Only six weeks ago our neighbors dropped us off at our boat, and after a final run for groceries – because no more car, so how the hell are we supposed to go from our berth in Lelystad to the Supermarket, and more importantly, how to get back to the boat with our bags full of a ridiculous amount of cans of chickpeas, lentils and peeled tomatoes without getting a hernia before departure? We stepped on board, and proudly showed where Laurens and I would live these coming years and with what we’ re going to discover the world at a -very- slow pace.
Now we are under way, and now I am so relaxed that I can take the time to type a bit of our story.
In January of this year, we cautiously told our family and friends that we would be leaving, “for a while, maybe two years, on a boat, sailing around the world, so uh, you know, maybe three years, or something like that, at least that is the plan. Oh no no no, don’t cry, now I also have to cry, and maybe we don’t like it at all, and we’ll be back before you know it, haha, well, that’s it. Coffee?’
Telling the news to our friends and family makes our planned departure very real. We’re going to set sail in july, and as of yet, we have bought, arranged or learned nothing of the things we think we’ll need. And we want to leave this year, because taking a few years of preparation time like other cruisers do, no, that doesn’t suit us. So we just go for it! Project managers as we are, schedules and lists are made, brokers called for the rental of our house and for the purchase of a boat (will come in handy, a boat), different routes are weighed and planned, internet searched to find the best deals, advice obtained of seasoned sailors, bring our excess stuff (multiple car-loads – how?!?) to the dump and thrift store, store it at our family’s houses and cuddle the cats for one last time.
I get the most satisfaction from the cancellation of all sorts of subscriptions and digital newsletters. The satisfaction that my empty mailbox gives me is amazing. Every day for two weeks I look at the bizar low number behind my various inboxes that indicates the number of new mails after I have updated my mail with a simple sliding movement. How did I let myself be deprived of a lot of time by all this e-mail nonsense? How wonderful to rummage through my life like a madman with a huge pruning shear and to free myself from senseless ballast! In addition to all travel related activities, we are both still working our freelance jobs, which also require a lot of energy, so that now and then I get through the days with a drunken feeling of fatigue. But, I do not complain. We knew in advance that we would throw ourselves into a kind of tsunami of activities to get ready for this trip.
Ready, as far as we think we are ready. We do not have much sailing experience, let alone sea-sailing experience, let alone international sea-sailing experience, let alone experience crossing real oceans. Sailing on the Dutch waters and sailing once in Croatia are on our sailing resumes, otherwise it is pretty much empty. So before our departure we have no experience with big waves, with ocean currents, with storms, with more than six weeks of being together on a mere 25 square meters, with preparing a hot meal while the ship is heeling, with sleeping in a rolling boat at an anchorage, with lights on the horizon that you do not understand which is which, wearing a proper sailing outfit, with a lifejacket, with a lifeline, with a grabbag, with seasickness, with watch schedules, with a steering wheel instead of a tiller, with nine metric tons of boat under our asses, with windvane steering, a chartplotter, weather maps, with … Well you understand, we started out pretty much clueless.
The advantage of this is that we don’t think we know everything, so we’re not crossing the Bay of Biscay with a false sense of knowledge and expertise, as some people might do. All-knowing Dutch fresh water sailors – you may know the type, they often wear sailing gloves- give us all kinds of unsolicited advice. Those kind of people have annoyed me ever since I went sailing for the first time with my then boyfriend. I kindly listen to their advice, smiling all the time. Fine, thank you for your advice, I’ll take it with me, yes. Yes, bye! I’m going to experience it for myself and I’ll just keep using my brain, if that’s ok with you.
Now, six weeks later, we completed our first Channel crossing -including, let’s say, some less than decent preparation- with strong wind, big waves, failing to have prepared our rigging properly, eating away our seasickness with dry pieces of bread. Also we left without closing our seacocks, so that after an hour of sailing we had to use buckets to expel the invaded seawater. Let’s just say we had a pretty informative day. But also we experienced wonderfully relaxed sailing days on only our gennaker or poled out genoa, and our first uncomfortable night trips with watch schedules off the coast of France, our first races around different capes, the first dolphin shows and the first sightings of whales. We experience everything for the first time, so we are amazed -and amaze ourselves- and learn continuously. The steepest learning curve in a very long time.
The crossing of the notorious Bay of Biscay, the point we worked towards for half a year, was wonderful! Of course we were tense when we left, because it’s our first multi-day trip, but we also had the confidence and now the skill to be able to respond in time to whatever would happen there on that unpredictable part of the Atlantic.
The evening before departure in France we got into conversation with another Dutch couple who are about to leave for Spain. Oh dear, doubt strikes. Should not we not just do as they do, and cook ahead all of our meals for three days, wash all our laundry, fill all water and diesel tanks to the brim, and not sail to A Coruña but to Gijon because we might not arrive in time for an approaching front? Conclusion, no, we are fine, we are ready. Nevertheless, we discuss the weather maps and route together on their boat that evening. Again we look at each other desperately, because it’s hard to solve the puzzle of departure time, strong currents, course, distances, average speed and arrival time. We quickly come to the conclusion that if we simplify this puzzle a bit by sailing around a shoal that has very strong currents, our life will be much more pleasant in the next 24 hours. Our Dutch friends find us pragmatic. We agree with them.
The first day at sea is uncomfortable, because it becomes clear to both of us that despite the fact that it is basically the same as all our other sailing days, this is still quite different. The first stretch from Camaret sur Mer, still over the continental shelf and therefore with a maximum depth of about 200 meters, is quite rough due to the built up waves because of the strong wind of recent days. The wave peaks obscure the view of the horizon. The reefed main sail allows us to deal with wind and waves more flexibly, while we effortlessly achieve our average speed of five knots. Just when I want to lie down because I do not feel super fantastic, dolphins are coming from everywhere and nowhere. We do not know where to look, there’s so many! I keep on waving and cheerfully calling ‘hey, hi, hello!’ at them. Both are slumbering seasickness is suddenly pushed to the background and the sea that I previously found rough, now feels more like a fairground attraction. Laurens just looks at me, beaming.
Before we go into the first night we put a second reef in the sail for security’s sake and then we start our three-hour watch-system, so that in theory we both have a reasonable night’s sleep over the course of some twelve hours. In theory, because putting on or taking off a life jacket, a hat, a scarf, gloves, a sailing jacket, sailing pants, socks, boots, a sweater, another sweater, and thermo clothing during the change of the watch takes about half an hour. And from whose watch does this half-hour get deducted? A number of times during the crossing we have to change the sails at night. We have agreed that we’ll do that together, always. All you have to do is wake up the other and drag their sleepy self on deck…
The second day we leave the continental shelf. This is where we encounter the ‘real’ ocean of no less than four kilometers deep. I wait for what is about to happen. Nothing. OK. Somehow I had secretly expected a kind of rollercoaster ride, so I am somewhat disappointed. But still, the swell is a lot longer and therefore much more comfortable, so that’s nice. In the meantime the wind has dropped, so we have to use the engine to arrive at A Coruña no later than on the fourth day because of an expected arrival of a front that day. The dolphins are no longer visible, but Laurens wakes me up with the announcement that he has spotted two whales. Hmmm, I want to see whales too! When I’m staring out in front of me during my last watch in the morning, I see a cone of water above the surface a little further on, and a little later a black line, again a cone of water. Yeah, a whale, a whale, a whale, I see a whale! I am happy as a clam in the cockpit.
The second night is somewhat rough. Laurens and I use an alarm clock during our watch that tells us every fifteen minutes that we have to look 360 degrees around the boat, searching the horizon for lights of boats that do not have AIS, and when we have done that, another round in case we missed something during the first round. We doze off away a little bit in the meantime, hiding under the spray hood with thick layers of clothing, until it’s time to wake up the other person and get some sleep.
On the morning of the third day I wake up at half past nine from some stumbling on deck. Grumbling, I think I now have to get out of bed for a sail change or some other chore that I do not feel like doing. I had just been sleeping for an hour and a half because, during Laurens’s watch (which is my sleepy time!) we already had to make changes the to sail. Laurens sticks his head inside the cabin and says softly: we’ve caught a tuna. Hey, what! Ok, wait, I’m coming! Laurens has killed the tuna. He’s a bit jumpy because of the adrenaline. Laurens is, not the fish, because the fish lies very dead in a bucket. Then starts the cleaning and filleting the tuna on a moving boat while you have never prepared a fresh fish before. A good hour later we eat a kilo of ceviche. The other two kilos go into the fridge. After a long hour of cleaning, the boat no longer smells like a fish stall and we continue our day. It is a super nice and relaxed sailing day, the sky is blue, the wind is blowing and with two reefs in the mainsail we’re sailing as if it’s stolen. We enjoy our day and we even do a little dance in the cockpit, just because we can. At the beginning of the evening we see land ahead. Hey, really? Already? That high? A cliff, a mountain? No that is not possible! Yes! After I call ‘land ho!’ very loud, Laurens is convinced after five minutes and enthusiastically shouts along with me. Just 40 miles to go!
During my first watch that evening a group of dolphins show up to take a look and jump like mad around our boat. In the night we are a bit grumpy during the changing of the watch and we are both kind of confused about the many lights around us. Lighthouse, check. Buoy, check. Little boat? Some light on the shore? A lot of boats. Fishermen, even more fishermen. Sometimes sailing directly our way to change course a 100 meters away from us. The navigation lights of the fishing boats can not or hardly be seen through the bright lights they use when fishing. Also, distances are always very difficult to estimate. This is confusing. In the morning, on the fourth day, we bob with just a little wind towards the harbor of A Coruña, where after a smooth docking we open our traditional arrival beer, even though it’s only eight in the morning. An hour later we are asleep, next to each other, in our quiet, non-moving bed.
We have crossed the Biscay. We succeeded. We are now international sea-sailors!