Sailing Across the Atlantic Ocean

 

On Birds and Boredom: Sailing Across the Atlantic Ocean post image

On the second day of our Atlantic crossing, a bird flew in through the porthole next to our bed in the owner’s cabin.

I was on night watch with Kristi when Ryan appeared in the saloon with a look of dazed confusion on his face.

“There’s a bird in my bedroom,” he mumbled.

I looked at Kristi and laughed, assuming Ryan had either just woken up from a vivid dream and hadn’t shaken off the sleep yet or he was sleep-walking around the boat talking nonsense. Either way, it was funny, which is why I couldn’t stop laughing as I asked Ryan to clarify. “What?”

“There’s a bird in my bedroom.”

Kristi and I looked at each other in disbelief as we made our way downstairs to the owner’s cabin to see what Ryan was talking about.

Sure enough, perched on the floor next to my bed, was a little black and white bird looking around and hopping lightly across the floor, not at all fazed by the two large humans bent over it, staring and giggling.

“Oh my God, there really IS a bird in the bedroom!” I said.

“I told you,” said Ryan, rubbing his eyes and yawning. “It flew past my head while I was sleeping and woke me up.”

“Aw, he’s so cute!” I said, slowly inching towards the bird. “What are you doing in here, little guy?” I cupped my hands softly around the little bird’s body, expecting it to struggle and fight to fly out of my grasp. But instead the bird sat calmly as I scooped it up and walked upstairs to the saloon.

The pumpkin seeds were of no interest to this bird (Photo by Kristi Wilson)

I set the bird down on our table outside, again expecting it to fly frantically around the cockpit, trying to escape, but it didn’t. The bird seemed tired, like maybe he got lost and had stopped to get some rest before continuing on towards its planned destination. I set a bowl of water and some sunflower seeds on the table, which the bird showed absolutely no interest in. But I didn’t want to be a bad host; I had to at least try to offer our little guest some refreshments.

The rest of my night watch passed without incident and though the sunrise was as pretty as any sunrise I’ve seen at sea, the sky streaked with shades of pink and purple, I don’t remember anything else about the day.

The sunsets are always stunning on the Atlantic Ocean, it seems (Photo by Kristi Wilson)

Which is pretty much like every day that passed on our Atlantic crossing. Days consisted of long stretches of doing nothing in various positions on the boat — at the helm, in the cockpit, on the beanbag chair on the foredeck, in the saloon, on the sun lounger next to the helm — name the space and you could usually find a half asleep crew member curled up there trying to pass the time reading a book, watching a movie, playing cards or just staring out at the waves.

The details of the long hours spent doing nothing have slipped from my mind like water through my fingers. But the animals we encountered became the hard, vivid memories that stood out when I thought back on each of the 20 days that passed as we bobbed around on the Atlantic Ocean. The bird that flew into my bedroom, all the fish we caught, the dolphins that played in our wake, the family of whales that circled our boat, the squid we found in our dinghy and the flying fish that threw themselves at the boat during night watches; those are the things I remember vividly about the crossing. My memories are marked by a string of animals on an ocean timeline.

Morgan proudly showing off his big catch

On every ocean crossing I’ve ever done (which is 3 now — twice across the Atlantic Ocean and once across the Southern Ocean), memories from the first few days seem to be lost to the walking dead that are the crew on board. As everyone adjusts to their strange sleep schedules, as well as the seasickness that usually strikes a sorry few of the crew, there is a lot of stumbling around silently and brewing strong coffees to shake off the malaise that has blanketed the entire boat.

For the first few days, the priority for crew is to keep the boat sailing, try to eat regular meals and stay awake for the few hours we’re on duty during the day. When we’re not on watch, we can all be found strewn around the boat in various states of sleep or almost-sleep, either clutching a book while curled up on the foredeck in the beanbag chair, stretched out on the settee half asleep hugging a laptop (that’s my usual position) or lying in bed trying to watch a movie.

If all of this sounds boring and rather uneventful, that’s because it is. And that’s exactly why I wasn’t at all worried about the idea of crossing the vast Atlantic Ocean on our own boat — after all, I’d already done it on the Clipper Race, and we didn’t have the luxury then of turning on our engines when the wind died. On the Clipper Race, we sat flailing around in the Doldrums with our sails hanging limply for 10 days, baking in the sun and going out of our minds with boredom.

There’s nothing more boring than having no wind on an ocean race

So when Ryan and I were given the option of having our new boat, Cheeky Monkey, delivered to the U.S. from France for a hefty fee of $15,000, I barely paused before stating we would pick up our boat in France and sail it across the Atlantic ourselves.

Which is kind of crazy, now that I think about it, because I can vividly remember the thrilling terror I felt in December 2012 when we set out on Hideaway to sail from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini, Bahamas. I was imagining all the things that could go wrong as we lost sight of land and were out of range of other boaters, considering we barely knew what we were doing as sailors and had never done a landfall like that before. And that was only a thirty-five hour sail I had gotten myself all worked up over.

Of course, things did go wrong, as they always do. Our engine started over-heating and spitting sea water out onto our cabin floor, which turned out to be the result of a corroded heat exchanger. But by the time we reached Bimini with our faulty engine, we had stretched ourselves, mentally and physically, beyond the range of what we thought we could do. And it made us wonder what would happen if we continued to go further.

Looking back on our learning days on Hideaway, I am awed by this newfound fearless determination I have to cross oceans, which I know was not something I even remotely desired to do before meeting Ryan, and it certainly was not an idea I felt at all comfortable with even 5 years into sailing Hideaway around the harbors of New York.

So I understand when I meet sailors and cruisers out on the water who never aim to sail beyond the Caribbean, or maybe even their home ports. They name the discomforts of being at sea for extended periods of time and how they prefer to avoid all that. Sailing is something they experience for fun — the increased risk of being far from land and support is something that overshadows any idea of fun in sailing away from local shores. I absolutely understand all of those sentiments.

But somehow, I have found myself over the years stretching just a little further than I did before and exercising the muscle that dreams of places even further away until I’ve found myself feeling more and more comfortable being out of sight of land and growing more confident in my boat and my own sailing skills.

5 years ago, if you asked me to do this, I’d be saying “HELL NO.” (Photo by Kristi Wilson)

To look back on where I began is always amusing because I have just described a 20-day Atlantic crossing as being, essentially, boring, but for the string of animals that sent me shrieking and running periodically across the foredeck to have a closer look at what was splashing on the surface. The moments that filled the spaces between those animals I can’t recall without yawning, as they were pleasantly dull moments full of silence, lapping waves, a few meals and numerous books.

The bird that flew in through our window on the second day of our Atlantic crossing hopped around our saloon and cockpit for the entire night, seemingly comfortable in the presence of humans, every now and then sitting still and dozing off. It made no attempt to fly off into the darkness and we continued sailing on course with our little bird guest on board, wondering how long it would stay. It was as if the bird had flown beyond its capacity and got lost in the dark, but had the good fortune of finding a friendly boat where he could sit down and rest for a bit while figuring out what to do next.

I hope Cheeky Monkey can be hospitable to all lost birds on the ocean

At the crack of dawn, as the sun crept up over the horizon, the bird perked up and looked beyond the cockpit towards the sky. And without warning, the bird flapped its wings and flew off toward some unknown destination which maybe, after some rest, seemed possible to reach after all.

Like that little bird, we had sailed out into the unknown many times and encountered problems that meant we had to stop and regroup before continuing onwards. But with every obstacle we overcame, we found a boost in confidence and an increase in curiosity, wondering how far we could go the next time.

Which is why crossing the Atlantic Ocean on Cheeky Monkey isn’t the only milestone I feel I’ve reached in my sailing experience. It’s that I find myself describing an ocean crossing as “mostly boring” with the exception of the animals that punctuate the days, illustrating how far and wide my comfort zone has stretched since the early days of sailing Hideaway.

It’s taken many years of lots of little leaps, along with a fair bit of rest and regrouping between journeys, but it finally feels like our wings are at our strongest and there is nowhere we can’t fly to. Which begs the question, where shall we go next?

It may be boring at times to cross oceans, but it sure is beautiful

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Update from Tasha

Hey everyone! If you haven’t yet watched all 4 of our videos about crossing the Atlantic Ocean on our YouTube Channel, check them out! It was an epic adventure.

 

Video links

There’s this one — Atlantic Crossing: ARE WE READY?

 

And then there’s this one — Sailing the Atlantic: SHE WENT OVERBOARD!

 

And then there’s the one in which we were becalmed for 4 days — Atlantic Crossing: STUCK IN A WIND HOLE

 

And, finally, this one, in which we are ecstatic to have finally reached land — Atlantic Crossing: WE MADE IT!

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about our Atlantic crossing because we are soon embarking on our journey across the Pacific Ocean and I’m hoping we’ll have learned from our mistakes on the Atlantic and have an even better adventure on the Pacific! We’ll see!

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