#3 Atlantic Crossing
Now the moment of the truth: the crossing to the Atlantic Ocean. There are 1,800 nautical miles from Bermuda to Azores. Azores is a Portuguese archipelago located at approximately at 3/4 the distance between US and Europe. It is a “mandatory” stop for all sailors, since the era of Colon. And today it continues being a special port full of sailboats and sailors from all over the world. A very unique place!
But we were still in Bermuda preparing to cast off. One of the first duties when we get to a port is to dispose all waste and recyclables generated during the time at sea. Only the 100% organic and compostable can be thrown into the water; the rest has to be stored until you get to port. I was very surprised to learn that in Bermuda, they only recover metal and glass for recycling, while the rest - including plastics - is incinerated. On the other hand, we have not seen litter on the streets, water or beaches.
Before setting sail, we needed to do some repairs. The most important (and demanding) was the autopilot. Not having it would mean to steer 24/7, taking turns, and that would be exhausting. Thankfully, Pablo, a new crewmember who was joining us from the US, brought with him the parts that we needed. To install and calibrate an autopilot is not as easy as it sounds. After a day of team work (plus the help of an Argentine expert on this - Zorzo) we finished the installation. When we turned it on and it worked, we couldn’t believe it. We went to sleep very tired to rest well before departure the following day.
We estimated that we would need between 15 and 20 days to get to Azores from Bermuda. It was the longest leg of the route, and also the most uncertain in terms of weather. The forecast seemed good for the first week, but then we downloaded the updates for the second week during the crossing via satellite. The conditions of this route are usually variable. We would have to be very alert to avoid being cough by a storm or cold front.
The first 3 days were totally calmed. The sea looked like a mirror and the sky was reflected on the water as a picture. On the other hand, those were the days we saw more plastic. Very frequently we would see relatively large pieces of plastic (between 4 and 12 inches), of different unrecognizable objects. In occasions we would approach this debris and we were very surprised by the life that accumulates around this plastic waste. Possibly, this animals confuse these with food and they end up eating, not only plastic, but the toxic chemicals that this material attracts when is at sea.
We also used this calm water to take samples of microplastics, using the device that the 5 Gyres institute gave us, under the Citizen Scientist program. Following their protocol, we documented the findings for them to include in their dynamic map of ocean plastic. We will also report our findings after the exploration phase.
We got out of the calm zone on day 4 and with the wind in our backs we were going at 6 knots. We couldn’t complain. We saw dolphins almost every day, sometimes even twice a day. In seems they love playing with Fanky, jumping and moving from one side to the other. Sometimes they were 10 or 15 dolphins, usually small (of about 5 foot). They were great company along the passage, until we were getting to Azores.
But the award to the good companion of our journey goes to the “Portuguese carabela”. No doubt, the animal we saw the most along the way. This type of jellyfish has a special ALETA that goes above the surface and allows them to sail. It is really amazing. Even the days with more wind and sea-state, we saw them fighting against it. They are like mini sailboats, the largest we saw ere 6 inches. But it easy to see them because of their jelly sails with blues and pinks that reflect light. Often times I thought they were a piece of plastic, because they look very similar to a plastic bottle. Sadly, I imagine how confused their depredator would be (turtles and octopuses).
In addition to animals, during the second week at sea, as we approached Azores, we started seeing other boats in the radar, and we made friends. Yes, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The reality is that after many days at sea, when you see someone in the radar you want to talk to them. That is how we met José Antonio, o Vagabundo (Vagabond) like his boat´s name. He is from Alicante, Spain, and has been sailing alone. Alone! Later we discover that he did the Atlantic crossing more than 10 times, and is a well known character among oceanic sailors. We also met two dutch families that were traveling with their little kids, who surprisingly also collaborate with the duties on board, and are even responsible of some shifts.
At one point, day 9, we saw in the horizon a sailboat, larger than ours. For some reason it was not reaching us, although it should have, given its size. They were not answering our radio calls, nor showed up in our AIS (system to see other boats on the chart plotter). We started to worry when they started to approach us. Once closer, they called us on the radio (apparently it didn’t work well). Naussica was the name of the boat and its crewmembers were two French young couples. We immediately connected. We approached so close we were only a few meters from each other. We took each other pictures, shared music and some anecdotes via VHF radio. They told us that their navigation lights were broken and that is why they were staying so close to us - for safety.
Two nights before getting to Azores, we had an incident. It was 3am and Pablo was on watch; the rest of us were asleep. Suddenly: PUM! We hit something; the boat almost stops for a moment and then continues. We all woke up. What happened? What was that? We hit a whale! Pablo, who was on deck, told us that he saw it in our stern, moving like if it was just woken up, and then swimming away in the horizon. Sailing for days, one gets used to the different noises and movements: the squeaking of the stressed materials of the boat, the waves hitting hard the hull, and the constant tridimensional movement sometimes altered by a bigger wave that forces you to always be grabbed to something. But, the feeling of a crash in the middle of the night is scary. Not only this, but we were also worried about the whale coming after us (a la Moby Dick). Luckily, nothing happened to Fanky, the whale did not come after us, and it was clearly not a strong hit for the whale as it was for us.
After almost 13 days at sea, we arrived to Azores, the port of Horta. Horta is a very unique place where sailors from all over the world get together at this iconic bar (Peters), to listen to live music, drink Gin & Tonic and share anecdotes. In Peters we met one by one our friends from the sea, and we hugged as if we were old time friends. Fortunately, we did not have major repairs to do, so we rested as much as we could after almost two weeks at sea and we prepare for the following leg, which would take us to continental Europe