I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the
wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long
The warm, fresh water streamed down my legs and I watched the suds as they trickled down my body and pool around my feet. I stood under the constant spray of fresh water, my eyes closed, the water pouring over my hair and washing the salt clean from it.
Four days, 5 hours and 10 mins since I had stepped off land and now alighted from Stravaigin onto terra firma again. Four and a half days of constant sailing, the northerly winds pushing us further and further south, four and a half days of rationing fresh water, cooking while braced against the galley, of night watches starting at 6pm each night through to 10.30 in the morning, of filling the hot water urn for hot drinks in the night, of topping up the snack bag in the cockpit, of checking the AIS for other shipping, of camaraderie and one of the best experiences of my life.
I needn’t have worried about the infamous Biscay Crossing, it was beautiful, serene yet solemn. We set off in thick fog off the southern Irish coast, calm seas and a steady wind which allowed us a constant reach. The first night on watch was magical as the sun went down and the seas turned a golden sheet all around us. Now that I had made the decision I didn’t worry about heading out and actually was keen to get on with this voyage. As we headed out into the Atlantic, the seas took on a different mood, they somehow seemed thicker, more viscous, more serious, not the playful waves that break gently on our golden Hebridean beaches, not the foamy inlets that gather at the cliff edges on the Argyll coasts. This was an ocean.
We were out of sight of land pretty soon, mostly due to the fog and we became our own little floating island in the ocean. It was mild air and we sat out in the cockpit chatting a lot during the day and eating regularly. The days took on a rhythm and we settled into a regime, the sea was never boring, always changing, 50 shades of blue.
Suddenly a cry went up,
We all came up on deck and watched an enormous whale rise and glide along the surface showing its smooth black back then a small dorsal fin before submerging gracefully. Time and time again it rose blowing out a tall shower of spray, 100m off our starboard side. We watched mesmerised by this leviathan of the seas. It seemed surreal, I’d seen them on our favourite Blue Planet documentaries but nothing compared to being alongside this fellow rover of the seas. It was at least 30m long on the back that it showed so maybe 60m in full length. A beautiful, gentle wild creature and we were travelling alongside in its habitat. It felt unreal, like I was experiencing this through someone else , I had to make myself believe it was really me.
Days were punctuated by eating and turns on the helm, trimming the sails then on the third day the winds died a little which meant putting the engine on to maintain our speed. We had hit a predicted lull in the winds and the gang decided it would be a great idea to go for a swim mid way across the Bay of Biscay! I was not too happy about this having spent the last 48 hours paranoid about no one falling overboard, now they were diving into the deep blue of the Abyssal Plain! It was fine of course but much as I love to swim in the sea I was too nervous to join them.
Standing on the helm, rising her over the crests of the wave and laying her down gently on the other side to avoid banging, a small, grey and white creature leapt at my side and looked at me – dolphins! These playful pretty creatures joined us often and stayed sometimes for hours riding the bow wave and diving underneath the hull to reappear on the other side, with a leap and splash.
The stubby, cute faced fulmar glided by regularly, countless shearwaters flying just as they are named and occasional petrels looking so tiny and vulnerable in the vast watery plain.
We had a firm rule of lifejackets at all times when out of the cabin and lifelines on at night and when going on deck, everyone took this seriously. Along with double checking the gas was off after cooking and the waterpump off when finished with water as we couldn’t risk losing water only having a finite amount in our tanks. We were pretty sure we had plenty in our 2 tanks but wanted to err on the side of caution. Food was plentiful and amazing, chilli con Quorn, pasta bolognaise, roast Argyll leg of lamb with roast potatoes too, spaghetti carbonara and chicken salads! Accompanied by fine wines of course!
Evening shifts took on a different tempo. Geared up for an outdoor session, seaboots, hats, windproof layers and red-light torches at the ready we had 3 hour watch systems in place. These were magical times, silent but for the hissing and streaming of the waves against the hull, wind in the sails and our tunes playing over the waves. The moon appeared quickly and shone her light over the seas, so full you could make out the seas on her surface. Above the sky sprinkled with stars, below the phosphorescence echoing the sparkles in the stars.
I glanced up at one point as a jet flew over slowly, heading west to the Americas and I mused about the passengers choosing their films, ordering their snacks and drinks, settling bored children and absently thumbing through the inflight magazines, do they know below them is a little boat with five people sailing the ocean, passing through the night, filling each hour with conversation and stories. We shared stories of raising children, travels, careers, places we had stayed, places we had visited, places we wanted to visit.
Watch change was always welcome, peeling off the outer wind proof layers and clambering into bunks and the rocking motion of the boat soon meant we were fast asleep for our 4 hour break.
I never tired of watching the waves, the swell not too big at 3m, the foam streaming by as our bow broke the surface. I felt safe and secure and very privileged to be out on these seas, something not many people get the chance to experience.
I awoke on the last morning after my early morning shift and glanced at the chart plotter to sea land marked at the edge of the screen. We are getting near! We finally changed tack and headed east after days of sailing south, the air warmer and the shipping now more regularly which started to get scary. These supertankers are like solid islands surging forwards at speed and we did feel quite vulnerable despite having AIS.
“I’m pretty sure that’s land” stated Stewart with a huge smile on his face.
I peered at the hazy horizon but wasn’t convinced.
However I soon smelled land before I could make it out properly by sight, a herby hay-like smell. By late morning a faint outline of hills make itself apparent and I stared at it, feeling so self-satisfied inside – we’d done it.
The silhouette of the hills and ridges became more and more discernible until I could make out relief and forests. We were sailing down the coast of Galicia, avoiding Cape Finistere and the “death coast” thankfully!
Making that easterly turn into the bay of Vigo, I felt like Columbus on the Pinto returning to port. We still had to keep our wits about us as shipping was everywhere until we got right into the pretty and wide bay of Vigo, pleasure yachts all around, zipping this way and that, motor boats speeding by with tanned locals on deck. Back in civilisation.
We sailed right into Real Club Nautico and tied in at 2.10pm – we,d done it.
16 days since leaving Dunstaffange we were in Spain. The champagne cork flew over the marina pontoon and we hugged each other closely. Fellow rovers.
This journey had been so special, not only for the physical voyage but also the voyage we had all made with each other as companions, crew, friends. We had all looked after each other, made sure each other was safe, warm ,fed and comfortable. Also we had all learned together, we were a team and we had successfully achieved our goal.
Achieving this goal was not least due to the strong leadership of our captain. I felt a little kist deep inside of me open up and more love than I knew possible flowed out for this man , who had planned this entire journey and had got us here not only safely but enjoyably. He is the master of my fate, he is the captain of my soul.
I walked, staggered, up the steps of the quay, wash bag in hand, towel over my shoulder and revelled in the luxurious, abundant water, cleaning off the 4 days , washing it out my hair and into history. This would be an experience never to forget.
I returned to the boat, empty glasses strewn all over the place, dirty clothes abandoned, life jackets draped over seats and the crew gone to the town to enjoy well earned Cava and Calamaris.
I peeped into our cabin to see the captain, fast asleep in our bunk.
Sweet dreams, the long trick’s over.