4am. Bucket fifteen and still bailing. October 29th 2002, two hundred miles
off the coast of North Africa, between Gibraltar and Tenerife. Bucket
seventeen and still the water level in the engine bilge is … the same.
Bucket nineteen and all kinds of contingency thoughts well up: flares,
wooden bungs, grab bag, life raft. Bucket twenty the level is going down.
By 6 am we had discovered the "leak" was caused by a crack in the ancient
water pump which cooled the engine.
We had only been out for two days of “blue water” sailing from Gibraltar to
reach the start point of the Blue Water Rally Antigua 2002 in Tenerife. What
would happen sailing across the Atlantic? My husband and the skipper of
Moonshine, our twenty year old 36 foot Westerly Corsair, put out a VHF
call to our fellow Blue Water Rally Antigua 2002 yachts. On hearing it Najad
50 KELSEY OF HAMBLE, skippered by Malcolm Prentice immediately turned
around and motored for twelve hours back through the prevailing ocean
swell, shortly followed by Malo 41 WILD ORCHID. CRICKET (a Beneteau First
36), a non-rally yacht we had met in Gibraltar, skippered by American Tom
Casey also offered to sail out from Rabat in Morocco to assist us. The crack
on the leaking pump was filled with Raycret, or as I dubbed it Sea-crete,
bound with twine then secured with a hose clamp. We were out of
danger. Even if the fix failed we knew the source of the problem and when
the wind blew up again could sail. Nevertheless, we were extremely
grateful for this show of support. The other Rally-ers morale boosting radio
chatter kept our spirits up.
Despite their longer water lines our “wing boats” remained with us for the
next four days all the way into Marina del Atlantico, Tenerife, no mean
feat. With Ashley and Emony Nicholls, my Canadian cousins as Atlantic
crew on board we celebrated Halloween with trick or treating. KELSEY held
its course. WILD ORCHID broke ranks and threw chocolates to us. Ashley
suffering nicotine cold turkey cursed that the candies were not cigarettes.
He stomped back to manically cleaning the decks.
As relatively inexperienced sailors we did not want to sail across the
Atlantic “alone”. We originally decided that the ARC, ATLANTIC RALLY FOR
CRUISERS, would be worth the investment and put our names on the list.
All along we were concerned that the ARC was not really what we wanted.
It was too big, over two hundred boats, and it was a race. Crossing the
Atlantic as a “cruise” was challenge enough for us, we did not feel
comfortable with the pressure we anticipated even relaxed racing would
add to the adventure. Just before we put our money down we came across
the Blue Water Rally web site (www.yachtrallies.co.uk), and defected.
Why sitting in our living room in London did we prefer the cut of their jib?
The three most influential factors were that, one, they organized the
Biscay Triangle Rally which would see us from Torbay (South West England),
across to La Coruna in Northern Spain. Secondly, as part of the Antigua
Rally, they sailed a Rally from Gibraltar to Tenerife. We would not have to
get ourselves to the Canaries alone. We had a safety net. And thirdly, it
was definitely not a race. As an “organization” PETER and ANNETTE
SEYMOUR, and TONY DIMMENT the highly efficient directors seamlessly
combined being approachable with decades of worldwide experience and
an un-puffed up attitude which welcomed crews from all walks of life.
In July 02 we set off on the Blue Water Rally Biscay Triangle but engine
trouble in a force 8 dictated another route to Spain. Nevertheless, we had
a taste of the pre-departure checks, briefings and camaraderie. Ironically
we sailed from Dartmouth, (South West England), across the Bay of Biscay
and on to Gibraltar “alone”, an intensive and essential learning curve. Still
we welcomed joining the Blue Water Rally in October where we
experienced the full Rally Antigua works. From Gibraltar to Tenerife and
onto to Antigua, an annual schedule which deceptively seems to work on
autopilot with yearly specialities. The pre-departure on-board safety advice
was in depth and meticulous. For us, Atlantic virgins, the routing and
weather briefings gave us solace and confidence. We also compared
weather notes with the Rally boats which had particularly sophisticated
meteorological information. The social events included, in Tenerife,
membership of The Real Club Nautico, a smart yacht club (with two
swimming pools). The special tourist excursions were enjoyable extras
worth having. A high point was the energetic tour of the Lower St Michael
Caves in Gibraltar guided by Tito, a geologist cum comedian who
entertained us as we clambered and slithered through the magnificent
underground “cathedrals“. There is also a weekend side-Rally to Smir in
Ten participating yachts ensured that we all knew one another. If not a
family we became a close knit community which ranged, in our year, from
nineteen years old to over sixty. (In 03 the youngest was 14 months.) The
cohesion within the Rally could be gauged by the speed and variations of
the latest jape or prank usually sparked off by the “young” or young at
heart, at play. In our mid to late thirties, like three other couples, we were
the “in-betweeners”. (Moonshine hit the grapevine in Antigua when under
the influence of Shirley Heights Jump Up rum, we took a spin in a
“borrowed” golf cart.) Despite the bijou nature of the Rally, it was diverse:
an Oyster 66, a Mystic 60, a Contest 55, a Nijad 50, two Marlo 41s, a Dixon
38, our Westerly Corsair and the Contessa 32 which led the Rally across the
pond. Home build WHISPER, 9 feet wide and 42 feet long, was in everyway
a law unto herself. The owners of the Oyster and Contest were Blue Water
Rally veterans having been on the Trade Winds Rally and Biscay Triangle,
In addition to the Blue Water Rally directors’ counsel we found the instant
access to a pool of generous knowledge extremely useful. Although we still
made friends and received wisdom from the Atlantic veterans on the
dockside being part of a Rally made it easier, be it impertinent questions,
or comparative notes on such perennials as weather and crew.
The organizers often repeated the mantra, this is not a race. Predictably,
gentle competition drifted through our fleet, but no one was selling their
soul and that of their crew for shiny trophies. Perhaps, a side deal with the
dogs of hell for an extra knot was contemplated, but, none made. A Rally
fuelled with race fever and start line crashes was a far cry from our
adrenaline buzzed, bon voyage-to-all send off.
During our two weeks of further Atlantic preparations and provisioning in
Tenerife, John Cussins, a fellow Rally-er, delivered the vital new water
pump to Moonshine, on his return from the UK on business. We had
avoided the black hole of yacht parts gathering dust in Madrid customs.
Before the Atlantic Crossing it was decided that since the larger boats
would find it difficult to turn back if help was required that the three
smaller yachts, (the Contessa 32, our 36 foot Westerly Corsair and the 38
foot Dixon) would leave two days before the larger yachts. As a pre-
Atlantic extra after a swift visit they would depart from to La Gomera, a
small island off Tenerife for a night.
The Crossing briefing was held on the morning of Sunday 10th November,
with anticipated departure for the small boats on Wednesday, hence the
exact weather at that time was “tba”. We, three, left in fine weather on
Wednesday 13th November. It was unfortunate that an unexpected and
barely forecast storm which had been scuffing its heels in Africa, kicked
out into the Atlantic, and into us, half a day out. A sunny afternoon blew
up into three awful days of gales during which, although we could bemoan
our situations over the VHF to the other two, (Fidgets Five and Odyssey),
we were still alone, and on Moonshine feeling very vulnerable. The winds
grew and grew until we were being pounded by fifty five knot gusts, and
twenty five feet seas. We reefed our wing and wing rig, right down but
were still surfing wildly at 11 knots. John crept under the spray hood, and
prayed that the hydrovane self steering would hold our course, if nothing
else, keep the massive winds behind us. Below decks we heard the
proverbial screech of wind through the rigging. The hydrovane held, it was
to prove be the most simple, essential and magical piece of kit on the boat.
South of us Figgets Five flew towards Cape Verde too frightened to take
their sails down until the winds died. The larger Rally boats were storm
bound in La Gomera and could only give us weather, routing suggestions
and courage, via SSB radio.
Eventually, after three long days the nightmare storm abated. It was then
we all admitted to our intense fear during the maelstrom. Although it was a
difficult Crossing we were no longer sailing in the teeth of storm force 10
On our three Blue Water “offs” we have experienced rough weather. On
the Biscay Triangle we set off from Torbay (SW England) in a force 6 which
swiftly grew to an 8. Ditto through the infamous Straits of Gibraltar. In 03
and in 05 the Rally hit high winds in the eastern Atlantic. On our Westerly
Corsair, a heavy, safe guardian through big seas, we have learnt that Rally D
day or not, if the weather is not with us, we’ll wait. The Blue Water Rally
directors were always clear that individual boats could choose to wait if
they wished. Easy choice if it’s blowing a hooley in the marina. But, if it’s a
glorious day, the camaraderie has built up, the starting “launch” is standing
by … then it is a sticky decision for a skipper to remain tied to the dock
watching the others take flight.
During the Atlantic Crossing, everyday at 10am we “attended” the radio
net during which we gave our positions and localised weather. This was
passed on to the Blue Water Rally Control for the website which kept our
landlubber friends and relations informed of our progress. The Rally’s real
function is in ports however, calming the anxious is part of the “home
front” service. There was an informal, evening radio check amongst the
yachts. By the second week there were two nets. It was too time
consuming to relay between yachts at the front, mid-way and the back.
The clipped but you’re-safe-with-us modulations from the two ex-airline
pilots infused a sense of calm on the net, bring on the locusts and plague,
Peter and Malcolm are in control. I’m biased, but, John, my husband,
tended to inject a certain maverick charm to his proceedings. I’m sure
groupies would gather around the SSB radio for favourites.
(“Independents”, non Rally participants, who listened in for Rally weather
greeted net controllers like old friends in Antigua.) Once the serious
business was completed it was time for a catch up around the fleet and of
course tips on lures for Challenge Fish. Often there was the WHISPER, (the
home build), loss and breakage report be it the diesel fuel lift pump lost
over the side, the broken lavatory but worst of all running out of … chilli
sauce. KOKOMO, (Mystic 60) plugged back through the high seas to deliver
much needed equipment for repairs. After the catalogue of problems, we
were not sure if, on the last morning, battery acid spilt over the skipper’s
testicles was for real. It was. VHF first aid was “administered”.
We had departed on the 13th. On the thirteen hour of our thirteen day we
met MISS MOLLY, the Oyster 66 exactly half way across the Atlantic. A
surreal way point full of mutual congratulations and complimentary
photographs. MISS MOLLY emailed via satellite their photograph of
Moonshine. Within hours it was displayed on the Blue Water Rally website.
After the thrill of our rendez-vous, the farewell was bitter sweet. MISS
MOLLY disappeared over the horizon. We were alone again. Roll on Antigua.
Our best days run was 159 miles employing the poor mans twin head sail rig.
This was achieved by poling the genoa out to starboard, hanking the storm
gib onto the emergency inner forestay and using the boom as its pole.
Sadly we only got wise to this on day ten of our 24 day Crossing. For the
first nine days we flogged the main as we sailed wing and wing. In the
second week we also invented a new form of pump, Saline Control, by jury
rigging a bilge pump to pump the ocean directly into the cockpit, for
washing up and salt water showers. A spin was added to washing up with
card sharking for who would pump (top job), or wash and dry. The task was
pepped up by talking for “Just a Minute” on subjects such as (not
surprisingly) “Washing up at Sea”, and “Sea Monsters”. John and Ashley
did their Hemingway Man and the Sea thing landing fresh Dolphin (Dorado,
Mahi Mahi). Emony stood by with the humane fish killer, a squegee washing
up bottle of whisky. A quick shot to the gills led to a euphoric demise.
Fresh, grilled, superb.
Once we approached Antigua we were advised to make land fall in daylight.
A racing Rally were routed into Antigua, too. With winning a priority, they
flew past Cade’s Reef, through Friar’s Shoal, often after dark, and, had the
yachting equivalent of springs hanging out on the “finish line”.
3am on the twenty fourth day we saw a grey smudge in the pitch darkness.
Exhilaration swept the boat. Dawn brought the first site of Antigua. We
had discovered the New World or so we felt. We were remarkably intact,
although, of course, there were the inevitable blown sails, exploded
blocks, generator problems, and lost fishing tackle. Peter Seymour, our Rally
Director in Antigua, guided every yacht into Jolly Harbour, and, through
Customs and Immigration. John hugged me, on the bow. We’d made it.
Yeha! We stepped onto the Customs Dock and our legs buckled. Peter took
each skipper on a full recce of the marinas and anchorages in which their
yacht could moor over Christmas. Fresh from Miss World in London, Miss
Antigua graced our relaxed Awards Ceremony. Peter arranged the prized
stern to moorings at English Harbour Dockyard. My mother flew out to
celebrate our joint Birthdays. He helped to ensure that she was delivered
smoothly through the chaos ensuing after three jumbos land almost
simultaneously in a small airport. In addition to that extra “sugar and stir”,
where ever we 02 Rally-ers go we shall always have the special bond
established through our crossing with the small but perfectly formed Blue
In the three years since “our” Rally we have continued to explore. Little
has changed to the Rally format, (if it ain’t broke..). Our fellow Rally-ers
have traveled world wide, but, still the ties remain strong, if at a distance.
We intend to circumnavigate with the Blue Water Rally in two years when
our son will really appreciate the experience.
Copyright Nicola Watkins. 22 January 2004 (Updated 1st February 2005)
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