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Mission Ocean: On taking a break from cruising

by Mission Océan 4 Jun 2018 05:05 UTC
Boarding Contigo from the floating dock © Mission Océan

The very early stages of planning our circumnavigation began with budgeting. How much could we afford to spend on a boat? How long could we cruise before the coffers ran low? What were the financial implications of offering to take scientists on board for free? The entire structure of our 3-year project, our choice of boat, the amount of time spent in the shipyard... Every decision was based upon those initial calculations, drawn up in a notebook one chilly winter's evening in France (accompanied by a very good bottle of red).

So, when we decided in March of this year that we would extend our stay in the Caribbean for another season, thus prolonging our project by around a year, we immediately knew that that had to mean going back to work.

Our choice to remain in the Antilles rather than heading through Panama in April was largely due to the fact that we had dawdled our way through the Med and Atlantic, making the most of some truly wonderful experiences in Palma de Mallorca, Tenerife and especially the Cape Verdes, before heading across the pond to arrive in Martinique in February. By that time, we were already a good couple of months behind schedule. This meant that we had to choose between packing as much as we could into two months of speedy cruising, or taking our time and extending. Our own desires to head slowly north (for me to explore islands that I had never seen and for Henrique to work on his Latino music compositions in Cuba and Puerto Rico), coupled with requests for data and samples from these relatively un-cruised grounds very swiftly made up our minds.

Both of us are maritime professionals, and as such are fortunate to be able to find temporary work relatively easy, and at short notice. Henrique is a Chief Engineer on superyachts, and relief jobs for a few months often arise, replacing sick or injured colleagues, or filling a gap that requires some specialist knowledge. I am a shipyard Project Manager and recently created my own business, allowing me to work freelance on construction and refit projects pretty much anywhere in the world. After a brief search, we both signed contracts and began hunting for somewhere to leave our beloved Contigo for 3 months, the time that we estimated we would need to top up our funds sufficiently for the year to come.

Should we leave her in a marina? Our budget wouldn't run to it. On a mooring ball? Too insecure. On the hard in a shipyard? Spaces were few and far between, and often a long sail away. After much searching, the perfect solution all but dropped into our laps. A former colleague put us into contact with a yard very near to us, who had reasonably priced berths vacant on a floating dock. As we sailed in, we knew we had chosen well – the spot was beautifully protected, surrounded by friendly neighbours, and a short taxi ride from the airport.

Over our last week on board, we set about preparing Contigo for our absence, and for the harsh Caribbean sun that would beat down on her for the next few weeks. We flushed and drained, cleaned and scrubbed, wrapped and protected every bit that we could, and tried our hardest to eat our way through our remaining food – none of which was made easier by 35-degree heat and lack of breeze in our little sheltered haven.

Henrique was the first to leave, flying first to the Dominican Republic to pick up a visa, then to Miami where he joined a 44m yacht. He then completed his second Atlantic crossing of the year, although this was to be very different from our 15-day adventure on Contigo. The yacht in Miami was loaded onto a cargo ship – think a giant floating dock or lock, but with huge engines that can power it across the ocean. Henrique's job was to babysit the yacht, ensure that the systems ran as they should, and finish off the work list that this nearly new boat had left over from the shipyard. The cargo ship, known as the Yacht Express, was equipped with a gym, canteen, barbecue, lounge and even a (very) small swimming pool, which helped to make the 2-week crossing from the States to Italy more civilized. Whilst the environmental impact of these sorts of ships is questionable at best, burning thousands of tons of heavy fuel to cross, they enable relatively fragile yachts to go from one side of the planet to the other without damaging their structures or their luxury interiors (and also make such a journey possible for motorboats without sufficient fuel autonomy). This kind of transatlantic experience is so far away from our own just a few months before that Henrique found it hard to believe he was crossing the same waters.

In the meantime, a few days after Henrique's departure, I reluctantly brought the dinghy inside, shut off the valves and closed Contigo up. My destination? The Netherlands, but this time by plane. I too found it very strange to cross in just a few short hours the massive expanse of ocean whose rhythm had so dictated our lives these past months. Gazing down from the plane window at the rippling expanse of blue below, I found myself right back there between the waves, baking bread in my little galley, gazing out in the hope of seeing a whale, or wrapping up to take my watch.

I can't say much about what I'm in Holland to do, but it's an exciting conversion project on a ship which, once completed will be serving on the most adventurous oceanographic research projects, including some of the world's leading investigations into plastic pollution. You may even see her on TV.

Being back on land has been very strange. We had not slept in a "real" bed for more than six months, and were very far away from anything resembling office wear, uniforms, safety shoes or even an alarm clock. Cruising is the most tremendous fun, and is sometimes hard, sometimes scary, often challenging. But the break has done us good, spiritually and intellectually. And for me, it has also reinforced my choice of lifestyle. Returning to our home town and seeing that very little had changed – the same shops on the same streets, some of them with the same window displays – seems simply unbelievable when so much excitement and adventure have happened in our lives in the past few months.

Our time at work is nearly up, and we are thoroughly excited to return. Even though Contigo will probably be mouldy inside, and we are expecting families of bugs and beasties to have moved aboard, even the idea of getting her clean and ready to sail again has me almost packing my bags.

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.

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