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This passage across the Atlantic has changed our lives!

by Laura Hampton & Noa Goovaerts 26 Dec 2021 10:33 UTC

On the 8th November 2021, our adventure began when we met our skipper and first mate, John and Susan Simpson.

Las Palmas sped by in a blur of activity: boat maintenance, lectures organised by the ARC, more than a few trips to the chandlers and of course, a few evenings at the Sailors Bar.

We learnt an incredible amount, including how to wire solar panels, an introduction to astro navigation (given by the famous Stokey Woodall), and weather routing for trade wind sailing. With a low-pressure system developing in the North and fairly light winds predicted for the South, there was plenty of discussion as to which route was best, differing greatly between the racers or cruisers.

An ocean passage takes great preparation, particularly in last minute provisioning. It was interesting to note the different approaches. Some comical choices that come to mind include the huge Iberian ham attached on the stern just next to the outboard engine, enough oranges for 14 a day per person, and 15kg of Nutella! One highlight was getting tours of other boats, which varied greatly in size, comfort, speed, and sail configuration. The contrast between Telefonica Black, a Volvo Open 70 and Casamara, our cruising Discovery 55, reflects the different experiences possible offshore. Another highlight before we left was leaving our mark on a rock of the Las Palmas pier with the Casamara logo and our handprints!

Departure day brought an atmosphere of intense excitement on the pontoons. We left Las Palmas Port with our skipper playing Rod Stewart's 'sailing' on the trumpet, much to the crowd's excitement! The seawall was lined with people waving off the fleet and it felt somewhat surreal to be setting off for our first-ever Atlantic crossing. To be supported by the OCC, the ARC and the friends we had made along the way in Las Palmas reflected the great sense of community that exists within the sailing world and we feel incredibly privileged to be part of it!

The first hour brought a steep learning curve. We learnt (the hard way) the value of pre-departure preparation, notably hatch closing. Rookie error! Everything in our cabin to the inner mattress lining was drenched; the unsalvageable loss was Noa's laptop. For the next few days, both aft and foredecks were lined with drying clothes and sheets and Casamara turned into a floating laundrette!

Thankfully, we had light winds, calm seas, and sunshine. The stress was greatly heightened by the discovery of a cockroach, luckily no more found in subsequent days so we're still hoping we got away without an infestation! After this event, we settled into our regular watch systems, galley, and cleaning duties. We started out flying the A4 sail, suitable for the light winds as we headed south towards the Cape Verdes. Days were punctuated by sail changes, the witty banter on the SSB net and following the progress of the fleet on AIS. We also entertained ourselves in fishing, desperate to catch a mahi-mahi. Many fruitless attempts and lost lures later, we're 15 days in and still no catch! Also to pass the time aboard Casamara, we played guitar and sang, and exchanged stories of sailing adventures.

Five days into the passage, the trade winds properly filled in, blowing 20-25 knots, and we turned West and set a straight course for St Lucia. We sped along at 8-10 knots with a poled-out genoa and small reefed main for stability as the rolling seas characteristic of transatlantic crossings became more evident. We took some of our spare time during the days to work on our celestial navigation we had learnt about back in Las Palmas. We all took sightings using the sextant and got readings to within 6nm. Night watches presented one of the more daunting aspects of an ocean crossing. On Casamara, the watches were 3 hours long and done individually. Once over the misconception that you are entirely alone in this huge expanse of sea, the peace and beauty of the Atlantic at night is captivating. The sky was so full of stars, helped by there being no light pollution other than our tricolour! The sea was equally bright with phosphorescence and it was an incredible experience to be up on deck, navigating the Atlantic amidst such incredible scenery.

Nothing can compare to the feeling of excitement and apprehension when land was first spotted after 16 days at sea. In a blur, we had crossed the finish line and were greeted on the pontoon by the wonderful ARC team, a bowl of fruit and of course rum punch! We're still in disbelief that we've crossed an ocean and the experience is certainly one we want to repeat. However, the one fatality in the fleet certainly brought home for us the challenges of ocean sailing and the humbling power of the sea. We've learnt so much, about the value of preparation, sharing deck and galley duties and good company on board, and so much about ourselves along the journey. We look forward to the next voyage in our sailing careers.

For Noa this experience has inspired her to continue through to Panama and on to the Pacific, while Laura heads back to St. Andrews to study, hoping to join a boat for another adventure in April! We'd like to thank John and Susan for taking us along and teaching us so much, along with the OCC for facilitating such a phenomenal experience and enabling us to be a part of the community of ocean sailors. The ability to take on this crossing while both studying at the University of St Andrews has been incredible and wouldn't have been financially possible without the help of the OCC. We cannot recommend ocean sailing enough and would say to anyone thinking about it to take any experience possible, just do it!

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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