the journey

The Canary Islands

Welcome to the Atlantic

November 15, 2010

Location: Isla Graciosca, Canary Islands

On November 15, our fourth night on passage, the forecast was for increasing winds and high seas by 01:00 hours. At 01:05, as I was peeling 4 layers of shirts and coats from my back and sliding out of my bib pants and sea boots, the wind filled in. It wasn't a gentle push...our jib billowed and DreamKeeper shook violently once, balancing herself and then took off.

Forecasts are rarely precise. We don't rely on them but use them as a loose guide, usually adding 5-10 knots of wind and giving a wide margin of time. Yet, there are those rare moments where the forecast is spot on within minutes and absolutely accurate. At 01:00 the forecast was for winds to 17 knots and seas of 3-4 meters (10-15ish feet). By 04:00 the forecast called for winds of 25-35 knots and seas to 5 meters.

After giving a quick thanks for the wind's arrival, I collapsed into the sea berth and left the helm and the weather to Gar. Grateful to be horizontal and nest into the still warm blankets and sheets he left me, I fell hard asleep . Three hours came too quickly. When I pried my eyes open at 04:00, our world was transformed. The forecast proved to be correct. I climbed over two companionway boards (rarely used unless in wet weather wind or rain), into the wind, howling in the rigging like a banshee. We were surfing beautifully.

DreamKeeper was doing what she was made to do. Perfectly balanced, flying across the Atlantic ocean in 25 knots of wind, riding the lip of 12-15+ foot swell and surfing like a pro. We reviled in her performance and wanted to keep pushing her but the wind instruments showed a gust to 35.9 knots and our max boat speed was already over 9 knots. While the boat seemed completely in control we didn't want to push our luck.

Usually prudent sailors, this time a wee bit late because Gar was loving the ride, we turned into the building swell, and tucked a reef in the main. Dreamkeeper's speed dropped just barely and the ride had a little less punch but we were still soaring and I was more content, knowing that if the winds licked up, we were prepared.

Squalls rolled through all morning, intermittently washing us with fresh rain. In the steely blue darkness I huddled under the dodger, my ears tuned into both the wind and the This American Life podcast I was listening to. With my hands shoved in my pockets and my neck scrunched down, resembling the two turtles Gar saw just days ago on the once calm surface of the sea, I sat my watch swiveling my neck to peer through the rain splattered dodger and scurrying back the radar, spending as little time as possible behind the exposed helm.

No matter how many nights we have spent at sea it's always a surprise to me how quickly the weather can change. Most of the time I love it because every day is incredibly different, especially if you really look at them. We were escorted out of Gibraltar by bottlenose dolphins, and muscled through the contrary current going a miserable two knots boat speed at times (even though we had timed our departure exactly, following the prescribed equation to be going with the current), under brilliant crisp blue skies and light winds. We were a bit late in the season, so we had to choose to leave with light to no wind or huge seas and winds from North Atlantic storms. We chose the former.

By 22:00, on our first night out of Gibraltar the forecast proved correct. We had a lovely beam reach, sailing at 5.8 knots in 8-13 knots of wind. Ships heading to Egypt, Israel, Malta, and numerous other ports in the Mediterranean, passed us, their lights glowing across the smooth horizon. As always, we were grateful for our AIS as the entire night our screen was full of as many as 40 boats at a time, with each one, we clearly knew where they were going and if they would be coming anywhere near us. Fishing boats lights winked on and off in the wee hours off the Moroccan coast and we spied them with our naked eyes and revolving radar. Dawn came slowly, indigo ink clouds floated across the dusty painted sky.

Our second night out the wind eventually deserted us.

With little swell it was easy to spot the blinking lights threading across the surface of the sea for what looked like miles. Not knowing for sure if these were deep set long lines, we diverted our course around them, hoping we wouldn't add miles to our route but unwilling to tempt fate and get our propeller tangled with a possible trap of line under the surface. I resisted my urge to dive in and cut all of them, leaving the tuna, swordfish, sharks, turtles, and seabirds to a better fate. (To learn more about longlining: LINK HERE and for sustainable fishing options LINK HERE)

During Gar's early morning watch he saw tankers plowing through the longline trails, confirming we were in no danger of getting caught ourselves as the lines must be set deep enough, but that the ocean's bounty would be less lucky.

On the 14th of November, we had one of those rare dead calm nights on the ocean where you can see stars reflected on the surface of the sea. Venus glowed in the early morning hours like a locating beacon and flashed back up at me. Glowing ribbons of phosphorescence unfurled from our wake like party streamers as we continued to make our way south. The growing moon tilted and smiled at me as she sunk into the horizon, reflecting papaya orange. Under a periwinkle early morning, sipping tea, Gar rightly claimed that it was the calm before the storm.

When we slipped through the corridor between Graciosa and Lanzarote, just a mile from our anchorage, we left the building seas to themselves and sailed in decreasing 20 knot winds in lake like conditions.

By 16:00 hours, we had stopped. Our anchor was down, and DreamKeeper floated just off Playa Francesca in Graciosa, Canary Islands. Again, we fell into bed, this time together, tired and content with the wind singing us to sleep.