Transatlantic Crossing

The Basics: My sailing adventure began in Charleston, South Carolina on May 20th and I arrived safely in Barcelona, Spain on July 24th after traveling nearly 5,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean.



July 24 | Barcelona, Spain

Port Vell Marina is located in the heart of Barcelona within easy walking distance of the beach, thousands of restaurants, and the old city. The Spanish culture is laid-back and they seem to put an emphasis on eating good food and relaxing. It’s too bad I have to be moving out so soon but Syria is a long way down the road. 

The last day on the sailboat we were running downwind with the spinnaker. A herd of Dolphin was jumping so close to the bow that water was splashing onto my feet as I was sitting on deck snapping photos. We had at least one Dolphin encounter for every day of the entire passage. 

I have found a 99 Euro bus ticket to Sofia, Bulgaria. From there I will probably pass through Istanbul and then to Antakya, Turkey by a series of bus connections. Thankfully buses in Europe are much more comfortable than in the USA.

July 22 | The Mediterranean

Wayne and I agreed that three nights in Gibraltar was too much and we were happy to be moving again. We’ve done more motoring than we would like over the last few days. Wayne says that Novatrix is such a funny looking motorboat. 

We have just rounded Cabo de la Nao, the last of the beautiful capes at the southeast portion of Spain. For time purposes we are not hugging the coast but instead traveling cape-to-cape and now on a direct line to Barcelona. I’ve been gazing through the binoculars at the gorgeous Spanish towns and rugged coastline and I’m sure I’ll be back one day to explore this area at a leisurely pace.

July 17 | Gibraltar

The Straits of Gibraltar. The edge of the known world in ancient times-the European and African continents. Our nighttime entry into to the Mediterranean was certainly exciting as we rounded the southernmost cape in Spain and found ourselves fighting 40 knots of wind and numerous converging cargo ships. Fortunately, the wind slowed a bit and by sunrise we were smoothly motoring into the marina at Gibraltar, which is protected from the wind by the easily recognizable and formidable "Rock". 

A few morning pints and an English style breakfast at a dockside café was a nice reward for having just crossed the Atlantic Ocean. We congratulated ourselves for having the tenacity and patience to cross from one continent to another using the wind. 

In the last week on Novatrix we covered over a thousand miles in the passage from the Azores to Gibraltar. Not record speed, but very acceptable in the sailing world and for me lightning speed compared to my previous experience. 

Gibraltar is an awkward and expensive place. The Rock is gorgeous, though, and I was able to hike up to the top and visit the remnants of over a thousand years of military fortifications. The 360-degree views were spectacular and the wild, tailless macaques are everywhere. I was lucky that one of them didn’t snatch my camera.

July 11 | Horta, Azores

Things can change in a hurry. A couple days ago I was feeling pretty down and had nearly given up hope on finding a crew position. I walked the docks numerous times and posted my "crew available" note around the marina to no avail. 

After making sure my advertisements were still posted on the message boards, I walked the docks one more time. I did a double take when I saw "Crew wanted to Barcelona" posted in a pilothouse window of a sleek new yacht. I talked with the owner/skipper, Wayne, and he told me to be at the boat the next morning ready for departure. 

Novatrix is a 51 foot Nauticat, a world cruising yacht made in Finland in 2000. Pretty sweet! It has more systems and gadgets than you could ever imagine. This floating city sails pretty fast -we’ve averaged around 6.5 knots over the last 24 hours. It’s a very comfortable boat with sleeping capacity for eight, two full bathrooms, a large kitchen with granite counters, and email access. 

Also on board as crew is Sally, the English lady I met in Bermuda when we had dinner together aboard Milagro.

July 8 | Faial, Azores

I’ve been staying at a great campsite next to a black sand beach in a small town called Paria do Almoxarife. Little beach cafes are just down the street and I’ve been able to make friends with some of the workers and expats that live here. 

A few days ago I purchased a bicycle for 50 euros at the local supermarket. It’s a piece of junk but it has miraculously survived my daytrips around the coast road and up to the island’s 3000 foot volcano crater. The weather has been perfect for cycling and the scenery just gorgeous. This island is known as the Blue Island because it’s completely covered with flowering blue hydrangeas that line all the roads, basically a huge botanical garden. 

I have accepted an offer to teach English in Syria beginning on August 1st. I want to continue to mainland Europe by sailboat and I will have to get cracking in order to find a crew position in time. Otherwise, I will be forced to take a flight so I can be in Syria in time to start classes.

July 3

I’ve been exploring the town of Horta over the last few days and enjoying the amazing pastries, coffee, and beer. I decided that this island is too beautiful to just pass through, so I decided to spend a little time cycling and camping n this small island paradise. 

The neighboring island of Pico´s 7,000 foot volcano peak is just beckoning me to make the summit. It seems like I´ll have plenty of things to keep me occupied. Today I´m off to buy a bike and say goodbye to Kim and Gunnar on Milagro. It will be hard to leave such a great boat.

June 30

The Azores. Land. How amazing! It is really possible to cross the globe using wind and fabric for power. I'm now convinced that sailing is the best and most enjoyable way to travel. 

The most amazing sunsets, moon rises, unobstructed star gazing, making whole wheat bread with three miles of water below, dolphins, free time to read and relax -all these are the daily routine on a sailboat. It's really the dream-life. 

We are currently in Horta, Faial Island in the Portuguese islands called the Azores, which translates into English as "blue". They're gorgeous. 

There are over a hundred boats docked here after long ocean passages and we recognize many of the boat names because they were also in contact with Herb's weather net. We finally meet the voice behind the German sailboat Momo, a lady named Jutta, who has helped us in recent days with her more powerful SSB radio. 

I got a free beer today! As I was typing this journal entry, the bar tender became interested in the technology and I told him that if he emails me when I'm back in the US, I'd be happy to buy him a similar PDA computer at a much reduced cost. 

People are really great no matter where you go in the world. It never fails... you can show up in the most off-the-beaten-trails and people are wonderful. My faith in humanity is restored.

June 28

This is what I'm talking about: over 500 nautical miles of progress in the last four days! It's a good thing because our food supplies are nearly diminished. 

We're down to moldy pasta, plain rice, and cans of diced tomatoes and beets. I certainly haven't put on any extra weight since leaving Bermuda. 

When the wind is calm at night we have been using the spinnaker sail and making nearly four knots, while in the daytime the wind picks up and we can comfortably cruise at six knots. 

During my night watch a million ton container ship stopped in its tracks and gave way to our 44 foot sailboat. It’s funny to know that such a huge ship in the middle of the Atlantic had to yield to a tiny sailboat, but rules are rules. 

I think it would have easily passed in front but it was nighttime and captain might have figured that no one was on watch in our boat.

June 26

We sailed passed a capsized boat this morning. My gut feeling tells me that the boat was a wooden hull fishing boat in the twenty foot range, like those that you see in the Caribbean. 

It was hard to tell exactly how big the boat was because of the waves and how little of the front hull was above the waterline. 

Kim estimated that the boat could have been a sailboat potentially as big as 40 feet. Later in the evening we alert Herb and he says that Kim's description matches that of a sailboat bound for Canada that's been missing for the last few weeks. 

He will notify the Coast Guard and other agencies. I review the video I took of the boat and find a few clips that might be useful to the coast guard authorities when we get the Azores.

June 22

The sailing book I'm reading talks about the Doldrums as something that every serious sailor should experience at least once in order to learn patience and to increase respect for seafarers who crossed the oceans many years ago and got trapped in these notoriously calm places for months at a time. 

We aren't quite in that situation because we're actually in the Variables, a small cone of little wind lying south of the westerly winds and north of the Northeasterlies. 

I can sort of understand what the author is getting at when he says that it's an experience every sailor should have once, but I'm still trying to assess the benefits of just sitting here in an endless pond. Guess I'll take his word for it. 

One thing’s for sure, I've certainly gained appreciation for the way people sailed hundreds of years ago without ship-to-shore radio, weather forecasts, or the ability to turn on the diesel engine.

June 21

We crossed the halfway point today; 800 miles to Bermuda and 800 to the Azores. A huge brown sea turtle resting in the sun gave a little break from the monotony of the glass surface. 

We spot much more wildlife on calm days like today because the water is clearer; any movement or sound is much easier to pick up and we are not so focused on handling the boat. 

The dead silent sea comes alive with the sound of blowing and splashing from dolphins barely visible on the horizon. On a day like this, any sound must be coming from an animal. 

The atmospheric pressure is so high that I'm worried the barometer might break today; 1036 millibars or 30.6 inches of Mercury. 

Three freighter ships passed within just a few miles, which means that we have at least found some of the more favorable currents in the region. Herb tells us in the evening talk that we should expect no wind for the next three days and that we should consider motoring to higher latitudes. 

We agree and figure that it’s the right time to start burning those 100 gallons of Diesel we've been saving.

June 18

Things began to look up today as we had the tear in the mainsail fixed and the rope in the prop free by midday. Again, I was a bit nervous doing this free-the-rope mission because the seas were heavier than last time I had to dive and the prop blades swing wildly in 8 foot swells. 

We talked with the sailboat Momo who is only 50 miles north of our current position at 30.50 by 50.40. I know fifty miles away seems like a huge distance but when you are in the middle of the Atlantic is seems like we are practically neighbors. 

The German lady on Momo says that she had heard us say yesterday on the radio reporting that we were adrift with a few problems, and she is thankful that we fixed our problems and are now underway. 

Apparently, after the weather updates a few of the nearby sailboats were attempting to contact us on SSB radio to see if we needed help. There is a nice community of people out here and we plan to talk with Momo everyday at 21:00 UTC.

June 17

I woke up early today at 10 UTC and in keeping to my routine checked the GPS to see our progress. My watch began at 12, and I began doing some calculations that were quite disheartening. 

I reckoned that this was our 21st day at sea and we have made just over 1000 miles of progress to the Azores, which are another 1400 away. Denmark is roughly another 2000 onward from the Azores. 

At this rate we will arrived in no less and 60 days from now. To top it all off, we are going SSE and the Azores are at a NE bearing. 

When Kim wakes up I go ballistic. I've decided that I've had enough and I'm frustrated. "Why aren't we headed on course? We are going painfully slow, making little progress, and other boats making the same trip are passing us! Both Herb and Karstan have told us to be heading northeast and we're still heading southeast." 

A few other choice words fly and it feels good to vent. I'm just sorry to give Kim such a harsh morning rant and rave. He says that the waves are too high to proceed on course because they would be battering abeam the hull. Seems like it's always something out here; when you have good wind the waves are too big and when there aren't waves there’s no wind. No progress either way. 

Kim decides later in the day to put out the sea anchor. As we're setting it out we don’t have enough line on the recovery end and Kim is frantically connecting additional line for extension. It passes under the boat and I say a silent prayer and hope that another rope is not stuck in the prop like two weeks ago. 

SNAFU! The damn line is tangled again. Poor planning and absent mindedness at work. I scream cusswords into the open as I realized that we might be drifting for a long time until the waves calm enough for someone to free the line. 

Gunnar and Kim maintain their calm and I don't see how they do it. Definitely something for me to work on. It's starting to seem like this trip wasn't meant to be. 

Every time we make a little progress something else fails and we are faced with a new set of circumstances.

June 16

Mainsail blowout. Probably the last thing you want on the high seas. A two foot tear ripped through the nylon when Kim winched up the main. 

Somehow through carelessness one of the third reef points had not been untied and on further inspection the sail is more brittle from sun damage than previously thought. 

Kim and I bring down the sail and begin the tedious time-consuming job of stitching by hand. By sundown, we have managed to attach a nylon piece to one of the two foot tears, but 12 foot seas make it nauseating for us to look down too long and the dread of knowing that we lost one of our most crucial power sources doesn't encourage our work morale. 

Up a creek without a paddle or in the ocean without out a sail. We can only hope for better luck.

June 15

 

We spot a sailboat about three miles behind us and we assume that it's Solciste, a boat that has also been in daily contact with Herb. 

It makes for a little fun to note the coordinates of nearby boats and see how your boat's speed compares. 

We get a good forecast this evening saying that the low pressure which is 400 miles to our north should be slowly moving NNE and away from us. 

We have been running SE to get away from the gale warning producing winds over 30 knots. Soon we should be able to turn on course to the ENE.

 

June 14

 

Fifteen Dolphins playing in Milagro's bubbling wake at sunset caps off a wonderful day of sailing and progress. We wonder if the dolphins swimming on the starboard side are trying to tell us something. We know that there is a lot of weather to our north and maybe the dolphins were just making sure we knew. 

We all agree that animals are smarter than people give them credit for. 

We are happy that Karstan, the amateur radio operator in Panama, is able to hear us clearly on the SSB radio. He is relaying our positions to the boat owner in Denmark who is then, I hope, emailing my parents. I'm sure my dad is glued to Google Earth and studying the Atlantic wind charts every time he gets our coordinates. 

We are also in daily radio contact with Herb in Canada, who provides weather forecasts for sailboats making the North Atlantic passage.

 

June 8

Our Genoa sail has been re-stitched and we've loaded up on fuel and topped up the water tanks with 330 gallons of freshwater. Yesterday evening we had a Norwegian couple onboard who are also leaving tomorrow for the Azores, on their 35 foot wooden sailboat. 

As we pass by the last channel marker and enter the ocean, I think about how nice it was to spend a week relaxing in Bermuda and enjoying paradise. What lies ahead and the thought of being in the huge ocean is anything but relaxing. Kim and I enjoy the last beer that we will have for the next few weeks.

June 2 
Kim arranges for the genoa sail to be restitched at a small sail maker’s shop within the next three days. I'm sure it's insanely expensive to fix, but this reminds me of the joys of sailing on somebody else's boat. 

We talk with a Norwegian couple on a sailboat anchored next to us that is also headed to the Azores in the next few days. It would be great to stick together on the 2,000 mile passage. 

Not that it makes our trip any safer, but it would certainly add a little comfort. There are a handful of sailboats departing everyday for far-off places and its comforting to know that we're not the only crazy people out here. 

I got a chance today to stroll around St. Georges and check out some island architecture and historical markers. 

I came across a cemetery where a sailboat captain was buried in 1609 after he died trying to supply food to settlements in Virginia. 

Sounds a bit creepy but you can tell a lot about a place from visiting the local resting place.

June 1 
At sunrise we were underway and headed through the channel. The radio operator gives us step-by-step instructions toward the customs dock. 

Having maneuvered the boat at our own free will for the last 12 days, it's awkward to have a voice give guidance that must be followed precisely. 

Customs is fortunately pretty lax and Gunnar, who is traveling without passport, is able to enter under the condition that he stays on the boat. 

I'm excited to get an "Entry by Sea" stamp in my passport. My head is spinning a little on land and it takes some concentration to walk a straight line without falling over. The sea can do crazy things to the body. 

Bermuda is gorgeous. Maybe I'm just in a great mood and am tired of staring into the endless ocean for so many days, but this place is amazing. 

Nearly 40 yachts are moored in the bright turquoise bay of St. Georges. Restored English colonial buildings rise up from the shore and are painted in the most amazing bright colors. 

Hopefully over the next few days I'll be able to soak up some of the 500 years of history in St. Georges which is listed as a UNESCO world Heritage Site. 

We realized pretty fast why Bermuda is infamous for being the most expensive country in the world. Prices in the supermarket are three times as high as in the US. 

Thankfully we provisioned in Charleston so we won't need to buy too much. A cold draught beer is still well worth the price! 

We're anchored a short 200 yards from the dock and we can easily take our dingy right to the heart of town.

May 31 
Land Ho! Bermuda is a flat island so we didn't catch sight until we were within 10 miles. I was steering at the time and I told Kim that it's a good thing because somebody else might have completely missed the island. 

If Kim or Gunnar were at the helm I'm sure we would have sailed right by the island. 

Bermuda radio contacted us and Kim gave him all the boat information and informed the operator that we had "lost" our navigation chart in a storm." 

Actually, Bermuda was a change in our course and we hadn't ever had the chart. Probably not the first time the operator has heard that one. 

Because it was getting dark and we had no chart we decided to spend the evening drifting offshore. Navigating channels and docking can be pretty unnerving, even in daylight. 

I talked with my parents for an hour by cell phone. They were of course worried about us, but it's understandable when your son is crossing the North Atlantic in a small boat. 

I dropped my croc sandals off the boat in the excitement of finally seeing land. This is by far the biggest tragedy of the trip. Kim had been threatening to throw them overboard anyway, so I guess he got his wish. They really aren't the most seaworthy shoes.

May 29 
Gunnar and I passed nearly half the day debating about government, history and the meaning of life. An appropriate conversation when you are like a sitting duck in the middle of the ocean. 

But like all deep discussions this one ends with no agreement. Gunnar has renounced his American and Swedish citizenship and sailing back to Denmark seems to be his best bet to get home.

May 28

We took advantage of Milagro's full galley today as Kim cooked fresh buttermilk biscuits. Something like this tastes ten times better at sea than on land. The awesome sunrises and crystal clear stars at night are becoming the regular entertainment that keeps me occupied during my red-eye shift.

May 26

Normal day today started by spotting a container ship 15 miles off in the horizon. Kim fixed a good breakfast by frying a hodgepodge of ingredients: canned tuna, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, onions and olive oil. 

The boat has a full kitchen, but for right now we're happy with simple dishes. I usually wind up cleaning up after the meals which is fine because I'm not that good of a cook in a rocking boat. 

The Swedish-American guy Gunner works the helm during the day while Kim and I take turns through the night. Thankfully Gunner is improving his ability to steer so we each spend about eight hours per day working. 

The wind is 10-20 knots, but unfortunately is coming straight from where we need to go. If it continues like this we will only be making 60 miles of headway per day to the Azores. 

Kim stays optimistic even though we are traveling much slower than anticipated and assures us that the wind will shift. 

I have my doubts and suggest to him that when we stop in Bermuda for oil we also refill the water tanks and buy more provisions. He agrees.

May 25 
Not much rest last night. We were busy dodging three small thunderstorms and keeping the boat on a steady course. During Kim's sunrise shift he decided to drop the sea anchor, a large water parachute the keeps the boat in one location. 

The wind had calmed but the waves were too big of a battle. The sea anchor would let us get some rest and be ready to sail the next day. 

I learned a pretty good lesson today-never untangle a long rope and let it get wrapped in the prop. Actually, I know this very well but my lack of sleep kept my mind from being sharp. 

We tried everyway to dislodge the rope until the decision way made for me to jump in the sea with a mask and fins and dislodge the line. 

I was apprehensive about doing this because the boat was bobbing around in four foot waves and looking at the underneath side of boats always scared me anyway. 

But I had gotten us into the mess and we weren't going anywhere until the rope was free. 

It took me a couple minutes to catch my breath when I jumped in and the thought of miles of water below me was freaky. The water visibility seemed endless and my first glimpse showed that the rope was only wrapped a few times around the prop and there was no damage. 

I gathered my courage and made my way under to the prop, holding my hand above my head for protections in case the boat suddenly rocked. The rope came loose easily enough and a few dives later I had saved the day. 

I gave a final look down into the deep blue and relaxed as my breathing came back to normal. That evening I checked the charts and the depth soundings showed that I was swimming in water 18,000 feet deep. I can check this one of my list of must-do experiences.

May 24 
Kim checks the engine's oil level and calculates that it's burning almost half a gallon per hour and we only have one extra gallon onboard. 

As our main source of power generation, the diesel engine is imperative for lights and navigation and we run it about three hours per day to keep the battery bank charged. 

Fortunately, Bermuda is right on the way to the Azores and we decide it'll be a necessary stop to buy oil. 

This evening I realized that crossing the Atlantic on a 44ft sailboat requires work. One minute the weather is sunny with a slight breeze and the next you are battling Mother Nature’s 30 knot winds and 10ft seas. 

It was an all-out team effort for Kim, Gunnar and I to reef in the main sail and not fall overboard. It's hard to imagine the amount of force pushing on the mainsail. 

We were lucky to get it down because the wind was unrelenting all night and loosing the mast is real concern with too much force.

May 23 
I started feeling very disconnected from the world this morning. Basically anything could be happening in the world and we would have no clue for at least another 20 days when we reach the Azores. 

For a news junkie like me it's hard, but I'll just have to get used to it. The wind is only 3 knots this morning and the noise of the flapping sails is on my nerves. 

I'm going to do a wind dance pretty soon. Just sitting in the open water is going to drive me crazy soon. The wind picks up slightly in late afternoon and we're doing 3.5 knots headed Southeast.

May 23

Calm seas and no one steering the boat when I awake. I fear that someone has gone overboard during the night. When my daze passes I realize that there is no wind. 

Kim is asleep in the aft cabin and Gunnar is napping on the back deck with fenders as his cushion. Thank goodness! By days end we only covered 45nm at a very agonizing average speed of two knots. 

Fortunately, the slow-going boredom was interrupted with wildlife. Twenty grey whales played around our boat for 30 minutes. A monarch butterfly enjoyed the wind draft as he trailed just behind the mainsail. 

How this butterfly found its way 300 miles from land shows how intriguing nature is. Later, I spot a Mahi-Mahi with its unmistakable blue and yellow radiating glint. 

More appeared and Kim and I hastened to put out the lures on the fishing lines. The fish are within biting distance but must not be hungry. 

Expletives break the silence as a 10 foot shark is spotted lurking. He swims in and around the Mahi-Mahi but apparently he's already had his lunch. The Mahi-Mahi don't seem to mind the shark. 

The shark passes within 25 feet of the boat and quickly departs. Nature certainly dishes out great entertainment.

 

May 22 
I awake at 5 UTC and Kim is yelling for Gunnar and me to don our safety harnesses and come to the cockpit. The air is colder and the faint moonlight highlights a line of dark clouds on our port side. 

I take the helm and maintain course while I adjust my eyes and gather myself. Having just awaken, I'm too tired to be nervous. There is lightning, but maybe 10 miles to starboard side.

As Kim reefs in the Genoa it begins to pour. We get two minutes of heavy rain and the clouds give way to stars and the moon. Kim says that not too long ago, sailors would be bringing pots and containers on deck to catch the rainwater to use for drinking.

 

May 21 
Much smoother today and I am able to go into my cabin without the fear of throwing up. I get four hours of sleep and Kim prepares an awesome beef and potato concoction that hits the spot. 

He's been working on boats for nearly 40 years and has crossed the Atlantic four times, once in a 23ft sailboat. This guy never runs out of stories. 

By days end we're over 200 miles off shore with no other boats in sight. Its amazing how far you can go with two sheets and a little wind.

May 20 
We left Charleston Harbor at 11:00. There were 10ft seas and the wind gusted to 32 knots once we exited the Charleston Channel and my enthusiasm quickly ended as I became violently seasick. 

It was one of the worst feelings, but I slowly got better after eating some bread which absorbs the unsettling fluids in the stomach. By evening time, land was well out of sight and we narrowly avoided a thunderstorm that seemed to be parallel to us on our ESE heading. It was certainly a spectacle better than any fireworks show, but quite unsettling. 

Kim retracted the Genoa sail and he reassured me that we would be fine. The CSY's are famous for having a thick fiberglass hull and the mast is well grounded for lightning strikes. 

At 54ft tall, I believed that our boat would surely be hit if a thunderstorm was nearby. Fortunately, the storm gave way to clear skies and I breathed a sigh of relief even as Milagro bobbed like a toy in the night. 

I caught a half-hour of sleep in the salon before Kim called me to the cockpit to take the wheel. The wind had shifted and he needed me on deck to adjust the sail. 

Even with my nerves on edge I found stability and my bearings watching the full moon. Kim says that I'm lucky to have the moon to use as a reference, especially since I'm a sailing novice.