The phases of crossing an ocean.

Books, books, books. Nearly a whole libraries worth.

3rd February 2022

Mindelo, Sao Vincent, Cape Verde – Domberg, Suriname

Fun activities are often split into easy bite size chucks. Football is a game of two halves, baseball is divided across nine innings while test match cricket’s timeline is measured in eons. Ruffian’s sail across the Atlantic has 4 distinct phases. First came the easy miles, then came the biblical segment which was followed the by the library section, all these were finished off with Ruffian having to do something very new and difficult.

Starting out with 2000 miles of sea in front of Ruffian it felt like the whole of Mindelo had the same idea.* Ahead of us boats covered the horizon and behind us they streamed out of the harbour. The VHF was alive with chatter and AIS alarms pinged constantly. We had old friends hot on our heels and friends we’d yet to meet around us. Quickly however the vastness of the ocean swallowed everyone up, split us apart, removed us from any sign of man and easy miles slipped under Ruffians hull.

As Ruffian scooted along in these perfect conditions no squalls marauded the horizon at night and we were rocked gently to sleep by the sounds of lapping water on her hull as her keel swung swept softly from side to side. Sheets that usually need constant attention and sail configurations that require continual assessment remained unchanged for days on end.

In these easy conditions Iain had the most unseamanly of ideas, he proposed a TV night in the cockpit and Fiona agreed! As Ruffian pointed at the setting sun our little tablet was setup paired with a speaker and we faced backwards watching moving pictures! Outside in the absolute darkness, in near silence, while sitting on the softest of conditions, we could have been in the plushest of cinema’s.

These conditions couldn’t last forever and they finally broke with the southern horizon being lit up by lightening. The lightening slowly moved from being to the south of us, to in front, behind and to the north. There was no escape and as we put all our precious electrical devices in a faraday cage we could see lightening hitting the water, flashing from cloud to cloud and slowly enveloping us.

As the hours slowly passed the wind increased and rain poured down in biblical proportions all adding the dramatic scene that we found ourselves in. The rain poured down the sails and through ropes cleansing them of African dust, but also seeping inside our clothing soaking us to the core.

Things upstairs were uncomfortable and no better in the sanctuary of the saloon. Instead of sleeping on beds we took to the floor and where we’d grown used to having slumber in soft sheets we slept in wet weather gear complete with headtorches attached to our foreheads and lifejackets around our torso’s. Ruffian bucked and kicked, but absorbed the conditions more easily than we did.

The winds swung wildly and as they switched from south to north the seas grew and grew and we worked Ruffian hard pushing her through them. This punishing schedule couldn’t last forever and with things starting to ease we suffered damage.

Calling Fiona on deck Iain had spotted a small tear in the clew of our small jib that threatened to run all the way up the leach if left alone. Quick as a flash the small jib was saved, a scrap of our other sail was unfurled. Our working jib was now out of commission for the remaining miles, but the sky was turning blue, the seas flattening and the gentle winds returning.

Thankfully we were returned into Ruffians usual offshore conditions and we resumed our usual passage making posture. We faced backwards, digesting book after book and our little impromptu book club discussed the plots, the twists and the endings of an eclectic mix that ranged from trashy romantic to dystopian futures and from life affirming to deadly murders.

The only interruption to this manic book reading was the clearing of weed from the fishing line, the clearing of weed from the prop and the clearing of weed from Ampie**. Sargasso weed was slowly growing in the warm blue water, clumping together and proving impossible to avoid.

Still with miles to go we started thinking about our entrance into Suriname. This is something we’d always fretted about as the entrance is shallow, is very tidal and is at the end of a 2000 mile fetch. Not only did we want to enter in daylight we wanted to enter at a specific time and our current ETA had us entering at dusk at the wrong state of tide. We had to slow our progress killing 20 hours.

With just a scrap of sail pushing Ruffian along it felt like a crime to waste lovely trade wind conditions. She rolled and lolloped along like a caged animal wanting to go faster and we pulled her leash stopping her from realising her potential. With our ETA now right, we just had to live with the pain and slowly cruise past the fishing boats that teemed in the shallow waters and watch the miles clock down and the clock tick up.

Even though there were huge changes throughout this passage, somethings remained comforting in their consistency. Every night the sun set filling our world with drama and just as it disappeared it was time for our little SSB net. Every day we took delight in plotting positions as Cerulean, DanceMe and Copepod make their way across the vast tract of ocean while sharing our daily musings.

The end was now in sight and all our fears disappeared. The sea was smooth, our charts were right, the tide turned at the right moment and all our decisions had been validated. We’d once again successfully crossed an ocean and dealt with every phase that the ocean sent our way.

* This probably had something to do with gentle winds, flat seas, and low atmospheric energy forecast for days and days and days.

** Ampie is our towed generator that whirrs away behind us gently putting power in the batteries that power all the systems on Ruffian.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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