We started our adventure by meeting our fellow crew members, or should that willing victims, at the boat in Portsmouth. We met the Skipper, Mate and Watch Leaders, were welcomed on board and shown to our bunks. Next came the first of our safety briefs. We left Gun Wharf Quays and headed across the harbour to get fuel for our up and coming voyage, then it was off to Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. Whilst motoring over to Cowes, we continued with our safety briefs and rigged the boat ready for tomorrow. We tied up in Cowes, made the most of the showers and had fish and chips for dinner. After dinner, we had a crew bonding session in a local establishment, before getting some rest. Then our grand adventure got interesting! When we left Cowes early this morning, I was hoping for a gentle start to our trip. However the weather had other ideas. We were quickly sailing in 25 knots in a moderate sea state and with rain. Although we were doing some really good sailing, sea sickness got a couple of us, myself included. It wasn’t pleasant but after a couple of visits to the rails and a quick nap, I was feeling better. Its 4 am now, my brain is finally used to the motion, things are quiet, the stars are out and I’m finally starting to enjoy it!
Prevention, they say, is the best cure, however failing to pre ingest seasick tablets makes that saying a moot point. In which case the best cure is to lie on a one’s bunk and that’s where I found myself on Thursday evening after an exhilarating reach down the Channel in somewhat lumpy conditions on our first day of the trip.
They also say it’s not good to bottle things up so I return topside to give free expression to my feelings and felt all the better for it. The evening meal of curry & rice never tasted so good and with that I returned to my bunk for a few hours. Not in illness but in tiredness, I think I had finally found my sea legs.
By 22.00 hours the wind had died off to necessitate the engine being turned on and shortly after the stay sail was taken down. On deck for the first night watch of the trip at 22.00 our first job was to take down the Yankee no.2 sail. The close focused work did make me a little squiffy again but once the task was done I could sit back in the cockpit and enjoy the night skies. What a glorious sight! Living in London the night skies really aren’t a thing, I can’t remember the last time I actually saw the Milkyway. I sat back for a long time taking it all in.
I took my first turn at the helm, getting used to how the boat responded and attempting to keep on the correct course. The first mate called it a snaking course but I’m just trying to keep this wonderful trip going on for longer .Honest!
With Yankee 2 up and the winds starting to blow south in our favour, we can rely yet again on nothing but the wind and our sails. After sea conditions staying at slight for the best part of day 2 and early in to day 3; things started to heat up with conditions rising to moderate and wind speed with it. Unlike the beginning of the trip we haven’t had much sun, so to say the least it has been wet and windy up on deck but with most of the victims of seas sickness coming round spirits are still high. Sea state is stable although the wind seems to be playing hard to get, so with that we have been tacking our way through the notorious Bay of Biscay. For my first sailing trip I would have to say it is certainly living up to its reputation. Everything is going great on deck. So far so good, I think it’s safe to say we’re having a blinding time.
Life below is just as fabulous, I’ve been fortunate enough to not find myself sea sick…so far! Probably because I’m so used to my mum’s driving… That said, now we are really into the swing of our watches, most of what goes on down below is mainly sleeping cooking and putting on the kettle to warm up the folks up top. Admittedly much of this has been done at a 30 degree angle, which makes cooking stew an emotional rollercoaster, partly because it’s like a game of dodgeball or Russian roulette when you open up a cupboard door and the ship hits a wave. Watch Leader Tom, absolutely nailed it! Life is great here on Challenger 3, despite sometimes feeling like I’m rock climbing a times (no less than 3 points of contact is a good rule for clambering around the ship) the crew, from the Skipper, Mates, Watch Leaders down to the volunteers have made this a journey to remember, and its only day 3!
So, 245 miles into our 1600 mile trip across the Atlantic we are still tacking our way across Biscay in efforts to find our best course the wind will allow us and chip away some miles from our deep sea adventure to the final destination in the Canaries. Early into day 4 we find we are losing visibility, so in order to make sure we are safe and our A.I.S is picking up all imposing vessels, we decide to switch our radar on for a short while. Throughout the day during our hourly logs, we noticed our readings on the barometer were dropping slowly but surely… not good! A storm seems to be brewing which becomes far more of a worry when the sea state begins to get rougher and rougher. Our apparent wind speed increasing with it, blowing up to the high 30’s at points, so it’s time to have some fun and get our hands dirty. As the Helm starts to become harder and harder to manage, we take down the Stay sail and our Skipper makes the call to bring down the Yankee 2 sail and change it for the Yankee 3 sail. This was the most fun I’ve had in years! I soon lean, that this entails 5 of us getting right up onto the bow of the boat. And with these conditions and so far up the boat, it seems as though the waves have just become walls, literal moving walls. At moments we felt as if we would just be washed away! Just like that. We succeeded in our exhilarating mission and found the helm much more manageable. Thankfully the storm held out and conditions began to improve once again. Having said that we were still being thrown around for a third straight day and our days seem longer and longer, hours too. Life is great, and we are making good progress for Finisterre which marks the end of the Bay of Biscay and brings us shortly onto our first stop at Cascais in perfect time for the Skipper’s birthday!
After serving the last gruelling night watch in the Bay of Biscay I climbed into my bunk just after 7am glad to know we would see the back of it, turning the corner at fenestra, ,hopefully for a change to better conditions.
And so it did in some noticeable ways;
The wind started to shift to the rear, giving a less confused sea state and allowing for a much more comfortable passage. The wind was on the starboard quarter. Poking my head out on deck during the morning I was welcomed to the sight of impressive and stately following seas rather than the confused and belligerent seas of the Biscay we had become all too familiar with.
Another change. The port watch on deck had their mobile phones on with good signal! Off the port side the mountains of the Spanish mainland were clearly visible. We had connection with the rest of the world again for a while.
Up on deck for the afternoon watch the retiring watch spoke of a whale sighting just meters from the boat. After an hour or so our watch was joined by a squadron of Dolphins. Breaking out the sides of the large following waves they converged on either side of the boat darting across the bows, dropping back and making numerous runs towards the boat. I took a camera and tried to photograph them. It was after the 50th failed attempt I realised it was futile to try to capture them as an image. To enjoy the company of dolphins you have to think like them and live for moment. I made my way to the bow and watched them frolic across the bows. Pretty soon I could recognise different individuals by their size and marks on their backs as they darted across the bows or barrel rolled alongside. Smaller dolphins with their parents, perhaps learning the tricks of the trade in riding the bow wave.
The dolphins stayed with us the whole watch. Was this our reward for enduring the Biscay conditions? It certain made it all worthwhile.
Even in port, the sea will always find you.
It’s always the last few miles to port that seems to take the longest when sailing and this trip is no different. The continual rain and spray being driven back to the cockpit didn’t help either. With great relief we were relieved by the starboard watch but warned not to get too comfy as we would be flacking the main sail within a couple of hours . And so it was we were called onto deck to join the other watch in the small bay behind the Cascais harbour. Being a brand new sail there were concerns that it would not flake onto the boom well, but I think we made a pretty good job of it and by 01:25 we were on the pontoon. The only minor difficulty was the halyard having become entangled in the mast spars. This necessitated Dan to take a night loft 90 foot up the mast in the climbing harness to clear it and enable the last feet of the main sail to be neatly tucked away, All that remained to do was to shake the Skippers hand, wish him a happy birthday and go to bed in a strangely still and silent cabin. The only noise that could disturb one now was the industrial strength snoring coming from the crew.
After a few hours spent making all onboard ship shape it was finally time to get off deck and feel firm ground again and explore the cultural delights of Cascais. For all crew though the first port of call were the showers and then the conveniently located Skippers Bar for a few swift pints and something tasty to eat. The old part of Cascais is a very pretty .I wandered around the old town for a while before meeting up with the rest of the crew in the Irish bar and then we all headed out for a crew meal in one of the many restaurants. .The second day in port saw the crew tackle another important shore task: clothes washing! Once this was done I went for a stroll along the cliff tops next to the harbour. Here impressive waves were breaking sending up spray being beautifully back lit by the sun. It was a great photo opportunity so I edged forward to get a better shot. At that moment an extra-large wave broke on the cliffs, soaking me head to foot in salt water: It seems that even on your day off, the sea will always find you…
There is a saying that men and ships rot in port. I can tell the reader that by Friday morning we were rested and refreshed and with a bearable forecast of basically fine weather we were ready to put to sea once again, albeit with the prospect of punching into a forecast 15 -20kt southerly breeze dead on the nose. After leaving our unusually rolly berth and bunkering more than 550litres of fuel we were off motor sailing with a single reefed main and the foredeck prepped with the Staysail and our No2 Yankee. Once into our watch routine after lunch we all agreed that the boat had a bearably pleasant motion in spite of the need to motor sail, quite a contrast from our earlier battering in Biscay. The watches passed uneventfully (more dolphin sightings) until before midnight when I spotted a dim light fine off our starboard bow. The target had no AIS signature and it was a good 45 minutes or more before we decided it was neither a yacht nor fishing boat, but something much larger. Eventually US Warship 75 identified itself on the VHF and suggested a course alteration by both them and us to pass safely. Difficult to judge distance at night as we passed perhaps 2or 3 NM to her port but she was huge, we believe perhaps a carrier. The crew were in discussion as to which ship it was and were it was going. I think that Google might be getting a visit once we are on dry land again to see just what we passed. As we left Capes St Vincent and Trafalgar in our wake I couldn’t help thinking how lucky we all are aboard CH 3 compared to the hardships experienced by those brave souls aboard the ships of the line involved in those epic battles more than 200 years ago. By daybreak Saturday the wind had veered a couple of points allow the staysail to go up and by 10:00 hrs, after bacon rolls for breakfast, we were sailing hard on the breeze flying the Yankee 2 —-engine off and peace at last, happy days !
The rest of Saturday passed uneventfully, with the crew of the good ship CH3 settled in their watches. Watch Leader Tom prepared a delicious lunch of pizza wraps with a twist. The sun was out and the temperature had gone up a couple of degrees and we were all happy. By the afternoon, the wind had backed and dropped in strength, so it was decided to put the metallic sail back up again. The engine was started, but there was a problem, which was noted immediately and it was switched off again. The skipper and mate quickly determined that the impellor had gone, so whilst the skipper and crew member John fixed the problem, we continued to sail as best we could in the light winds. Once the problem was resolved, the Yankee and Staysail were dropped and we were back motor sailing and that is how it has been for the rest of the night.
As we continue on the second leg of our journey, the question that seems to be on everybody’s mind is whether or not we will make it to Lanzarote in time to enjoy an evening of new culture, warm weather, good food a few drinks and lots of laughter, on dry land… Having made only 151 miles today, and the wind conditions working against us, both in direction and in speed. Quietly we are all hoping that the weather man has something up his sleeve for us, or it looks like we will have head straight on to the planned destination of Los Palmas. Having said that the weather is teasing us with warm winds at that and some beautiful sunny days, which make for a photo moment sunset and sunrise. Nights…it is almost impossible to be disheartened when you see a night like tonight. I have never seen a sky so clear and stars so bright. I lost count of the shooting stars after about 20 or so, and the water mimics the sky with its electric blue Bio-Luminescent flickers running around the boat as we create movement in the water. A sight only beaten when we saw a school of dolphins being trailed by this electric blue, magic like occurrence, an electric glow following each dolphin and creating a vibrant trail as they danced around the boat, was just mesmerising.to top it off we saw a couple of exploding meteorites which again I had never seen, it was like a shooting star, only it was bigger brighter, faster and create4d an orange hue, before exploding and flashing bright enough to light up the sky. A firework from space to earth.
Life below deck is still full of laughter and Project Rosa Lee is firmly underway. For those of you who don’t know, Project Rosa Lee is my hardest challenge yet. After accidentally buying a single rose in Cascais I have been tasked to keep her alive until we reach the canaries, and let’s just say, it’s going to be close. We have finally started to learn each other’s hot brew preferences which is always good thing, until someone throws you a curveball and you’ve already made their Whoopie Goldberg. The 9-11 year old quiz is a particularly good morale boost and time killer at the moment, it is also hilariously funny. Lastly we have begun to make a dent in our stockpile of cuppa soup which has made opening the cupboard door a lot less dangerous and less of a game of dodgeball.
Three days of motor sailing into a headwind continued, as the predicted wind shift from South to North West expected late pm Sunday remained frustratingly elusive until mid-morning on Monday. It didn’t fully fill in consistently to allow our sails to fill until mid-afternoon Monday, by which time we had 15- 20 kts on the stbd quarter. Champaign sailing at last and as we barrelled down the African coast, the helmsman was required to keep extreme concentration. Consequently, our shifts at the wheel we restricted to 30 mins, rather than the usual hour. We were now making 8-9 kts with a single reefed main and a poled out Yankee 2, a setup we retained for the next 17 hours. Since leaving Portugal the temperature has climbed and the nights under starlit skies are no longer chilly. An impromptu stopover in Lanzarote is now looking more and more likely. The spirits of the crew remain high and the thoughts of showers, a cold beer and uninterrupted sleep are boosting morale even higher.
After a lovely night downwind sailing we arrived in Rubicon on Lanzarote mid-morning a few minutes later than planned due to having to retrieve a fender that wasn’t tied on properly and was lost over the side. The previous evening everyone had put down an estimate for our arrival time in Rubicon and with the delay it put us very close to John’s predicated arrival time who was also the last person tie the fender on. Was it an accident or conspiracy?
Following a few chores onboard we then had the rest of the day to enjoy time ashore in Lanzarote and had a great crew meal at a rather nice restaurant in the evening, followed by some of us enjoying a small night-cap at The Flagship.
It was an early start the next day up at 6:00am aiming to be away by 7:00am for the final leg of our journey to Gran Canaria. The weather was sunny all day although the wind played with us and it never quite gave us enough to sail with, so the day was a steady motor sail. Everyone enjoyed a relaxing day, taking turns on the helm while chatting and listening a range of music. A few of the crew also found the Yankee and stay sail rather comfortable places to grab 40 winks on deck.
It’s now just coming up to 9:00pm and we’re got just over 7 nm left to Las Palmas on Gran Canaria which will bring us to the end of our epic ‘Deep Sea Adventure’ of over 1750 nm and 15 days sailing from Portsmouth. We’ve had everything from big seas and 45 knot gusts in the Bay of Biscay through to flying along at over 10 knots downwind with the Yankee poled out on a starry night off the coast of Africa. The only question that really remains is what sailing adventure each of us will be going on next.