How we crossed the Atlantic by hitchhiking a boat part 2: the ‘Milk Run’, yeah sure.

We left Gibraltar on 2nd of November. A couple of days earlier we moved into our new cabin and got to know the boat and the crew better. We agreed with the captain that we will share the first leg together (Gibraltar- Canary Islands) and if everything goes right and the crew gets along, we will cross the Atlantic all the way to the Caribbean. This route is known between the sailors as the “Milk Run”, as in theory at the right time of the year you are supposed to have consistent, trade winds behind you all the way across. Following sea they say…

The day of departure me -Ania- got a job as a freelance writer for physiotherapy articles, a new possibility arose, of traveling and working from wherever I end up!

Everyone was itchy to go as the crew spent the previous weeks getting ready for the big crossing, running last errands and fixing parts of the boat. Who are the other crew members?

David- the captain, sailing around the world for the second time. Now his boat , Nereid is on the last stretch home Australia. The most patient captain of them all, even if his damn crew looses his favorite and only bucket on board. Excellent bread-maker.

Vicki- ready to take a challenge in chess and backgammon anytime, day and night, great teacher, ready to hoist the spinnaker even if it means waking her up. Mrs. “Fantastic” it’s her second name.

Erica- passionate sailor who took one year off to sail from Europe to China, her second home, dealing perfectly with any tasks, no matter if seasick or not, best tea companion in the middle of the night, cheering up everyone with her great Roman irony and honesty.

In the early afternoon, we left the dock and started our sailing adventure. As the famous Gibraltar rock was getting smaller and smaller we noticed something in the distance, the water in the reflection of the sun was moving rapidly. The dolphins! Many of them, jumping one after the other in their stunning dance of freedom were escorting us in the direction of the open ocean. It is a beautiful moment, when you open the sails, switch off the engine and enjoy the omnipresent silence, when you realize that you are the only one out there and the vast amount of water with unknown creatures below its surface. That you are just a very tiny being in the hands of mother nature, and from now on it is Her that decides if you are going to get through the storms, squalls, mild-ponds, rainbows, beautiful sunsets, and sunrises.

We started our watches: 4 hours watch, 6 hours rest and suddenly everyone just spread around our 14 meters boat and followed their known routine. Routine that was yet to learn for us. At first, when our bodies were getting used to the boat motion we were sleeping a lot. Though the sea sickness was inevitable and it is very important to take care of yourselves in that moment: not to be cold, thirsty, hungry, have enough sleep.

It was tough on me and at the same time teaching. I did not take the best care of myself, staring at the horizon and waiting for the seasickness to let go. Could not really expect anyone to babysit me, everyone was dealing with his own issues. It is also very intimate in a way, to expose yourself so miserable to people that you barely know, that you have just met, and share this quality time hanging over the life wire, shoulder to shoulder, to check what’s up overboard 🙂

I guess this is what most of the travelers call “coming out of your comfort zone”. I was laughing thinking of all the adverts we hanged around the marinas saying: we can cook delicious meals, take care of your kids, clean. Nah, at first it was an abstraction, the only thing you want to do is to be out there in the cockpit, breathing fresh air and not dealing with anything that has to do with down below (preparing meals, using a toilet). There is a lot that can be written about the seasickness, our captain use to say that you need to go through it and try not to hold it with pills, special acupuncture bracelets and other inventions. It will pass.

Anyway, 2-3 days of misery and then you forget, get used to, it stops bothering you and you start really enjoying it. You start the real sailing.

I had so much time to think about my family, my friends, some events in my life, it was beautiful to be there without the phone and internet. Just papers to write, books to read and 4 other beings to share your emotions with. Beings that for almost 6 weeks become your family, all from the different background, with different social conventions, eating habits, customs, ways of communicating and solving problems. We did well together.

I think during this first stretch, we were playing the ‘observers game’, trying to see how others behave, what routine to follow, how to sail the boat and so on.

It took us 7 days to do the first part, get to Las Palmas, Canary Islands. It was quite cold, we had a strong wind at first and a couple of windless days too. I was very happy to rest and take a lesson from this first cruising. Now when I look back at it I think it was the most difficult part, physically speaking, to deal with your body weakness and acknowledge its limits.

We had a 3 days break, met tons of other boat hitchhikers and even some friendly faces that we knew from Gibraltar. No one could believe our luck of having already the ‘long ride’, and so we didn’t.

In a couple of weeks, we are going to be in the Caribbean!

We stocked up with water, provision, fuel and left for the longest leg, Canary Islands- St. Martin, Carribeans.

The weather did not treat us well. I was not sure myself if I prefer calm days or strong gusts of wind. Before heading straight west we were firstly heading south towards Cape Verde to catch so-called trade winds that would take us all the way across the Atlantic. It is a pleasant sailing with the wind from behind and following sea. We did not intend to go all the way to Cape Verde, but our usage of fuel and water made the captain changed his mind. It was a good, safe decision even though David had a deadline, a doctor’s visit in Australia.

We did not expect to see a part of West Africa during our cruising. Cape Verde is a great place, one would say, exotic comparing to Europe. First tropical fruits, dark skinned beautiful women, fish market on the streets, simple life. We both wished we could stay longer than 24 hours but maybe next time, who knows.

So the last stretch, 2200 nautical miles from Capo Verde to Saint Martin, Caribbean we planned to do in two weeks, if not a big hole of no winds for 7 days.

We started well, but we knew the weather forecast. Starting from my birthday (fantastic experience of swimming in the ocean for the first time) we got stuck, with flapping sails and less than 0,5 knots of speed…for seven days. There were no more physical limits, now it was time to stay strong mentally, not to get frustrated and demonstrate it on others. On one hand, we were not in the rush anywhere, but on the other, in the back of your head you know that all your food, water, and fuel resources are running out and you don’t do any of the expected progress. The best way to deal with that was to find something to do and so Erica came up with different workshops and plans for the day. We did morning yoga, aqua aerobic, funny talks (my life without shampoo of Anto was a hit), rosary and others.

We ate well, baked bread, pizza, made pancakes, plan our diet well enough so we could have the last piece of chocolate when we saw the land after a total of 6 weeks of sailing.

We had just right amount of food for meals but run out of snacks, so to raise the general mood I decided one day to bake a dessert: Christmas cake ! It was an experiment, I had never before baked without a recipe in front of my eyes but there was not much to loose. I took few African eggs from Cape Verde (they stayed 3 weeks in the heat, but the test of putting an egg in the water to see if it is rotten worked out well ), flour expired 3 years ago that I found in the pantry, cheap oil that we used to oil the toilet pump with, milk, cinnamon, sugar, vanilla essence and …VOILA. It was as good as it could be taking all the circumstances and quality of the products! Everyone was happy!

There was enough time to fly the spinnaker more than once. If you are wandering what it is, that’s a beautiful sail that can trick even experienced sailors (yes, yes we too got it twisted, wet, lost a shackle until we got it right).

The last couple of days before arrival we all got into – when on land I can not wait to eat this; drink that; go for a run – kind of talk. I did not believe that I am going to be emotional when we see the land for the first time, but it came with such a beautiful sunrise that it really got me, deep inside I could not believe, that we all went through that adventure, that the vast ocean is behind us and what we see ahead is the incredibly green Caribbean Sea, full of colorful fish, big turtles, albatross up in the sky and iguanas chilling on the sun. We put down the sails, anchored outside the bridge of Saint Martin lagoon, opened five bottles of beers and raised a big toast upon the safe arrival…

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