Sailing the Atlantic

We sailed the Atlantic just over twenty five years ago. It was one of the best times of my life made doubly special by the people I did I it with - Amanda, my father and Peter Beverley. There are some things I particularly remember.

The first was Peter suggesting, before we even stepped on board, that any request or order (and at certain times they have to be an order) had to be accompanied by 'please'.' It was inspired. Try shouting an order with and without it. It takes the sting out of any raised voice as shouting against the noise of the wind and flapping sails is sometimes inevitable. I don't, as a result, remember a single cross word despite a moments of exhaustion, fear and irritation. 

The other thing is the sense of space. One of the things that so many people said before we set off was how are you going to cope with the boredom and being on top of one another? As to boredom - we were always busy, either with boat things or our own things. I recall no ennui, only an existence that was outside any on land. You live through the days and nights with the sun and the stars, awake at night on watch or dozing during the day with the noon sun sight and the star-sight at the moment of dusk, when you can see both star and horizon, as defined punctuation marks in the 24 hour cycle. When we finally sighted land after the longest passage (fourteen days), it was with a real sense of sadness - not relief. Given a burnt steak and a cold beer, I'd have gone on for weeks.

Claustrophobia? The opposite in fact. We hove to in mid Atlantic on a relatively calm day: the trade winds normally blow strongly enough to need a reef in the sails. Hove to is when you come about through the wind but leave the jib sheeted in on the old tack. The result is miraculous. All the rolling and movement stops and the boat makes forward at about a knot and a half. It is a godsend for cooking a meal or doing something where you need quiet and relief from the constant movement. We decided to swim - well two of us anyway as leaving the boat unattended would not have made for a relaxed experience. I was wearing a mask and I swam away from the boat and looked back. There is a scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman is scuba diving in the pool and his view goes from above the water to below - two different worlds. This was similar. I suddenly had this overwelming sense of space. We were a thousand miles from the coast of Africa and nearly double that to the West Indies. To the north and south, with nothing in between, were the two poles, and below was the abyss of about 15,000ft. All I could see suspended on this vast void, as the waves alternated the depths and the sky through my mask, was our tiny 36ft boat. 

Stuff claustrophobia. It was agrophobia big time. 

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