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Mission Ocean : Here’s What They Don’t Tell You About Crossing the Atlantic

by Mission Océan 10 Feb 01:55 UTC
Laura at the helm © Mission Ocean

Over the summer, whilst Contigo was laid up in the yard and I was averaging four flights a week for work, I read a lot about crossing the Atlantic. It was to be my first ocean crossing, and I wanted to prepare myself – and my boat – as best I could. Books, novels, magazines, forums... I devoured anything I could get my hands on. And yet, of course, this theoretical preparation for a long passage could never truly get me ready for the real thing, and there is no substitute for genuine experience. But there are a few things that seemed to have been overlooked in a lot of the literature, and which I wished we had known about before we weighed anchor in the Cape Verdes and set a course to the west.

I’m going to tell you a little secret: crossing the Atlantic can be really boring. I suppose that boredom doesn’t sell books, whereas drama and excitement do. And whilst we had our share of both of those, when the trade winds have set in and your boat needs little-to-no attention, understanding what really entertains you is vital to making your crossing fun. It may be books, films , sewing, TED talks, playing guitar... Whatever it is that keeps your mind busy, you can never underestimate how important these ‘other’ activities are going to be. I did a hell of a lot of baking in the 15 days that it took us to cross, kept the crew well fed with breads and cakes and fantasized about writing a cookbook. Henrique listened to music, wrote songs, and read all the manuals for our electronics in a effort to get them to behave. Jeremie played his ukulele, did push ups and worked his way through the boat library. And Charlie sewed for 2000 miles, making new covers for our outboard and generator, and lots of beautiful handmade gifts to distribute on his travels. So whatever floats your boat, make sure that you’ve got plenty of it on board!

That said, whatever you bring, pretty much as soon as you set off you won’t want it anymore. Avid booklover? On day 3, you’d kill for a trashy movie. Love films? You’re going to have a sudden desire to learn to play that trumpet that’s been in the back of your garage for ten years. We put this feeling down to a perfect normal reaction to going from life in a society where we could so easily obtain pretty much whatever we wanted 24/7, to the simple, uncluttered life of the oceans. This strange, unsettled feeling quickly passed as we got to the routine of being on board; the book-lovers went back to their novels, and the film buffs worked their way through DVDs each evening.

The same feeling applied to food; I was responsible for all the shopping and wouldn’t let anyone else set foot in my galley. And yet as soon as we set out, I started craving all sorts of things that we didn’t have, and that we didn’t even usually eat, simply because there was no way I could have them.

Another thing not to be overlooked is that you will be constantly hungry. I could eat a huge meal and be ready to eat again half an hour into my afternoon watch. In our life on land, we were not big on snacking between meals, and so nibbles were not something that I had factored into our shopping. Luckily, our mums had, and they provided us with gifts of dried fruit, almonds, biscuits and jam before we set off. Happily, the bilges were therefore packed full of these kind of snacks, and as we near the Caribbean I can assure you that the supplies are running low. Call it the movement of the boat, the sea air, or whatever you like, but we are eating five times a day and if anything we are getting thinner.

The next things for which I wish I had been better prepared is the noise. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve sailed a lot on Contigo; she is a solid 1994 Fountaine Pajot and as such she make very little noise, unlike some more modern catamarans who reportedly creak and squeal their way through crossings. But Henrique and I sleep in the aft cabin, the two forward ones being occupied by our crew, and in a following sea the sound of the water knocking, sloshing and banging against the hull for fifteen days is only just short of deafening. And in calm conditions, we were unsettled by the creepy sound of Sargasso weeds dragging along the hull in the middle of the night; I rather thought that they sounded like witches’ fingers! Our happy crew heard none of these sounds in their cabins, and slept much more soundly than we could. So if you are a light sleeper, make sure that you choose your cabin well, otherwise you might be in for two weeks of bags under your eyes...

Lastly, I don’t think that any of the books or articles that I read really managed to convey the cocktail of absolute wonder and sheer fear that you can experience at times when in the middle of the ocean. This is the feeling that you get when the night sky is lit up with stunning firecrackers of lightning as you rush to put your electronics in the oven and pray that the storm doesn’t find your little mast. I also felt it when the back of a huge blue whale suddenly arched up out of the water some 35m off starboard, only to be followed by its baby breaching clumsily as if to get a better look at us. And the feeling was there when our 25 year old spinnaker suddenly split into three in heavy rain, but the whole crew appeared on deck and worked together to haul the bits back in and tidy up, soaked to the skin but still laughing.

We are about 200 miles off Martinique as I write this so I don’t want to jinx things by calling our crossing a success just yet, but we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves so far, and hope that our little titbits of advice might be useful to you if you are preparing an ocean passage. And at the very least, hopefully they have made you smile!

Mission Ocean is proud to be supported by: Boero, Doyle Sails Palma, Rotary District 1730, Navigair, Octomarine, Battery World Service, Victron Energy, Monaco Marine, Aquatabs, Spade Anchors, Plastimo, Furuno France, Pejout Marine Services, Lyvio, Storm Bird, Aethic, Corsica Yacht Services, Astrolabe Expeditions, Asociacion Ondine, AGL Marine, and Sail-Worldcruising.com

Mission Ocean is Laura Beard and Henrique Agostinho. Their three year plus mission is to share their love and respect for the ocean with others, through education and scientific research. Neither is a stranger to the water, so they have combined all their skills and passions in this bold, courageous and inspiring project. Sail-Worldcruising.com is delighted to be with them for the journey of their lifetime. You can also find out more on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/missionocean06

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