Moonlight Adventure

The story of our travels on board Moonlight, our Vancouver 36.


The Atlantic Crossing

Posted by yachtmoonlight on December 17, 2009 at 4:17 PM

The big moment was at 1.30pm on Saturday 21st November, when we sailed out of La Palma and headed off in search of The Caribbean.


(Leaving La Palma)


As I was concerned that I would suffer from the seasickness that has haunted me on this trip so far, and Becky was unsure whether or not she would get seasick, we both decided to try some new anti-seasickness patches which Becky had brought with her, after they were highly recommended to us by some friends. These seemed to help a little and although I felt very queasy for the first couple of days, neither of us were ill.

After a couple of days, Becky started noticing that when she tried to read, she was experiencing some mild double vision. This obviously caused her a little concern and when (24 hours later) the words started dancing around the pages and rearranging themselves and she realised her book on scientific history had turned in Mr Greedy Goes Shopping, she really started to panic. By this time, I was plagued with stomach cramps and we both had very itchy eyes and unquenchable thirsts, so we decided maybe this would be a good time to read the instructions.

Looking down the instruction leaflet, just under the advice for accidental overdoses (how can you accidently overdose on stick-on patches??? Accidently rip open each individual packet, drop them on the floor and then fall on top of them I suppose…..) we found the list of possible side effects. Perusing the list, we found that between us we had every single one except hallucinations, which was a shame because that would have been the most fun and would have made the trip a lot more exciting.

We took off the patches, Becky found she was fine, I reverted to Stugeron tablets and after another 24 hours we were back to normal and Becky was reading about the history of the hot air balloon rather than a pink man who eats too much and looks like a hot air balloon.


We were blessed with good weather and winds for the first few days and soon got into the day to day routine that was to become the basis of our trip. We split night-watch shifts between us so I did 8pm to 12am, John did 12am to 4am and Becky did 4am to 8am. The daylight hours were spent reading, playing Nintendo games, listening to our iPods and watching the clock tick by to the next time we could eat as mealtimes had become the highlight of our days.

The times when we weren’t eating we talked about when we could next eat, what we would eat from our selection of tinned delights and what we would like to eat if there was a restaurant in the middle of the ocean, or in my case a KFC.


(Becky reading in the cockpit)


We all found it difficult to sleep, due to the boat rolling around, the strange sounds of water and wind that accompany a fast sail and the different sleep patterns, so we all tried to snooze during the day when we could.

In the first few days, Becky thought it would be nice to grab a quick snooze in the cockpit while soaking up the sun and soon dozed off lying on the cockpit seats as we gently ambled along.

There weren’t many long periods of gentle ambling, and this particular one was cut short when a wave crashed against the side of the boat, sending Becky flying with a squeal and a thump into the cockpit. This resulted in much stifled-chortling concern from John and I while Becky nursed her sore knees which had a perfect imprint of the cockpit floor.


We didn’t see another boat until six days into the trip when two much larger yachts passed by. We called on the VHF and one responded. It was an ARC (the Atlantic rally which our friend Ron is sailing with) boat and they kindly gave us Ron’s position which we marked on our chart.


The good weather didn’t last long and as the first week drew to a close, the winds built up and we experienced the first of several squalls which brought with it very strong winds, torrential rain and waves crashing over the boat. The boat was thrown around and so were we, which added to my queasiness and the growing number of impressive bruises all three of us were gathering.


(A rainstorm approaching)


Even after the squall passed through, the sea swell remained high and the boat still rolled around more than we would have liked, so getting anything out of cupboards became extremely difficult as each cupboard was wedged with anything soft including towels, t-shirts and teddy bears to prevent the contents crashing around and breaking and if these were removed, the contents of the cupboard tended to follow them at very high speed. There were several incidents when getting a cup or a plate out of a cupboard resulted in a scene resembling the Debenhams homeware section after it has just been patronised by a particularly excitable bull that had just spotted the red rug section at the other side of the department.


(Dawn after a stormy night)


Amazingly though, since we left Portsmouth we have only broken one wine glass and one beer glass (both broken while the boat was in a marina and not moving) and one eggcup (which cost £1), which John repaired with superglue (which cost £4).


Preparing food and drink was equally traumatic. As was eating.

On several occasions, large amounts of food and drink ended up everywhere other than the places they were intended (either in a bowl or in one of us). On one morning when John was particularly tired he appeared to try and juggle bran flakes into a bowl. If you can imagine filling a firework with Bran Flakes and then setting it off so it splatted the inside boat with a Bran Flake pebble-dashing you wouldn’t be far off the results. After cleaning them up, he finally managed to fill up a bowl and threw the ruined Bran Flakes over the side for the fish to enjoy, before heading back down the companionway steps and treading in the bowl which he had left there on the way up, sending it and the Bran Flakes it contained flying across the saloon.

We were occasionally caught out by rogue waves, which crashed over the boat causing havoc and on most occasions striking wherever John was at the time.

One particularly big wave filled the cockpit and sent water crashing down the companionway and into Becky’s cabin, which has a small window that opens into the cockpit. Much mop-uppage later, Becky made sure that her window was closed whenever the sea became a little too wobbly.


On one of the many stormy nights, we were all sheltering below from the wind and rain, and ever now and then one of us would open the hatch and look around to keep a watch. The only time John did this coincided with a rather large wave, which hit the side of the boat sending a column of water up in the air and directly on top of John, who squealed a girl. I tried very hard to be sympathetic, but it really was just too funny and I couldn’t contain my giggles. Even John saw the funny side. Eventually.

Another girly squeal a few days later followed a wave which broke on the side of the boat but only came through one window. The bathroom. While John was……..errrrrr……...engaged in there. Thankfully this time he couldn’t see us laughing.

The evil water demons only timed it slightly wrong on one occasion. John had been sitting in the saloon reading for some time before deciding to have a sleep. Within minutes of him vacating his favourite seat, a wave sent torrents of water through the open window above his seat. As Becky and I cleared up the water and washed the soggy seats we cursed the bad timing. The clearing up would have been worth it if we’d had the amusement of John getting soaked again.


The worst weather we encountered was at the end of the second week when we had a terrible night of stormy weather and squalls with gusts of 45 knots. We were careering along at 7 knots with just the staysail up, which we named Fergus after our friend who recommended the rig we used for the crossing. The gusts of wind sent us off our southwest course so much that at one point we were sailing due north and the due south the next.

When the weather finally calmed the next day we all in need of a little TLC and treated ourselves to hot dogs with lashings of onions, tomato sauce and mustard for dinner. Unfortunately the sea hadn’t quite recovered from the storm and was still very swelly, so we resembled a chimp’s tea party with tinned hotdogs shooting one way and onions the other. Becky spent the rest of the evening finding tomato sauce in very strange bodily locations while John and I scraped the onions off the ceiling.


Thankfully everything held together well on boat and we (well, John to be precise) didn’t have to do much on-route maintenance to the boat. Other than a few frayed ropes, which John shortened, the only slightly worrying moment was when John found a washer on the deck next to the mast. This is a tad concerning as a washer falling off often leads to whatever it was attached to falling off shortly afterwards.

After a quick inspection, John found where it had come from and said that a split pin had broken. I asked what it did and he said “It sort of holds the boom on”. So quite important then.

A quick rummage in his tool locker and John emerged with a replacement split pin which wasn’t quite the right size (but looked ok-ish) and fitted it, only to find when he checked an hour later that this had also broken.

There was nothing else for it, the gaffer tape came out and another split pin was put in and then enough gaffer tape to reach all the way across the Atlantic ensured that it never move again. Just for good measure, John tried some rope around the gaffer tape as well and thankfully it all stayed in place for the rest of the trip.


(The temporary bodge repair to the boom)


We realised how lucky we were after we arrived and heard that two boats crossing at the same time as us lost their rudders (the crew of one of these abandoned their yacht and were rescued) and our friend Ron suffered a broken spinnaker pole just before he reached St Lucia.


Wednesday 2nd December was the halfway point and brought with us mixed emotions, elation that we had come so far along with the reality that what we had the same distance to go, which had felt like an eternity.

We celebrated the milestone with a bottle of champagne. Unfortunately due to the boat rolling around so much, it was a little excitable and the cook popped out as soon as he started to untwist the wire and a large portion of it ended up in the sea!


(John opening the halfway champagne!)


The trip was becoming a test of our endurance. Not in a physical way, apart from the lack of sleep which was badly effecting John, but in a mental way. We swung between feelings of fear during the storms to boredom during the calms. Filling the days was hard and at times the days dragged by and it felt as though we were stuck in Groundhog Day as each day was very much the same. The dullness of the days was exacerbated by the monotony of sea and sky. On the few occasions we spotted wildlife it created a sense of euphoria amongst us.


The first to be spotted were tropics birds and flying fish (which amazingly we saw for the first time on the day we sailed into the tropics!).

Dolphins were few and far between, but we were joined by some for a short time while I was on watch one night. They glided gracefully alongside the boat, visible only due to the bright moonlight which shone on the water. It was a magical moment and a shame I was the only one to enjoy it.

We only spotted dolphins on one other occasion, at dusk as the sun was setting. They were tiny, the smallest we have seen on the trip so far and we watched them swim at the bow of the boat for a few moments before the sun dropped below the horizon and it was too dark to see them any more.

By far the highlight of the crossing and possibly the highlight of the last six months travelling was the morning we were joined by some pilot whales. We first spotted them swimming alongside and under the boat but then we also noticed there were more following us. The sea swell was quite high and directly behind the boat and the whales surfed at the top of the waves just behind us. We were stunned and watched them for about an hour before they swam away. It was an amazing sight and we all felt truly privileged to be so close to such wonderful creatures.


(A whale swimming in the surf behind the boat)


Flying fish became very common and once we entered the tropics we saw them every day. The first time we found some on deck, they were spotted by John when he went to check everything was as it should be at the bow. He found a large and a very small flying fish on there, the larger of which was big enough o eat but they looked like they had been there for more than a few hours so we threw them away.


(The flying fish we found on the bow)


The next one arrived while I was on night watch. I had just been up into the cockpit to check all was well and was halfway down the companionway steps when I heard a thump behind me, followed by a banging noise. I grabbed a torch and found a large flying fish had landed on the cockpit seat and was thrashing around. Not sure what to do, I watched it for a moment as it flapped itself off the seat, onto the cockpit floor and dangerously close to Becky’s open window. Incredibly amusing as it would have been (for me) for the fish to jump through the window and land on a sleeping Becky, I thought I’d best grab it. As it was quite big I thought John would probably like to cook it, so I picked it up and put it in a bucket.

The next morning, we all shared a flying fish breakfast and on every night watch since I have been on edge, half expecting to be smacked on the head by a kamikaze fish.




We had flying fish on deck once more on the trip, when John found seven small ones on the side deck one morning, but they were too small too cook so we repatriated them to the sea.


Unfortunately the flying fish was the only fish we managed to catch (ok, we didn’t actually catch it, it offered itself up). We were sailing too fast to trawl a line on most days and on one of the few days we did try and fish, something took a liking to the lure. And all the other lures. And the line. And the weights. And took the lot.

We tried to fish with a rod a couple of times but didn’t have any success.


The fresh fruit and veg we took with us lasted quite well and we grew mung bean sprouts, until we noticed that the consumption of our home grown bean sprouts appeared to lead to stomach pains a few hours later, so the last jar we grew went the same way as the small flying fish (including the jar).


After 20 days at sea (which felt like 200), we finally spotted land – Barbados. We hadn’t planned to stop here as we wanted to go straight to Bequia and it was extremely difficult to sail past it and carry on for another day as we were so desperate to arrive.

The last 24 hours brought with it some of the stormiest and roughest weather we encountered on the crossing. None of slept much (John not at all) and we finally sailed into Bequia at 9.30am local time, which was exactly 21 days after setting off from The Canaries.


(Anchored in Bequia)


Exhausted, we tried to anchor but it kept dragging and it took us nearly an hour before we finally anchored safely in the early morning heat and then we all jumped in the sea for a swim in the unbelievably warm water.

Categories: December 2009, Spain , The Caribbean

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Reply Denise
5:40 AM on December 18, 2009 
The story of your stormy trip has made me feel much better about my (much tamer) story of driving through Ashridge in a blizzard last night being totally disorientated and not knowing if I was in the field or the road! Even better was the sensation of the Rav sliding down the drive in the ice after I had parked it - so do enjoy those carribean waters, at least you had something wonderful on your horizon whereas all I have is a trip to Waitrose!
Love to all
Reply Mum
8:24 AM on December 18, 2009 
What an unforgettable experience!
Reply Mum
8:24 AM on December 18, 2009 
What an unforgettable experience!
Reply David
10:53 AM on December 18, 2009 
Congratulations on your crossing and a very funny blog. Buying those Bran Flakes was a step in the right direction, then !
The car had to be dug out of an igloo today and it looks like the same is on the way again tomorrow - sub-zero temps and yet more heavy snow. Enjoy the warmth and the sunshine !
Reply Matt Bland
4:38 AM on December 19, 2009 
Congratulations on your Atlantic crossing. Can't wait for the next exciting episode :-)
Reply Gwen
6:26 AM on December 19, 2009 
After all that excitement and now all you've got to look forward to are pina coladas, lobster, steel bands, blue skies, rum with everything and everything with rum (Pusser's of course!) I feel sorry for you, I really do. You could be digging yourselves out of a snowdrift here!!
4:58 PM on December 20, 2009 
Wow, what a journey, enjoy the Sun
Reply Tina
12:58 PM on December 22, 2009 
What a relief! Hope you're getting plenty of rest so you can enjoy your Turkey!
Reply Ali
2:47 PM on December 22, 2009 
I am glad you have all arrived safely and note to self, always read the leaflet when taking medication for the first time, that must have been really scary. Enjoy the sun x
Reply Free international call
4:48 PM on February 16, 2010; You saved my day again.