Preparing to Cross the Atlantic Ocean
We have sailed 4,300 nautical miles since moving onboard Polaris in August 2018 and 3,528 of those miles were completed since we left Sicily on May 2nd this summer (2019). It’s now November and we are in Lanzarote preparing to cross to the Cape Verdes islands, some 950 nautical miles from here and from there to Antigua a much longer passage of about 2,200 nautical miles. The journey to get here all the way from Greece at the end of this summer has been absolutely thrilling and justifies our excitement at what lies ahead. We have had some fantastic sailing conditions and through a mixture of good planning and luck have, so far, avoided unfavourable conditions for the most part. We have caught a grand total of three fish (only) one of which was a 15 kg Big Eye tuna. We have seen countless pods of beautiful dolphins and even sailed right past an enormous whale. We’ve enjoyed many blissful night watches, read many books and been lucky enough to gaze at dozens of incredible sunsets, moon rises, and sunrises from the vantage point of Polaris on the water. We’ve seen the sea change into ocean and for the first time we surfed the waves and massive swells of that same great ocean, the Atlantic, onboard Polaris together. We have dodged fishing nets and unexpected boats, tankers and cargo ships. We have listened to appeals from coastguards to exercise caution as ‘people adrift’ on board boats seeking refuge from the chaos they are fleeing. We have experienced incredible highs; but conversely now understand some of the lows involved in this chosen path; the force of nature and the weather, the vulnerability of being on the ocean with no land nearby, the potential catastrophes around every corner and the crushing expense of boat maintenance. With all that said we now face into the next challenges and longer crossings with excitement, optimism and a healthy amount of caution. We are nearly ready to take the next big steps west. But nothing worth doing is ever easy. And this is no exception, we have been busy!
We have been selecting crew: One of the most important tasks in readiness for the next two legs of our journey has been to select crew. Although we have come this far all alone the insurance company insisted that we take two extra crew to cross the Atlantic. After we have crossed with crew the insurance company will allow us to sail the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean just the two of us. Using a crew seekers website, we posted the advert emphasising in equal measures our need for experience on the one hand but the right attitude and personality to fit with our ethos onboard Polaris. After a few months of applications and phone interviews we have now secured two people who seem to be very experienced, competent and have a flexible mindset and should be good company too. I think we might just have a magic combination of interesting people. Our crew join us next week and we are excited to show them around. It will of course also be nice to share the watches between four people instead of two. In addition, if things go wrong, we will be under less pressure with the assistance of two extra people.
Provisioning for longer passages
We have been stocking our boat with a lot of food: On a passage, meals are very important. Your day is punctuated by when you eat, you look forward to breakfast after numerous night watches. You are always hungry for lunch and dinner is the highlight. On board Polaris we have cereal and sometimes bread with jam or marmite at breakfast time, light snacks are for lunch including meats, cheese, salad or soup and various dinners are prepared with an emphasis on one pot cooking. That tends to mean stews, curry and bean dishes. In preparation for the two upcoming passages and since we are leaving Europe very soon, we have been in the process of provisioning gradually. We try to keep in mind the things we will miss that will either be difficult or expensive to get when we leave the Canaries. We are also stock piling non-perishable foods such as canned foods, pastas, rice, risotto rice, various dried beans, cous cous and lentils etc. The aim is to have far more food than necessary should something cause our journey to take a lot longer than anticipated. I have also planned to have snack food alternatives for every meal. This is in case we cannot cook due to bad conditions or some issue with the oven and hob. On the advice of an experienced sailor friend I have drawn up an inventory of every packet of food and its whereabouts in the boat. If I use a packet of pasta for example, I open my spreadsheet and amend the total number of bags of pasta to reflect the current number. That way we always know how much of everything we have available and it really helps when shopping to know what we need to buy. From the inventory list I can draw up a meal plan tab and count how much of everything is needed to go into the planned meals and so on. It is a constant work in progress and is by no means perfect. But now, after many long walks with heavy bags and a few taxis and car hires, our boat is almost full of what we need to ensure a nutritious couple of passages for everybody. We will keep fresh food topped up along the way and do a final round of shopping in the Cape Verdes when we get there.
We have been organising our emergency capabilities: Safety is fundametal and underpins our choices. As well as having an excellent inventory of safety related gear; life jackets, harnesses, alarms, personal man overboard beacons, a big part of doing longer passages is ensuring that we have everything we need to treat illnesses or accidents while underway. I have created a spreadsheet which lists every medicine we have onboard, dosage instructions and uses for each medicine. Each row on the spreadsheet represents a sub bag of medicine. Each sub bag is numbered and may contain 3 or 4 medicines related to the area of illness in question for example: cold and flu. The list and details are also printed out should we not have a means to access our computers. Prevention though is always better than cure and we put a strong emphasis on staying safe while on board. We have two First aid kits; one for the grab bag (the bag of things that we have prepared so that if we needed to abandon ship, we have some basic supplies) and one for the boat. We have a Ship’s medical book and one of our crew is a trained paramedic. We hope to avoid completely even getting the most minor common cold but hopefully we have enough medicines and gear to handle issues that may arise.
Maintenance and Contingency planning
We have been checking each aspect of the boat’s functioning: Above all else Jim, as Captain, is responsible for the safety of all of us on board. Thankfully for ‘us’ the crew, he is a perfectionist and doesn’t do anything by half. He takes his responsibility extremely seriously. In addition to leading us and making the best decisions available, he is currently working through every single system on the boat. He is testing each system to ensure it is working properly. In some cases, replacing parts which are getting old and ensuring we have adequate spares on board should something vital break. This is a very stressful process to go through, as anyone who has a boat will know; things break a lot on boats and when trying to service systems, this can be made even more difficult due to location of systems in hard to reach nooks and cranny’s and when you do finally get to the bottom of an issue it can be extremely frustrating and or expensive to fix. Jim is excellent though at learning these systems and it is part of the process of learning the boat thoroughly to go through this.
We have been saying goodbye to our families and friends and sharing our plans: Another vital part of getting ready in our opinion was to take time off the boat to travel home to Dublin and the UK to visit our families and best friends, the people who matter most to us. It was really important for us to have that quality time with them. We wanted to just be in their company doing normal things in the familiar surroundings of the places we know so well. It was a chance for us to make sure that our families are comfortable with our plans and we talked through each step of the journey with each of them. I wanted them to know that Jim and I have become a great team and that they need not worry. Jim is an amazingly capable Captain who does not under any circumstances take unnecessary risks. And that, as First Mate, I completely support and assist him. We wanted to share our travel plans and get their blessings as well as reassure them. I think we did that. They each sent us off with love and best wishes. It is up to us now to make sure we bridge the distance by staying in touch and continuing to involve them in our journey by way of phone calls, blogs, social media and photographs. With Ten days of family visits complete we returned here to Lanzarote where we were faced with the final list of tasks but with renewed focused following a well needed break.
We are a team
We have been working through constant problems successfully as a team: In living on a boat and preparing our boat to take on crew and undertake ocean crossings there can be times when the challenges facing both of us seem insurmountable. But those times are temporary, and we get through them together. We have been in big seas and strong winds. I have gone through a massive learning curve as I have become more aware of the dangers surrounding us. Jim has had to deal with unprecedented responsibility; making the best decisions available and maintaining the boat’s systems so that we are completely ocean worthy. I am responsible for the domestic aspects of the boat which is not insignificant either. But one thing I have noticed, when one of us has a bad day the other one steps up and helps solve the problem. We are never both ‘down’ at the same time and that is why we know we can take on sailing around the world together. We know that we face great adventure and challenges ahead and that excites us; We will have to learn how to work with additional crew for the first time, we will be doing much more downwind sailing than we have before and will use the Spinnaker and Gennaker more than ever. We are also traveling further and further from our families and support network. We will need to continue to build close friendships with the new people we meet. But despite the greatest challenges, we strongly feel that the world must be seen and we are completely certain we absolutely must do this. We are nearly ready to cross our first ocean together.