not even chilling, cause of the warm water and climate here. Watching means every 15 minutes giving a quick glance all around, checking no light around (not many anyway), no spots on the radar, speed, direction of the wind and if the milky rice is not burning (most important).

I read, write a lot, really a lot, look quietly to the sea and to the stars, and really, deeply think to how life is wonderful, how very special it is to be here, and how much now I know that I am going the right way with the all project.

Every day brings it own little story: first day we see a shark (will not swim around before long, believe me!), 2nd day we try to fix the electric problem (and 3rd, 4th, every day...) that other day we have someone on the VHF (radio), next one dolphins play with the boat, we try to jump but at this point, really, Captain Sparrow do not want anyone dead in this story.

Each of us gets it own place in our micro-society: Luis is the electric man, while Maryvonne mange the cleaning, I manage to cook and Jacques is the Captain. There’s no need to be specialized in anything when you are the captain, you are the TRUTH and whatever you say is correct. That is true everywhere.

Intertropical convergence zone:

Day 5, morning, the all boat is shaking. Big black clouds coming straight to us: storm! We are in! All days before wind were constant, blue sky. That first day come harshly with rains and sudden strong blows of wind.

Day 6, morning, blue sky, absolutely no wind. The all sea is flat, like big oil leaking. PLOUF, in the water, right away. Have you ever dived in a water of 4000m deep? Well you should, it’s amazing!

Day 7, morning, bad clouds everywhere, again. That day, watching a big cloud growing more and more, Luis and I see a little comma going down the cloud. I imagine how cool it would be to have a twister, real one, developing in front of us. Checking on the sea, at the horizon line, I see water going up and turning fast in the air... DAMN IT !they say in USA. TWISTER COMING! Everybody tide up everything, ready to flee this destruction form of the wind. It could easily destroy the boat, and more dreadful, my bike as well!!!! No way!

Latitude zero:

13/12/08, day 9, 6:17am UT, we pass the mythic equator line. None of us, even the boat, have ever done it (out of with a plane), it is so the occasion for opening a good bottle of estanperote, local rhum of Cabo Verde.

It means a lot for me as I managed to come here only ‘by fair means’, meaning no petrol used or nearly. Being in the south side of the planet, getting to see the southern cross, telling good bye to the Northern star, having another sense for Coriolis force, it is all about being far from home.

Day 15, 19/12/08, 4:30am UT, we arrive in the harbor of Salvador de Bahia. Welcomed by a good Caipirinha and delicious tropical fresh fruits, we try to readapt our bodies on the strange feeling of a ground NOT moving. No words to explain how it is to put the foot of the 3rd continent of this adventure. 15 months, 15000 kms and so much adventure to come here forward.