FROM ELLEN BANE ABOARD THE NORDHAVN 46 SATCHMO
We arrived! Safe, sound, bodies and boat all in one piece! Gibraltar! The Rock! Europe! WE ARE HERE!
I am writing this on Tuesday, June 29th [had to consult a calendar[~]still feel totally disconnected from real life], so for those near and dear, I am assuming you already know that we safely arrived in Gibraltar on Saturday, June 26th, on schedule.
We left Horta in the Azores on Saturday, June 19th[~]the third leg in our adventure, 1100+ nautical miles/eight days to Gibraltar. [Incidentally, I somehow had not realized that this 3800 mile cross-Atlantic trip was nautical miles, not regular miles. I still do not know how far that is exactly, but WAY farther than 4000 miles. Anyone care to do the math for me?
As far back as a year ago, when we first signed up for this crossing, I knew that the last leg was likely to be the hardest, and that the approach through the Straits of Gibraltar could be rough and tumble. This was the leg I was afraid of.
The departure from Horta felt, to me at least, ominous. The night before we left it was raining and blowing 35 knots (on land!), the fleet doctor gave a special lecture on the best times and dosages for seasick medicine, and the forecast ranged from awful to dreadful (40 knot winds on the nose, 12 foot seas). Terrible butterflies in the stomach. On Satchmo, we tied down everything loose we could think of, put the chicken noodle soup at the front of the cabinets, and headed east . . . again.
Amazing Grace, against all predictions the weather was gorgeous! Day after day we had sunny skies, gentle winds and seas, spectacular! We could even sit outside on chairs and read or nap. As the week wore on, the two biggest problems in our fleet of 12 (the slower boats) was a critical shortage of ice cream on board and twice- or thrice-viewed DVDs. Our mother duck boat, Atlantic Escort, obliged by launching its dinghy and running boat to boat trading ice cream and movies. We cooked up some great meals, photographed beautiful sunrises and sunsets, played ruthless games of Trivia over the VHF at midnight, caught up on sleep and then some, tuned in on Trawler Trash commentary between 0100 and 0300, and counted down the hours til Gibraltar.
The weather forecasts all week were for favorable conditions[~]following seas and winds from the west all the way into Gibraltar. I think we all felt Poseidon owed us, after our rough passage between Bermuda and the Azores. Silly mortals!
Out of nowhere, Thursday night we got strong winds and fairly big seas from the north, pounding on the port sides of our boats until dawn. Hard to walk around, hard to sit, hard to sleep, and impossible to cook. By Friday morning, though, our last full day, the seas laid down again and we had a glorious day[~]sunny, warm, blue-blue skies, and almost turquoise water[~]one of the prettiest days of the whole trip. On Satchmo we celebrated our final dinner at sea with steak, shrimp, salad, profiteroles, wine, and a perfect sunset. Great excitement[~]on radar we could pick up Portugal to the north, Morocco to the south, and soon Spain and Gibraltar straight ahead.
Not two hours later, by 2200 or so, the wind and waves switched to the northeast, then the east[~]dreaded head seas[~]and it began to blow hard. Apparently the current is always heading west-to-east into the Mediterranean, so when the winds come from east-to-west, you[base ']ve got trouble. Big waves, spaced close together, about 2-3 seconds apart. Through the night our boat clocked 35-40 knot winds, gusting to 45. It was pitch black dark, so I don[base ']t know how high the waves were on my midnight to 0300 watch, but our boat was slamming up and down, hobbyhorsing, shuddering, taking water over the bow, spray flying high[~]all in all, unnerving and NOT FUN.
During the night, the fast fleet[~]the 6 bigger boats[~]caught up with our 12 boats, so the radar screen was littered with 17 other green dots, close together, that you definitely did not want to run into. Add to this all the commercial traffic[~]container ships, freighters, fishing boats, tankers[~]going every which direction[~]into the Med, out of the Med, north, south, diagonal[~]and all those captains, speaking in different languages, trying to figure out what the heck this fleet of 18 boats was all about. Quite a night. At one point around 0200, and I swear this is true, a Boston Whaler size boat with an outboard engine and a flashlight for a running light passed south-to-north through the middle of our fleet, crossing my bow about 100 feet away. [No, I did not change course.] This was at least 40 miles from land. What was it doing there???
When my watch was over at 0300, I went to bed (center hallway, lowest part of the boat without crawling into the engine room), and slept/levitated/slept/levitated for a few hours. Around dawn I crept upstairs, peeked out the back doorway, saw one of the 57 foot Nordhavns almost airborne and then nosedive into a wave, and made the only sensible choice[~]I went back to bed.
Bill, certainly, will send his own account of this last night at sea. Enough for me to say that he LOVED it, said it was the highlight of the entire trip for him. [base "]Victory at Sea[per thou] and all that. Must be a guy thing.
Finally, finally, not long before noon Gibraltar was in sight, the sea and wind laid down, and all 18 boats[~]as one group--steamed into the harbor. An unforgettable sight. Bill maneuvered us into our slip, we secured our lines, friends on the dock handed us glass after glass of champagne, and Bill turned the ignition key to off. We toasted each other, toasted our crew, toasted the other boats, and then suddenly I fell into his arms, sobbing. I didn[base ']t expect it, and rarely cry, but this was sobbing from somewhere deep. Tears of relief, tears of accomplishment, tears of exhaustion, tears of celebration. [base "]We DID it!! We really DID it!! And it is OVER!!
This past year we have been so focused/obsessed with the Atlantic crossing, we are only now beginning to make cruising plans for the rest of the summer. We will work our way up the coast of Spain, then cross over to Ibiza, Mallorca, and Menorca. After that, who knows? South to Sicily? East to Sardinia and Corsica? Cruise the Italian coast from Amalfi to Portofino? Wonderful to have such choices! At least a dozen of the Nordhavns in the fleet are headed in the same general direction, so all sorts of plans to cruise together in small groups, or to meet at various anchorages, are being hatched.
Ellen on M/V Satchmo