Thursday, April 29, 2010

Our own little worlds

What about sailing back to the Caribbean? I can’t remember if it was Dan or Richie who suggested it but it was an idea I’d almost completely written off. For the last year or two I’d been set on exploring Brazil and South America and was well positioned to do so from the Cape Verde’s. But…. I do love being spontaneous and missed my mate Jas, who was sitting on his boat in Antigua.

Before setting off I left with friends for a few weeks hiking and climbing in the mountains on Cape Verde’s largest island, Santo Antao - perhaps I was trying to convince myself I was thoroughly tired of stone and land and longed for the sea again?! Santo Antao was amazing, countless Riviera’s (valleys) making fantastic landscape, and packed with lush vegetation – a complete novelty for the Cape Verde’s. One didn’t have to venture too far from the islands only port to find few cars and roads, with many villages only accessible by foot or boat.

What was immediately obvious about the island was its total independence and self-sufficiency. The villages, farming techniques and infrastructure appeared to have changed very little over the centuries, with the need for meticulous care of water still remaining.
Most of people we met in the villages, although perhaps poor in possessions, had little need to earn or spend money in their lives - the few shops we found only carried the most basic and essential items. Everybody, even small children, had there role to play in keeping the village going.

One time in a village only accessible by boat or a 4 hour hike, it felt like we had all the village fisherman and children come out to greet us when we arrived on DB. They would not accept money or cigarettes in return for their gifts of fish, however nearly took my hand off when I bought out some chocolate (man imagine how far we’d go with icecream here?!)

It was truly cool to be able to see settlements living so self-sufficiently and totally unaffected by global issues and crisis, literally living in a world of their own…

On the day before departure I felt for the first time, perhaps anxious about the idea of crossing on my own and was worried I was being too laid back about the whole thing. The boat was getting tired and engine not working well, I hadn’t checked the weather in months and the only I had charts were on my computer which was also playing up. Also, despite having sailed over 11,000 sea miles on DB I’d never actually taken her out by myself.

Anyway it didn’t take too long for me to get my act together, and after re-hoisting the big genoa in over 30kts (a difficult job for even 2 people) I felt confident and excited about the trip ahead. Looking back I think it was much more a combination of leaving Cape Verde, saying goodbye to valued friends and the idea of 3 weeks alone than anything about the boat or preparation.

On 1st April at 6am I snuck out of the windy Mindelo harbour to begin the 2100mile voyage. Blowing at least 30knots from the NE it didn’t take long to get clear of the waters of the archipelago and into the open ocean, making a good first days run of 130miles. Over the next few days routine developed, and by the 4th day I was doing 24hr runs to 140 – 150miles.

Life on board was very simple. Aside from recording the log and playing with the sexton, time had absolutely no importance. Eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired (although the latter not strictly true, as inevitably the sails would flap or strange noises appear as soon as I closed my eyes!) The days were filled by sailing the boat and minor repairs, fishing, reading and learning Spanish. Like the residents Santo Antao, the typical problems of civilised man couldn’t have appeared more trivial with the elements being my only concern outside my 10m world.

My friends just chilling on the deck after a big night

I’d love drinking wine and watching the sunset from the bow (one advantage of sailing exactly west) and then when a little tipsy I could lie in the cockpit and star gaze for hours. Perhaps first signs of going crazy at sea, but I had a very powerful feeling of freedom. Wind was all that was needed to move and steer the boat, I was catching so much fish I hardly touched my provisions, and with 400ltrs of water aboard I could probably have carried onto New Zealand. Long and short of it i think i was thoroughly enjoying myself!

If you liked fish the food was good, and i even tried my hand at baking
Days all merged into one. I found out one day when the wind dropped off that even though I knew the problem, I hadn’t fixed the engine after all - so we were truly a sailboat. But as my solar panels seemed to keep the batteries full this didn’t worry me too much, and while the trip may take a little longer at least I’d have full tanks of diesel at the other end.

No engine, 1.4 knots of wind, 41.8deg C...!

Half way on my only paper chart

The sailing was tough on the last few days of the trip (I had to helm most of the last 48 hours) but I arrived for sunrise in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua 17 days after leaving Mindelo. Although packed with boats here for Classic Race Week, anchoring was straight forward and within an hour I’d found Jason’s boat and discovered he was in St Martin. Too tired to try to keep the surprise going to see him face to face, I took a photo of me on his boat drinking one of his beers.
I sent it to him in an email and said ‘Your boats a mess, nice job with the decks and good to see you fitted the windless ok. Thanks for the beer, although next time could you please leave it in the fridge?’ Less than an hour later the well surprised superyacht boson had booked flights and was on his way to Antigua for a 30hour catch-up, the usual way.
So looking back what was it like spending 3 weeks sailing alone… I really do think it is a wonderful and special thing to do. If anything I think it helps give perspective about what is and isn’t important in one’s life. While I missed things I didn’t think I would, my worries in the world literally could have been counted on my fingers.

With no news from outside, one may become simple but certainly doesn't dwell on much of the rubbish we find in the rat-race, newspapers and on the internet. It is the real and basic things that make and break your day if you live in a world of your own...