Transatlantic crossing 2021 - the start

John & Susan Simpson
Sun 21 Nov 2021 13:00
17 days, 4 hours, 30 minutes and 47 seconds after we left Las Palmas, Gran Canaria with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers we arrived in Rodney Bay, St Lucia.   A few days later it still feels remarkable that we did it and that we were at sea for that long.  

The day of the start of the rally dawned with a palpable mix of excitement and apprehension in the air in the marina.  All along the pontoon people were putting the finishing touches to their preparations and saying farewell to family and friends who were not doing the crossing.  The event is quite a spectacle to see so there were many local people walking around the marina peering at the boats, chatting to the crews and wishing us well.  The last job was to don our matching Casamara crew t-shirts for a crew photo and we were ready for the off.

The rally was divided into three divisions (racing, multi-hulls and cruising) and we had start times of 12:30, 12:45 and 13:00 respectively.  All boats were to have left the marina by 12:30 in order to be at the start line in good time and as the morning progressed boats started to leave their moorings amid cheers and fog horns sounding.  John played his trumpet as a couple of our friends’ boats left the dock and as we slipped our lines he played Rod Stewart’s ‘We are sailing’.  There were so many boats trying to leave the marina at once that there was a bit of a traffic jam at the exit but we joined the queue and slowly edged our way out through the breakwater lined with people to the Atlantic beyond.  Just to be part of that atmosphere was an amazing experience.  This video shows us coming out of the marina entrance - scroll to 4 minutes 10 seconds:

Outside the marina the skyline was filled with yachts in various stages of hoisting sails and positioning themselves to cross the start line ahead of their rivals.  There’s a saying that when two yachts are heading in roughly the same direction at the same time it’s a race and this was certainly true at the start line.  Although the multi-hull and cruising divisions were not officially racing, we all knew that the yachts would be tracked and our voyage times would be ranked.  Time would be deducted for hours travelled under engine and there was a penalty of three hours for any yacht crossing the start line early or missing it altogether.  The latter might ultimately prove to be important when the rankings are published  because it wasn’t immediately clear when we got out there where the start line was.  The line was supposed to be between a small naval ship (easy to spot!) moored off the town and an orange buoy.  Except there were three red/orange buoys close to the ship and at least half the fleet set off having rounded the first one, which we were certain wasn’t the right one!  We rounded all three of the buoys just to be on the safe side.  

Shortly after the start the VHF radio crackled into life and a boat requested to return to the marina to seek medical assistance for a ‘minor injury’. Someone had caught their finger in a winch in the heat of the action at the start line and had lost the tip of the finger.  Happily that story ended well and the missing finger tip was saved, but it certainly brought home to us at the time that ocean sailing carries risks.  Shortly afterwards Noa went down below and discovered our own challenging situation.  One of the hull hatches had inadvertently been left open and sea water had flooded the crew cabin bunks.  Everything in the cabin - bedding, clothes, mattresses and unfortunately also Noa’s laptop - was absolutely soaking wet.  The series of events put a damper on the euphoria we’d felt earlier in the day but we pulled ourselves together to clear up and cheered ourselves up with a good old British cup of tea!!

So that was the start of our Atlantic crossing - a day of mixed emotions.  Despite the challenges it was good to be on the move again after weeks in Las Palmas, and the weather was glorious!  More about what happened on the Transatlantic crossing to follow……..