“I wouldn’t go if I couldn’t take a hot shower every day.”
It was my brother who told me this recently. Sorry, John (if you’re reading this, probably not!), but you did say it and I’m sure you would still stand by it now. We were talking about the Atlantic-crossing, what it was like for me and whether he would ever want to do something like that and that was his response: “Not if I couldn’t shower every day.”
“You could shower every day,” I huffed back at him, “as long as you used mostly saltwater with just a quick freshwater rinse.”
John looked at me kind of funny. I think he seriously forgot it’s saltwater out there and that your fresh water supply on a boat is limited. Understandable as he is my brother. I forget the order of the cardinal directions sometimes and have to say that “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” ditty to myself to remember. We’re both well educated but still blondes at heart.
Love you Bro.
“It would have to be a hot shower, though,” John said. “The water out there is probably super cold. I would want a comfortable shower.”
“Those were some of the best showers of my life,” I responded, instantly, immediately because it was so true.
The second day of the trip, Phillip and I took our first of several showers on the transom of Andanza and it was an incredible experience. There is no better feeling when you’re sweaty, dirty, oily and all gummed up from a passage to be able to jump overboard and submerge yourself in cool, crisp cleansing water. As predicted, the wind in the Gulf was virtually non-existent, which sucked for sailing but was great for a Captain-approved intentional man overboard dip! Phillip and I tied a tow line and jumped in, both of us squealing and shouting “Whoo hoo!” when it was our turn in the water because it just felt so incredible. I don’t care what the instruments said. 2.9 knots? Please! In the water it felt like we were making 10!
Get your drawers Annie!
Water whisked across my body like a running river, washing all of the dirt and grime away and almost sucking my britches clean off! I had to keep reaching back and snatching them to keep them on. It was also difficult to pull my legs back underneath me just to get back onto the boat, but it was so much fun! Phillip and I took turns jumping in, coming back out to soap up, jumping in again to rinse off then helping each other with a warm Solar Shower rinse afterward and I honestly cannot think back on my 34 years and recall a shower I enjoyed more. I can walk up to a tub, turn on the water and have the same “hot shower” experience everyday and it will be just what John craved: comfortable. What I cannot have, though, is a crisp, chilly, invigorating saltwater cleanse like I had on the back of Andanza with an endless blue horizon around me in every direction. That kind of unrepeatable newness is what I crave.
The sunrise that morning, our first on the trans-Atlantic passage, was also a moment I will not forget. We were all kind of shocked that the first sail we raised on the trip was the spinnaker and that we had flown it all through the previous night without a problem. She was still up and fluttering in the bright morning sun when I rose just after 5:00 a.m. May 30th, to find Phillip in his absolute happy place. He had made a pot of coffee and was standing in the cockpit just watching the sun rise. His serenity was infectious, so I just stood next to him and watched too.
“Some minutes go slow but the days go fast.” Andy Schell with 59-North told me this recently when he interviewed me about my first ocean crossing for his “On the Wind” podcast. (Such an honor! You know I will let you all know when that comes out!) Andy said someone had told him that’s what it feels like to cross an ocean and I could not agree more. That moment with Phillip, our first morning on passage, watching the sun rise, felt so vivid and slow. I remember the feeling of the cool morning air, my hair dancing and tickling my face, the sight of the spinnaker with sunlight glowing through it.
What I don’t quite remember, though, is the rather large chunk of time from that moment until our shower on the transom some seven, or perhaps eight, hours later and what I did during that time. Some moments tick by like an eternity but other stretches of time pass by in a blurry succession and all of sudden you can’t believe it’s already Thursday, or June or just 1,000 nautical miles left to go! Time slows and speeds like an accordion and the song is over before you want it to end. Andy was right about that.
While the lackluster wind did not make for great sailing, it did make for an absolute beautiful backdrop for the hours of reading, writing and daydreaming the crew did as we motored our way across the glassy Gulf.
We knew we were going to have to stop in Key West to fuel up at the very least and it appeared—at the rate we were going—we would get there in about three days, although no one was in a rush.
I tried to make myself do some “work writing” (I call it)—the various articles and pieces I write for my legal marketing clients—during those first few days, but to be honest, I found it difficult to make myself do anything that felt like work. With a beautiful blue backdrop, the smell of salt water all around, water as blue as a sapphire with sun streaks that pierced down for miles, it was hard to force your mind to do anything but relax and reflect. This is probably one of the aspects of blue water passages people love. It’s like your mind rejects stress. It flat out refuses to fret over anything that doesn’t involve your immediate surroundings.
With each of us having pushed ourselves to our stress-load limits in the days before we shoved off, the crew rested a great deal during those first days on passage. And I say “the crew” because the Captain, Yannick, remained in boat project mode, every hour, every day of that trip. Unlike the rest of us, he never slowed down.
And if you think that’s a lot of photos of the Captain working, I laugh at you. I have at least 103 just of Yannick doing boat projects. I’ll do a whole montage one day! It’ll be great.
The only thing the crew focused on, however, was the status of the boat and when our next shift was. And, for Phillip, what he was going to make us for lunch and dinner!
It was tuna pasta with beets for lunch that day. Thank you Chef Phillip!
My shift that night was ten to midnight.
I was sitting in the cockpit with Yannick while he was finishing what we all started to call the “dinner shift” (7-10pm). That was an awesome shift because it usually included the fun entertainment of everyone making and eating dinner and often a movie. That shift was cake. It seemed it was the 2-4am shift that most folks didn’t care much for.
I was getting ready to take over around 10:00 p.m. when I saw a zip of white flash by in the water. Perplexed, I craned my head over the side to try to decipher what I saw. At first it was just darkness, black water. Then I saw another zip of bubbles, quick and nimble, fast up to the bow and it finally clicked in my mind what I might be seeing. Dolphins. In phosphorescence. I nudged Yannick and told him to look.
“They’re all up at the bow!” he said. “Get your tether. Let’s go.”
I couldn’t scramble into that thing fast enough. I was fidgeting and fighting my way into my life vest. And, I would say I didn’t think to wake Phillip because I knew he was tired and needed to rest up for his midnight to 2am shift, but that’s not true because I wasn’t thinking about Phillip at all! Not one bit. There were dolphins at the bow! And, they were glowing! And I was going! Yannick was tapping his foot at the helm waiting for me so we could both go together. (We were still sticking by our rule that no one was allowed to leave the cockpit to go foreward at night alone.)
The sky was dark. The moon had been rising around 2:00 a.m. every morning since we set off from Pensacola, leaving often a dark night sky with a barely visible horizon, until the moon would rise a fiery orange on the port beam. Yannick had his head lamp on and lit my way to the bow. I heard them before I could see them. The gentle puff of dolphin’s breath, three puffs, at least four, in a matter of seconds, which told me there were many dolphins, and they were everywhere. I could hear them on our starboard side, near the starboard bow, and near the center of the boat where Yannick was already looking over.
I perched on the edge near the port side, my feet dangling over the bow feeling the crisp salt spray from the water and I saw them. Dolphins. A dozen at least. Zipping through the water at seemingly lightning speed from one hull to the next, leaving behind, each time, a trail of glitter. At least that’s what it looked like. Their bodies gleamed with phosphorescence, moving so fast they left a sparkling trail behind. I have never seen such a thing and I believe the only experience that could compare would be this same sight and phenomenon again: Dolphins in phosphorescence. It was breathtaking. Inexplicable in its beauty. These creatures move with such speed in the absolute dark, completely aware of their surroundings, our boat, each other, the entire body of water it seemed. They had no fear. Only joy. And in the moment, so did I.
It was a very memorable moment to share with Yannick, as well. We both looked at each other like two kids at an aquarium, saying nothing, just smiling. I’m sure he remembers that night. The glowing pod stayed and zipped along with us for about ten minutes. When they finally trailed off to the east, their last brilliant streaks fading into dark, Yannick and I slowly made our way back to the cockpit where it was my turn to hold the helm. I kind of thought Yannick would stay up a little with me to re-live the dolphin moment, but “Goodnight” he said as he made his way down below.
I’m glad my shift that night began with such a lively, invigorating scene because it was a long, slow two hours after that. The “time accordion” was slowly stretching apart. I forced myself to stay alert. Do a walk-about around the cockpit every ten or so minutes. Look at the instruments. Check the engine temp. Without any wind, we had been motoring all day, letting the starboard engine pump us across the Gulf.
It was a calm night, but cloudy, which meant no sparkling chop, no horizon. There is something eerie about motoring straight toward a black sheath. You’re not entirely confident that you’re not about to slam into something. It’s hard to look away from the bow. You have the instinct to keep verifying but each time you do it just stirs your worries anew because you can’t see anything. Shifts like this, like Andy said, ticked by slowly. I was always so grateful when a worrisome shift ended to hand over the helm with the glorious, gratifying knowledge that the boat hadn’t struck something and cracked into a hundred pieces during my shift. That didn’t happen when I was at the helm. And, I know how awful and selfish that is to say, but it is just the truth. I also shocked myself at how easily and quickly I could fall into a deep sleep after my night shifts because the tediousness of the worrying had exhausted me so.
The crew was able to fall off into deep slumbering comas often with the mere closing of our eyes. Johnny slept ten hours a day those first few days. While all three of the crew members had been working incredibly hard the final weeks before we left to complete work that had to be done or finished ahead of schedule so we could leave the country for six weeks, Phillip and I had been doing that at a desk while Johnny, as a diesel engine mechanic, was doing that often on his feet or hands and knees finishing several rather large engine repairs before he left. And, he’s 72! He’s an impressive guy that Johnny. And, he always held his shift so it didn’t bother anyone at all that he slumbered so much in between during those first few days. It actually turned out to be a blessing because the next morning we sent him right down in the hole at the crack of dawn.
I heard the rumble of the port engine cranking beneath me in my berth early the morning of May 31st. Something felt a little off about it as we had been trying to split time between the engines and Yannick had told me the night before he was planning to run the starboard engine until well into the following day. I thought something might be wrong, but I was also tired and didn’t quite want to wake up yet so I just rolled over. Then I heard rushed footsteps. Then Johnny’s voice. Then I woke. It was just after 5:00 a.m. I popped my head out of my hatch on the port-side as Phillip rustled out of bed and I heard Yannick’s report.
In the middle of his 4-6am shift, the starboard engine had shut down again on its own. No sputter, stutter or puttering out. It stopped immediately. Yannick had already checked the oil and other fluid levels, the temp, etc. There were no visible problems in that regard. He was preparing to go overboard to see if something had fouled the prop as Johnny, still blinking himself awake, starting making his way down into the starboard engine locker.
“Well, it’s a good thing you got a lot of rest yesterday, Johnny,” Phillip said. Johnny just smiled and shook his head as he eased down into the hole.
Want more HaveWindWillTravel content? Become a Patron to get our weekly: 1) Pic of the Week, 2) Cuba Prep Update, 3) Trans-At Exclusive and 4) a Sneak Peek of each Friday’s video, as well as free early viewing of my Atlantic-Crossing movie which will be coming out in just a few short weeks!